Wis. Plan To End Milwaukee Busing Advances

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A plan that would dismantle 25 years of mandatory busing in Milwaukee and provide millions of dollars for building and improving neighborhood schools is moving through the Wisconsin legislature and could be on the governor's desk by summer's end.

Called the Neighborhood Schools Initiative, the proposal was drafted by state Reps. Shirley I. Krug, Antonio R. Riley, and Annette Polly Williams, all Milwaukee Democrats, who argue that black students in the 103,000-student district have borne the brunt of the district's busing program.

The plan would be phased in over five years, beginning in the 2000-01 school year. It would divert $200 million that the district would otherwise have spent on transportation during that time to construction and enhancements that would enable more students to attends schools close to home.

The three lawmakers unveiled the plan late last month at a school in a predominantly African-American neighborhood where, because of crowding, students are bused to schools elsewhere in the city.

Some 70 percent of students in the district are transferred out of their neighborhoods. Yet only a small proportion of its black students--35 percent--attend schools that are considered integrated, meaning the student body is no less than 30 percent and no more than 70 percent black.

Polly Williams

"Busing was designed to help 'poor, pitiful black children' who can't get an education in their neighborhood schools, but it hasn't worked," Ms. Williams, who is African-American, said last week. She noted that the state sends $32 million each year to the district for desegregation purposes.


In 1976 a federal court ordered Milwaukee schools to desegregate, resulting in school closings and thousands of transfers. Schools have been under a voluntary desegregation plan since 1987, according to the district.

While the neighborhood schools plan would not dismantle all integration efforts, under it, busing would be voluntary, and parents would have to sign consent forms before their children were transported outside their neighborhoods.

And under the proposal, white Milwaukee students would be allowed to participate in the state's open-enrollment program, which allows students to choose from among any school in the state, provided there is room. To maintain diversity in the 82 percent minority Milwaukee system, most white students have been barred from attending suburban schools.

The plan would also require more specialty schools and programs, such as magnet schools and arts programs. And every school would be required to reserve 30 percent of its enrollment to accommodate transfer students from other schools.

Mayor John O. Norquist, a Democrat, and several members of the school board have endorsed the plan. They argue that it would help maintain diversity while providing more and better options to black students. "I think this will stabilize and expand integration," said John Gardner, a school board member, who is white.

Some, however, fear a return to separate and unequal education for minority students, especially poor students. "We're against it because we don't feel that it permits an integrated education, and we think that's vital" said Jerry Ann Hamilton, the president of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

"The legislature should take a step back and think about what they're doing," added Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

Rep. Williams said her biggest concern was that luring and keeping white students would become the district's first priority once the new funds were allocated. "We need to focus on black students and black institutions," she said.

The proposal cleared a joint legislative finance committee last week. It needs the approval of both chambers of the legislature before it reaches the desk of Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican.

Vol. 18, Issue 40, Page 3

Published in Print: June 16, 1999, as Wis. Plan To End Milwaukee Busing Advances
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