When the Disney Corporation criticized Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the Governor struck back by taking control of Disney’s special district and creating a board (appointed by him) to oversee Disney. The board consisted of rightwing extremists and DeSantis campaign donors. DeSantis boasted about his ability to punish and subjugate the state’s largest employer and its economic engine. It was easy to imagine the extremist DeSantis board censoring Disney attractions and shows to make sure nothing happened that was “woke.”

But wait!

While DeSantis was boasting, the Magic Kingdom was making a deal to elude his grasp.

CNN reported here on Disney’s quiet escape from DeSantis’ clutches:

(CNN)The battle between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may not be over yet.

The new board handpicked by the Republican governor to oversee Disney’s special taxing district said Wednesday it is considering legal action over a multi-decade agreement reached between the entertainment giant and the outgoing board in the days before the state’s hostile takeover last month.

Under the agreement — quietly approved on February 8 as Florida lawmakers met in special session to hand DeSantis control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District — Disney would maintain control over much of its vast footprint in Central Florida for 30 years and, in some cases, the board can’t take significant action without first getting approval from the company.

“This essentially makes Disney the government,” board member Ron Peri said during Wednesday’s meeting, according to video posted by an Orlando television station. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.”

The episode is the latest twist in a yearlong saga between Disney and DeSantis, who has battled the company as he tries to tally conservative victories ahead of a likely bid for the 2024 GOP nomination.

The board on Wednesday retained “multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior,” DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said. According to meeting documents, the board was entering into agreements with four firms to provide counsel on the matter.

“The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney,” Fenske said. “An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”

In a statement to CNN, Disney stood by its actions.

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” the company said. Documents for the February 8 meeting show it was noticed in the Orlando Sentinel as required by law.

Multiple board members did not immediately respond to request for comment. The Sentinel first reported on Wednesday’s vote to hire legal counsel.

According to a statement Wednesday night from the district’s acting counsel and its newly obtained legal counsel, the agreement gave Disney development rights throughout the district and “not just on Disney’s property,” requires the district to borrow and spend on projects that benefit the company, and gives Disney veto authority over any public project in the district.

“The lack of consideration, the delegation of legislative authority to a private corporation, restriction of the Board’s ability to make legislative decisions, and giving away public rights without compensation for a private purpose, among other issues, warrant the new Board’s actions and direction to evaluate these overreaching documents and determine how best the new Board can protect the public’s interest in compliance with Florida Law,” the statement from Fishback Dominick LLP, Cooper & Kirk PLLC, Lawson Huck Gonzalez PLLC, Waugh Grant PLLC and Nardella & Nardella PLLC said.

The spat between Disney and the governor stems from the company’s opposition to a Florida law that prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade and only in an “age appropriate” manner in older grades. In March of last year, as outrage against the legislation spread nationwide, Disney released a statement vowing to help get the law repealed or struck down by the courts.

DeSantis and Florida GOP lawmakers retaliated by eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing authority that effectively gave Disney control of the land in and around its sprawling Orlando-area theme parks. But Republicans in control of the state legislature changed course this year and voted instead to fire the board overseeing the district and gave DeSantis power to name all five replacements. It also renamed Reedy Creek as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and eliminated some of its powers.

DeSantis stacked the board with political allies, including Tampa lawyer Martin Garcia, a prominent GOP donor; Bridget Ziegler, the wife of the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida; and Peri, a former pastor who once suggested tap water could be making people gay.

The controversy is central to DeSantis’ political narrative of a leader who is unafraid to battle corporate giants, even one as iconic and vital to Florida as Disney. It is a saga that is featured prominently in his new book and one he often shares at events across the country as he lays the groundwork for a likely national campaign.

At last month’s signing ceremony for the bill that gave him control of Reedy Creek’s board, DeSantis declared, “The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end.”

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” he added.

However, it may be a while before the new power structure has control, if Disney gets its way. One agreement signed by the outgoing board — which restricts the new board from using any of Disney’s “fanciful characters” — is valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England,” according to a copy of the deal included in the February 8 meeting packet.

“President Trump wrote ‘Art of the Deal’ and brokered Middle East peace,” said Taylor Budowich, spokesman for the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again PAC. “Ron DeSantis just got out-negotiated by Mickey Mouse.”

The stealth move by Disney prompted allies of DeSantis’ chief political rival, former President Donald Trump, to suggest the governor had been out-maneuvered.

DeSantis’ political operation insisted the governor’s appointees were holding Disney accountable.

“Governor DeSantis’ new board would not, and will not, allow Disney to give THEMSELVES unprecedented power over land (some of which isn’t even theirs!) for 30+ years,” Christina Pushaw, of DeSantis’ rapid response team, wrote on Twitter.

Sorry, Christina, DeSantis should stick to bullying minorities and pick on someone his own size. The Mouse just beat the Mouth.

The BBC scrutinized the new Disney agreement and found that it includes a “royal clause.

The declaration is valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England”, according to the document.

Such so-called royal lives clauses have been inserted into legal documentation since the late 17th Century, and they are still found in some contracts in the UK, though rarely in the US.

