Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SEEDS of Discontent

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 14, 2009

By Bill Kraus

There were small stories in the Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Magazine recently about an easily overlooked obituary.

The deceased is an idea called SEED (School for Educational Evolution and Development).

I was a witness to its Wisconsin birth a couple of years ago.

SEED was invented in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore a few years ago.

It is a boarding school which takes students at random from poverty-stricken and otherwise non-functioning areas in the city and gives them a boarding school opportunity.

The students come to school at 8 a.m. on Mondays and go back home at 8 p.m. on Fridays if there is a home to go to. If not, they stay at the school full time.

As you can imagine, this is not cheap. It costs something like $30,000 per student (more than three times the per-student costs in public schools) and a facility has to be built to house them as well.

The reasons the Milwaukee leaders who listened to a presentation about SEED greeted the idea more warmly than one would imagine is the results it was producing in the east. Almost 100 percent of the students finish high school. More than 80 percent go on to college, where they also succeed. And, best of all, many if not most of them return to the places they came from when they entered the SEED program where they become role models and leaders for the larger community.

All of a sudden $30,000 per student--which compares favorably with the cost of incarceration in Wisconsin--didn’t seem so expensive after all.

The Milwaukee audience whose members have been desperately seeking solutions to the cultural, educational, social problems of that city finally felt that they were seeing an idea that might work.

It was expensive. It would take a very long time to get to speed. It attracted the best and brightest and most eager teachers. It offered hope.

The gestation period did not go smoothly. The first entrepreneur to step forward stepped aside to pursue another opportunity and then went away. His successor picked up the pieces, but before he could put them back together all of the people and organizations who would have to come up with the money were much less affluent than they had been. Worse yet, the state, which was looking for this kind of a solution for its largest and troubled city, had fiscal troubles of its own.

There were also rumors that the teachers’ unions were not enthusiastic and perhaps there were dissidents from the policy, from the idea itself, but the immediate cause of death was money-starvation. Governor Jim Doyle called SEED a “wonderful thing” but unaffordable right now.

One of its enthusiasts says “the governor killed it.”

No matter. The governor, the economy, the expense, the city, whoever or whatever, the sad fact is that SEED is dead. The cancer for which it might have offered a cure is not. Mourn its passing.

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