Supporters of Milwaukee Public Schools aren’t exactly jumping for joy over the primary victory of Barrett over Falk. After all, Mayor Tom Barrett tried to take over the school system nearly two years ago. Would a Governor Barrett try to do the same thing again?
Reports surfaced at the time that the real push for mayoral control came from then Governor Jim Doyle and that Mayor Barrett went along to support the governor’s initiative. Barrett was genuinely upset with the governor when Doyle announced he was not seeking reelection. Barrett would never use his political capital on mayoral control if he knew he was seeking the governorship himself. The Democrats had to beg Barrett to run for governor because no other prospective candidate thought a Democrat could win because Doyle had become so unpopular.
The issue of mayoral control may have cost Barrett the election against Scott Walker the first time around. The black community lost faith in Barrett’s commitment to democratic ideals over his support for mayoral control. Takeovers seem to take place in black communities as if blacks are not capable of governing themselves. Many blacks just stayed home in the governor’s race.
But the whole issue of mayoral control is now playing on a much larger political stage. While Democratic mayors have supported mayoral school system takeovers in the last decade, state takeovers have become a feature of Republican agendas. One only has to look to Michigan to see the most draconian process in the nation where whole towns and municipalities are being handed over to unelected overseers. Democrats don’t want to look like Republicans.
But there are some simple practical reasons why Barrett might not go there. A Governor Barrett is unlikely to seek mayoral control because he will not be Milwaukee’s mayor, and no one knows just how much faith Barrett would have in the new mayor whomever that would be beyond the tenure of Willie Hines as a temporary placeholder. In addition, the MPS School Board seems a lot more stable, and its superintendent , Gregory Thornton, has injected new optimism for the future of public education in this community.
More than anything, a Governor Barrett needs a cohesive Democratic coalition to govern in Wisconsin. The issue of mayoral control fractured that coalition last time around.
The real challenge for Milwaukee schools from a Governor Barrett will come from his unwavering support of charter schools. While Barrett sees charters as just another form of public education, strong proponents of MPS see charter schools, especially those not under the direct control of the school system, as simply private schools masquerading as public schools.
While Barrett may have wanted to take over the school system and restructure it, in the end, he wants to preserve it. Critics of Governor Walker believe that Walker wants nothing less than the complete privatization of public education. While Walker continues to pull money out of Milwaukee and its school system, Barrett has championed correcting the school choice funding formula which takes money away from public education. Money is where Barrett is the strongest as a supporter of public education, and he is pledging to restore most of the cuts Walker and Republicans made to public education last year.
So no matter the misgivings MPS supporters may have with Tom Barrett, they are willing to give Barrett a chance knowing that nothing good can come from the continued leadership of Scott Walker.