The 151-page Florida agreement also states that no “fanciful characters” owned by Disney, including Mickey Mouse, can be used by the board. The use of the name Disney is also banned.

We know that Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas is getting money from Betsy DeVos. Vallas is also getting even larger contributions from hedge fund financiers because Vallas has promised not to raise taxes on them. His opponent Brandon Johnson wants to tax the highest earners to pay for improved education, mental health, and social services.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports in The Lever:

In the final stretch of Chicago’s closely watched mayoral race, candidate Paul Vallas is attacking his progressive opponent’s plan to fund public schools and infrastructure by taxing the wealthy — including a tax on financial trading that would hit some of Vallas’ top campaign donors.

The revenue plan proposed by Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson includes what he calls a “Big Banks Securities and Speculation Tax,” which would levy a $1 or $2 charge on most trades. Johnson’s campaign estimates this financial transaction tax could raise as much as $100 million annually for the city.

Vallas opposed Johnson’s tax plan during a debate last week, arguing that raising taxes “is the absolute wrong approach to take,” and that Chicago’s next mayor should instead focus on reducing spending.

Johnson’s tax proposal would hit financial firms that profit from speculative trades, often conducted at the millisecond level. Executives at six such firms have contributed $1.6 million to Vallas’ bid, according to a Lever review of campaign finance records. That’s nearly 10 percent of Vallas’ total mayoral fundraising haul.

Among the firms that profit from speculative trading is the hedge fund giant Citadel, whose financial dealings were swept up in the 2021 Gamestop controversy. Citadel’s billionaire founder and CEO Ken Griffin, Jr. has been a major funder of right-wing politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Earlier this month, Griffin endorsed Vallas, telling Bloomberg News, “I really admire my colleagues who have supported Paul Vallas publicly with their voice and with their money.”

Johnson’s financial transaction tax plan mirrors those proposed by progressives at the state and federal levels. Griffin is on record opposing the idea, claiming during a 2021 congressional hearing that a national financial transaction tax would “injure Americans hoping to save for retirement.”

Ten Citadel executives have contributed a total of $762,000 to Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools chief who helped Wall Street firms extract more than $1 billion in additional interest payments from the school district during his tenure, as The Lever reported last week.

Johnson is a former social studies teacherendorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, which has denounced Griffin’s past interventions in local politics and support for mass school closings.

Vallas has additionally received donations from executives at Calamos Investments, the Chicago Trading Company, Cognitive Capital, Consolidated Trading, and DRW — firms that also profit from speculative trades.

Some of the largest U.S. financial exchanges are based in Chicago, including the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Critics of the proposed financial transaction tax say that it could drive some financial firms out of Chicago. Given the robustconnections between financialization and inequality, and the relatively small number of good jobs created by the financial sector, it’s unclear whether the departure of the industry would be a net negative for the city.

On the other hand, the passage of a financial transaction tax in Chicago or in Illinois could buttress efforts to pass such policies in New York — which had a stock transfer tax for most of the 20th century — and New Jersey.

“Enough of Illinois”

The bestselling 2014 book Flash Boys, authored by Michael Lewis, chronicles the world of high-frequency traders, who make enormous sums of money by running trades at the millisecond level, exploiting minor differences in prices to collect huge profits.

Citadel and its affiliated market making firm, Citadel Securities, have long been players in this arena. A 2013 CNN report showed Citadel employees executing 21 million trades in less than three minutes.

In January, Citadel was fined $10 million by South Korean regulators for violating the country’s securities laws while using its proprietary high-frequency trading algorithm.

Griffin moved Citadel from Chicago to Miami in 2021, telling Bloomberg this month that he’d “had enough of Illinois.” But the firm still maintains a significant presence in the city, and as an active high-frequency trader, the financial transaction tax championed by Johnson could cost Citadel enormously.

On January 23, when Johnson announced his financial transaction tax proposal, polls had begun to show a likely runoff between Johnson and Vallas in a then-crowded field of candidates. In Chicago’s municipal elections, if no candidate garners a majority in the first round of voting, the top two advance to a runoff.

That same day, Citadel executive Gerald Beeson contributed $100,000 to Vallas’ campaign, records show. Two days later, another Citadel executive gave $75,000. After Johnson and Vallas proceeded to a runoff, the cash pump was unleashed, with executives at companies connected to aggressive trading donating another $1 million to Vallas.

“Brandon Johnson wants to improve services like mental health and youth jobs programs by taxing speculative financial trading,” said Saqib Bhatti, co-executive director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, which backs the transaction tax. “It doesn’t surprise me that executives at firms that specialize in this risky trading would pour money into his opponent’s campaign.”

A Citadel spokesperson told The Lever, “We moved our HQ from Chicago to Miami last year, and with it the bulk of our investment professionals and trading activity takes place outside of Illinois.”

Citadel did not answer questions about the number of employees the firm maintains in Chicago, nor the estimated impact of Johnson’s proposed financial transaction tax on its business. In city election records, all but one of the donations to Vallas from Citadel executives list addresses in Illinois.

