State legislators should weigh this illogical practice come budget time
The Milwaukee Public School District’s enrollment has dropped by more than 20,000 students in just the last 14 years — a stunning decline of over 25% that, Marquette’s Alan Borsuk points out, is the equivalent of losing five high schools and 25 kindergarten-through-eighth grade elementary schools.
As I pointed out in a column last year, MPS had about 100,000 kids as recently as 1990. That number is now down to approximately 58,000 and dropping rapidly.
A refusal by MPS and the teachers union to resume in-person classes during the pandemic didn’t help but this is a long-term trend stemming from demographic changes, the rise of better schools in other sectors and abject mismanagement.
The MPS School Board has set the district on a path that now seems irreversible. Campaign season political talk of breaking it up into smaller districts was never going to happen and wouldn’t have helped anyway — probably would have hurt by focusing on the wrong things. MPS, it’s been clear for a long time now, will continue to fall of its own weight.
But that’s not to say the School Board can’t do something right now to help the kids who want to learn, who want a better life, who know they have only one chance for stability and a path up.
Mark Lisheron, our managing editor, told me in our latest podcast that MPS — in misguided obeisance to the social justice warriors — still won’t allow cops in schools despite a record of frequent complaints of sexual assault and gunplay and battery.
They can immediately reverse that foolish decision. The activists who hate police will accuse them of racism but helping the good kids in MPS — half of whom are black and most of whom are minority — find a way to learn and succeed in a stable environment is just the opposite. The status quo is condemning MPS kids to schools of disorder and lives without a path upward.
As we noted in our Mandate for Madison, the Milwaukee Police Department responded to 1,310 calls for service at 34 MPS-controlled high schools in the 2021-’22 school year alone, an average of 7.2 calls every school day. We don’t have numbers for this year yet but will file an open records request at the end of the calendar year.
Last year, we’ve reported, Marshall High School officials made 140 calls for service, far and away the most frequent caller. Washington, Madison and Riverside University high schools, with 91, 90 and 89 calls, respectively, were next. Bradley Tech, Vincent, Hamilton, Pulaski and North Division each made between 80 and 71 calls, according to the MPD data.
High schools reported “trouble with juvenile” more than 250 times, well over once a school day. There were more than 100 reports of “battery,” most frequently at Vincent, Bradley Tech, Riverside and Pulaski, according to the data. There were 75 reports of a “reckless vehicle,” 39 of “sexual assault,” 39 of a “subject with gun” and 15 of “shots fired.”
In sum, students in Milwaukee’s public high schools who want a better life and know that school is their only way up are being battered, assaulted and exposed to gunfire or other reckless conduct on a daily basis. The school board ignores that and listens to activists, Lisheron said on our podcast, who think cops are bullies.
“If you click on ‘cops in schools American Civil Liberties Union,’ you know what comes up? Bullies in Blue. Bullies in Blue, and what that means is the ACLU has taken the stance that it is wrong to have cops in schools because it demonizes or criminalizes behavior that they believe is better handled within the school setting.”
There aren’t enough cops in Milwaukee. The Badger Institute has determined there are some 500 fewer cops than there once were. There are all kinds of reasons for this. But this issue is not about the number of cops. It’s about how they are deployed, and the police department has no say in that when it comes to schools.
Education is opportunity, and without education, there is no opportunity, I noted on our podcast. There are a lot of kids in MPS who can’t really read or write and are, as a result, going to have all kinds of struggles in life. And that’s why we push for choice schools and independent charter schools outside the control of the school board.
The decline in enrollment in MPS, looked at that way, is not a bad thing. Parents and students have other options already. They just need more of them — and those good schools must be given the money needed to sustain them.
MPS is not going away completely though, and we can’t forget about the kids in those classrooms. I am under no illusion the school board will change course and welcome police back into the schools. But if they and the city want continued funding from Madison, let alone more, legislators in Madison should make an issue out of the illogical, detrimental school board choice of crime and social activism over kids and their futures.
Mike Nichols is the president of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.
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