Howard Fuller (left) and Wendell Harris
The Trump administration has made school choice, vouchers in particular, a cornerstone of its education agenda. This has generated lots of interest in how school voucher programs across the country work and who they benefit.
The oldest school voucher program was created in Milwaukee in 1990 with a singular focus on African-American students living in poverty. This school year, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program issued nearly 28,000 vouchers for low-income kids to attend dozens of private and religious schools at public expense.
Over the years though, most voucher recipients have performed no better academically than their public school peers. In some cases they’ve done worse. So who exactly is benefitting? It’s a question that has raised serious misgivings in Milwaukee’s African-American community. So much so that some of the city’s prominent black leaders today are divided.
Howard Fuller and Wendell J. Harris, in many ways, represent that split.
Harris is currently on the Milwaukee school board. As a member of the NAACP’s education committee in Wisconsin, he was one of the original plaintiffs who sued the state in 1990 in a failed effort to block vouchers.
Fuller, a professor at Marquette University, is one of the architects of the voucher program. He’s also a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national pro-voucher and school choice group.