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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

$1.3 Trillion. 42 Million People

Friday, July 1st, 2016

With the problem this big, it’s no wonder so many people are talking about student debt.

Consumer Reports has weighed in with an issue dedicated to the discussion of the student debt crisis, including an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Along with personal storiesfrom young people dealing with student debt, the report includes a wealth of useful information for current and future student loan borrowers.

For instance: Do you know which common financial product comes with more robust consumer protections: student loans or mortgages?

OK, so maybe you figured out the answer to that one pretty easily, but here’s a breakdown from our friends at Consumer Reports.

It’s important to know your rights when taking on any debt, including student loans. As the Consumer Reports poll confirms, student debt has become such a burden for many borrowers that it affects their major life decisions as well as their everyday finances.

The special report also includes an important discussion guide to help you and your family make the best decision about college and student loans. The guide includes links to excellent government and other resources and lots of information about available tools and the different things to be considered when making such an important decision.

Consumer Reports also offers an interactive chart to help you understand your repayment options and their relative costs over time so you can be more informed in your choice of repayment plan.

Student debt can be scary and confusing, and there are a lot of improvements to be made to the system, but this new report from trusted consumer advocates is an excellent resource for students, families and borrowers alike.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sarah Ann Lewis, esq., Senior Lead Researcher, Policy.

In the Wake of Deadly Clashes, AFL-CIO Stands with Mexican Teachers Union

Friday, June 24th, 2016

charlie fanningAt least eight protesters were killed and 53 injured earlier this week in clashes with police in Oaxaca, Mexico, during demonstrations against neoliberal education reforms. The teachers union in Oaxaca has been leading protests this summer against the federal government’s move to impose a national education plan that blankets over indigenous concerns in Oaxaca and imposes teacher evaluations that disadvantage schools in the poor region, as well as attacks against the union, including the controversial arrests of union leaders, mass firings of protesting teachers and the freezing of union bank accounts.

On Sunday, police sought to break up a blockade of protesters and violence erupted, with reports of police shooting into the crowd. The recent tragedy is another in a long line of incidents in Mexico’s ongoing human and labor rights crisis, including the 2014 disappearance and murder of 43 students from the teachers college in Ayotzinapa at the hands of local police and criminal gangs.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has called for an end to the violence and the immediate start of productive negotiations, and described the situation as “a sad commentary on human rights when a government meets union concerns with deadly force.”

 Talks have begun between union officials and the government, as teachers in Oaxaca continue their protests despite police threats. The AFL-CIO stands with teachers and their families in Oaxaca in their struggle for justice and autonomy.

Further, as the U.S. and Mexican governments continue to push for expanded trade benefits under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the AFL-CIO and Mexican unions oppose the agreement and demand that the Mexican government—and other countries with dire human and labor rights records like Vietnam and Malaysia—undertake fundamental reforms to end impunity for human rights abuses and protect freedom of speech, association and labor rights.

This article originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research Coordinator at AFL CIO

Mindless Underfunding Of Schools Continues, Doing Harm To Kids

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Jeff BryantHigh school graduation season is in full bloom in many communities around the nation, but in some places, parents with children still in schools have to be worried about the conditions of the schools they’ll return to in the fall – or even if the schools will open at all.

As states wrap up their budget seasons, many lawmakers are proving they simply aren’t up to the task of adequately funding schools. State spending, which accounts for about half of most public school districts’ budgets, has been in steep decline for a number of years in most states, leaving most local taxing authorities, which provide about the other half, unable to keep up unless the populace is wealthy enough to withstand higher property taxes. (Federal spending accounts for less than 10 percent of school funding, historically.)

Many of these lawmakers say the problem with the nation’s education system is lack of accountability, but school kids and their teachers are being hurt by government officials not being accountable to adequately and equitably fund our schools.

In Chicago, the nation’s fourth largest school system, the district’s school chief announced schools may not open in the fall due to a budget impasse in the state capital. Separate funding bills in the state House and Senate have drawn the ire of conservative Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who would prefer to inflict on schools a program of tough love that includes a $74 million cut in funding to Chicago.

It’s not as if the city’s schools are living in the lap of luxury. Inadequate budgets have driven up class sizes in every grade way beyond the point they are officially permitted. District chief Forest Claypool has already told Chicago principals they should prepare for whopping cuts of between 20 to 40 percent to their school budgets, which will drive class sizes through the roof.

The budget impasse, according to a report from the Associated Press, imperils schools across the state. According to the AP reporter. Democrats want new taxes, “but Rauner first wants pro-business and union-weakening reforms, ideas Democrats say hurt the middle class.”

