Archives for category: Creativity

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.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, asks you to show your support for #AbbottElementary, the delightful weekly show that favorably portrays the real life of teachers, students, and public schools. The show was written, produced by, and stars the amazingly talented @QuintaBrunson.

Carol writes:

ABC’s award-winning sitcom Abbott Elementary is the story of a wonderful group of teachers who stick with a challenging Philadelphia public school because they love teaching and kids. In recent episodes, it has been critical of the effects of charter schools.

It seems hard to believe it, but “Ed Reformers” are attacking its creator, Quinta Brunson, on Twitter.

Please stand up for Abbott Elementary & Ms Brunson by copying and tweeting the Tweets below. The show and its producers need to know you stand for truth-telling and for public schools.

Thank you @AbbottElemABC & @quintabrunson for yr amazing show that dares to tell truth abt how charters hurt public schools. Love the show. Keep up the great work! I love #AbbottElementary

How small @JeanneAllen & @edreform look trying to suppress @AbbottElemABC from criticizing the charter system by lying about @quintabrunson. I love #AbbottElementary

When @AbbottElemABC critiques Pa billionaire trying to undermine public schools w/charters, @edreform goes on the attack. Pathetic to go after a beloved show & its beloved creator/star @quintabrunson. Gotta say it. I love #AbbottElementary.

You can read about the show’s critique of charters here and the Jeanne Allen controversy here including the Tweets in which Brunson pushes back.

Thanks for all you do,Image

Carol Burris

Network for Public Education

Executive Director

Quinton Brunson is the writer, producer and star of the award-winning TV series “Abbott Elementary.” Abbott Elementary is a comedy about an urban elementary school, realistically depicting life in a Philadelphia public school. It is a funny, joyful celebration of life in public schools and a song of praise to public school teachers. No matter how silly they are at times, they are heroes!

In season 2, the show turned to the topic of charter schools, because a big charter chain wants to take over Abbott. The staff is mortified. The staff lays bare the unfair practices of the charter school (e.g. pushing out kids they don’t want), and the series lays bare how underfunded Abbott is (in contrast to the charter school, which is equipped with the best of everything).

Jeanne Allen, founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Education Reform, lashed out on Twitter against Quinta Brunson for her negative portrayal of charters when Quinta had gone to charter schools “her entire education” in Philadelphia and had previously praised them.

Quinta responded on Twitter: “you’re wrong and bad at research. I only attended a charter for high school. My public elementary school was transitioned to charter over a decade after I left. I did love my high school. That school is now defunct- which happens to charters often.”

She immediately added: “Loving something doesn’t mean it can’t be critiqued. Thanks for watching the show :)” (Her quotes appear in the article linked above.)

Hundreds of tweets from Quinta’s passionate followers excoriated Allen, supported Quinta and defended her right to say whatever she wanted.

At one point, Jeanne Allen gratuitously claimed “Money talks,” implying that Quinta was paid off by someone to criticize charter schools. On these pages, it’s not surprising to hear a charter lobbyist jeer that critics must have been paid off by the teachers’ unions. But Allen didn’t spell it out, possibly because it was so preposterous on its face.

Quinta’s fans jumped all over the ”she was bought” idea; one said that this Allen person, with not quite 8,000 followers, must be “clout catching”—that is—trying to grab attention by attacking a celebrity—by going after the great Quinta Brunson, who has more 800,000 followers.

It is more than funny reading Jeanne Allen chastise the brilliant, creative Quinta Brunson for taking aim at charter schools because “money talks.” The Center for Education Reform is handsomely funded by conservative billionaires like the Walton Foundation and Jeffrey Yass, as well as billionaire Wall Street charter suporters. Yes indeed, money talks.

