- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

A champion of Milwaukee's pioneering school voucher program says the teachers union is spending $2 million to knock him off the school board April 1 and wrest control of the nine-member body.
John Gardner, radical union organizer-turned school reformer, says the goal is to destroy Milwaukee's successful 12-year school choice voucher program.
"I know they have already announced $125,000 early disclosure of money they have been sent," Mr. Gardner said of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA), which has targeted him and four other pro-voucher school board members for defeat. "I know that they have a war chest of $2.4 million."
Mr. Gardner, the board's only citywide at-large member, said he's raised just $45,000 for his nonpartisan campaign for a third four-year term. His MTEA-backed opponent, former high school principal Tom Balistreri, has been busy since January raising $160,000 from unions and union members to spend on TV ads and a get-out-the-vote drive.
"So I'm sitting here like a duck in the water with the hunters gathering round, and no money to go on television. And the rule of thumb in American politics is TV beats no TV, no matter what else."
Mr. Gardner and four other Milwaukee school board members up for re-election next month comprise a pro-reform group, with a one-vote majority. They support school choice and want changes in a lucrative fringe benefits contract for 6,400 public school teachers. The contract has a current unfunded liability of $136 million a year. The group chose the city's reform-minded public school superintendent, William Andrekopoulos, on a 5-4 vote last August.
Mr. Gardner, an organizer in the 1970s for Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers Union in California and self-described "radical left-winger," is now despised by union bosses for his pro-school choice advocacy.
Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who first proposed empowering parents with vouchers to choose their children's schools, has donated $3,000 to Mr. Gardner's campaign.
And Stephen Moore, president of the conservative Club for Growth, which gave campaign contributions totaling $10 million to pro-free market candidates in the 2002 congressional elections, has pledged to raise $100,000 for Mr. Gardner's re-election bid.
Mr. Gardner joined Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist, a Democrat, and the city's business leaders in 1990 to push for state legislative approval of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which today gives vouchers for parents to send 12,000 students more than 10 percent of city public school enrollment to private schools with the state paying about $5,553 for each child's education.
With backing from then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, now President Bush's Health and Human Services secretary, the Wisconsin voucher program was expanded to include religious schools in 1998.
"John is a reforming Trotskyite," said Michael Joyce, former president of the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, longtime funder of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute in Washington, who now advises President Bush on faith-based initiatives. "He's true to his liberal convictions of standing up for the little guy."
Mr. Moore said the Milwaukee campaign is crucial to school reform nationwide. "The national significance of this is if this flower-pot experiment of school vouchers is killed, you're not going to have the national case study that proves that vouchers raise student achievement and standards," he said.
Pat O'Mahar, spokesman for the MTEA, refused to comment about the union campaign to unseat Mr. Gardner and three of his pro-reform colleagues. A fifth pro-voucher board member is unopposed.
The Milwaukee teachers union paid a $5,000 civil fine after the 1999 city elections for failing to report more than $1 million in campaign expenditures to support union-backed school board candidates.
Mr. Balistreri did not respond to an interview request. Paula Zellner, his campaign manager and Shawano County Democratic chairwoman, said, "Vouchers have been declared constitutional [by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2002], so vouchers are not an issue in this campaign."
Asked to explain references in Mr. Balistreri's official campaign strategy plan to a union-backed effort against all pro-voucher incumbents on the school board as well as in the Milwaukee City Council, and even the state legislature and state supreme court Mrs. Zellner said, "We would prefer to have no comment."
The Balistreri campaign plan, obtained by The Times, told potential union supporters that Mr. Gardner "is part of Mayor Norquist's slate of voucher advocates. … Gardner has had an antagonistic relationship with MTEA and most other unions. …
"The April 1st election will not be limited to just issues that are of importance to school board candidates, but the issues viewed as important to the other elections also on the ballot. Among those elections are: Wisconsin Supreme Court, the primary in the special election for the 7th Senate District, the general election in the 10th Milwaukee Aldermanic District, the potential primary in the 2nd Milwaukee Aldermanic District, one potential contested Milwaukee judicial election and four contested district-specific school board seats, all of which are currently held by voucher supporters."

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