In other words, no more money for schoolchildren until teachers make sacrifices.

As Rauner was defending his miserly stance, he took a swipe at Chicago schools, comparing them to “crumbling prisons.” That set off a firestorm on Twitter, where Chicago teachers defended the good things their institutions do to provide to students despite the budget cuts.

Actually, if the schools were more like prisons, they might be more apt to get a funding increase, as Rauner has proposed a substantial increase to prison spending for 2016.

Illinois isn’t the only state hell-bent on cutting money for schools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that state lawmakers across the nation, especially in the Midwest, are at seemingly intractable odds over how “to make sure the next school year can start on time.”

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has called a special session of the state legislature “after the state’s supreme court last month once again ruled that the state’s funding formula is inequitable and threatened to shut off funding to the schools,” according to a report from Education Week.

The court keeps telling state lawmakers the state is not funding schools based on what they deserve, according to another EdWeek report. State Republican lawmakers have considered various ways to circumnavigate the ruling, including changing the state constitution, but Democrats siding with the court forced their hand by petitioning for the special session.

Meanwhile, schools in Kansas City, Kan., where nearly 90 percent of the students are poor, “had to cut more than $50 million from its already tight budget because of state cutbacks,” according to The Hechinger Report.

The cuts are promulgated regardless of how the schools perform. In the case of Kansas City, schools had been making “double-digit” increases in some measures of achievement prior to the financial cutbacks that started in response to economic downturns in 2008.

Hechinger quotes a district administrator, “You could see the performance begin to decline as we had to cut back on people, human resources and all kinds of things to support our students.”

In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers enacted improvements to the state funding formula, a long-standing problem in the state, but left budgets mired at levels below what is needed to make the formula meaningful. Due to the inadequacy of state funding, a statewide survey of local officials finds “at least 60 percent of Pennsylvania school districts plan to raise property taxes and nearly a third expect to cut staff,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A third of respondents said their schools will increase class sizes in the year ahead.

This time the governor, Tom Wolf, is a Democrat leading the charge for increasing school funding, but the legislature controlled by Republicans “oppose new taxes and say the state needs to cut costs and find new funding streams.”

In Michigan, Detroit public schools will be out of money and unable to make payroll by June 30, according to a report from Reuters. House Republicans narrowly passed a bill to bail out the beleaguered school system, but Democratic leaders and the city’s mayor and teachers call the proposal a wasteful stopgap that funnels more money to charter schools while leaving the district adrift.

The big problem left unaddressed is how the state continues to underfund schools throughout the system. As a blog post from a district superintendent in the state explains, education funding in Michigan is in a 20-year decline. “This makes it impossible to provide the same level of teacher staffing, instructional materials, facilities maintenance, administration and operations,” he laments.

Outside the Midwest, “natural resource-dependent states” – such as Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia – are pulling “millions from their rainy day funds,” rather than raising taxes, to fund schools, according to Education Week. In Louisiana, the budget proposal would still leave schools in the lurch financially, leading to “teacher layoffs, cuts to programs, and cuts to the state’s department of education.”

Arizona is taking generally the same course, passing new legislation that raises education funding by raiding the state’s permanent endowment that supports stable financial resources for schools.

In Trenton, New Jersey, hundreds of teachers and school supporters rallied to protest funding cuts being proposed by the state’s conservative Republican Governor Chris Christie.

In North Carolina, conservative lawmakers are bragging about new teacher raises they just passed, but the state budget cuts millions from principal training, school Internet service, after-school programs, and a scholarship program to help fill shortages in math and science teachers.

“Can [school] districts raise expectations and improve achievement on a shoestring?” asks the author of the Hechinger article cited above. “How little money is too little for schools to function well?”

Maybe instead of cutting school funding to see how low it can go, it’s time we asked instead, “How much money for education is too much?” Indeed, without any real evidence that excess funding in the system is actually harming students and taxpayers, this continued austerity in education spending is mindless.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 10, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Who Needs To Reach Higher For Higher Education?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Jeff BryantFirst Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled on Friday to provide a commencement address to the graduating class of 3,000 students at The City College of New York in Harlem. As the White House announcement states, her address has some additional historic significance in that CCNY was the first public higher education institution in New York City, “established as a free institution dedicated to overcoming barriers to advancement.”

It wouldn’t be at all surprising for the First Lady to mention this in her address, as she continues to emphasize in all her commencement speeches this year her theme of “reach higher.” TheReach Higher Initiative, according to the White House, “is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.” So it would seem appropriate to recognize the monumental contribution that a free public higher education institution no doubt has had on helping multiple generations “take charge of their future.”