The Vallas campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Protecting Retirees

Griffin, Citadel’s CEO, opposed the idea of a financial transaction tax in a 2021 congressional hearing on the video game retailer Gamestop and other “meme stocks.” Citadel was accused by retail investors of ordering stock trading firm Robinhood to stop executing trades in Gamestop as the stock was rising, threatening Citadel’s short positions.

In the hearing, held over Zoom, progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) asked Griffin whether his firm’s trading algorithm is programmed to trade ahead of transactions by pension and retirement funds — and whether that increases costs for such funds.

Griffin replied that his firm has “generated exceptional returns for pension plans and for endowments.”

Tlaib noted that as a result of high frequency trading, ordinary investors end up effectively paying a $5 billion tax each year.

“This means that Wall Street firms like yours engaging in high frequency trades are actually making money at the expense of my residents’ retirement funds,” she said, before asking whether Citadel opposed a federal financial transaction tax.

“We firmly believe that a transaction tax will injure Americans hoping to save for retirement,” said Griffin.

Citadel has also been a member of the Coalition to Prevent the Taxing of Retirement Savings, a collection of stock exchanges and trading platforms that banded together in 2020 to defeat a proposed financial transaction tax in New Jersey.

The coalition opposed the idea nationally in 2021 when it was being floated by the Biden administration, telling CNN, “This approach has a long history of unintended consequences that will penalize workers, pensioners, and American families.”

Griffin has a history of spending big to oppose increases on his taxes: In 2020, he spent nearly $54 million to help defeat a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state of Illinois to establish a progressive income tax, akin to income taxes on the federal level. Last year, ProPublicaestimated that Griffin’s gamble could save him $51 million in taxes annually.

In the 2022 election cycle, Griffin spent nearly $75 million backing federal Republican candidates and committees, according to a Lever review of campaign finance data.

In the same March interview where Griffin praised Vallas, Griffin also endorsed a 2024 presidential run by DeSantis, saying, “I would love to see him run.” Griffin has donated nearly $11 million to DeSantis’ political committee, according to Florida records.

Current polls show a tight race between Vallas and Johnson. Chicago’s runoff election will take place April 4.

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Under its current reactionary Republican leadership, Florida will bow out of Medicaid. At the same time, North Carolina just agreed to opt in to Medicaid, adding coverage for 600,000 people.

The Miami Herald reports:

Florida is unlikely to expand Medicaid this year, as North Carolina and other Republican states have done recently, but lawmakers are pushing measures they say will expand healthcare for more children from low-income families.

About $76 million has been set aside in the House’s proposed budget to incentivize more pediatricians to treat children on Medicaid. And a bill progressing through the Legislature will expand the number of families eligible for subsidized child health insurance programs.

But the measures fall short of what healthcare advocates warn is needed as Florida next month begins to purge its Medicaid rolls, which swelled by 1.8 million people during the pandemic when additional federal money was given to states to keep people insured. At least 900,000 Floridians, including many children, covered by the program could lose medical coverage, according to state data.

Advocates would rather see Florida emulate North Carolina where Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday signed legislation expanding Medicaid coverage to an estimated 600,000 residents. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, reversing years of opposition to expanding the federal program.

“Those North Carolina legislators really did the brave and correct and right thing,” said Holly Bullard, chief strategy and development officer at the nonpartisan nonprofit Florida Policy Institute. “There’s no reason why Florida can’t, too.”

Florida’s answer: Bring down costs

Florida lawmakers say they don’t want to increase dependence on benefit programs.

“The better way to go is to try to bring down the cost of care, private insurance and other insurance to increase access while still maintaining quality,” House Speaker Paul Renner said during a news conference on Friday when asked about Medicaid expansion.

I am thrilled to announce that Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick will speak at Wellesley College in the annual lecture series that I endowed. Admission to the lecture is free and open to the public. If you live within driving distance, be there. I will post the campus location before the lecture.

For a real treat, watch Dr. Fenwick’s lecture “Looking Behind the Veil of Education Reform.”

The Diane Silvers Ravitch ’60 Lecture

Living with Histories That We Do Not Know with Leslie Fenwick

Tuesday, April 11, 4 p.m. ET
Dr. Fenwick will draw on her sustained contribution to education policy research and groundbreaking findings from her recently published award-winning and bestselling book, Jim Crow’s Pink Slip. Dr. Fenwick’s research upends what we know and understand about Brown vs. Board of Education and details why the newly excavated history she shares is important to the nation’s racial justice and educational equity goals.

Livestreamed at www.wellesley.edu/live.

Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick, PhD, is a nationally-known education policy and leadership studies scholar who served as Dean of the Howard University School of Education for nearly a decade. A former Visiting Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Harvard University, Fenwick holds an invited appointment as a MCLC Senior Fellow at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where she occasionally lectures about character leadership and ethics. Additionally, Fenwick served as an appointed member of the National Academy of Sciences committee that produced the first study about mayoral control of Washington DC Public Schools. Fenwick (who is a former urban school teacher and adminstrator) is regularly called upon to testify about educational equity and college access to the U.S. Senate, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Urban League, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Education Writers Association (EWA), National Education Association (NEA), National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), and the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE). Additionally, she has been an invited speaker at the National Press Club, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Washington Policy Seminar.

