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Williams, Polly

The late Annette “Polly” Williams, the “Mother of School Choice”, was an early leader in the education reform movement, fighting for choice in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Polly later served as a member of the Wisconsin Assembly and went on to become the longest-serving woman in the state legislature. Before her retirement in 2010, she helped found the African American Education Council, an organization that brought black residents to the table in reform efforts throughout Milwaukee schools. She has been credited as the author of the very first school choice legislation and galvanized support for its implementation from then- Governor Tommy Thompson and the former mayor of Milwaukee, John Norquist. So awe-inspiring were Williams’ legislative efforts that, during his time as Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton sent a letter in 1990 urging Williams to “keep up the good work” against the status quo in education. Williams was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including recognition from the New York Times as one of the “13 innovators who changed education in the 20th century”.

Known for placing conviction ahead of politics, Williams once said, “And it really doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, the statehouse, the court house, or city hall. It doesn’t matter who controls any of those houses. It matters who controls our house. Parents have got to be in control of their own home and their own children, and then parents make those decisions. All these other houses [should] respond and respect what parents want for their children.” Sadly, Williams passed away in late 2014 at the age of 77.