Archives for category: Alabama

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes in the New Yorker about the importance of the vote on whether to unionize at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama. The workers are paid $15 an hour. They are organizing against a behemoth corporation owned by the richest man in the world over working conditions, pay too. The vote concludes Monday. Six thousand workers will define the future for millions of others. Bernie Sanders tweeted recently that the 50 richest Americans own more than the bottom 50%. Is this our future?

He writes:

Most contemporary union drives are ultimately about the past—about the contrast that they draw between the more even prosperity of previous decades and the jarring inequalities of the present. But one that will culminate on Monday, the deadline for nearly six thousand employees of an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, to cast ballots on whether to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, is the rare union campaign that is obviously about the future. In this case, hyperbole is possible. The Democratic congressman Andy Levin, of Michigan, a union stalwart, has described it as “the most important election for the working class in this country in the twenty-first century.” On Monday, the Reverend Dr. William Barber, as prominent a figure as exists in the modern civil-rights movement, travelled to Alabama and said, “Bessemer is now our Selma.”

That this election is about the future has something to do with the workers themselves, who embody the political transformation of the South to which progressives pin their dreams. According to union officials, a majority of the people employed at the facility, which is outside of Birmingham, are Black, and a majority are women. On the drive up to the facility, supporters of the R.W.D.S.U. planted a sign featuring the Democratic politician and voting-rights advocate Stacey Abrams striking a Rosie the Riveter pose. A high-ranking labor official in Washington pointed me to a detail from an interview, published in The American Prospect, with the campaign’s on-the-ground leader, a thirty-three-year-old organizer named Josh Brewer. Brewer said that many of the workers who supported the union had been involved in demonstrations to bring down Confederate statues in Birmingham, and they often organized themselves.

But the significance of the drive has more to do with the company itself. Amazon is now among the largest private employers in the United States; its founder, Jeff Bezos, is arguably the wealthiest man in modern history. The company has paid every one of its workers fifteen dollars per hour since November, 2018, while also pioneering second-by-second monitoring of its employees. “This isn’t just about wages,” Stuart Appelbaum, the R.W.D.S.U.’s president, told me, on Monday. It is also about the strenuous pace of work, and the real-time surveillance methods that Amazon has used to monitor employees. Appelbaum said some of the workers that his union has represented have had employers that monitored their locations with G.P.S. chips in their delivery trucks, “but there’s nothing like this, where you’re expected to touch a package every eight seconds.” It had been hard to organize within the Bessemer facility, he said, in part because many of the workers did not know one another. “It’s hyper-Taylorism,” Damon Silvers, the director of policy and the special counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said. “Amazon has determined an optimal set of motions that they want their employees to do, and they have the ability to monitor the employee at all times and measure the difference between what the employee does and what they want them to do, and there is nowhere to hide.” Appelbaum said, “People tell us they feel like robots who are being managed by robots.”

The Amazon union drive has drawn a rare intensity out of the usual suspects. Abrams, Levin, and Bernie Sanders have announced their support for it, and so has President Joe Biden, who recorded a strong message encouraging the organizers and discouraging any effort to interfere with them. It has also drawn some unusual allies, above all the conservative Republican senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, who published an op-ed in USA Today declaring his support for the organizing workers and his opposition to Amazon’s ways: “The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over.”

Amazon’s influence is so vast—touching on issues from wealth and income inequality to antitrust policy, the American relationship with China, the omnipotence of workplace surveillance, and the atomizing effect of big business, in its most concentrated and powerful form, on families and communities—that it can scramble ordinary politics. For a moment, at least, it can put Marco Rubio and Stacey Abrams on the same side. Most organizing campaigns have a symbolic quality, in which the employer and its workers stand for different models of economic organization. The fight in Bessemer is different because it is so direct. Amazon isn’t a proxy for the future of the economy but its heart.

