Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Voucher Godmother Skeptical of Allies

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Voucher Godmother Skeptical of Allies

Article excerpt

The godmother of Milwaukee's low-income private school tuition voucher movement is increasingly skeptical of her erstwhile allies.

In 1989, Annette "Polly" Williams, a black Milwaukee Democratic state assemblywoman, managed to stitch together a coalition of suburban Republicans, urban African-Americans and lobbyists for the Milwaukee Catholic archdiocese and the business community to create an experimental program that would allow state tax dollars to go to private schools on behalf of low-income Milwaukee families.

Today, as school choice has expanded from a strictly nonsectarian program to one that includes religious schools, Williams remains a supporter of its original intent. But she's increasingly critical of other members of the coalition, starting with the business lobby but also including the Catholic church.

"This program was not designed to help Catholic schools," Williams said. "It was designed to help parents find the school that was best for them."

The chief source of friction between Williams and others in the school choice coalition has been the calls by almost everyone but her to open the program to all families, not just the poor.

For Williams, choice has always been about leveling the playing field for poor, inner-city, African-American families. Before she spearheaded the legislation that instituted the voucher program, Williams was part of an abortive campaign that would have carved out a separate, inner-city public school district in Milwaukee.

She knew from the start, she said, that her agenda differed from that of others, but she was willing to make common cause.

"Our goal was empowering parents," Williams said of herself and her inner-city supporters. …

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