Milwaukee parent says, ‘My son and his school are not for sale’

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This article was originally posted on Tumblr by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

This moving testimony was given by parent Peg Randall Gardner at Wednesday’s public hearing (January 27, 2015) on the School Takeover bill. She arrived at 9:15am and was among the first to sign up and speak to the education committee about the bill. It was 11 hours and 30 minutes later when her name was finally called to speak and when she did, she delivered one of the most powerful testimonies of the day, all while holding up the reason she’d persevered for so long, her son Nikolai.

Here is what Peg said to the committee:

I am a parent and I don’t have a choice. My son has multiple disabilities, and the school choice program isn’t required by law to take him. My name is Peg Randall Gardner and I am here to register my dissent to this bill and the negative effects it will have on children like mine. This is my son Nikolai (hold up picture). He wanted to come and testify for himself, but the eleven hours I’ve been sitting here would have done him in. So I’ll just put his picture here. I wanted you to see his picture because this bill is about more than numbers, test scores, data and the arbitrary grades that determine if schools and school districts pass or fail. It’s about people, real people, like Nikolai. These policies are not just theories for him; they’re his life.

Nikolai is required by law to take standardized tests he cannot pass because of his disabilities. And yet those unrealistic, irrelevant test scores can be used to grade his teachers and his school as failing. Nothing could be further from the truth. His public school teachers have helped him to overcome the obstacles to learning that his disabilities cause, with skills and commitment second to none. My son learns in our public school. He succeeds in our public school. He has a future in our public school – until now.

Based on the scores of my disabled son and others like him, the state could declare his school a failure and sell it to the highest bidder. The local school board that we legally elected would be powerless, and all of the taxpaying voters in my community and others like it would be disenfranchised. This bill takes away our schools, our votes, our rights, and our children’s future. A privatized school has no obligation to educate my son, and if they would decide to briefly accept him for the taxpayer money his body would provide, they have no obligation to serve him under the federal IDEA laws that protect him now.  This isn’t mere speculation, it has already happened time and time again in the voucher and charter schools that already exist in Wisconsin.

My son’s needs are expensive, and it is unlikely any privatized school would take him on. Who would educate him then? Thanks to the historic cuts of the last four years, there already isn’t enough money in our schools to meet all of the needs of our students. If more money is siphoned off from our public schools to the highest bidder, what’s left for children like mine?

Nikolai is a child of Wisconsin, and like all of our children, no matter where they live in this state; he has a right to a free and equitable education. My son and his school are not for sale. Make no mistake – that is what this bill is about.

It’s personal for many of us in this room. It’s certainly personal for Nikolai. These are real children living real lives in the classrooms of our state, and it is their future that this bill sells out. That’s a price no one should have to pay, but especially not the most vulnerable citizens of Wisconsin, our disabled children.  I ask you to see this bill as it really is, and protect their future. Support, don’t dismantle, our public schools.

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