Article compiled by MCJ Staff
State Representative Annette Polly Williams, considered the “Mother of Parental School Choice,” and the longest serving woman legislator in Wisconsin history, announced recently she will not seek reelection to the state Assembly, where she has served for 30 years.
It is believed Williams made the surprise announcement during an event she sponsored at Stella’s Restaurant on King Drive.
The announcement has created an opportunity for established political figures and activists to replace Williams as state representatives of the 10th Assembly District, which encompasses Glendale and parts of Milwaukee’s central city, an area with one of the highest concentrations of African Americans in the state.
In a statement, Williams expressed gratitude for the time she has served her constituency. The lawmaker has fought for and has helped to win several major battles that have improved the quality of life and education for the residents of Milwaukee.
Her efforts in education is what launched Williams to national prominence. She is known nationally for her championing Parental School Choice, a voucher program passed by the legislature in 1990—with the backing of Republican lawmakers and then Gov. Tommy Thompson and, ironically, with the opposition of her own Democratic colleagues.
The program allows students from low-income families the opportunity to attend private schools using public dollars.
It was the first such program in the nation and spurred other education and community activists to push for a similar program, which was seen as revolutionary and on a level of importance with the historic U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
The Parental Choice revolution trail blazed a path that allowed for the creation of other unique education models such as charter schools and schools run by the private sector. Choice is seen by many who were involved in the movement or who observed it from the periphery as igniting debates on race, class and quality within American education.
MCJ Associate Publisher and former Editor Mikel Holt, who wrote a book chronicling the Parental Choice movement titled “Not Yet Free At Last,” praised Williams for bravely championing Parental School Choice despite the heated and often vicious opposition she encountered, even from those within her own party and some individuals in the community.
In recent years, Williams has focused her energy on improving the educational outcomes for children within the Milwaukee Public School district, the very same district she butted heads with before and during her Choice crusade.
She formed an organization of retired educators, parents and concerned citizens called the African American Education Council, which gave the community a voice in the recent and ongoing efforts to reform MPS.
A product of the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, Williams fought in the legislature on issues affecting her constituency with the same fervor that won the civil rights movement.
Williams plans to spend more time with her family and church, while staying involved in the community and continuing to fight for issues relating to children and their families.