Unusual Allies: Elite and Grass-Roots Origins of Parental Choice in Milwaukee
by Jim Carl - 1996
This article outlines the development of the 1990 Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, for several years the only publicly funded K?2 voucher program in the United States. The program comprised an alliance of neoliberal reformers who sought to extend competitive markets to public education and Milwaukee-based supporters of a handful of inner-city “independent community schools?enrolling black and Latino students. Five factors generated this conditional alliance: dissatisfaction among many black Milwaukeeans with the Milwaukee Public Schools; the efforts of multicultural supporters of community schools who had sought public funding for two decades; the growth of black political power in Milwaukee during an era of rightward-tilting state policies, as personified by state representative Polly Williams; the actions of Governor Tommy Thompson to craft neoliberal and neoconservative social policy; and the rise of Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation as the nation’s premier conservative grantmaker. This article suggests that, even given the serendipitous alignment of forces necessary for Milwaukee parental choice, the establishment of voucher programs in other large cities remains a distinct possibility.
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