Kaleem Caire Is Running for Seat 3 on the Madison School Board
Relentless for Equity in Education
Part 2 of 2
more control over their children’s education.
“Polly Williams did eventually feel used,” Caire said about the former Milwaukee legislator’s efforts to institute vouchers for low-income children that was later
used by Republican legislators as a kind of Trojan Horse to get broader school voucher programs implemented.
“What happened — charter schools are the same — was everything becomes a political football. People see wedge issues and they step in and they get a edge
issue and then we start going back and looking at it and wondering ‘Everything is dirty now.’ The same happened to charter schools. Charter schools were a
Democrat idea. They were first pushed by Al Shanker who was the head of the American Federation of Teachers. But when they decided in Minnesota to change the
rules after the Democratic legislature on both sides voted it in and the governor signed it, they went back to the board and said, ‘We want to have non-teachers be
able to propose schools.’ That’s when he backed away from it. And then it became this political football. Others stepped in and then you had a more conservative
support in some of these states for it and it totally flipped except in places like New York and New Jersey where there was a strong Democratic base of support for
charter schools. Here in this state, it’s mostly the Milwaukee-area legislators who support it. But it’s sad. Maybe if we studied civics and history in our schools
more, we would have a greater time period and context to understand why these things got supported. But now just because another group has seized the moment,
we’re supposed to back away from it? Sorry, that’s why I’m not a Democrat or Republican. They are so inconsistent. You go to the table and you are already
supposed to be opposed to someone on something. I can’t even have a conversation with you? Or if I am aligned with you, then I can’t be aligned with them? I’m a
free Black man and I will always be. Seriously, I take my freedom seriously. My mom didn’t give birth to me and my grandmother didn’t raise me for another type of
Caire is concerned about the aging Madison school buildings and other facilities and their impact on the students’ ability to learn.
“The facilities are a pressing need,” Caire said. “Our facilities are falling apart. You can go right over here to Memorial and just ask them to walk you through the
underbelly of the school. I did that when Dan Nerad was here because I was curious. I walked into West High School and stepped into a classroom to talk with
some kids and I thought my feet were sinking into the floor. And the room was dimly lit. It just didn’t seem like the vibrant school that I went to. It was old then. I
started looking around. I made a video with Johnny Justice that’s on YouTube. We went into a classroom and I made a video about this. It was one of the
classrooms. I don’t know anything about construction, but they had all of this sprayed in the cracks everywhere to ensure that everything doesn’t fall down. It’s
crazy. I started going back into the history and I saw the article by Cheryl Wilhoyte in 1996. She was pleading with the school board and the community to support
her effort to address the serious facility issues back then. She said that we keep pushing it off and we’re going to push it off until some point in the future where we
can’t fix it. Guess what? We’re here. East and West High Schools, we should have new high schools.”
Caire feels that public education is underfunded and increases are need to meet present-day and future needs.
“The district has financial issues,” Caire emphasized. “I think Tony Evers is right in bringing back two-thirds funding. But we have to get a little more creative too
because I believe that’s not even enough to do what we need to do. We’ve placed schools so far behind the eight ball. I bet if every school said, ‘This is what our
basic needs are to fulfill our facility’s needs and all of these things,’ we couldn’t afford it. We’re lucky because we’re a property-rich district. We’re going to have to
go to referendum in order to do these things. I met with Dean Loumas. He told me some of the things that he hopes get done still. I pledged to him that I would
definitely focus on facilities. That’s an issue for me too. He’s been working on this with the district. But I want to look deeper at that plan because I don’t know if it
goes far enough. I feel that we need to look at what our full, real need is and what our aspirational goal is and then figure out how we get there in a way won’t be too
expensive for the city, but it’s going to take some resources to do it. We have to be stronger advocates for increases in public funding for public education.”
And in Caire’s view, believe it or not, Madison is in a competition right now that can impact its long-term ability to provide quality education to its students.
“We have people moving away from Madison,” Caire observed. “They call it white flight. Now it’s just middle class flight. People are choosing to live elsewhere.
And when they start building brand new high schools that are retro-fitted for cloud learners, where are the teachers going to want to go? Where are the students
going to want to go? The teachers are going to want to have a nice, beautiful building and they are hiring and they pay the same or more than what we pay here?
Who are we going to get? We’re not setting up our system up for success in the future. It’s going to kill us. Madison doesn’t have a broken government. Whatever
we think about Paul Soglin or whomever came before him, I don’t remember a time when there has been serious corruption in Madison government or Dane County.
Someone is always doing something wrong, but it’s not significant. We don’t have a corrupt school system. We have people who volunteer for everything around
here. We have a community like that. Why aren’t we doing more? If we don’t make changes where cities can reengineer themselves, we’re in trouble.”
The time to act is now.
By Jonathan Gramling
Since he moved back to Madison in 2010 as the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and
subsequently founder of One City Schools after he left the Urban League, Kaleem Caire has been a
lightning rod on educational issues and the lack of progress in addressing the academic disparities that
African American and other students of color face in the Madison public schools.
While one can dispute the solutions that Caire may propose — his Madison Prep charter school
proposal while he was at the Urban League raised a firestorm of discussion — when people know him,
his sincerity, commitment and persistence of efforts to improve the academic excellence of Black
Caire supports school vouchers for low-income children in the Milwaukee Public School system, but
not statewide. He views vouchers for these children as an act of freedom for the students who did not
choose to attend low-performing schools. Caire supports efforts that will give the Black community