The Sound and the Fury and Yadayadayada

I regard myself (seriously) as fairly naïve when it comes to making public policy. For one thing, I have this notion, often proved wildly off-base, that what goes on in the public view – a meeting, a public hearing, a judicial hearing of some kind – is where decisions are made. I’ve covered sessions such as these for newspapers since I was a teenager. And sometimes, important things do happen. But often, it’s just show time.

I’m pondering this today in the light of Monday’s public hearing by the state Senate Education Committee on proposals to change the governance structure of Milwaukee Public Schools.  It was impressive in some ways. There was a large turnout – the auditorium at the MPS central office holds 300 people and there were clearly well more than that who came and went in the course of the day-long session. There were lots of important people there, not only a large number of legislators, but Mayor Tom Barrett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, aldermen, School Board members, civic leaders, and activists. If you were patient (really patient, in many cases), you could get up and tell the committee members what you thought on the issue, no matter who you were or what your views – and isn’t that a great aspect of democracy?

And yet (pardon me while I sigh) — did this accomplish anything?

Continue ReadingThe Sound and the Fury and Yadayadayada

Political Clout and the Lack Thereof

It’s a basic tenet of American political systems that there are checks and balances, with each branch of a government unit  operating with powers that are not controlled by other branches.

Consider what is about to unfold in the Wisconsin Legislature a particularly vivid lesson in that.

Gov. Jim Doyle has called a special session of the Legislature for Wednesday to consider two proposals, one of them dealing with control of Milwaukee Public Schools, giving almost all of that control to the mayor of Milwaukee, and one dealing with what to do about chronically low performing schools in the state, giving broad power to the state superintendent of public instruction to take control of such schools and change them.  

A month ago, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Madison to make an appearance that had a strong subtext of urging that these proposals be supported. Doyle strongly backs them, as does Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

So you have the president, the secretary of education, the governor and the mayor of the state’s largest city, all of them Democrats, asking the Democratically-controlled Legislature to take up and approve these ideas.

And what’s most likely to happen? Nothing, at least for now.

Continue ReadingPolitical Clout and the Lack Thereof

MPS Politics: Visits to Two Different Decks

Two sessions bearing on the future of Milwaukee Public Schools took place simultaneously Tuesday night, and each drew about 75 people who care about education in the city.

Beyond that, it’s hard to think of much the two events had in common. At one, pretty much everybody thought that the way MPS is run is a big part of the problem and that it is time to make major changes.  At the other, the emphasis was on forces beyond MPS that affect schools, and everyone agreed the existing governance system should be defended. 

Continue ReadingMPS Politics: Visits to Two Different Decks