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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI’s annual multicultural lecture gets postponed

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School choice advocate Howard Fuller diverted by state politics

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 3, 2005 -- The University of Rhode Island Multicultural Center announces, with regret, the postponement of its 11th Annual Lecture on Multiculturalism, scheduled for Tuesday, February 8.

The invited guest, Dr. Howard Fuller, distinguished professor of education, and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, has determined that Wisconsin state politics require him to remain in the state during the beginning of the legislative session, which begins next Tuesday.

The nation’s most influential African-American advocate for school choice, Fuller, and the Black Alliance for Educational Options appear poised to take direct action in support of choice by conducting a sit-in early next week.

The catalyst for the sit-in may be when Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle delivers his expected veto of legislative efforts to raise the statutory cap that freezes the number of low-income students that can take part in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program.

Surviving legal challenges in the state courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court after its inception in 1990, Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest and largest public scholarship program for low-income families, has established school choice as an accepted part of the institutional landscape in the state.

Beginning with 340 students, the program currently serves more than 13,000 students, with projections that exceed 15,000 for the next school year. If the veto of the governor is issued and upheld, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction would then be charged with the task of rationing the available seats to enforce the cap, randomly assigning students to schools, eroding the element of parental empowerment, and adding chaos to the system, according to Fuller.

A 2004 study by Dr. Jay Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, found that students in the Parental Choice Program using vouchers to attend private schools, had a graduation rate of 64 percent, compared with the 36 percent graduation rate for students in the public schools. Even the six academically selective public schools in Milwaukee only graduated students at a 41 percent rate.

While he is perceived as having previously mishandled negotiations with school choice advocates, losing trust, Governor Doyle could still possibly reach a face-saving compromise by linking a raise in the statutory cap to accommodate the needs of students to an increase in public school funding – a previous trial balloon he has floated.

Because of the compelling nature of these developments, URI’s Multicultural Center is continuing to explore options with Fuller, and hope to present him at a later date.