Unfortunately, though, CCNY hasn’t been free in 40 years. Even worse, student tuition and fees have increased dramatically in recent years, as the state continues to underfund the school since the economic downturn in 2008, while physical conditions and resources deteriorate.

As an article in The New York Times notes, at CCNY’s “handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts.”

The problems at City College are symptomatic of what’s happening to higher education throughout New York, where, according to the Times article, enrollment in the state’s City University system – a collection of 24 urban campuses that includes City College – has climbed by more than 12 percent over the last eight years while funding from the state has dropped by 17 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Under the current austerity imposed by the state, another Times article explains, the CUNY system has had to raise tuition by $300 in each of the last five years and will likely continue to do so for another five years. Tuition hikes come on top of a $280 annual fee, significantly raising the financial challenge to CUNY students, more than half of who report family incomes of under $30,000.

Keep in mind this austerity has been imposed under the gubernatorial administration of Andrew Cuomo – a Democrat undermining the stated goals of a Democratic Party presidential administration. Cuomo’s plan is to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

Why is Cuomo intent on cutting higher education and raising tuition at the very same time government leaders are exhorting young people to take their education beyond higher school?

It’s not just Cuomo. According to a new report, most states are on par with New York or even worse in cutting their commitments to higher education. A review of the report by Hechinger Reportexplains, “States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007.”

While funding has been slashed, public colleges have increased published tuition prices by 33 percent since 2007.

Which states are worse than New York? According to the Times article cited at the top of this post, “Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.

Students, of course, are the ones having to take the brunt of the funding crunch by taking on more college loan debt. As Hechinger notes, from 2008 and 2014, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year college increased from 55 to 60 percent, while the size of the average debt load rose 18 percent. In the six years before the recession, the average debt only went up by 1 percent.

College and university faculty have taken a beating from the financial austerity, too. According to recent data, faculty positions are 76 percent more apt to be filled by part-timers than they were 40 years ago. During the same time period, the number of tenured, full-time positions has dropped by 26 percent and full-time positions on a tenure track have gone down by half.

Given these circumstances, it’s understandable why college enrollments in the nation are now in decline. Part of this decline may be attributable to increased availability of jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that young adults forgoing a chance at a degree are also lowering their potential to have higher paying jobs later in life.

Declining enrollments are also not going to get the White House anywhere closer to its stated goal of ensuring, by 2020, that America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

This Friday, Michele Obama may intend to commend City College graduates, and inspire other students, for their effort to “reach higher” in education. Let’s hope she also tells policy leaders and public officials to do the same to fund it.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 1, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Vouchers Subsidizing Education Failure

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

poole-60x60The false god of school vouchers has been unmasked once again, this time by a Brookings Institution study that says students in Louisiana and Indiana using vouchers to attend private and religious schools ended up doing worse on reading and math scores than their public school counterparts.

“The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large,” said the study on “The Negative Effects of School Vouchers,” written by Mark Dynarski, a fellow with Brookings’ Center on Children and Families. They also could not be explained away by the nature of the tests the children were taken or by some notion that some of the voucher children had been pulled away from above-average public schools.

Rather, the conclusion that these results point to is that “our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate,” Dynarski writes.

The facts in this report strike at a core argument behind the conservative drive to defund public schools and to promote “school choice” to parents, using taxpayer dollars to pay some or all of the costs of a private, often church-based, school. Sometimes invoking the language of the civil rights movement, these voucher programs are defended as ways to liberate students from the mediocrity of public schools and give them the opportunity to get higher quality schooling that equips them to succeed, including if they face barriers of race or class.

Here’s the reality, according to the report: “In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia has school voucher programs. The District’s program is unique in that it is a federally funded (and for many D.C. results, unwanted) intrusion into the city’s affairs. Vouchers have recently made news in North Carolina, where the state legislature is considering a $10 million increase each year in its $12 million budget for the program. That would in 10 years increase the school voucher budget to $135 million.

As Dynarski notes, comparisons of how well students using vouchers to attend private schools in all of these states have done to public school students “have reported mixed results on scores.” But what is remarkable about what the Brookings study saw in Louisiana and Indiana is that earlier studies have not reported “significant negative effects on test scores.”

“In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle,” Dynarski concludes. “A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.”

But perhaps what is also being unmasked here is that the school voucher movement is not all about academic excellence, at least as education policymakers and experts think of it. Jeff Bryant exposed this several weeks ago in his extensive review of voucher programs and the instruction that gets subsidized by them. An editorial published recently in The Washington Times offers a window into what’s really driving the voucher movement, as it touts vouchers as a way for parents to avoid schools with such mandates as allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that conform to their gender identity. Instead of having to send their children to “schools which they believe promote unsafe and immoral behavior” – presumably such as respect and understanding for people who are different from themselves – the government can instead subsidize “the freedom to choose” a “morality” of intolerance.