The Center for Education Reform serves the goal of right-wing billionaires like Jeff Yass to destroy public education, even though he is a graduate of New York City public schools. Yass funds election deniers and candidates who want to ban critical race theory in the schools. The school-choice lobby says they are deeply devoted to children of color, yet the heavy hitters are funding the candidates and astroturf parent groups that want to ban teaching Black history. Hypocrites!

Since Jeanne is so concerned about hypocrisy, she might ask Jeff Yass why he wants to destroy the very schools that educated him. Why doesn’t he endow state-of-the-art public schools in New York City and Philadelphia to show his gratitude? The great singer Tony Bennett endowed the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, why not a Jeffrey Yass High School for Financial Success and Ethics?

This contretemps has not worked in favor of the charter lobby. Attacking a beloved TV star is a bad idea. Even TIME magazine used the controversy to explain the shortcomings of charter schools.

For teachers around the U.S., charter schools are a constant concern, beyond an episode of television. They find relief, both comic and real, in Abbott—as well as tangible education and information.

“There’s this myth that charter schools provide more opportunity or their graduation rates are better, but that’s just because they exclude kids,” says Brooklyn public school teacher Frank Marino, who formerly worked at a charter school. Watching Abbott “felt so cathartic, because I was like, yes, it was a public platform where those myths are being busted by parents….”

Abbott Elementary has brought Kathryn Vaughn, an art teacher at a public school in Tennessee, and her husband back to appointment viewing TV like it’s the ‘90s. Vaughn loves the show, but says she was surprised to see it tackle charter schools, a $49.5 billion industry with heavy political sway. She appreciated how the most recent episode hands the power to the parents….

In many states, public schools are mandated to have arts education in each building, and tenure in the arts for someone like Vaughn is possible. Charter schools, however, have more leeway: Some, like Addington Elementary in Abbott, can choose to bring in an art teacher a couple of days a week, often subcontracted out from a company.

“Charter schools make me incredibly uneasy,” Vaughn says. “They don’t have to offer their employees tenure. They don’t have to hire certified staff to teach. So if you’re sending your child to a charter school expecting a great arts education, you might not even be taught by certified staff.”

Abbott Elementary is set in West Philadelphia and Vaughn’s school is in western Tennessee, but no matter where you are in public education right now, she says, you know: the push for privatization is huge.

“That’s really the big connection between urban poor and rural poor, like I’m in, is the funding,” Vaughn says. “Urban schools almost are a little sexier. They get more of the money than us in the rural, poor areas. But we’re all behind where we should be with funding.”

A few episodes ago, at the fictional Pennsylvania Educational Conference for the South East Area (PECSA), Jacob (Chris Perfetti)—a well-meaning history teacher—is hanging out with a group of teachers from Addington Elementary. One of them, Summer (Carolyn Gilroy), tries to convince him to switch schools, telling him, “We’re all about focusing on the kids who have the best chance of making it out.”

“Out?” Jacob asks. “Out of what?”

The scene hit home for Marjahn Finlayson, a climate change educator, researcher, and activist who previously worked at a charter high school in Hartford, Connecticut. While teachers there often took a personal interest in their work, she says, there was little trust in the community.

“In the PECSA conference episode, Addington teachers are talking to Jacob about, like, ‘Oh, we take the best kids, and we try to get them out of the ‘hood,’” Finlayson says. “And Jacob is like, ‘Why are you taking them out?’ That was how the feeling was for me.”

Finlayson noticed disparities in resources between public and charter schools, regardless of the quality and dedication of teachers.

“That’s why it’s easier for these schools like Legendary Schools to get into an inner city space, like where Abbott is, where Hartford is,” she says. “It’s easy to prey on these communities that have a need, based on the fact that public school funding isn’t going to this space, but it’s going to another.”

One of Abbott’s arguments against charter schools is that, as Barbara grimly puts it, “They don’t see students. They see scores.” At Finlayson’s former charter high school, one student was repeatedly pressured into applying to college, despite wanting to pursue a trade career.

