Milwaukee Marks $471k for Black Lives Matter-Inspired Programs

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Milwaukee Public Schools has announced a budget proposal to be used for improving outcomes for minority students and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Most were elated by the news, but some have been making an effort to undermine the change.

According to Annysa Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the naysayers included conservative bloggers, talk-show hosts, and even Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. The MPS plan is to spend $471,000 on programming inspired by the national Black Lives Matter movement, but opponents of the idea say the action is radical and an anti-police campaign.

Dozens attended a public hearing to support the plan, which will enhance the district's ethnic and cultural studies and support programs that teach young people character-building lessons such as mutual respect, bridge-building, and nonviolent conflict resolution.

In an interview before the hearing, School Board Vice President Larry Miller, a co-author of the resolution, defended the expenditure. He explained that the proposal was intended to address police practices, institutional racism, poverty, and inequities in education.

"We're not saying only black lives matter. Of course, we say all lives matter. But we are a district that is over 80% black and brown students, and some of our students have a greater chance of being incarcerated than going to college," Miller said.

"At the heart of this, this is about racial justice in education," he said.

The proposal would include hiring three social studies teachers who would write a new cultural studies curriculum to be initiated in at least three schools during the next school year.

Training for staff based on culturally responsive educational practices and restorative practices to build relationships, increase empathy, and create a sense of community among staff members would also be added. MPS already has a technique called "the circle" which consists of faculty and students coming together to discuss concerns.

"We're not negating that all lives matter," Smith told the board. "But this is to say black lives matter, because black lives are the ones we're seeing laying in the streets. Black lives are the ones we're seeing behind bars," he said.

Alexis Buchanan, writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, reports that black kids are suspended and expelled three times more often than white students. Black children account for 16% of school enrollment but are receiving in-school suspension at a rate of 32%. Of students who receive out-of-school suspensions, 42% are black as are 34% of students who are expelled. Black students are arrested and referred to law enforcement more often than Caucasian students.

Buchanan also points out that over 2 million black youths attend schools where 90% of the student population is made up of minority students. These schools also have less experienced, lower-paid teachers, who are often uncertified.

According to the Center for American Progress, when there is a ten percentage-point increase in minority students at a school, that growth is linked to a decrease in per-pupil spending of $75. Students of color are also 40% more likely to stop attending school before they graduate.

Coreen Zell of WTMJ-TV quoted Ross Torsred, who was in attendance at the public hearing:

"It's a lot of garbage. You know why it's a lot of garbage, because the system hasn't dealt with getting remedies for years,"

An update to the Alexis Buchanan article reports that the initiative was approved last Thursday night.

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