But tax dollars should not be subsidizing ignorance of the basic facts of life – whether that ignorance is of how to solve a math equation or how to deal with children who don’t fit our false notions of a gender binary. At the very least, parents should have a fact-based debate of what we’re actually buying with school vouchers, not one argued on faith without evidence.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 26, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

Washington, D.C., Teachers Union Wrestles with the Legacy of Michelle Rhee

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Bruce Vail

It’s been five years since self-styled education reformer Michelle Rhee left her job as head of the District of Columbia Public Schools under a cloud of bitterness and controversy, but she is still throwing shade over the Washington city school system.

Rhee’s open hostility to unions was a hallmark of her tenure in D.C. and of her subsequent career as an executive of the education reform group StudentsFirst. That hostility continues to darken relations between city officials and the teachers union, labor advocates say.

That was clear earlier this month when some of the teachers took to the streets to protest current schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson for her years-long stalling on negotiations for a new union contract. Henderson, a Rhee protégé who took over when Rhee departed in 2010, won’t come settle a new contract, says Washington Teachers Union President Liz Davis, and is adding insult to injury by meddling in the internal affairs of the union.

“[Rhee] is still here, but in the form of Kaya Henderson,” Davis tells In These Times. Rhee’s schemes for re-vamping Washington public schools have largely failed, she says, but Henderson insists on continuing Rhee-like attacks on teachers as a way to scapegoat the failure of administrators to make better progress. Most recently, Henderson delayed further negotiations on contract talks on the pretext that an internal Washington Teachers Union election is taking place, which Davis says is a clearly improper attempt to influence the vote.

“It’s Rheeism without Rhee,” remarks Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a pro-union education research group funded by the American Federation of Teachers. (The WTU is an affiliate of the AFT.) Evidence that Rheeism has actually succeeded in improving D.C. public schools is hard to come by, Casey adds, and the city continues to rate poorlyin many national rankings.

One of Rhee’s most visible initiatives is at the heart of the current inability to reach a new contract, according to Davis. A teacher evaluation system called IMPACT rates teachers and provides generous financial bonuses for those teachers who make high scores. Low scores, on the other hand, can be the basis for dismissal. The WTU is fighting for changes to the contract’s grievance procedures, Davis says, so that members can fight unfair evaluations. Negotiations are currently deadlocked on this issue.

Disagreement over annual salary increases is the second roadblock to a new contract, according to Davis. Henderson’s most recent offer was a paltry 1 percent.

Henderson Press Secretary Michelle Lerner tells In These Times that school “policy is not to comment on contract negotiations.” The old contract expired in 2012, but remains in place to cover about 3,500 unionized teachers, she says. A mediator has been brought in for negotiations to assist talks, she says.

Pay for D.C. teachers is very good, Lerner insists, with a starting salary of $51,259 a year that is the highest in the country (though cost of living in the city is also very high). Furthermore, the IMPACT bonus system allows veteran teachers to earn six-figure incomes. Despite the lack of a new contract with across-the-board wage increases, many teachers have seen rising incomes because of the bonuses, Lerner says.

Still, D.C. has a terrible time retaining teachers, Davis says. She estimates that there has been about 70 percent turnover since 2007, and “we are still recruiting 300 to 600 new teachers every year.” Many teachers feel there is a lack of support from senior administrators, she continues, leading to wide dissatisfaction and demoralization that fuels the high turnover rate.

Driving out older teachers is one of the unspoken goals of Rheeism, Shanker Institute’s Casey suggests, so union critics might argue that Rhee/Henderson have succeeded in that respect. Likewise, charter schools have exploded in D.C. over the last ten years. Nearly half of all public school students in the city are now enrolled in charter schools, while more than 40 public schools have been closed, Davis confirms.

Relations between the union and Henderson seem likely to remain fraught with difficulty, even if a new contract can be reached soon, Casey concludes. City school administrators have established a pattern of pushing charter schools, and Henderson has privately complained that Davis is less cooperative that previous union leaders.

“[Henderson] has difficulty with Liz because she is independent,” he says.

This post originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on May 25, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Detroit teachers sue school district to fix crumbling schools and fire emergency manager

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

The Detroit Federation of Teachers joined with some parents Thursday to sue the school district over conditions in the schools and call for the dismissal of state-appointed Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.