A study conducted by Yale researchers found a significant partisan divide in COVID death rates after vaccines became available.

A team of Yale researchers has found that Republican voters in two U.S. states had more excess deaths than Democratic voters after vaccines for COVID-19 became widely available to counter the disease. The discrepancy didn’t exist prior to the vaccines.

Jacob Wallace, assistant professor of public health (health policy); Jason L. Schwartz, associate professor of public health (health policy); and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, assistant professor at the Yale School of Management conducted the research using a novel linkage of political party affiliation and mortality data to assess whether there were differences in COVID-19 excess death rates between Republican and Democratic voters. The authors estimated excess death rates as the percentage increase in deaths above expected deaths due to seasonality, geographic location, party affiliation, and age.

The study found that overall, the excess death rate for Republican voters was 5.4 percentage points, or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democratic voters. After COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 percentage points to 10.4 percentage points.

“The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available,” the authors said in the study.

The study’s findings were recently released as a working paper by the researchers in collaboration with the National Bureau of Economic Research. The findings have been reported extensively in national media including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News.

Schwartz said the findings amplify the critical importance of vaccines.

Steven Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, explains here why he thinks charter schools should be abolished. They drain resources from the public schools. They are free to choose the students they want and exclude those they don’t want. They don’t produce better results than public schools. They close at alarming rates. They have been the source of many scandals. Some operate for profit.

Why do we need charter schools, he asks? We don’t.

Helen Gym is running to be the Mayor of Philadelphia. She is the only progressive in the race. Helen is a friend of mine. I love her courage, her convictions, and her tenacity. She fights for the underdog. She knows that the state of Pennsylvania has shortchanged the students and public schools of Philadelphia for years. She knows the bleak conditions of the public schools. She has tirelessly fought for students, parents, teachers, and communities. She has stood strong against privatization of the schools. She has made enemies in the Establishment, which stood by as the city’s once-proud public schools were allowed to crumble and were closed to make way for charter chains.

The primary elections are May 16.

Helen Gym is my candidate. I have donated to her campaign. I hope you will help her with a contribution of any size—$10, $20, $30, $50, $100 or more. She needs our help!

The story below raises the question of whether Philadelphia can tolerate a mayor who fights for the weakest, most marginalized members of society, or whether it prefers someone as mayor who doesn’t take sides.

Anna Orso wrote this profile in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Helen Gym was in the way.

It was June 2021 and the Philadelphia City Council member was blocking the doors of the Pennsylvania state Senate alongside activists demanding more funding for public schools.

“Shame on the unjust funding of our school kids!” Gym shouted as police handcuffed her. She was issued a citation, then released.

The day encapsulates the duality of Philadelphians’ impression of Gym. Her supporters saw a champion — a longtime schools advocate who would stop at nothing to call attention to injustice, and someone who has backed up her rhetoric with tangible action.

But her critics saw a performance — a moment ripe to be used in a future campaign. They describe her as a populist, and someone who speaks the language of social justice but hasn’t always lived up to it.

Through three decades in Philadelphia, Gym has evolved from a teacher into a leader of the city’s social justice movement and now a mayoral candidate running as a “tough Philly mom.” The question is whether she’d be a mayor with the elbows-out posture of a longtime activist — and if that’s what the city wants in its next chief executive.

Gym has become a polarizing political figure, in part because she occupies a clear lane as a progressive in the mayoral field. It could also be because she has so often described herself in fighting terms. And fighters have opponents.

She fought the state takeover of Philly schools and fought against planned school closures. As a legislator, she fought for a defense fund for immigrants, fought for legislation to benefit hourly workers, fought for novel legal protections for people facing eviction.

In many cases, her approach worked. She won concessions as an advocate, and while she ruffled plenty of feathers in City Hall, she was a productive lawmaker for seven years on Council.

Asked if her style translates to the Mayor’s office, where she’d lead a workforce and be responsible for keeping a bevy of department heads happy, Gym rejected the notion, saying her vision for the city is larger than keeping people comfortable.

“I’m trying to lead us on a common mission,” she said, “to transform people’s lives.”

Lessons learned, from Ohio to Philly

Gym, 55, lives in Philadelphia’s upscale Logan Square section today, but she grew up in a suburb outside Columbus, Ohio. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Gym was a bookish teenager with little interest in politics.

She studied history and economics at the University of Pennsylvania, but she likes to say she graduated from The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper. Her first job was at a tiny paper in Mansfield, Ohio, a manufacturing town.

There, she interviewed a steel worker who’d lost his legs in an accident, and she assured him he could “probably find another job.” He explained that he had an eighth-grade education and couldn’t find work that would pay what he and his family were worth.

Gym was mortified.

“I never forgot what he said,” she recalled, “and I never forgot how I felt.”

She returned to Philadelphia in the early 1990s and took a job at a community center in Olney, then became a teacher at James R. Lowell Elementary School in the neighborhood.

Gym felt there was pent-up energy to improve schools in underserved neighborhoods, but not many solutions coming from institutions. She cofounded a news organization to cover education, and after leaving her district job in 1997, fell deeper into community-based work.

