Op Ed

MPS Is Just As Bad as Police Department

Both are racist systems and both need wholesale reform.

By - Apr 18th, 2021 03:29 pm
Milwaukee Public Schools Office of School Administration, 5225 W. Vliet St. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Milwaukee Public Schools Office of School Administration, 5225 W. Vliet St.

For the past year, we have been having a robust conversation regarding racial disparities in policing that has generated a new and controversial rallying cry: “Defund the Police.” Many have taken the motto a step further, calling for the full abolition of the Milwaukee Police Department. These activists deem the racism in the MPD to be so inherent and so irredeemable, the only path to true liberty requires dismantling the entire institution.

But there is another institution in the City of Milwaukee that seems to struggle with racism – it’s something of a sacred cow to progressives, exposing a possible inconsistency in the dogma. That institution is Milwaukee Public Schools. And while I offer the comparison with some caution, our obligation to be a part of the conversation means we should not shrink from the challenge of evaluating whether or not reform is possible and pursuable.

First, let’s establish that MPS is a racist institution. We can use the same methodology we use to evaluate MPD, that is by looking at various disparities in outcome. For instance, the ACLU found that traffic and pedestrian stops by MPD are six times more likely [to occur] for Black people than for white people. Switching now to MPS, we see that according to the Department of Public Instruction’s 2018-19 Report Card, 71% of Black or African-American students had a “Below Basic” score in mathematics. Indeed, only 10% of Black students had either a proficient or advanced understanding of mathematics. Meanwhile, only 30% of white students scored “Below Basic,” whereas 39% had a proficient or advanced understanding in mathematics.

Looking at another statistic, Black students in MPS have a graduation rate of only 63% whereas their white counterparts had a graduation rate of 94%. The racial disparities in MPS are obvious.

The racism is also evident in the way MPS disciplines its students. Much like how MPD had to sign an agreement with the ACLU to end racially biased stop-and-frisk, MPS had to sign an agreement with the Department of Education to address racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Like MPD, MPS has shown little progress in this agreement according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

They found that African Americans accounted for 81% of suspensions and expulsions despite making up only 51% of the student body. This isn’t because Black students are more unruly. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that Black students were disciplined in a discriminatory manner, uncovering over 100 instances where white students weren’t punished as severely for the exact same behaviors. MPS’s response was to establish disciplinary committees to evaluate the disparities, half of which rarely meet.

There are other contributing factors to the racism of MPS. Much like the Milwaukee police union, the Milwaukee teacher’s union advocated strongly for ending the residency requirement, resulting in nearly a quarter of teachers living outside the City. During the 2020 BLM protests, activists argued that residency in the City was a major part of police accountability. With regard to police residency, Khalil Coleman, a Milwaukee activist said, “We need people from our community that walks with us, talks with us, shops with us, goes to schools with us, so we can have accountability with them.” The same concern must apply to MPS.

Also, we often look to racial makeup of the MPD itself as a sign that it is a racist institution. For example, only 17.2% of MPD officers are African American while Black people make up nearly 40% of Milwaukee’s population. As bad as that is, we might be surprised to learn that MPS is even less representative than MPD. Only 16% of MPS teachers are Black while African Americans make up 51% of the student body.

All of this provides compelling evidence that Milwaukee Public Schools is a racist institution, at least no better than the Milwaukee Police Department. While MPS has recently ejected MPD from being perpetually present in schools, there is no indication that they will not continue to call MPD to the schools when they feel police are needed to fix student behavior. The school-to-prison pipeline starts with racism in the school system. The notion that MPS is a racist institution should not be a surprise given its history (MPS illegally segregated students until 1976).

Whatever your feelings may be about the “Defund the Police” movement, we have come to learn that simply dumping millions of dollars into the police department isn’t a recipe for reform. And while MPD has an approximately $300 million a year budget, MPS boasts a $1.2 billion budget, or to put it another way, four times what the MPD currently spends for what some would see as equally racist results. In the end, we’ll find out soon whether or not more money is the fix for this particular racist, broken system. After a referendum passed last year, MPS can expect an additional $82 million as well as $800 million in COVID relief aid; as Milwaukeeans, we will have to reevaluate the possibility for more reform if we don’t see results quickly.

Jordan Morales (no relation to Chief Morales), is a resident of the City of Milwaukee.

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: MPS Is Just As Bad as Police Department”

  1. weitenma83 says:

    While the numbers and percentages quoted are true, they really need a deeper dive to properly analyze the problem. How many white students have college graduate, high school graduate, less than high school education parents? Same for black children. How many come single parent families? How many have parents who can’t read or write? What is the average trauma score? What percentage move during the school year?

  2. sbaldwin001 says:

    Weitenma83 makes some good points above. However, since the implication is that differences are due to initial conditions, it should be noted that a comparison of student achievement for black students at MPS versus student achievement for black students at charter and private schools shows that these other schools frequently offer better results. (Source: “Data Wonk – MPS Charter Schools Work Better”, Urban Milwaukee, 11/08/2018.) It will be interesting to see how these numbers change post-COVID.

    In any case, I am glad this article finally directs attention to the fact that education is a civil rights issue on par with policing.

  3. sbaldwin001 says:

    Here’s more evidence in support of the “MPS is a racist institution” argument:

    “Nationwide, about half of students attend schools that are currently offering daily, in-person learning. Federal data shows stark disparities. As of January, the majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American fourth graders were learning fully remotely, compared to a quarter of white fourth graders.”

    Source: “Does It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss?” by Dana Goldstein, The New York Times, 04/08/2021.

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