Ending Chapter 220 in WI is good news for MPS

One of the details dribbling out of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget is his plan to phase out Chapter 220. The law, originating in 1975, lets students be educated in school other than their home district “to promote cultural and racial integration in education.” Here is a 2013 Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper on the program. As with all things state generated, it’s fine reading before bedtime to ensure sound sleep.

Notice I’m not going to argue the end of Chapter 220 is good for MPS’s budget. The district is allowed to partially count students transferred out to suburban districts in a concept called “sender aid.” The home-based student aid keeps a district from objecting too much to a student wanting to study elsewhere.

School-aged children in Wisconsin come with a price on their heads. Since Wisconsin’s complicated funding program puts caps to spending based on a rump-in-the-seat count, a filled school desk is still the best way a district has to generate income. But there’s more to a school than a student in a seat. With any luck, that student comes equipped with parents who want their child to do well.

It’s the parents who are at the core of my argument. Ending the practice of shuffling students from the city to the suburb will help strengthen MPS by keeping active, caring parents in the district. The idea came to me when reading this article by the Journal Sentinel from a couple of days ago. A parent says she

was motivated to get into the Chapter 220 program at least a decade ago after she went to her daughter’s preschool graduation in Milwaukee and saw no other parents show up.

“I remember thinking: ‘Is this what it’s going to be like? Is this a snapshot of what’s to come?'”

What came to my mind was what educators might have been thinking at that preschool graduation. “Wow. We have a parent who cares. Maybe things are starting to change.”

The MJS article has this graphic showing students into and out of the MPS district:

That’s probably around 700 family units who care enough about their child’s education to move them out of MPS. What if those same caring parents were back in their home district? Caring families back in the MPS district are key to rebuilding.

Jay Bullock, an MPS teacher, wrote, “the only thing – the only, only thing – that will increase funding to MPS is a boost to enrollment…” Guess what? We just found thirteen hundred students.

One final thought: Parents are equal to students when it comes to early childhood success. Both of those are more important than the money a warm body filling a seat brings to the district. Build MPS around that idea.

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