News hit the stand on Tuesday that Milwaukee's Public Schools out-performed Milwaukee's voucher schools on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, which MJS journalists unfortunately dubbed as an "apples-to-apples" comparison.
As expected, the MJS story elicited criticisms from organizations like School Choice Wisconsin and Hispanics for School Choice noting that a single test cannot properly compare the quality of public and private schools. School Choice Wisconsin stated that the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) does not track student achievement, thus it is not a true apples-to-apples comparison. Hispanics for School Choice echoed the sentiment adding that the WKCE does not assess graduation rates either, an important prognosticator for post-college success. Hispanics for School Choice said judging MPS and MPCP on a single test is like comparing two films on a few short clippings.
Later that day, the University of Arkansas released data from a five-year longitudinal study turning the MJS story on its head. Not only did voucher students score better than MPS students, but they had higher graduation rates and were more likely to enroll into a four-year college. Although the Journal-Sentinel didn't retract their initial story, it's worth asking, "How do you like them apples?" Some have alleged it's not just a coincidence that MJS published spoon-fed data from DPI only hours before university scholars could publish their results.
What does any of this have to do with Justice David Prosser? In 1998, the teachers union mounted a legal challenge against the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) claiming it violated the State Constitution. In Davis v. Grover, the teachers union lost and the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the earlier ruling from Madison's liberal appeals court that the voucher program was unconstitutional. So the question then is, if Justice Prosser loses on April 5th, will teachers unions again challenge the constitutionality of voucher schools?
In an interview with Justice David Prosser, he told El Conquistador that if he loses on April 5th, "It could have devastating consequences for School Choice." The implication is that opponent Joanne Kloppenburg may not be so friendly to Milwaukee's school voucher program.
As a former legislator, Prosser supported the parental choice program, which he characterized as a bipartisan effort. He's right. Milwaukee's voucher program started in 1990 because a progressive-minded Republican Governor worked with local black leaders, including a key Democrat known as Polly Williams. Attorney Clint Bolick described Williams as a dose of Milton Friedman and Malcolm X resulting in the nation's first urban school choice program.
Polly Williams was a bit of a political enigma. She was a black Democrat deeply skeptical of white conservatives, yet she was appointed chair of the Education Reform Committee by none other than Speaker David Prosser. Williams told Bolick - her attorney at the time - that "Liberals say they care for us, and they give us all sorts of programs, but the one thing they won't give us is the power over our own destiny. Conservatives don't give a damn about us, but the one thing they're willing to give us is the keys."
Williams decided she would join conservatives on the issue - along with Democrat Mayor John Norquist and civil rights activist Howard Fuller. Their bipartisan efforts eventually became the cornerstone of MPCP giving parents in poor neighborhoods the keys to quality private schools.
Joann Kloppenburg has never been a judge, so determining her judicial philosophy is not a simple task. What we already know is that she has donated exclusively to Democrats, and she's received the full backing of teachers unions. This suggests that Kloppenburg is not likely to be a friend of voucher schools. It's important to note that it was a teachers union that mounted a legal challenge against the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program just like it was a teachers union that legally challenged Florida's and Ohio's School Choice Programs. Teachers unions want nothing more than to see choice schools go away permanently, which somewhat ironic since most public school teachers send their own kids to private schools.
Justice David Prosser acknowledges that the Milwaukee's voucher program has upheld the law, but Kloppenburg has made no such acknowledgments. In fact, we've given Kloppenburg's campaign plenty of time to respond to our questions about school choice, but they haven't returned our call. Justice Prosser, however, returned our call within an hour and did so in person.
Teachers unions have been quick to rally behind Kloppenburg, which can mean one of two things. A.) Kloppenburg is in the pocket of labor unions as they continue to fund her campaign or B.) Labor unions know something about Koppenburg that we don't. What we do know is that Joann Kloppenburg's husband, U.W. Madison professor Jack Kloppenburg, is a unionist who has publicly opposed Governor Walker's budget-repair bill. He wrote an open-letter to the Governor's office, along with other U.W. faculty, reinforcing labor rights. It can be safely presumed that Joann Koppenburg - on the basis of her campaign, Facebook page, and husband's ideology - is not on the side of voucher schools.
All in all, perhaps Justice Prosser is right. If he loses on April 5th, it will be a major win for the teachers union. And if that happens, it will be a bad day for choice schools.