There is nothing gentle about the south-side primaries. Laura Manriquez, who has a history with the law herself, has drudged up an old criminal complaint against former Alderman Angel Sanchez for something that was dismissed more than 20 years ago. She has also aimed both barrels at Planned Parenthood Outreach Coordinator, JoCasta Zamarripa.
According to Manriquez' complaint, Zamarripa took a photo with an unnamed store merchant and used it in her campaign literature without his expressed consent. In a separate "police complaint", Manriquez claimed that Jessica Cavazos, a supporter of Zamarippa, removed her campaign signs from an owner's property and told her to stay neutral in the race or risk losing federal funding for her business. When asked to respond to both charges, Zamarripa told us that if anyone is curious about her supporters, they can check the finance reports. Whatever that means.
Zamarripa has not stayed out of the fray either. Her press releases have targeted Angel Sanchez for campaign contributions he received from an out-of-state "School Choice" organization with "deep ties to the Republican Party". Ironically, the majority of Zamarripa's suporters and campaign funding comes from outiside her district.
While Zamarripa is hoping to tarnish Sanchez with guilt by association, Zamarripa has notable associations of her own. She's been endorsed by several key unions that are deeply opposed to School Choice, a program that the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institute say 7 out of 10 Latinos support.
In a separate press release, Zamarripa had also accused Sanchez of flip-flopping on education. Referring to an interview that I did earlier with Sanchez, Zamarripa stated that Sanchez wanted to take public dollars and send them to "private schools outside Milwaukee" rather than to schools in his own district.
However, Sanchez wants to expand School Choice in outside of Wisconsin, this does not mean that he wants to fund other school districts at the expense of the south-side.
One of the things that ought to be discussed a little more is the relationship between progressive candidates and the teachers' union. It's important because unions protect the teachers, not the students or their parents.
Zamarripa, who is endorsed by the AFT Wisconsin, AFT Local 212, and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, has criticized Sanchez for his support of voucher schools. Zamarripa said she supports voucher schools that excel, but her most combative criticisms of Sanchez so far are because of his association with an out-state School Choice organization and his support for the program. How can Zamarripa say she supports voucher schools, and yet use them to criticize Sanchez? Does that sound contradictory?
ACT scores at MPS have dropped every year for the past 5 years in English, Math, Reading, Science, and Composite testing. Out of 18 comparable school districts, MPS' 4th and 8th graders have finished second to last in reading and mathematics. The only city that did worse was Detroit (you know, the city that finishes last in virtually everything).
It gets worse. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the number of MPS expulsions, due to violence, has tripled in the past 15 years. More MPS students bring firearms to school than all of Chicago's public schools. To keep it in perspective, Chicago is 4.5 times larger than Milwaukee.
In 2004, the graduation rate at MPS was a paltry 46%. But voucher schools like St. Anthony's School in Milwaukee don't have graduation problems. Recent studies show that Catholic schools produce a 91% graduation rate among black and Latino students. Based on these numbers along, it might be a good idea to expand School Choice to more Catholic schools.
Sometimes it is difficult to boil down the issues when scorched-earth politics play center stage. One thing is for certain, Angel Sanchez hasn't slung any mud, nor has he dodged any questions. He's been straight in his interviews and chose to take the high road in his campaign. Manriquez, however, is too busy wasting the precious time of the local police department on campaign stunts while Zamarripa distorts an El Conquistador interview to scare parents in her school district.
The one thing that should be front and center in this primary is the failure of MPS. Manriquez offers no substantive answers on education, nor does she even address the subject of School Choice, and yet she managed to receive an endorsement from our very own Alderman James Witkowiak. And although Zamarripa is more substantive on educational issues, she wants to dump more money into a failing MPS while being opposed to lifting caps on voucher schools.
Bottom line is this: nobody can claim to be a true advocate for the Hispanic community and at the same time ignore or oppose voucher schools. There is a simple way of looking at it. MPS is broken, and our kids have no other viable option. MPS teachers have their hands tied behind their backs. Our School Board doesn't cooperate with each other; and when they do, they solve issues that don't need solving.
Removing the cap on voucher schools is the best shot our kids have at improving their quality of life, and Angel Sanchez is only one candidate willing to do that.