She fought against a baseball stadium in Chinatown in 2000 (she’s said she is “skeptical” of the proposal for a Sixers arena in Center City). And as she was raising her children, Gym cofounded Parents United for Public Education, fighting the state’s takeover of Philadelphia schools and advocating against the expansion of for-profit charters.

For years, she lobbied Council, spoke at school board meetings, and took the mayor to task for what she saw as a divestment of public education.

One of the most high-profile sagas was in 2009, when South Philadelphia High School was roiled by racial discord. Gym partnered with students, many of them Asian immigrants, who staged a boycott and spurred a movement for safer schools.

“Our society sometimes is not that patient to young people,” Wei Chen, one of the students, said recently. “They always see the young people as troublemakers. But Helen Gym doesn’t feel that.”

In 2013, when the state-controlled School Reform Commission voted to close some two-dozen schools, Gym rallied hard against it.

“You want Helen to be in the trenches with you when you’re in a fight,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who was arrested protesting that plan. “And that’s the kind of mayor you want: Somebody willing to be in the trenches, somebody who can walk the walk with parents and with workers and with kids.”

Gym became one of the district’s staunchest critics — earning her new scrutiny amid the reform movement. Charter school advocates questioned her motives, pointing out that her children attended a charter that Gym cofounded in the early aughts. The school, the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures charter, was established in Chinatown after the stadium battle and when the district was under state control.

The school wasn’t intended to be “in lieu of public education,” Gym says, but a “supplement.”

“It felt really important to prove that we could build a school that would lift our values,” she said. “Many charter operators open schools they would never imagine sending their own kids to.”

Her critics say her advocacy against expanding the charter-school footprint rang hollow.

David Hardy, the cofounder of Boys’ Latin Charter School who has long opposed Gym’s education positions, said she presents as a “feisty fighter” for families, but has hampered their ability to choose a charter over traditional school.

“She’s created this character, and a lot of people in this town buy into that nonsense,” he said. “They make it seem like they’re for public education, but you don’t see a whole lot of success for poor children in this city.”

‘She will not let up’

With the backing of the city’s teacher’s union, Gym came in fifth in the 2015 Democratic primary for an at-large Council seat — only the top five vote-getters continue on — and became the first Asian American woman on Council.

Gym learned to legislate through the lens of a broader progressive movement, said Wilson Goode Jr., a former Council member and son of the former mayor. He handpicked Gym to succeed him on the board of Local Progress, a national organization for local officials.

He said her leadership flourished after Donald Trump was elected president. Gym rallied thousands at the airport in 2017 to protest his travel ban.

“[Trump’s election] changed the way we view politics, and I think changed people’s expectations of Council people,” Goode said. “She performed well in Council in terms of crafting a legislative agenda, but at the same time rose to a different level of leadership.”

But she turned off some Council colleagues, who have said publicly and privately that Gym could be rigid during negotiations.

William K. Greenlee, a former Democratic Councilmember who served with Gym, described her as rarely veering from her positions, but also capable of compromise.

Greenlee, who is backing Cherelle Parker in the mayor’s race, recalled that Gym revised her 2018 Fair Workweek legislation — which requires predictive scheduling for workers — after business community opposition threatened its passage. It was a sign she could make an agreement.

Where Greenlee said he takes issue with Gym’s campaign is posturing — which he said is espoused mostly by her supporters — that she’s “above the fray.”

“We’re politicians, and I’m sure Helen made agreements on things, or to get things, that’s what we all did,” Greenlee said. “My only problem with that is that I admit that.”

Gym says she worked to win over colleagues of different political persuasions. She said the issues she took on, like unsafe drinking water in schools, may seem popular — but solutions were rarely simple.

“The status quo for Philly politics is that people acknowledge that there are really important issues and they’re popular, and yet nothing ever gets done,” Gym said. “I never accept half-assed ideas to solve really big problems. And if that rubs somebody the wrong way, I think that reflects more on them.”

When Gym ran for reelection in 2019, she proved to be one of the city’s most popular politicians, winning more primary votes than any Council candidate in decades.

That year, she angered Democratic party leadership when she endorsed Kendra Brooks, who ran for Council as a member of the liberal Working Families Party. Gym tweeted that “in a time of corporate Dem shills and keyboard warriors acting as pseudo progressives, Kendra has walked the walk.”

Brooks won, as did Democrat Jamie Gauthier, who beat a West Philadelphia incumbent. The three made up a progressive bloc on Council that was far from a majority, but wielded real influence. They pushed for a program to cut evictions by diverting landlords and tenants to mediation, and advocated for behavioral health providers to respond to mental health calls instead of police.

Toni Damon, the ex-principal at Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School in North Philly, said Gym’s work went beyond legislation. When Damon had one counselor and one assistant principal serving 500 students, Gym advocated to secure one more of each.

“She came when we needed her,” Damon said. “People say the squeaky wheel gets the oil. She doesn’t back down. She’s persistent. And she will not let up.”

