What School Choice Advocates Want Wis. Governor to See

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What School Choice Advocates Want Wis. Governor to See
Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File
What School Choice Advocates Want Wis. Governor to See
Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File
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Tony Evers, the new governor in Wisconsin, has made no secret of his hostility to school choice. When Wisconsin expanded the private voucher program statewide in 2012, he called it “morally wrong.” And during the 2018 campaign he said he’d like to phase out the Milwaukee voucher program, the oldest such program in the country that serves 28,000 students. The new tone from Madison gives school choice advocates some cause for concern.

For critics like Evers, no amount of research is going to convince him that school choice is good. School choice advocates have to make the case to the families and the communities that stand to benefit the most from a voucher program. That case is often made around academic achievement, cost, safety, and opportunity for low-income families. But advocates should incorporate innovation and practical knowledge when touting the merits of school choice.

Consider the newly formed Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School that will be taking steps to incorporate the principles of free markets, entrepreneurship and financial literacy into the existing curriculum and creating new courses and programming around those concepts at the school.  The goal is to create graduates who are more than literate about their basic finances -- who can use the tools of free enterprise and free markets to increase their incomes, grow wealth, create businesses and a legacy far beyond an existence of living paycheck to paycheck, both for themselves and for our Milwaukee community.

Four years ago, Milwaukee Lutheran made the conscious decision to invest in the children taking advantage of the Milwaukee School Choice Program, Milwaukee’s voucher program.  As a result, of an approximate student body of 800 children, the clear majority are inner-city, economically disadvantaged, black children.  Not all, but most, of these students have received little or no proper education in economics, finance, or entrepreneurship.  The mission of the Free Enterprise Academy is a real opportunity to change the culture of inner-city Milwaukee from within, because when these children learn how to handle their money and begin to create economic prosperity and wealth, it will create stability and a rejection of the perpetually downward-spiraling culture that now drowns our black communities in chaos, poverty and violence.

By educating students about the history of free-market systems, how they work, and how those tools have and can be used to create wealth and prosperity, The Free Enterprise Academy is offering students something they cannot get elsewhere.  The students get hands-on experiences and connections in partnership with Milwaukee’s education and business communities to provide tangible skills and demonstrate that their future really is in their own hands.  They will learn that capitalism is not the pejorative it is perceived as today, but rather a force for good.

This is not about indoctrination, nor should it be.  Students at the Free Enterprise Academy will be challenged to think critically about the subject matter and encouraged to challenge and put their instruction to the test.  Indeed, a business professional or entrepreneur won’t survive if they cannot think on their feet, adapt to changing landscapes and think into the future, sometimes all at the same time.  The students won’t be able to do this if all that is asked of them is to parrot information.  That would be a failure.

Parents understand the importance of this program.  They know the transformational opportunity being bestowed on their children and the chance to do better than what the future held before.  These parents want their children to learn, to be independent, to be successful -- they want their children to leap off their shoulders into a world where they can provide for themselves everything they could ever need or think to have. 

This is what we have to sell. This is about more than school. It’s about hope and opportunity. The value of the education is not just in good grades, but in good citizens and good leaders. When that is evident and understood in our communities, only then will school choice find itself safe from the winds of politics.

Collin Roth is a policy analyst at Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Shannon Whitworth is the director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.



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