A year into a pandemic that has kept many Americans cooped up at home, ordering supplies and streaming their entertainment, seems an unpromising time to take on Amazon, which supplies many of those services. Amazon’s revenue grew by nearly forty per cent in 2020, and its workforce grew by about fifty per cent; Jeff Bezos’s wealth reportedly increased by nearly seventy billion dollars last year. The company has become so ubiquitous that even to inquire about it entangles you in its machinery: type “is Amazon popular?” into a search engine and you might find, as I did, that most of the top results are books about popularity which are sold on Amazon. You can find evidence that Amazon both is and isn’t popular in survey data. In one poll, ninety-one per cent of respondents said that they had a favorable view of Amazon; in another, fifty-nine per cent thought the company was bad for small business. To count on broad opposition to Amazon right now is to assume such cognitive dissonance: that Americans may increasingly rely on Amazon and view it favorably while also believing that the company needs to change...


The labor leaders in Washington seemed to see Republican support as welcome but mostly ornamental—like if a distant relative had sent, for Christmas, a very large painting of a duck. They found the Democrats’ reaction more significant. In Biden’s message of support earlier this month, he warned employers not to interfere with union elections: “You should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist. It said that we should encourage unions.” Silvers, of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said he thought that Biden was speaking directly to the workers who were organizing. “The way he’s talking is not unprecedented, but the precedents are in the Roosevelt Administration,” he said. Appelbaum, of the R.W.D.S.U., said that there had been more talk about the importance of unions in the last Presidential campaign than he’d ever heard before. “We used to talk about how even those Democratic Presidents who we like would barely talk about unions. Biden is different.”


The struggle now occurring in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union at an Amazon warehouse could have a dramatic effect on the future of organized labor.

The pandemic made Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world with a fortune approaching $200 billion.

But his workers are fighting for higher wages and decent working conditions.

A group of scholars at the Brookings Institution, led by Andre Perry, have summarized the historic struggle:

Amazon’s disproportionately Black workforce has risked their lives during the pandemic, but the company has shared little of its astonishing profits with them. Last year, Amazon earned an additional $9.7 billion in profit—a staggering 84% increase compared to 2019. The company’s stock price has risen 82%, while founder Jeff Bezos has added $67.9 billion to his wealth—38 times the total hazard pay Amazon has paid its 1 million workers since March.

Equally informative and interesting is this account of the union organizing drive that appeared in a recent issue of The New Yorker by Charles Bethea.

The union started collecting authorization cards—they amassed more than three thousand—and the National Labor Relations Board decided that the union had enough support to hold a vote. Amazon insisted that the election should be held in person, but the board, which has been allowing mail-in balloting since the pandemic began, ruled against the company. A seven-week balloting period began last month and will end on March 29th. The effort has garnered international headlines, and a handful of the employees who have been among the most involved, like Richardson, have spoken to reporters from across the country. One of the employees I talked to, Jennifer Bates, is slated to speak at a congressional hearing on Wednesday. Late last month, Joe Biden unexpectedly offered a statement of clear, albeit nonspecific, support for the union push. “Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and brown workers,” Biden said. Though he did not mention Amazon by name, he referred to “workers in Alabama and all across America.”

Veteran blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about education in Indiana. In this post, he describes a controversy in the Legislature about whether a portion of a district should be allowed to secede in order to join a “whiter” district.

Some Indiana House Republicans lost their cool last week when Democratic colleagues dared to raise the issue of race. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Republican legislators “shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory.”

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, became emotional and walked off the House floor when Republicans interrupted his attempt to speak, the Star reported. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, began talking about his own experiences with racism and “was met with ‘boos’ from several … GOP lawmakers.”

But Porter and Smith were right. Lawmakers were debating House Bill 1367, which would allow Greene Township in St. Joseph County to secede from South Bend Community Schools and join John Glenn School Corp. Greene Township’s population is 98% white, according to census data, while nearly three-fourths of South Bend students are Black, Hispanic or multiracial. John Glenn’s enrollment is 90% white and less than 1% Black. How can you debate a bill like that and not talk about race?

Indiana’s Legislature is encouraging school choice, of course, despite the fact that these choice policies are desegregating schools across the state. Black legislators are outraged, as they should be.

When legislators promote laws that make schools more segregated, their actions should be scrutinized.

The same should apply to Indiana’s state-sanctioned open enrollment policy, in which families may transfer their children from the school district where they live to another, provided there’s room. The policy accounts for about half the “school choice” in the state. In theory, it lets parents choose the public school that best fits their children’s needs, as long as they can provide transportation. In practice, families are leaving racially diverse urban schools for mostly white suburban or rural districts.