What comes next

On Jan. 30, Gym stood at City Hall and accepted the endorsement of the Working Families Party, saying that together, they’d lift up the people ignored by “career politicians, austerity bureaucrats, and too much of the wealthy and privileged in Philadelphia.”

She wrapped up the news conference, hopped on her bicycle, and rode away.

Hours later, she visited the Union League, the ritzy private club she’d denounced days earlier because it honored Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. She made the stop in the midst of a well-publicized campaign against the club that was led by Black clergy and officials.

Her attendance at the event, hosted by the General Building Contractors’ Association, drew criticism and questions about authenticity. A group of Black ward leaders said “her blatant hypocrisy draws significant concern.”

She apologized. But some remain deeply bothered. Blondell Reynolds Brown, a former Democratic Council member, said recently it was a poor show of character.

“When people like Helen Gym show you who they are, believe them,” she said.

Gym’s campaign has said it’s “moving forward.” They say she should be evaluated based on her track record and her plans to improve public safety, education, and economic opportunity.

Helen Gym, Mayoral candidate, is walking around Clark Park getting signatures for her petition to be on the ballot in Philadelphia last month.
Helen Gym, Mayoral candidate, is walking around Clark Park getting signatures for her petition to be on the ballot in Philadelphia last month.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

Her biggest advantage may be that her supporters are loyal. After the Union League flap, there was little sign of a crack in her base. She continued to win endorsements from well-organized groups that say she’d be one of the nation’smost progressive big-city mayors.

And she was defended by the teachers’ union, which sees an opportunity to elect a close ally. They’ve backed winners before — but this would feel like one of them.

Damon said Gym’s critics have overblown the Union League visit, saying: “People who know her know the work that she’s done.”

“You can’t take center stage,” Damon said, “if you weren’t there from the beginning.”

Inquirer staff writer Julia Terruso contributed.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Wednesday March 29, 2023

Contact: Cassie Creswell, Illinois Families for Public Schools,773-916-7794



CHICAGO – Last week ex-President Trump’s former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made a $59,000 independent expenditure in support of mayoral candidate Paul Vallas’ campaign from a Super PAC she funds, the Illinois Federation for Children PAC.

The Illinois Federation for Children PAC was established in March 2022 and has received $465,000 in total from DeVos’ American Federation for Children Action Fund, a national 527 PAC. The Illinois Federation PAC’s chair, Nathan Hoffman, was a registered contract lobbyist in Springfield for the American Federation for Children until January this year.

Although DeVos has not endorsed Vallas, Vallas’ education plans for Chicago’s school system are directly aligned with DeVos agenda of school privatization, one she supported as Secretary of Education and promotes through her national network of advocacy organizations and PACs: defunding and dismantling public school systems and redirecting public funds via programs like vouchers for private schools.

In a little-noticed February 2022 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Vallas laid out a radical plan for privatizing Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In addition to supporting Illinois’ existing Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship voucher program, which already diverts millions to pay for vouchers for more than 4000 Chicago children, Vallas would create a city-funded voucher program and pay for it with funds from the CPS operating budget earmarked for teacher pensions. The pension payments would then instead be covered by surplus Tax Increment Financing dollars.

In that same op-ed, Vallas also proposes allowing religious private schools to become district-funded charter (or “contract”) schools, a policy so extreme that it was recently rejected by the conservative Republican attorney general of Oklahoma as “state-funded religion.”

Vallas also voices his support for “a reconstituted system in which parents get to direct the per-pupil public dollars to the school (or education model) of their choosing.” More recently, Vallas told WBEZ that “money should follow the students” and “we should be running districts of schools, not school districts.” The education platform on Vallas’ website calls for “dismantling the central administration” of CPS. These are exactly the policies that DeVos and American Federation for Children are advocating: funding students not systems and that dollars must follow students.
In June 2022, Vallas appeared on a panel with keynote speaker Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at American Federation for Children. The panel, organized by extremist anti-LGBTQ+ parent group, Awake Illinois. Vallas later denounced Awake Illinois, but did not dissociate himself from DeAngelis or American Federation for Children.

Secretary DeVos’ education agenda was harmful to public schools on a national scale. Chicago voters should know that DeVos supports Vallas’ candidacy and that there is no daylight between DeVos and Vallas’ education policies.


Charter “co-location” has become a flash point for conflict in urban districts. In New York City, charter schools were given the right to take space in public schools, and thanks to former Governor Andrew Cuomo, the city is required to pay the charter’s rent if it hires private space. Charter co-locations take up every available empty space in a school, typically disadvantaging the host school, which becomes overcrowded. The charter rooms are newly refurbished even in public schools that have waited years for upgrades.

Recently the New York City Board of Education (known as the “Panel for Educational Policy”) voted to co-locate two Success Academy charters in public schools in Queens and Brooklyn. The co-location conflicts with a class-size reduction law passed by the State Lefislature. Parents, educators and the United Federation of Teachers have gone to court to block the co-location.

For Immediate Release – Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Parents, educators, UFT launch court action to block co-location of two Success Academy charters with Queens and Brooklyn public schools

Lawsuit claims DOE failed to account for state law class size caps, needs of disabled students and more

Parents, a teacher, and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) today filed a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court charging that the New York City Department of Education violated state education law and its own regulations when it sought to co-locate two Success Academy charter schools into Queens and Brooklyn public schools without providing an in-depth analysis of how these co-locations would affect the students already in those public schools.