“And it wasn’t even the fact that she needed to go, it was just that she had to apply,” Finlayson says. “Because, ‘We have a 100% college acceptance rate, and we’re not going to mess with that number.’”

Note to Jeanne Allen: Don’t attack a beloved celebrity. The blowback will not be good for your cause.

The following parody was written by Sara Stevenson, a retired middle school teacher and librarian in Austin, Texas. She usually writes about the dangers of vouchers, but here she takes a new tack. She calls it “My Modest Proposal.”

She writes:

Randan Steinhauser of Young Americans for Liberty at the February 16 Texas Tribune Panel on School Choice:

“… things the Texas Association of School Boards or other entities are proposing, such as gender pronouns, or Marxist curriculum, there are things that are happening that are causing parents to react… (Laughter)”

After attending the above panel discussion, I read the following excellent parody from master teacher, Liz Meitl, in Kansas. I wished I’d thought of something so clever, so with full credit to Liz, I’ve written my own parody, Texas style.

As a former Texas educator, I read with interest Mayes Middleton’s (R Galveston) 33-page S.B. 176, which outlines the Texas Parent Empowerment Program, offering an ESA (Educational Savings Accounts) of $10,000 of taxpayer money for parents to pay towards tuition to any private or religious school. At a recent Texas Tribune panel on School Choice, Randan Steinhauser’s words (above) resonated so strongly that I’ve made an important decision about my future.

I am the new founder of Austin Marxist Academy. Surely, in what my dad called “The People’s Republic of Austin,” I can find 15 students willing to join my micro-school academy. At $10,000 per student, I can make $150,000 a year.

As a public school teacher with 25 years of experience and a Masters degree, the most I ever made was $55,000. This will almost triple what I made before. And to think of all the poor suckers at my former middle school who still have to teach six classes a day with up to thirty kids per class for a total 180 vs my 15.

Furthermore, I’m elated at all the things I won’t have to do or worry about. No state curriculum, TEKS, to follow; no benchmarks or STAAR tests; no discipline problems or ARDs because I don’t have to accept those students. And if any Special Ed students decide to enroll, I won’t have to follow any accommodations or services required by federal and state law because, upon accepting an ESA, students waive those rights under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) passed in 1975.

As a former librarian, I’m so happy to provide my students with any “pornographic” books they might want to read. Governor Abbott proposes School Choice as a way for parents to escape their children’s “indoctrination” in public schools, but I will be completely free, as will all other private and religious schools, including madrasas, to indoctrinate all I want.

At some point I’ll have to seek some kind of accreditation, but there are so many ways to go about it, and on average, the process takes at least three years. Plus, I’m certain after Texas gives tax breaks to the 305,000 children who already attend private schools, the state will have $3 billion fewer dollars to spend on any oversight of all the new schools popping up in strip malls to take the people’s money.

I’m just so excited to finally be free of all the rules, regulations, and scrutiny of working in a public school. No differentiating lessons or accommodating students with learning differences. I won’t even have to give grades if I don’t want to. And the repetitive, poorly-written pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag we’re required to recite every day? No more.

Come to think of it, S.B. 176 makes no mention of required classroom hours, so my school could just meet half days and take Fridays off. And since I won’t be subjected to the scrutiny of daily attendance measures, upon which per student allotment in Texas public schools is based, my students don’t even have to show up.

I’m so thankful to Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and state Senator Mayes Middleton for prioritizing the Texas Parent Empowerment Program. I can’t wait to put into practice the (slightly revised) Texas TEACHER Empowerment Program. I can be free to discriminate at last.

Steve teaches in Polk County, Florida. He left a comment about where to find a wealth of choices: in public school. Choice advocates claim that public schools are one-size-fits-all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charter schools and voucher schools are one-size-fits-all. They may exclude students they don’t want, for any reason. They may have a religious core that appeals to one-size. Home-schooling? You can’t get any more one-size-fits-all than learning at home. If you want indoctrination, go to a religious school; if you want education, go to a public school.