“Asking a child to learn or a teacher to instruct with steam coming from their mouth due to the cold in the classroom, in vermin infested rooms, with ceiling tiles falling from above, with buckets to catch the rain water falling from above, or in buildings that are literally making them sick is more than what is legally or constitutionally tolerable,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint also alleges that Earley, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and has sweeping powers, has neglected his duties and made the district’s financial problems worse. Officials have said DPS is in danger of running out of cash in April or May.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to remove Earley and restore local control to the school district. They also want the district to be ordered to fix the building problems, promptly investigate complaints and create a long-term capital plan.

Earlier in the week, a Detroit student explained why she supports her teachers:

Trying to silence teachers by threatening to take away their jobs is childish and unfair to my education. When you have lost these teachers, how will you replace them? Who wants to work in a school district where ceilings fall on student’s heads, and mushrooms grow in the hallways? I did not have an English teacher for the first
four months of school, and last year I did not have a French teacher the whole first semester. With a history of all these vacancies, how will firing 23 teachers help your case at all. […]

Legislators, the Emergency Manager and others have said that teachers are hindering our education by doing these sickouts, but the reality is that none of you live in Detroit, and none of you have children who go to a DPS school. None of you have to come to school every day and share books (if we even have books), or be in the middle of doing work and the lights cut off. None of you have to worry about your safety everyday of your life, or walk past mushrooms growing in the hallway. None of you have to skip lunch every day because the food is moldy, and the milk is old. None of you experience what we experience, and until you have, you have no right to speak on anything happening in our district. Our teachers are doing what is best for us, and my education is not being hindered any more than it was when I went a whole Semester without a French/English teacher.

When you’re talking about kids facing unsanitary conditions and hunger and being deprived of a chance at an education, you find the money to fix it. Just like you don’t poison a city’s water supply. Except if you’re Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his cadre of emergency managers, apparently.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

Campbell Brown’s Dark Money And The War On Teachers’ Unions

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Our Future Campaign for AmericaBefore Democratic Party presidential candidates readied for their first debate on CNN, they turned down an opportunity to meet at another forum.

That meeting was to be hosted by ex-CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown who now operates a media outlet, The Seventy Four, that promotes charter schools and other public education policies favored by wealthy foundations and individuals. Brown’s financial backers include the philanthropic organization of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the foundation of the family that owns Wal-Mart.

As Politico reports, Brown’s group and another charter advocacy organization had already brought six Republican candidates together in New Hampshire in August to talk about education policy. Next, in conjunction with the Des Moines Register, the two organizations wanted Democratic candidates to gather in Iowa. None of the candidates would commit to attend even in principle.

Politico reporter Michael Grunwald was quick to frame the candidates’ snub, with obvious help from Brown herself, as proof of the political might of teachers’ unions.

For sure, Brown has a history of fighting with teachers’ unions. As an article in The Washington Post last year reported, she led an effort to cast the New York City teachers’ union as a protector of sexual predators.

After that venture, Brown launched a group that filed a lawsuit in New York State to dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.”

So she is clearly at it again. Grunwald quotes her, “The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates.”

“It’s shameful how my party is being held hostage by the unions,” Grunwald quotes Kevin Chavous, the head of American Federation for Children, the other organization sponsoring the event. “I see no difference between their strong-arm tactics on the Democrats and the gun lobby’s tactics on Republicans.”

This is not the first time a proponent for charter schools has compared an organization representing classroom teachers to an extremist group that responded to the gun deaths of school kids and educators in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school by blaming the teachers for not packing heat.

Comments like these show how hyperbolic people have become who back charter schools, high-stakes testing and a crackdown on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Trolling For Education ‘Reform’

But aside from that offensive remark, Brown and Chavous also took to The Daily Beast to accuse the teachers’ unions of “bullying” them and being “anti-democratic.” They warn the Democratic Party presidential slate, “Voters have demonstrated time and again that candidates who buck the teachers’ union are rewarded.” (Uh-huh, tell that to ex-Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett or failed California state education superintendent Marshall Tuck, who both lost elections, in large part, for bucking unions.)

Charter school proponents in other corridors of the education reform echo chamber offered similar counsel to the candidates.

On the blog site EducationPost – a media outlet funded with $12 million by some of the same wealthy foundations and individuals who back Campbell Brown – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the rest of the candidates were called “pathetic. … They’re afraid of the unions who warned them not to attend the event.”

In an op-ed appearing in USA Today, Richard Whitmire – a routine commentator at The Seventy Flour and author of a “worshipful portrait,” according to education historian Diane Ravitch, of former Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee – wrote, “The party of Hillary Clinton must decide: Support teachers’ unions or fight for low-income, minority children.”