The city’s Panel for Education Policy voted in November and December in favor of the co-locations, but as the lawsuit says, “The DOE has misled parents, the public, and the PEP itself regarding the actual impacts of its proposed co-locations, including both schools’ ability to comply with impending requirements of the new Class Size Law.”

Attorneys for the United Federation of Teachers were joined in the legal action by Advocates for Justice Legal Foundation, along with a teacher and parents of children from the affected schools.

The schools involved include the Waterside School for Leadership in Far Rockaway, Queens, and the Sheepshead Bay Educational Campus that is home to Origins High School, Professional Pathways High School, and New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science III.

According to the lawsuit, the DOE underestimated the effects of the co-locations by assuming that current class sizes in these schools would continue into the foreseeable future, ignoring the requirements of the new state class size law.

Under that law, all schools will have to cap class sizes in kindergarten through grade three at twenty students; grades four through eight at twenty-three students; and grades nine through twelve at twenty-five students, to be phased in over five years, starting next fall.

According to the lawsuit, many classes in two of the existing schools are already far above those limits and will require additional space to lower class sizes to mandated levels. Yet this need is never mentioned in the legally-required Educational Impact Statements (EIS) for these co-locations, nor is there sufficient space allocated to these schools to be able to reduce class size to mandated levels in the future.

Absent from the EIS is any mention that students at Waterside will lose their science lab, and that all four schools may lose many other dedicated rooms needed to deliver intervention and special education services.


Estherll Dorancy, the PTA President of Waterside School for Leadership said, “Parents weren’t even aware of what was going on when these decisions were being made. Our students will lose classrooms needed to lower their class sizes and their science lab, which is critical if they are going to be able to pass their 8th-grade state science exams.”


As the lawsuit makes clear, the DOE is legally required to produce in-depth EIS reviews. According to the lawsuit, “the DOE is going through the motions of what the law requires instead of actually complying with it.”

Irina Pistsov, another parent at the Waterside School for Leadership said, “The science lab is a critical resource for students at Waterside and it is already a challenge to provide adequate lab time to meet state standards.”

As the lawsuit maintains, there is nothing in any of the EISs produced for these proposed co-locations, or in the Instructional Footprints upon which they are based, “that ensure or even analyze whether there would be sufficient dedicated spaces for students with disabilities to receive their mandated services after the co-locations occur.”

The parties seek an injunction to prevent the co-locations from occurring until and unless the DOE complies with the requirements of the Education law — “to provide the impacted students, parents, community, and members of the Panel for Educational Policy with adequate specific information about major changes to their school’s space and how these changes will impact the education of the existing and prospective students.”






Cassie Creswell and Diane Horwitz wrote the following article for Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. Both residents of Chicago, they are fearful of what Paul Vallas will do to the Chicago Public Schools if he is elected Mayor. They urge Chicagoans to reject his candidacy. The latest poll shows the two candidates tied. Every vote matters.

Valerie Strauss wrote the introduction.

On April 4, Chicago voters will choose a new mayor — and the decision could have a profound effect on the future of the country’s third-largest public school district, which is under mayoral control. The two candidates in the runoff election are Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, Democrats who offer vastly different views of public education.

Vallas is a politician and a former education superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn.; at the Recovery School District of Louisiana (most of the schools were in New Orleans); and in Philadelphia and Chicago. Vallas became known as a “turnaround” specialist, meaning he moved into troubled districts and supposedly turned them around.

However, as education historian Larry Cuban wrote: “Whether, indeed, Vallas turned around Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans is contested. Supporters point to more charter schools, fresh faces in the classroom, new buildings, and slowly rising test scores; critics point to abysmal graduation rates for Black and Latino students, enormous budget deficits, and implementation failures.”

Vallas has also unsuccessfully run for several offices, including mayor of Chicago in 2019 and lieutenant governor of Illinois in 2014.

Johnson was a public school teacher in high-poverty areas where school closures and gun violence affected the communities. He then became an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union and fought to keep neighborhood schools open, expand state funding to district schools and reduce the use of high-stakes standardized tests. He has said he will not cut funding from Chicago public schools if he is elected mayor.In 2018, he was elected commissioner of the 1st District of Cook County, where he led a successful effort to ban housing discriminating against formerly incarcerated people.

The following was written by Cassie Creswell and Diane Horwitz, who are concerned about the privatization of public education. Creswell is a public school parent in Chicago and director of Illinois Families for Public Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group that lobbies for policies that support public education, which it sees as a public good. Horwitz is a graduate of Chicago public schools, a retired educator and a board member of Illinois Families for Public Schools. Both are writing as individuals and are not speaking for the organization.

By Cassie Creswell and Diane Horwitz

In just a week, the future direction of Chicago Public Schools will be decided by voters in a pivotal mayoral election. The two candidates, Paul Vallas, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Brandon Johnson, a former teacher and teachers union organizer, offer diametrically opposed visions for schools in Chicago, which will remain under mayoral control at least through January 2027.

