Milwaukee, WI – There has been a major lack of funding in the Milwaukee Public School system in recent years, and fixes were implemented in order to frame a more sensible approach to the way student life is treated. Standardized testing was done away with – something that has left teachers on the fence about.
“I am glad the testing is gone, but I believe gathering information is always good. Those tests can be biased and even racist, so we will figure out new ways to build strategies,” says Marcela “Xela” Garcia, school board director for District 6 on Milwaukee’s South Side.
Xela has a vast background in Milwaukee public schools. Raised by two educators, she has also helped teachers with lessons, and then went through a non-profit training that catapulted her into the world of education.
“Here on the south side, a lot of parents don’t know the difference between private, public, charter or voucher schools. One of my initial motivations to get involved in education was to inform parents of the stark differences, by giving them information on the schools they are sending their children to,” she says.
Representation is very important in elected officials, especially in a system like public schools. “Understanding equity is allowing all students to get what they need, when they need, how they need,” Xela says. As a society, there has been a perfunctory failure in the simple task of providing equity for children. In terms of equity, there is important groundwork that has to be laid, and must be confronted as a society.
Something of great importance is that a lot of decisions are informed through representatives whose opinions come from lived experiences. Someone who has gone through the Milwaukee public school system will have a better idea of what is needed for students of color.
“The biggest challenge that currently faces MPS is better funding at a state level. Reimbursements for special education are very low. Considering we are the school system that has the largest amount of students that require these additional services, there is no one listening. We need to cover basic necessities, and funding has been a very big stumbling block,” Xela says.
Advocacy is a way to get more funding, as well as work with other political figures. What needs to be demonstrated is the fact that underfunding schools has very real and immediate consequences. As of right now, coming out of the pandemic poses many challenges, mostly uncertainty from a staffing perspective.
“We have to make them understand that these resources need to be directed in a way to make sure that our community has the support needed, as well as the staff at these schools,” she tells me. “All of these challenges have a root, and it is the same across the city. There is a different composition of schools, simply because in District 6, there is the highest concentration of multilingual schools. There is a similar thread throughout the districts, in the fact that teachers want to set up all their students for success.” she adds.
Recently, school bus drivers had stopped picking up students, where they decried low wages and cut hours. “The bus driver is a national issue, but MPS has been put in a particularly difficult spot. It is an added burden that parents have been dealing with, so as a school board, we did vote to reimburse parents for their mileage,” she says, which is something that will truly help.
“Critical race theory” is another elephant in the room for school systems. There has been some talk in state legislation, and throughout the bills that pop up for communities, it has not come up. There always seems to be coding of some sort, left intentionally vague. “Luckily, because we live in a purple state, the banning of ethnic studies of any kind seems to be getting shut down,” she says.