Muncie Community Schools, for example, where 57% of students are white, lose nearly a quarter of their prospective students through inter-district transfers. Many go to nearby districts where over 90% of students are white. Figures are similar for Marion Community Schools, where 48% of students are white and many leave for districts that are 80% or more white.

The resegregation that is occurring across the nation, especially in the South, has been hastened by the secession of white families who want their children to enroll in a whiter district.

The VOX article continues:

In one recent case in Alabama, white families in Gardendale–a suburb of Birmingham–attempted to secede from the Jefferson County school district. A lower court judge approved their request, but it was overturned by an appeals court.

While the Gardendale plan was ultimately halted, other school secessions have been allowed to occur, the secession study authors note. “It’s hard not to look at many of these instances of secession and see them as a modern-day effort by Southern whites to avoid diverse schools,” Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a study co-author and an associate professor of educational leadership, policy, and justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a press release. “This is especially true given the obstacles to comprehensive cross-district integration policies.”

As these efforts continue, and in some cases accelerate, the study authors caution that more attention needs to be paid to the impacts of school secessions, which they call “a new form of resisting desegregation amid the growing diversity of the South’s public schools.”

“Secession has weakened the potential for greater school integration across the South’s broadly defined communities,” the researchers note, “fracturing White and Black and White and Hispanic students into separate school systems.”

The secession movement in the South has reached Indiana, where it appears to be gaining traction. Will the courts stand by the Brown vs. Board decision of 1954?

The Alabama Charter School
Commission decided to revoke the charter of Woodland Prep, which had not yet opened.

Blogger Larry Lee has the inside scoop.

He wrote:

In the end, it was as much a story about a very rural community that simply refused to quit fighting and standing up for what it believed in strongly. It was about a community that takes pride in its public schools and refused to be bulldozed by a group of education “experts” from out-of-state who were far more intent on making money than helping children.

It was widely believed that the charter was part of the Fetullah Gulen charter chain, one of the nation’s largest. For unexplained reasons, the charter decided to open in a small rural community where sentiment ran against it, commitment to the local public schools is strong, and local people look askance at Muslims (and possibly other religions).

Larry Lee wrote many posts about Woodland Prep. See here and here.

It is really dumb and insensitive for out-of-state people to plant themselves in a rural community, announce that they intend to open a school to compete with the local school and expect to be welcomed.

The controversial Woodlands Prep Charter School, led by Gulenist Sonar Tarim, is in deep trouble.

Larry Lee reports that the proposed school is seeking yet another extension, and the charter commission is running out of patience.

For some reason, the charter operator decided that a small rural community was the ideal place for a new charter, but the local community was outraged.

Tarim may have to find a state that is more hospitable to charter schools or a different district where the local residents have no voice.

Larry Lee, native Alabaman, follows the charter confusion in his home state, where the law describes precisely how charter schools should be authorized.

But, as Lee notes, the actual process of creating new charters has proceeded with complete disregard for the law, and no one seems to care.

Public schools in Montgomery will be replaced by charter schools, but the local board did not agree (the law said it should).

The charter mess has created disruption and chaos in Montgomery.

Count on it: charters will open and close. Public schools will founder as students “choose” to go to a flailing charter.

Staff will turnover. Principals will come and go.

Disruption.

That is the  point, isn’t it?

 

Betsy DeVos awarded $25 million to Alabama to grow some charter schools. She gave the money to an organization called “New Schools for Alabama,” which is supposed to launch 15 new charters over the next five years. Where there is money, there will always be takers, even where there is no need. This year, two charters are in the incubation stage. One is in Perry County, which has only two K-12 public schools, declining population, and low funding. The charter will be a nail in the coffin for one of those two public schools.