Do you want choices? Go to a public school!

Steve writes:

You want choice? Here, in the seventh largest school district in the state, you can choose AP, college-dual enrollment, Cambridge, ACCEL or International Baccalaureate for academics.

You can enter a career academy for aeronautics, health fields, architecture, criminal justice, education, culinary, graphics, CAD/CAM, engineering, legal studies, design, veterinary science, finance, biotechnology, construction. and others.

There are outstanding fine arts programs, with graduates going on to Broadway, television, and the tourism entertainment industry.

Play sports? The state lets you transfer to any school you want. You could join the state champion football team or state champion girls basketball team.

Want something hands on, such as, diesel mechanic, HVAC, auto repair, IT, or welding? Two public vo-tech high schools offer those programs.

All this choice is available in the public system.

So, the issue isn’t choice at all. This is about what vouchers have always been about since the days of massive resistance in Virginia.


The first charter school opened in 1991. Since then, charters have expanded exponentially. There are now more than 7,000 of them. Originally, charters had bipartisan support.

Bill Clinton loved the charter idea and created the federal Charter Schools Program to fund new charter schools, a modest expenditure of $6 million a year (that has since ballooned into $440 million a year, most of which has gone to grow big, wealthy charter chains).

President Barack Obama also loved charter schools , as did his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. When Congress pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy to stave off an economic collapse in 2009, it allocated $100 for schools. $95 billion went to public schools. $5 billion was set aside for the U.S. Department of Education to use as it wished for “education reform.”

Secretary Duncan, aided by helpers from the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, launched a competition among the states to win a share of $4.35 billion. But the states’ eligibility to participate in Race to the Top depended on their complying with certain demands: the states had to agree to open more charter schools, to evaluate their teachers by the test scores of their students, to restructure or close schools with low test scores, to adopt national standards (I.e., the Common Core, not yet finished, never tested).

Race to the Top gave a huge boost to charter schools.

But reality intruded. Large numbers of new charters opened. Large numbers of charters closed, replaced soon by others. Charter scandals proliferated. Get-rich-quick entrepreneurs opened charter schools; grifters opened charter schools. Some charter leaders paid themselves more than big-city superintendents. Highly successful (I.e. high test scores) charters carefully curated their students, rejecting or removing those who had low scores, excluding students with disabilities.

The charter sector began to act like an industry, with its own lobbyists in D.C. and in state capitols. Sometimes the charter lobbyists wrote state legislation to assure that there was little or no accountability or oversight or transparency Fort the public funds they received.

Of course, the charter lobby maintained a strong public relations presence, booking appearances for their paid spokespeople on national TV and in the press. When state legislatures met to vote in the budget, the charters hired buses to bring thousands of students and parents to demand more money and more charters. They were coached to use the right words about the success of charters.

Since charters have been around for more than 30 years, the research on them is consistent. Their test scores, on average, are about the same as regular schools, even though they have much more flexibility. Some get high scores (typically the ones with high attrition rates who got rid of the students they didn’t want), some got very low scores. Most were in the middle. The Cybercharters were the worst by every measure: low graduation rates, poor academics, high teacher turnover, expensive for the low quality but very profitable.

Were they innovative? No. Those considered “successful” operated with 19th century modes of strict discipline. Some substituted computers for teachers.

Charters fell under a cloud when Donald Trump became President and sooointed choice zealot Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. She plugged vouchers and charters and choice. Most Democrats in Congress began to open their eyes and understand that charters were a prelude to vouchers. DeVos’s strident advocacy for charters made most Democrats remember their party’s historic legacy as a champion of public schools, real public schools , not privately managed schools that were Public in Name Only.

So, where stands the charter idea now? Charters are admired and thriving (at least financially, if not academically) in red states. Most Democrats understand that the preservation and improvement of public schools is central to the party’s identity.