This overheated rhetoric sounds a lot like concern-trolling coming from conservative Republicans. One of those, Fox News contributor Juan Williams, noticed the candidate no-shows for Brown’s event and wrote for The Hill, “Clinton and her Democratic rivals have shunned an invitation to an education reform forum because it was sponsored by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown … out of apparent fear of antagonizing the unions. The price of a union endorsement is too high for school children.”

All this bloviating over a botched attempt by charter school proponents to stage an event allowing them to frame issues for their own end is not only rhetorical overload, it’s really bad political advice.

It’s The Parents, Stupid

First, opposition to rich people’s agenda to convert more public schools to charters and attack teachers’ job protections is not confined to teachers unions.

In communities such as Nashville, Tennessee and Jefferson County, Colorado, parents, not teachers unions, are leading the opposition to the takeover of public schools by self-proclaimed reformers.

The successful mayoral campaigns of Bill de Blasio in New York City and Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey drew their strength from coalitions of voters who, yes, supported public school teachers, but also wanted solutions to the growing inequities in their cities, such as raising the minimum wage and big changes in the criminal justice system.

There is a reason, after all, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made his now infamous remark about “suburban moms” being the main opposition to the rollout of his high-stakes testing agenda for schools. Those really were suburban moms, and not the teachers’ unions, speaking out in defiance.

Unions Are Good For Low-Income Kids

Also, if Brown and her fellow education activists were really so concerned about the future of kids who live in low-income communities, they would be advocating for labor unions rather than opposing them.

My colleague Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America’s Future recently came across a new study conducted for the Center for American Progress, which found in places where union membership is higher, low-income children, in particular, benefit from “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility.” In plain English, this means union strength correlated with low-income children being more apt to rise higher in the income rankings – and for their children in turn to be better off.

Reporters at The New York Times looked at the study as well and noted, “There aren’t many other factors that are as strongly correlated with mobility” as the presence of unions. “A 10-percentage-point increase in the rate of unionization in an area coincided with a rise of an additional 1.3 points on the income distribution as the average child becomes an adult,” they wrote.

Combating unions is not only a strategy unlikely to result in good outcomes for low-income kids, it also seems completely out of step with the political zeitgeist of the times.

Missing The Populist Bandwagon

Robert Borosage, another CAF colleague with over three decades of experience as a political strategist, observes that among presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, “The growing populist movement in this country is driving this debate.”

“Populist,” as Borosage uses the term, is stridently pro-union and opposed to the agenda of the big-moneyed interests – the same folks who are typically behind charter schools, and the crackdowns on teachers’ rights, and parent and student voice, in school governance.

Likely sensing the populist uprising, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, after turning down the invitation to Brown’s klatch, made a surprise appearance at a union rally in Las Vegas where boisterous protestors were demanding higher wages and better treatment from their employer, a hotel bearing the name of Republican presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump.

The wave of populism washing across the country is not lost on Republican candidates. Tellingly, two Republican candidates currently leading in polls who did not show for Brown’s event in New Hampshire, Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are arguably the most populist candidates in that field.

Also, the two Republican Party presidential hopefuls who are most aligned with the anti-union, pro-education reform advocacy stances of Campbell Brown and her fellow advocates have not fared well.

Bad Political Advice

The fate of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the most obvious example of how union-bashing is not a sure-fire strategy for political gain. As another CAF colleague and veteran political observer Bill Scher observed upon witnessing Walker’s withdrawal from the presidential race, “Scott Walker proves you can’t union-bash your way to the White House.”

Walker, who had made a political career out of “his glorious union battles,” in Scher’s words, “became pathetic. … In the waning days of his campaign, he offered his one big idea:eliminate federal worker unions and abolish the National Labor Relations Board. Nobody cared.”

The other Republican candidate most aligned to the pro-charter, anti-union agenda of education reform proponents, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is still in the race but has faltered severely in polling results.

More than any other candidate, Bush has made his battle for charter schools and punitive education policies in the Sunshine State a centerpiece of his campaign. This strategy hasn’t done him any good, most notably because those policy ideas are now widely held in contempt in his own state.

“The Bush-era reforms have failed,” writes a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, noting the state’s school accountability system established during Bush’s regime has collapsed in ruins, and the system of testing put into place “turned schools into sweatshops.”

Investigative reports conducted by this author for the Alternet news outlet have found Bush’s expansions of charter schools have done little to advance the academic and life achievements of low-income kids and have instead opened up the state’s education system to widespread corruption and fomented chaos in communities.

Given what has happened to Walker and Bush, no candidate in his or her right mind should embrace the strategy promoted by Brown and her cohorts.

