I am not a supporter of school choice in general, but a lack of support for MPS has created a situation where another choice must be considered. Here is a letter explaining that dilemma:
Dear School Board Members and Superintendent Thornton,
I am a graduate of MPS and a lifelong citizen of Milwaukee. My daughter is enrolled in the German Immersion School, and we plan on enrolling our son (as of right now), as well. I am a teacher myself, and I understand the financial situation in Milwaukee and other school districts across the state. However, I am first and foremost a parent, and that's why I am writing to you now.
I have attended several meetings recently that have decried the financial situation of MGIS. I have been told that our per-student spending is low for various reasons, and that the district must pay its bills, etc. I have been told to avoid asking for MGIS to receive more funding because it's a better school than the others, as this would somehow negate the philosophy of equal education for all students. I am writing this letter to try to make you understand that I do care about MPS, free public education, and the future of our children, but I don't care enough to keep my kids in your schools unless you make sure at least one of those schools is good enough for them.
I was a martyr for the cause myself. I stayed in the French Immersion program after most of my friends had transferred to King or Riverside or Arts. I attended Wilbur Wright Middle School and Marshall High School when those schools were not great, not safe, and not what my kids will be attending. I believed in the program and I believed in the city, and more than any of the politicians, those of us who stayed in those programs kept them alive for future generations, since MPS all but abandoned us.
My children are precious to me, and if the funding deteriorates to a point that I feel they are unsafe or that the school can't possibly be great, then my children will not be attending MPS. I can send them to Wauwatosa or a religious choice school. Even though I will feel some guilt in doing so, it won't last long. I am pretty much typical of the parents of students at MGIS: I understand you are in a difficult situation because you have unfair competition from suburban, charter, and choice schools. I don't envy the decisions you have to make, but I also don't care about most of them. I will not allow my kids to be second-generation martyrs.
My wife and I are trying to help out as we will be hosting an intern next year that the school can use to fill a portion of the lost positions. If it goes well, we'll be hosting every year. That's how much we want our kids' education to work. However, MPS barely even supports that great opportunity to fill holes. We donate, volunteer, attend meetings, and generally care, but we will take that parental involvement to the next school district after next year, in a heartbeat, if you can't figure out a way to keep MGIS operating as a great school.
I know that you'd rather close the magnet schools down and get all those high-performing students in your regular classrooms. Maybe twenty years ago, that idea had a chance. Today, however, too many options exist for parents, and you can argue the morality/equality of it until you're blue in the face, but I've been there and done that. Please, if you want to retain the students who keep your district afloat, find a way to fund these schools. If you want to keep the parents of these students living within the city limits, you must continue to run a school district that can at least have a few gems. If you want us to believe, you've got to give us something to believe in.
I wish I had the ideas that would fix the district. School choice, over the long haul, will not work for kids and is certainly detrimental to the teaching profession, but my kids are caught up in the awful experiment, and I refuse to let them suffer as a result. I know you have to pay teachers and benefits. I know your hands are tied and that you might need to get creative to wrangle money away from lower-performing schools and programs that have not yet fixed their problems. I know there's an achievement gap and that MGIS technically does little to close that gap, but you must know that, as a parent, I don't care. I figure that over the past 40 years or so, my household has paid in over $100,000 in property taxes, often feeling that we were supporting a dying city. Certain politicians may want that death to come. I suppose your most expedient way to allow this to happen would be to fail to fund the top-performing schools. By the time the death knell sounds, however, my kids will be long gone.
Thank you for the work that you do. I hope that you consider this letter when making the decisions that will affect the future of the schools and our involvement in MPS.