Larry Lee writes about what Betsy DeVos has done:

https://www.alreporter.com/2019/12/12/opinion-perry-county-schools-threatened-by-charter-schools/

Opinion | Perry County Schools threatened by charter schools

They stand as silent sentinels of a time gone by.  Watch towers on the past.  “They” are sturdy concrete silos, rising 40-50 feet above Perry County’s black prairie land.  Head south out of Marion on Highway 5 and you’ll spy one every few miles.  Each a reminder a dairy was once there and those silos were filled with corn silage to keep milk cows well-fed.
They remind us of the struggles this black belt county has faced for generations.  Struggles that continue today.
No one understands this any more than John Heard, longtime county school superintendent.  State data shows that public school enrollment has dropped from 1,938 to 1,256 in the last decade.  There are only two schools in the system today.  Things are no better at Marion Academy, a private school, that has fewer than 100 students in pre-12 through 12th grade.

And if one number can illustrate the plight of this school system it is 137.  That is where the system ranks in terms of local revenue per pupil.  Which means out of 137 systems in the state, it is dead last.  By comparison, its neighbor to the west, Marengo County, gets $1,300 more per student from local sources than Perry does.

Marion is the county seat.  In antebellum days it was a jewel in Alabama’s crown, probably best known for its commitment to higher education.  Judson College was founded in 1838 and is still there.  What is now Samford University in Birmingham began there.  Marion Military Institute’s parade grounds still welcome visitors on the south side of town.  Alabama State University in Montgomery has its roots in Marion.
All things considered, Perry County would appear to be the last place to open a charter school.  But in our quest to sprinkle charter schools at random around the state, that is the plan.  It makes no sense.  But then, in todays world of Alabama public education, logic is too often thrown to the wind.
If a charter school opens in Perry County, it will drive a stake in what’s left of the public school system because it will siphon precious dollars away.  Since charters are public schools supported by public dollars, every student attending one of the county’s two remaining schools (one which is rated a B by the state and the other rated C) means the county system will lose all Federal and state funding for that student.  Presently, this is about $8,500 per pupil.
 
How we got to this point is a curious tale and testimony to the consequences of what we are supposed to believe are good intentions.
New Schools for Alabama is a brand new non-profit based in Birmingham.   Its mission is to bring charter schools to the state.  This year’s education budget gave them $400,000 for operating expenses.  (Yep, we are taking money from public schools to fund a group who, if successful, will take more money from public schools.  Another example of the logic practiced by the supermajority leadership of the state legislature.)
New Schools was recently awarded a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education headed by Betsy DeVos, who has never seen a charter school she didn’t like.  Plans are that New Schools will award three $1.5 million grants annually to give charters a jump start.  They have also set up a fellowship program in which they fund someone to spend time at a charter school in another state so they can come back to Alabama and get a charter up and running.
This is where Perry County comes in.  New Schools recently announced that one of their first fellowships is going to Darren Ramalho to start Breakthrough Charter School in Perry County.
And here is where the irony gets even more ironic.
Ramalho is a graduate of UCLA and came to Perry County in 2014 as a Teach For America teacher.  TFA descended on Alabama in 2011.  Like many others, they came to “save the Black Belt.”  Perry County has used TFA from the outset and while most other west Alabama school systems quit TFA years ago, Perry County has continued to do so.  Which means they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on this program which puts temporary teachers in local schools.
In other words, someone from California who has been supported by John Heard and the Perry County system for several years now has intentions to bring harm to them.  As you can imagine, Heard is upset.  And rightly so.  In this corner of the world, actions such as this are sometimes referred to as “biting the hand that feeds you.”
Perry County is struggling–and has been for generations.  They definitely do not need an effort that will only intensify their struggles.
But putting a charter school there will do just that.

 

 

Larry Lee, an education advocate and blogger in Alabama, posted the story of a North Carolina mother who enrolled her sons in charter school, taking a blind leap of faith. She is a diligent mother, so she attended board meetings and followed her sons’ progress closely. But then she inquired about who and what was behind this charter school and she was gobsmacked. Lee was interested in the story because the same sharp operators are behind the controversial Woodland Prep charter school in Alabama.

Lee writes:

Alyson Ford is a mother in the Charlotte, NC area.  It wasn’t long after she enrolled one of her sons in a charter school that she began to feel something was amiss.  Soon she was attending board meetings of the school and digging into financial records.  What she found was disturbing and even led to conversations with the FBI.

What does this have to do with Alabama?  Many of the players Alyson has uncovered are involved with American Charter Development of Springville, Utah.  This company is heavily involved with both LEAD Academy in Montgomery and Woodland Prep in Washington County and has close ties to Soner Tarim.