An Authentic Movement, If Democrats Want One

Many people leading the effort to stifle classroom teachers and do damage to public schools so charter schools can be presented as an attractive alternative like to believe they are leading a movement. But it’s far from certain their movement is catching on.

As the dust settles after the first debate among the Democratic Party presidential candidates, it became clear none of the issues charter school advocates care about came up in the discussion. While that’s not a good thing, necessarily, it shows despite all the money the Wal-Mart foundation and other rich folks can bring to bear, the return on their investment so far is pretty poor.

In the meantime, a grassroots constituency that sees big money pouring into campaigns for closing neighborhood schools and opening up more charters is increasingly unconvinced wealthy white people have the best interests of low-income black and brown children in mind.

This from-the-ground-up movement has also yet to influence the presidential debates, in either party. But should Democratic candidates decide to pay attention, it will be obvious to them which of these two education “movements” really represents an authentic voice for positive change.

This blog originally appeared in Salon on October 19, 2015 and Ourfuture.org on October 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

Charter School Network Challenges NLRB Ruling Allowing Teach for America Members To Unionize

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Mario VasquezDetroit 90/90, the charter school management group that operates University Prep, the city’s largest charter school network, furthered its challenge of ongoing union organizing by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), recently appealing a ruling made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last month that stated that Teach for America (TFA) members should be in the same bargaining unit as professional teachers.

AFT members and organizers say that its effort to organize charter school teachers in Detroit has seen the same kind of anti-union animus that runs throughout the corporate education reform movement. Patrick Sheehan, a former University Prep teacher and TFA member involved with organizing, wrote about the conflict last month, saying “[Detroit 90/90] hired union-busting consultants, held captive-audience meetings, intimidated teachers and ultimately threatened that if teachers voted to unionize, it wouldn’t renew its management contract—which would force UPrep schools either to find a new management company or to shutter.”

But beyond typical union-busting, organizers say Detroit 90/90 went as far as to challenge 14 TFA service members’ ballots (including Sheehan’s) before the union vote that occurred in May, sequestering them as “challenged ballots.” A later NLRB hearing determined that the ballots should be included in the unit.

The management group asked the NLRB to consider TFA members “temporary service workers,” arguing that TFA members were not professional educators and therefore ineligible to be a part of any bargaining unit. The NLRB ruled against Detroit 90/90 last month, making it clear in their ruling that TFA members could join the union being organized.

But TFA bargaining rights are still being challenged by Detroit 90/90. Detroit 90/90 appealed this NLRB ruling on August 14, arguing that Teach for America contracts include prohibitions on union activities. The union counters that Detroit 90/90 ignores the fact the contract actually states that “a TFA member may engage in any [union organizing] ‘on their own initiative” when they are not not working.

In a statement to In These Times, AFT president Randi Weingarten says Detroit 90/90’s resistance to TFA member bargaining rights is reflective of their anti-teacher sentiments:

University Prep is teaching the country a lesson in hypocrisy: it tells students and parents that TFA members are qualified to teach but are not qualified to have rights or a voice. They claim that TFA corps members— who’ve participated in union elections for years—shouldn’t be allowed in a bargaining unit with other teachers. Now, after the National Labor Relations Board rejected that claim, University Prep management has decided to appeal, using resources that should be devoted to classrooms to intimidate and silence the very teachers it says it values.

TFA has become synonymous with the charter school movement, with one-third of its members serving at charter schools, according to the organization. TFA’s close relations with charter schools has brought criticism from activists and teacher unions who say that charter school operators use the organization as trojan horse for corporate education reform and teacher displacement. As Alexandra Hootnick put it in April 2014, “TFA has funneled a growing constituency of brand-new recruits into charters in large urban districts that have recently laid off hundreds of experienced teachers, including Philadelphia (where 99 percent of corps members teach in charters), Detroit (69 percent) and Chicago (53 percent).”

In response to a request for comment, Annis Stubbs, a TFA staffer who is on the University Prep Board of Directors, directed me to TFA spokesperson Takirra Winfield, who offered a statement that been previously released to other media outlets:

[TFA is] pleased that the National Labor Relations Board acknowledged that our teachers are professional, qualified educators who are deeply invested in their school communities and are able to make individual choices about their union membership. As a TFA network, we know there is tremendous strength in the diversity of perspectives among our talented corps members and alumni as they work to help make certain that every child has access to an excellent education.

With charter school union organizing on the rise and TFA members making up a large number of charter school teachers, union defense of TFA members’ bargaining rights may become more prominent if charter school operators elsewhere follow Detroit 90/90’s charges here.

