Annette Polly Williams, 73, the author of the nation’s first alternative education policy, will not be seeking re-election for her seat on the Wisconsin State Assembly. She’s been an assemblywoman since 1980, representing Milwaukee’s 10th Assembly District.
Rep. Williams made a bold move in the early 1990s and sided with Wisconsin white Republicans in the Legislature to advocate on behalf of school choice, a voucher program that enabled parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools. At the time, Williams received a lot of criticism from individuals who thought vouchers would hurt Milwaukee Public Schools. In a 2002 interview with the Heartland Insitute, Williams exlains her decision to support school choice,
We wanted the children to stay in their own community and have the resources there. We had been fighting for years to improve the public schools but it was falling on unresponsive ears. The system’s attitude seemed to be, “What do parents know? They’re not educated, so they don’t know what’s best.” We said the parents should have more input in what was going on. We began asking, “How do we get more power to the parents to initiate what they think is best for their children?”
Eugene Kane writes of Williams and her hard choices,
While Williams was always a staunch supporter of school choice, she harbored no illusions about the political dynamics of the issue.
That’s one of the main reasons she has never been a favorite of right-wing politicians and talk show hosts always looking for a black face to align with on controversial issues. She recognized you can’t have it both ways.
In other words, you can’t vote against the interests of poor black children in Milwaukee time and time again and still insist you are concerned about their livelihood.
Rep. Williams will retire with the distinction of having created a school choice model for the nation.