Here is Alyson’s story:

“I have two boys.  One has only attended charter schools. The other has attended traditional public schools, as well as charter schools.

My son enrolled at Lakeside Charter Academy in November 2017, during their rebranding and name change from Thunderbird Preparatory Academy. He stayed through the 2018-2019 school year (4th grade). My stepson began at Lakeside in January 2018, for 4th grade. We withdrew him at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

We chose the charter school route for several reasons. The biggest being that one son has a severe peanut allergy. The thought of him  eating lunch in a cafeteria, surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches was terrifying.  Our district schools are much larger than charters as well. We liked the idea of smaller schools for our boys. We like the sense of community offered at many charter schools.

We were aware of the negative press since Thunderbird opened in 2014. I studied the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board meeting minutesl. The school was frequently in trouble and on the verge of having their charter revoked.

We toured the school and found the interim principal amazing. She was the reason we took the leap of faith. We were cautiously optimistic when enrolling at Lakeside Charter Academy (formerly Thunderbird Prep).

Given the school’s past I vowed to be very involved and attend board meetings. I was especially curious about the EB5 investors involved with the school. Even though I repeatedly asked questions regarding this I never received much clarity. Sadly, the more I attended board meetings the more unanswered questions I had.

So she started looking for the answers to her questions. You may be surprised to see what she learned.

 

The board of Alabama’s first charter school, LEAD Academy, fired its principal, Nicole Ivey, and she is retaliating with a lawsuit that airs the school’s dirty laundry. 

Those named in the suit include Charlotte Meadows, the school’s founder and board president who is also running for the Alabama Legislature; Soner Tarim; owner of Unity School Services, an education service provider; Unity School Services; and each of the school’s board members: Ryan Cantrell, William Green and Lori White….

The suit claims LEAD’s objective is to “maximize school revenue and academic achievement by minimizing the presence of students with special needs.”

Prior to the enrollment application window opening, the suit claims Meadows expressed that she did not want special education children enrolled in the school. When it was explained to Meadows that the law prohibits discrimination against this group of children, the suit claims that Meadows responded that “We’re a charter school. We don’t have to follow the law,”: or words to that effect…”
Meadows, a former Montgomery County Board of Education president, is currently running for the Alabama House of Representatives District 74 seat. The lawsuit claims that Meadows actively ran her campaign out of the school’s finance office during hours of operation…
Prior to the school opening, the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors donated $200,000 to LEAD Academy. The suit claims half of that was put into a bank account that was solely managed by the school’s board president, Meadows, and one board member, White.

To Ivey’s knowledge at the time of her separation with the school, “none of the remaining $100,000 was expended to support the education programs at LEAD Academy,” the suit claims.

And then she gets to the nepotism and cronyism.

Andy Spears, editor of the Tennessee Education Report, says that Tennessee should learn from Alabama’s mistakes when authorizing charter schools.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee wants to disrupt public schools and throw open the public treasury to anyone who wants to open a charter school. He wants charters to open without the approval of local school districts, a recipe for disruption and an attack on local control.

Andy Spears writes:

Look to Alabama to see what happens.

Here’s more from the Alabama Political Reporter:

Woodland Prep is a charter school horror story — and it hasn’t even been built yet.

Located in rural Washington County, Woodland Prep, which will open as a K-7 school this fall and add a grade level each year, is everything state leaders assured us could never happen under Alabama’s charter school laws.

Its land is owned by a shady Utah holding company. Its building is owned by a for-profit Arizona company. It will be managed by a for-profit Texas company that doesn’t employ a single Alabamian. It will pay the head of that management company around $300,000 per year — up front. Its application was rejected by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which Alabama pays a hefty sum to review and approve charter applications. Woodland’s management plan failed to meet basic standards for approval in any of the three plan areas reviewed by NACSA.

In spite of all of those concerns, Woodland Prep was approved by the Alabama Charter School Commission — a board similar to the one envisioned by Lee and his legislative supporters for authorizing charters in Tennessee.

Governor Lee is following orders from ALEC and Betsy DeVos. He does not have the best interests of the children of Tennessee at heart.