“How is it that you’re going to expect the same work but yet still not give us the same rights as other teachers?” asks Xochil Johansen, a TFA member currently participating in union organizing at Alliance charter schools in Los Angeles. “We’re invested in our classrooms and we’re invested in our schools, and it’s infuriating that [Detroit 90/90] would demean our work and our profession in that way.”

Despite being given a different (though opponents have said ill-prepared) avenue to get into the profession, Johansen says of TFA members, “We teach, we’re in front of kids, we have our own classroom… we are still teachers.”

On the campaign trail for the 2016 Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have both called for an expansion of funding for Americorps, a national service organization currently made up of 75,000 members, spread out throughout a variety of different non-profit organizations that it currently funds. One of the beneficiaries of any potential funding increase will be Teach for America (TFA). If an increase in membership is to come, charter school operators’ resistance to TFA members’ attempts to unionize may again be on the table.

 

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

Catholic Teacher Fired For Being Lesbian Fights Back

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Jack JenkinsIn June, Margie Winters was fired from her job as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania for being public about her same-sex marriage.

“What it was like inside, was like a death,” Winters told a local CBS affiliate in Philadelphia.

But Winters and a band of supporters are refusing to let that be the end of her story, or her teaching career. On Monday afternoon, the former schoolteacher and 50 of her supporters marched to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Center City offices to deliver a petition demanding her reinstatement. She attempted to deliver the hefty box of papers, signed by more than 22,000 people, inside the building, but was denied entry by a security guard.

“Because I’m so threatening,” Winters joked.

Winters has been embraced by outraged local Catholics — and even the mayor of her city — who oppose her firing. Among other expressions of support for the veteran teacher, a group of parentshas formed the organization “Stand With Margie,” complete with a website, a Facebook pagesporting more than 11,000 “likes,” and a GoFundMe campaign that has raised $17,000 for Winters and her wife. In addition, the petition drive was organized by Faithful America, an online progressive Christian advocacy organization that claims over 300,000 active participants.

“Margie Winters’ firing was unjust and contrary to Catholic values, and she should be reinstated immediately,” the petition, addressed to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, read. “Please inform the school’s leadership that you will not interfere with their staffing or threaten their status as a Catholic school.”

According to Philly.com, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has denied it had anything to do with her firing. But Winters disputes this claim, noting she told school administrators when they hired her eight years ago that she was in a same-sex relationship. The only reason she was fired, she says, was because the archdiocese received an anonymous complaint about her sexuality in June — mere weeks before the Supreme Court declare same-sex marriage legal across the country, which Chaput publicly opposed.

“It wasn’t until the archdiocese was notified that something changed,” she told Philly.com. “You can draw your own conclusions.”

Regardless of archdiocese’s involvement with Winters’ termination, the archbishop has said he supports the school’s decision.

“I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the church,” Chaput, speaking of Winters, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Winters’ struggle is frustrating for her family and her supporters, but it is by no means unique. Several Catholic schoolteachers and employees have been let go for being “publicly” gay over the past year in Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Illinois. The firings have sparked sustained protests led by students, teachers, and parishioners, and Catholic communities in California, Ohio, and Florida are pushing back against local Catholic leaders in their states who have threatened to terminate LGBT employees who have public relationships.

Catholic leaders, however, maintain that they have the legal right to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring, citing a 2011 Supreme Court case that expanded the so-called “ministerial exception.” The legal precedent traditionally only allowed religious groups free reign over who they hire for ordained positions, but now gives them to ability to bypass nondiscrimination policies for any position they deem to be a “minister” — including schoolteachers. In addition, Pennsylvania currently has no robust statewide LGBT workplace protection laws, although lawmakers areintroducing bills to change that.

Although the impetus for such terminations is ostensibly Catholic theology, the decision to fire people for being open about their sexuality ultimately rests with administrators and Catholic officials. Last month in New York City, for example, a newly-hired organist at a Catholic churchstoked controversy by openly posting about his marriage to another man on Facebook. But while an organist was fired for doing the exact same thing in Illinois, the archdiocese of New York has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

The decision to fire Winters is also oddly timed, coming just two months before a planned visit by Pope Francis to Philadelphia. Pope Francis has not changed traditional Catholic teaching opposing homosexual acts, but famously declared “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests in 2013, and has asked the church to become less “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and abortion.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on August 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Jack Jenkins is the Senior Religion Reporter for ThinkProgress. He was previously the Senior Writer and Researcher for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, and worked as a reporter and blogger for the Religion News Service. His stories and analysis have appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics, National Catholic Reporter, and Christian Century, among other publications. Jack got his bachelor’s in history and religion/philosophy from Presbyterian College and holds a Master’s of Divinity from Harvard University. He also plays harmonica and ukulele.

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