May 2019 Church & State Magazine - May 2019

Pro-Public School Slate Sweeps Milwaukee School Board Elections

  Rob Boston

A slate of candidates dedicated to boosting support for public schools and opposing vouchers swept to victory in Milwaukee’s school board elections last month.

Five candidates endorsed by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Working Families Party, a progressive political unit that backs public education, were elected.      

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the teachers’ union offered financial support to many of the winning candidates, while their opponents received money from groups and individuals that support vouchers, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Gus Ramirez, a businessman in Waukesha who is executive chairman of HUSCO International, a firm that designs and manufactures hydraulic equipment for vehicles.

One of the most closely watched races was between Erika Siemsen, a retired public school teacher, and incumbent Wendell J. Harris, whom the Journal-Sentinel described as “an unabashed school choice supporter.” Harris received support from a group called Leaders for a Better Community, which was founded by Sherwin Hughes, a radio talk show host who supports vouchers.

Siemsen defeated Harris 60 percent to 40 percent.

Other pro-public school winners are Bob Peterson, Sequanna Taylor and Megan O’Halloran. The results mean that candidates who support public education and oppose vouchers now have a strong majority on the nine-member board.

“Today, the tide of national public education activism swept Milwaukee, with candidates backed by Working Families Party activists, union educators, movement allies and grassroots voters winning a decisive pro-public education majority on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors,” said Rebecca Lynch, deputy director of Wisconsin Working Families Party. “In back-to-back elections, Wisconsin voters have demanded that our elected leaders defend and fund public education and put an end to corrosive school privatization.”

Milwaukee is home to a controversial school voucher plan that was put in place in 1990. It was expanded statewide in 2011 by former Gov. Scott Walker, even though objective studies show that the plan hasn’t boosted student performance.

In a press statement, the Working Families Party hailed the results, asserting, “What voucher and charter programs have accomplished is enriching private operators, abolishing workplace rights for teachers and other school personnel, discriminating against special needs students, muting the voices of parents and other community members and creating a separate but unequal system of providing education to Milwaukee’s students.”

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