Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, when I worked in education research at UW-Milwaukee, I was very fond of a professor in the School of Education named Walter Farrell. Walter and I had a running joke that, for us, never got old.
Milwaukee’s private school voucher program was nearly 10 years old and requirements for qualifying as a school were, to put it mildly, lax. You may remember some of the program’s greatest hits that were making the news at the time: There was Alex’s Academic of Excellence, with its absentee school owner who couldn’t remember the location of the school but whose convicted knife-rapist boyfriend was making $58,000 a year to run it. And, even with other, more recent voucher “schools” making the news (see this, and this, and this), my all-time personal favorite: Sensas-Utcha Institute for Holistic Learning, whose leader “earned” a PhD in metaphysics by buying it for $199 and who believed that he could read books by placing his hand on the cover. While he struggled to get an occupancy permit for his school building, he told the parents that the students enrolled would not be counted absent because they were “present” in spirit.
“I’m gonna get me a voucher school, Jennifer,” Walter would say, whenever the latest scandal broke. “What kind of voucher school should I get?”
The joke never got old because the hits just kept coming. Even after some accountability was instituted in the program — including, in 2010, the requirements that teachers have a college degree and that the schools participate in statewide academic testing — the examples from the past half a year cited above make it clear that plenty of foxes are still overseeing these publicly funded henhouses.
All that said, I think it might finally be time for me to get me a voucher school. I’ve been dreaming of it since Walter and I worked together back in the day, but my devotion to the public schools and the democratic values for which they are the training ground kept me from it. Still, we’re in a real crisis and maybe my sweaty grip on the ideal of public schooling has kept me from seeing the forest for the trees.
I’m really worried about the fate of our beloved state of Wisconsin, given the brutal attacks on our values, our voting rights, our air and water, the safety net for our poor and elderly, and our schools. But I think the voucher school I’m going to start will really help young Wisconsinites develop the reading, math, science, and other skills they need to defend Wisconsin from further attack.
My voucher high school will be called “Our Lady of Perpetual Revolution.” Its curriculum will be based on three foundations:
1. Christian liberation theology, with its fierce advocacy for the poor and dispossessed;
2. Environmental science, with a focus on the urgency to defend the Great Lakes from privatization and further pollution (Students will be able to earn an honors diploma for successful completion of a research paper on the usurpation of indigenous land rights by corporations, environmental racism, the Commons movement, and similar topics);
3. Weapons training.
I really see Our Lady of Perpetual Revolution as the start of something big. In fact, as the Republican legislature does everything it can to expand vouchers throughout Wisconsin, I think I’ll start a whole chain of OLPR’s, in communities of color around the state. I can’t imagine that the legislature would have any problem with me using public money to create a battalion of armed young people of color who know what’s at stake in the upcoming water wars and who get how extremist capitalism has hurt their communities. What could they possibly object to? It’s all about choice, right?