Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Will of the People: How the Green Bay Packers Serve as a Model for Education Reform in their Community

Opponents to school choice in Green Bay earned a victory earlier this year (and no—we're not talking about the Packers; at least not yet) when the Wisconsin state budget that passed with sweeping school choice expansions failed to include a proposed voucher expansion into Green Bay. Still, even without measure, significant expansions in Milwaukee and Racine made 2011 one of the most successful years for school choice since the original inception of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program over 20 years ago.

But what wasn't lost on us was the fact that the legislature failed to act democratically for a city that is so predicated upon democratic ideals.

We mentioned the Green Bay Packers somewhat in jest, but the reality is that the Super Bowl Champions are a perfect example of how the people play a role in determining the operations of their town. Unlike any other major professional sports team in the United States, the Packers are publicly-owned by the people of Green Bay. They even have annual shareholders meetings just like any other publicly-traded company. Put simply, the people of the city have an unprecedented amount of control in determining the outcomes of their lone professional sports franchise.

It's unfortunate, then, that those people don't have the same say in their educational system.

We told you last month about the strong support for school choice expansion among the people of Green Bay and Racine, and yet, despite that support, the Racine voucher program was stuck with a remarkably low cap (that was, not surprisingly, reached relatively quickly) while Green Bay residents are not able to take advantage of vouchers at all.

Now, opponents are taking an additional step to forego the will of the people, working to eliminate any possibility that private school choice could reach Green Bay—despite the fact that the people want school choice in their community.

Yesterday saw representatives from the Green Bay Education Association and the Green Bay Area Public School District travel to the state Capitol to oppose vouchers, arguing that a potential program would hurt public schools (despite the fact that the opposite is already becoming true in Racine). Not surprisingly, they never addressed the fact that Green Bay residents actually want to have these additional choices afforded to them. The result was that the Senate Committee on Education approved an amendment that would, for now, limit vouchers to Milwaukee and Racine.

The special interests think they're better equipped to tell the people what they want than are the people themselves.

If this were the case when it came to football (and we're not the only ones making analogies between football and education this week), then the Packers would have long since left Green Bay. There's far more money to be made in reach and scope if they were to move away from Green Bay, one of the last small-town football cities with a population of just over 100,000 people.

(For perspective, the Packers' home stadium of Lambeau Field can hold around 70 percent of the entire city's population.)

If it were entirely up to NFL executives and folks in bigger cities, the Packers would surely have left Green Bay decades ago. But instead, the Packers have brought the city the most recent Super Bowl, worldwide acclaim for their dedicated fanbase, and some of the most memorable personalities—both on and off the field—in NFL history.

It's amazing how a community benefits when we let them make their own decisions. What worked splendidly with football can work with education, too.

Take a look below at a short local news report detailing the efforts to stop school choice in Green Bay.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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