A reader of the blog came up with a sensible redefinition of the mission of charter schools. Since they have the freedom to try out new ideas, they should serve the neediest children. They should do whatever it takes—not to raise their test scores—but to educate the children who have struggled in regular schools. Let the charters innovate—their original mission—free of the burden of being labeled “failing” or “low performing.” Let them work their magic for the children who need it most, not for the high achievers who would succeed in any school.

Greg R. Flick, a reader of the blog and himself a blogger (“What’s Gneiss for Education”)) sent this perceptive comment about what charters should do to be truly useful to American education and to provide an exemplary service:

It seems that if we believe the narrative the charters push, we should flip the system on its ear. Let the charters be the default schools for the kids who can’t function in the public schools. Let’s have the public schools be able to cream their student populations, select only the students they want to have…the “easier” students, and have the charters be required to take those kids kicked out of the public schools.

Charters with their smaller classes and “freedom” to innovate will finally be able to help those kinds of kids. And since they are public schools (as they keep on telling us repeatedly) they can’t gripe about taking in the hard nuts, the Special ed kids, the ones with behavioral issues, etc.

I received the following notice from Dr. Angela Valenzuela of the University of Texas. She has written extensively about diversity, exclusion, inclusion, equity, and history. Her original letter was sent to executives at the American Educational Research Association. She shared it with me, and I am sharing it with you.

As I am sure everybody knows, we are in the throes of a major fight here in Texas over DEI, academic freedom, CRT in higher education, tenure, and so much more and these folks are loaded with hubris—like they can just roll right over us. That’s what DeSantis is demonstrating. So I and others have been working for close to a year now in trying to unite our communities. We are doing this through an organization we’ve named, Black Brown Dialogues on Policy and now, so that we don’t become Florida by uniting as black and brown humanity. Intersectional. Intergenerational. Civil rights, Gen Z inclusive, white allies—and all people of good conscience. This is the Beloved Community, El Pueblo Amado.I just love how it sounds in Spanish.

There’s more that unites than divides us. We’ll have the program up soon, as well, on our website.

Next Saturday, March 11, BBDP is organizing a Virtual Town Hall on DEI and Ethnic Studies and all are welcome to attend:

MEDIA ADVISORY: Black Brown Dialogues on Policy hosts Virtual Town Hall—Sat. March 11, 2023 from 10:00 AM—4:30PM CST

We get going at 10AM CST and you can view it and post questions from our Facebook page:

We hope to have the Virtual Town Hall program up on our website soon.

AERA luminaries Drs. Francesca Lopez, Christine Sleeter, Kevin Kumashiro and Stella Flores are part of the program. Texas legislators and two Gen Z panels, too.

Media industry professionals are producing it and we are using this Virtual Town Hall as an informational opportunity and organizing tool through which to, on the one hand, pass Ethnic Studies legislation (HB 45), and on the other, defeat terrible bills like those listed below.

HB 45 is about Ethnic Studies. It doesn’t make ES a requirement. Rather, it creates a pathway to a high school diploma through the taking of either Mexican American or African American Studies, courses that are currently electives in state policy at the high school level. Native American Studies and Asian American Studies were “passed,” along with the other two courses in 2018. I and so many others were involved in its passage. And the SBOE has waited for a more conservative board to get in to decide whether and when to align Native American Studies and Asian American Studies to state standards. They’re foot dragging. What we need is a law, or HB 45.

Check out these horrible bills.

The specific bills represent an attack on DEI in higher education: House Bill 1006, House Bill 1607, and House Bill 1046. I heard there was one more, too. We can’t keep up. But these are sufficiently draconian to be concerned.

House Bill 1006 seeks to “prohibit: (A) the funding, promotion, sponsorship, or support of: (i) any office of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and (ii) any office that funds, promotes, sponsors, or supports an initiative or formulation of diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond what is necessary to uphold the equal protection of the lawsunder the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

House Bill 1607 is the higher education analogue to Senate Bill 3 last legislative session that some have dubbed the “Texas anti-CRT” bill, House Bill 1006.