We see the choice as stark. Will Chicago move in the direction of school privatization, a movement gaining ground in a number of states around the country with the growth of charter schools as well as school funding programs that use public money to fund private and religious education?

Or will there be a commitment to well-resourced neighborhood schools and increased funding that would be used to reduce class size, expand mental health services and bilingual education, and ensure that every school has a nurse and a librarian?
Will there be a recognition that the conditions in which many Chicago public school students live — in impoverished and segregated communities marked by violence and disinvestment — must be tackled as part of a broad education improvement agenda?

Johnson’s education platform emphasizes that families should not have to leave their communities or compete to secure a spot in a school that meets their needs and includes a library, music and art program, and small class sizes. He says that neighborhood schools contribute not only to the well-being of students but also to that of the communities in which they are located.

Saying that Chicago public schools are underfunded, he has called for more resources from the state that would be distributed based on the needs of a school’s student population and not solely on enrollment numbers. He has called for creating sustainable community schools with wraparound supports and his education plan integrates proposals for affordable housing, transportation and safety.

Vallas has criticized the operation of Chicago public schools and says he will make schools safer while creating new programs to bring back students who have left the system. He also said he would work to expand alternatives to public schools for families and would change the way schools are funded to “follow the student.”

Vallas has long supported initiatives that critics say are aimed at privatizing public education. He spelled out his vision for the future of Chicago’s school system in a little-noticed op-ed that he wrote for the Chicago Tribune in February 2022, months before declaring his candidacy — and that is what we focus on here. Here are some of his most revealing statements:

Expanding vouchers

Vallas supports expanding Illinois’ existing “Invest in Kids” voucher program, a tax credit scholarship program that offers a 75 percent income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to organizations that pay for private and religious schools. A full 95 percent of participating schools are religious. More than 4,000 Chicago students were funded in this way in the last school year.

Vallas has also floated the idea of using tax increment financing (TIF) dollars to pay for K-12 school vouchers during the current campaign. TIF is a complex, and often misused, public financing initiative designed to fund development through investments and infrastructure in economically struggling communities.

The details of Vallas’ proposal in the Tribune highlight a fiscal initiative that we think is rash. He proposes applying TIF surplus dollars to cover teachers’ pension costs, and then using money that should be earmarked for pensions for vouchers. Vallas says this will allow these diversions of funds to be “legally accomplished.” One of the key concerning legacies of Vallas’ time as the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools was years of unpaid pension debt, generated by diverting funds that should have gone to teachers’ pensions into operating costs.

Religious charter schools

In Oklahoma, the Catholic Church recently asked the state to establish a virtual, openly religious charter school. In December 2022, Oklahoma’s outgoing attorney general issued a controversial legal opinion supporting the church’s application, saying that prohibiting religious charter schools violated the First Amendment. It was praised by Oklahoma’s Republican governor and state superintendent.

Ten months earlier, Paul Vallas’ op-ed called for religious contract schools, a type of charter school, to be established in Chicago. He wrote: “Longer term, the city can invite state-recognized parochial and private schools to become ‘contract schools’ in which the district contributes to or covers tuition for students who attend.”

Oklahoma’s new attorney general, a conservative Republican, took office in January and quickly rescinded his predecessor’s opinion, saying it “misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

Vallas also gave a nod of support to the 2022 Supreme Court Carson v. Makin decision, in which six ultraconservative justices ruled that the state of Maine could not exempt religious institutions from a school voucher program.

An unusual precedent

Vallas justified his vision for charter school expansion on “a long history of contracting out for private educational services. There is precedent.”

He then wrote:

“The Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education grants the right to equitable educational opportunity. It is a right guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Those in power in Chicago have chosen to interpret this right as a mandate that all public financing of education be allocated exclusively to ‘public’ or government-run schools.”

Let it be noted that after Brown v. Board of Education, many communities in Southern states responded by spending public dollars on private schools using voucher schemes — private academies created for White students whose families refused to send them to public schools with Black children and were given public dollars to fund tuition.

It seems to us that Vallas is twisting the import of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, using it to include the use of public dollars to fund children’s departure from public — or, as he called them, “government- run” — schools. His use of the phrase “government-run schools” mirrors the language used by former president Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who framed public education as a government institution essentially holding students hostage.

Private and religious schools that take public funds are not bound by the same anti-discrimination regulations as public schools, leaving them free to discriminate on the basis of disability, LGBTQ+ status, parenting and pregnancy status, English-language learner status and religion itself.

“Dollars follow students”

Vallas ended his op-ed by saying that he supports the “explicit endorsement of a reconstituted system in which parents get to direct the per-pupil public dollars to the school (or education model) of their choosing.”

This is exactly what DeVos has long advocated: “Fund students, not systems.”

DeVos is a leader in the national movement toward the privatization of our public schools, via vouchers, charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and other often poorly regulated funding programs. Those include education savings accounts and direct financial support for home schooling. The goal: discrediting and dismantling our public schools districts.
Vallas was clear about his plans, which would work toward that goal in Chicago. It’s up to the voters now.