February 18, 2015

Walker Budget Stops Integration in Education 

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As we continue to celebrate Black History month, I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of two Wisconsin 2015-17 budget proposals, that seek to walk away from integration efforts in public education.  Many of us remember the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, issued by the United States Supreme Court, which forever changed the legality of segregating students by race in the nation’s schools.

Many people may not know that the historic case, handed down in 1954, was actually a consolidation of five cases from around the country.  Rarely is the wording “Board of Education of Topeka” used when the case is discussed, but it should be understood that cases from Kansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Virginia were all used in this decision.

The Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned Plessy V. Ferguson, a case from 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation in public education.  The 1954 ruling led to the school integration efforts, on behalf of a six-year old child, that would forever change history. 

If we close our eyes, we can see little Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans.  The Norman Rockwell painting, of her being escorted by U.S. Marshalls into the school, still rocks us to our core.  The visions of teachers refusing to educate her remain quite vivid.  The stories of Ruby being taught for a year and a half, in a classroom, all by herself, with her teacher, because no one would allow their child to be taught alongside her, still stings.   Today Ruby Bridges Hall, who is 61 years-old, would likely find Governor Scott Walker’s latest budget proposals interesting.  I know I did.

In reviewing the budget, I was surprised by the administration’s decision to end a voluntary racial integration program that helps racially balance Milwaukee’s city and suburban schools.  The Chapter 220 program allows minority students from the City of Milwaukee to attend eligible suburban school districts, such as South Milwaukee.  Additionally, non-minority South Milwaukee residents may apply to attend MPS schools.  To assist, in the success of this program, bussing was provided to ensure that transportation was not a barrier to student participation.   

Walker has said this effort to free up aid for districts statewide.  He wants to end the program and then redirect $60 million in aid to other districts. Of the existing students participating in the program, the administration plans to grandfather them in to the proposal. Sadly, the governor’s attacks on integration, doesn’t stop there.

Walker also has plans to eliminate recruiting programs for minority and disadvantaged students in the University of Wisconsin System.  Considering the abysmal percentage of African-American students enrolled in the UW’s flagship campus in Madison, I find these efforts not only frustrating but ill-conceived.  Over the years, there have been highly organized campaigns to discontinue affirmative steps in higher education to recruit and enroll student of color.  Former state Senator Glenn Grothman (R), who was recently elected to serve in Congress, led the charge to “get rid of this huge diversity bureaucracy we have at our campuses,” as he was quoted saying less than a year ago regarding admission efforts around diversity.

I, along with many of my colleagues, in particular former Rep. Tamara Grisby, have fought long and hard to ensure that students of color are given every opportunity throughout their educational journey to succeed.  Disparities in education remain an issue today and we must continue to work to create a balance.  Even in Wisconsin, we must appreciate that we are global citizens, working in diverse environments, and that efforts around integration and inclusion benefit all of our students.