By Aaron M. Rodriguez
As the April election nears, a liberal vanguard will emerge from the moats of the political battleground in a preemptive effort to stop Rose Fernandez from pulling off an upset in the DPI race. Fernandez, an agent of change, comes from a tradition of being “outside” the education bureaucracy. And if there is anything that the November election has taught America, it's that a bold reformist candidate can allure a frustrated and embittered people into voting for change. With 30 years of failed MPS policies and wasteful spending, Rose Fernandez's message of "shaking things up" is gaining momentum and starting to draw attention in the Milwaukee area.
In the February primary, Fernandez defeated union-darling Tony Evers in the liberal stronghold of Milwaukee. This news came as a surprise to the Fernandez campaign partly because they were dwarfed by the Evers' fundraising capacity and partly because Milwaukee is generally a safe haven for democrats. The voting results demonstrated firsthand that people were hungry for change, and even the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the strongest political arm of the teachers’ union, couldn't stem her momentum in the primaries.
Fernandez is a strong advocate of school choice and has a political platform that is difficult for any opponent to impugn. Couple this with the fact that Evers’ marriage to WEAC has hamstrung him from promoting a variety of attractive "school choice" programs, and his candidacy looks more like a one trick pony show that cannot offer parents anything other than a "brick and mortar" public school. Fernandez, on the other hand, provides parents with real choices by fighting to use accessible state funds for performance-based charter schools, to lift the caps on accessible virtual schools, and to increase vouchers for private schools. With Fernandez, all options are on the table for parents, and her allegiance isn't to any lobbyist group.
Although Fernandez has addressed the problems of MPS aggressively, this hasn't stopped the left from taking aim at her. Cory Liebmann, a blogger from Eye on Wisconsin and a previous research director for One Wisconsin Now, has advanced a four-pronged argument against Fernandez’ candidacy. I will examine each of the four points he makes and demonstrate the logical problems common to leftist casuistry.
Cory argues that Fernandez does not support public schools because she has homeschooled her own children and later put them through virtual schools. In his own words, “public schools were never good enough, at any point, for her own children.” He goes on to say that she only became a fan of public schools when she decided to run for public office.
There are a few flaws with his reasoning. First, virtual schools are actually publicly funded, which make them public schools. So, his line that “public schools were never good enough, at any point, for her own children” is false. Also, the notion that sending one’s children to a private school affirms that one is not supportive of public schools is a non-sequitur. It could be cogently argued that Fernandez would like to send her kids to a public school, but understands that a failing school system wouldn't be a benefit to her kids. The fact that parents would rather bear the burden of an expensive private-school tuition rather than enroll them into low-cost public schools is evidence that the public school system is broken.
Cory argues that Fernandez has “zero experience as an educator”, and therefore voting for her is asking the Wisconsin public to make a “big leap of faith”.
A few things here: first, I’m quite confident, based upon reading Cory’s articles, that he voted for Barack Obama last November. If memory serves me correctly, Obama was a junior senator of Illinois who ran for president with almost no executive experience. In fact, his only executive experience was running the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in 1995, a project he co-chaired with ex-terrorist William Ayers and partnered with ACORN. This project turned out to be a large-scale failure and a substantial waste of 140 million dollars. Given the context, I would like to ask Cory why he was so willing to vote for Obama based upon the limited executive experience of a failed project. Another point is that given the way that school districts like MPS operate, it’s probably safer to be an outsider to the education establishment right now. An insider can be tied politically to the status quo and failed policies of the past.
Cory argues that Fernandez would be “lifting money out of the pockets of our public schools all over the state” and giving them to private schools through a statewide voucher system.
The problem with this way of reasoning is that taking money from the “public schools” really means taking money from the dues collected by the “teachers’ union.” It’s fairly simple. Providing a $6,000 dollar voucher for a student to go to a private school would eventually save the government about $7,000 since the cost to send him to a normal public school is about$13,000 .
School vouchers would have a negative effect on the teacher's union. If more kids go to private schools through the voucher system, then less teachers are needed in public schools. (Essentially, they would go to the work and apply to private schools where enrollment was increasing) If there are less teachers in the public schools, then the teachers' union will collect less dues. If they collect less dues, then they would have less money that enables them to play with political races.
And more importantly, the purpose of a voucher is to provide our children with the best available education in spite of where they stand on the economic rung in society. Liberals have argued for years that the lower class should have the same opportunities as the upper class. So why are they dead set against a system that provides such an opportunity to the impoverished and the deprived? In a study conducted by Jay Greene, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute, he found that students who used school vouchers had a 64% graduation rate whereas kids in MPS had a graduation rate of 36%. The voucher system provides better opportunities for our children, and this is the power of choice that Fernandez is advocating.
Cory’s last point is a “guilt by association” ploy. He attempts to tie Fernandez to K-12 Inc., a Virginia-based company that provides curriculum material to Wisconsin's virtual schools. The idea, I think, is that K-12 is an evil profit-based corporation (sort of like big oil) that is supposedly in cahoots with Fernandez in order to make a killing in Wisconsin via lucrative school contracts.
Now, I’m not exactly sure why a parent advocate like Fernandez is being associated with K-12 in the first place. She’s not involved in their government contracts, so the association is ridiculous. Her only tie to them, it would appear, is that they both want to see virtual schools succeed, but for different reasons. Only the liberal left can make a mommy-advocate into an evil anti-public school Darth Vader backed by the Force of a powerful lobbyist.
Rose Fernandez is a mom who realized that her kids needed distinct educational attention that their school was unable to provide. Coupled with her husband's awkward work schedule as a firefighter, it became convenient for her to home-school her children and provide them the one-on-one attention they needed. When she discovered that Virtual Schools provided education through state certified teachers in online courses, she saw an opportunity to combine the best characteristics of the public school system (certified teachers) with the intimacy provided by home schools (more parental involvement).
Given the history that Rose Fernandez is literally an outspoken mommy-advocate for virtual schools and has modest fundraising capabilities, the attempted link made between her and K12 is deplorable. "One Wisconsin Now", a website Cory Liebmann used to do research for, has erected a webpage called The Rose Fernandez Five Million Dollar Pyramid. The site states that Fernandez has used "substantial resources, strategists, lobbyists, and high-placed allies to ensure the continuation of of virtual schools in Wisconsin", a claim that cannot be verified.
If Fernandez had access to to these "substantial resources", wouldn't she have raised more than $20,000 in the primaries? The fact remains that Fernandez, out of necessity, had to loan her own campaign $4,000 dollars in order to reach the minimum qualifying amount for public funding. Where were the deep pockets of K12 in the primaries? And why did Rose need to loan her own campaign money if she was in a covert partnership with K12? Evers, on the other hand, has substantial resources with the WEAC endorsement. He raised more than $95,000 in the primaries, $26,000 from local unions, and this doesn't include $200,000 in WEAC's paid television advertisements in Dane County.
Rose Fernandez is not the candidate with substantial resources at her disposal. If One Wisconsin Now really wants to do some digging, I suggest they focus their concentration on Tony Evers.