On Jan. 9, Gail Hicks testified before the Urban Education Committee of the Wisconsin Assembly and called out Milwaukee's "New Hustler Academies" -- the nickname she and her colleagues have bestowed upon the many unscrupulous charter and voucher schools that have sprung up in Milwaukee since Wisconsin's largest city became one of this country's largest experiments in educational privatization.
Less than a week later came this headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A small private school participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program abruptly closed in the middle of December, but not before collecting more than $200,000 from taxpayers this academic year to educate students who now attend other schools, state officials confirmed.LifeSkills became a voucher school in 2008, and through the years received over two million dollars in taxpayer funding.
LifeSkills Academy, a K-8 school that had dwindled to 66 students, appears to have closed around Dec. 12, according to a letter sent to the school from the Department of Public Instruction.
And what did Wisconsin get for the money?
Follow me below the tangled orange political web to find out.
No students attending LifeSkills were proficient in reading or math in 2012-'13, except for a single fourth-grade student, according to the most recent state achievement test score results.One student proficient, out of SIXTY-SIX.
Well, at least we can get the unspent money back and put it toward the public schools, right, now that Milwaukee Public Schools have presumably absorbed sixty-six more students?
Don't count on it.
The DPI is not able to recoup public money spent by voucher schools that do not finish the year.I was curious as to what kind of school this was, that could exist with such a wretched track record and still be around to disappear so suddenly. So I Googled "Lifeskills Academy" to find out.
Not surprisingly, their web site is down, but since the Internet is forever, I did find a snapshot from May 2013 on the Wayback Machine. Some excerpts:
Public money, being spent on religious education at a school whose web site emphasizes religion first, academics a distant second. I find the choice of Bible verse particularly disturbing. How could Wisconsin be supporting a school where the founding principle is FEAR, in any form?
One Awesome God / Two Great Schools
Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD...(Psalm 34:11 NIV)
To lead students into a genuine relationship with Christ while providing an excellent academic program.
To this, we will strive to continue…..
It's been interested to peek at the comments on the Journal Sentinel article and elsewhere. The voucher-defenders are unusually few and far between, but when they speak up they say things like this:
This is the way it is suppose to work in a pseudo free marketplace, the good survive and the bad fail.When we educate our kids as a community, collectively using our tax dollars, we put safeguards of transparency and accountability in place such that NO school is so abysmal as to have only ONE student who meets proficiency standards in reading and math! And sudden overnight failure of a school is terribly detrimental to the academic progress of the students whose lives are so disrupted.
Then there was this one:
I guess the good news is that this failed school closed, another difference to our failing Public Schools, because they stay open.No. The comparison to Milwaukee public schools is specious; that's not where you'll find numbers like a 1.5% proficiency rate! The only good news here is that the failure of this appalling voucher school, with all the damage it did to its students both in its existence and its demise, helps shine a harsh bright light on what vouchers are doing to Milwaukee, and will eventually be doing statewide if the privatizers have their way.
Welcome to Wisconsin, everyone. Step right up, the New Hustler Academies are here and ready to multiply!
Well, well, well. The proprietors of LifeSkills Academy moved to Florida and opened a new LifeSkills Academy: Leaders of closed Milwaukee voucher school are now in Florida
A husband and wife running a private Milwaukee voucher school that abruptly closed last month — after accepting a total of more than $2.3 million in taxpayer money — now live in a gated community in Florida by the beach, records show.(h/t scribeboy from the comments)
Records show Taron and Rodney Monroe started a new private Christian school this year in Daytona Beach. While the school in Milwaukee was running on fumes, they were telling Florida friends they had experience getting government grants for religious schools.
And in further updates, it appears that not only did they open a new version of their failed school in Florida, they declared themselves to have expertise in special education and got themselves listed as a McKay special needs voucher school!
Operators of Failed WI Voucher School Move to Florida, Open Special Needs Voucher School