HB 1046 seeks to prohibit what they’re calling “political tests” in higher education utilized in hiring decisions or in student admissions as a condition of employment, promotion, or admission, to identify a commitment to or make a statement of personal belief supporting any specific partisan, political, or ideological set of beliefs, including an ideology or movement that promotes the differential treatment of any individual or group based on race or ethnicity.

It will really make a difference if folks from all over the country attend to convey solidarity with our cause. Public statements, letters to Governor Greg Abbott and the Lt. Governor Dan Patrick in defense of Ethnic Studies, CRT, and DEI are also much appreciated.

I’m sure I missed some folks, so apologies if I left you out. We have a lot on our plates at the moment.

Hasta pronto! Buenas noches. May all have a blessed week.

Peace / paz,

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D.

Co-founder and convener

Black Brown Dialogues on Policy

I haven’t been to the Metropolitan Opera in years, due to the pandemic. In the past, I went once or twice a year. It’s a great treat.

In early January, Mary and I took our 16-year-old grandson to see Aida. He had never seen an opera. What a thrill for him and us.

The role of Aida was performed by Michelle Bradley. She is a newcomer but is already a huge star on the international opera circuit. She is African American. She was born in Versailles, Kentucky, a town of 10,000 or fewer people. She graduated from Woodford County High School, then graduated from Kentucky State University, then studied vocal performance at Bowling Green State University.

The town of Versailles, small as it is, used to have three high schools. One of them was for Blacks only, even though the town’s Black population is tiny, about 6%. After the Brown decision, the three merged, and the Woodford County High School opened in 1963.

The publication of the San Francisco Opera interviewed the phenomenal new star:

At school, she was the girl with the crooked teeth, the one the other kids teased and taunted. To spare herself the bullying, she kept her mouth shut.

Michelle Bradley

“I didn’t talk at all until I got home,” soprano Michelle Bradley explains. “I was getting picked on a lot at school. And so I just stopped talking. Until I could get braces, I just didn’t talk in public.”

But in the afternoons, before her parents returned from work, Bradley would retreat into her sanctuary: her bedroom’s walk-in closet. There, with the door closed, Bradley would sing, without fear that anyone would hear her or judge her.

One day, though, her singing would no longer be a secret. One day, it would grace stages around the world, making her one of today’s most buzzed-about up-and-coming opera stars.

Growing up in Versailles, Kentucky, Bradley remembers her mother received free CDs in the mail, with songs from Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and The Clark Sisters, a gospel group from Detroit. Bradley loved them all. But there was one singer who inspired her the most: superstar Whitney Houston.

“She was my idol. That’s who I was trying to be as a little girl,” Bradley says.

In those early years, she would tally the ways she and Houston were alike—they shared a birth month, a Zodiac sign—just to feel a little closer to the superstar. And when the movie The Bodyguard came out, with Houston in the starring role, Bradley watched it over and over.

But trying to sing big, powerful ballads like Houston did in a closet made discretion difficult. Bradley had three brothers, two older and one younger. And like many a pesky sibling, Bradley’s younger brother was all too eager to spill the beans on his sister’s secret hobby.

“Mom, Dad, Tammy likes to sing in the closet! Tammy likes to sing in the closet,” she remembers him shouting, using the name she’s called at home.

Even with her parents, Bradley only spoke when spoken to. She was shy. Her parents could hardly believe she had a secret pastime singing. They called her into the living room and asked her to perform something. Naturally, Bradley chose a Houston song: “I Love the Lord” from The Preacher’s Wife.

“After that, my parents had me up singing at church services and everything else,” Bradley says. “It just started from there.”

Bradley had shown musical talent even from a young age. At Kmart, while her mother did the shopping, an 8-year-old Bradley would park herself in the aisle with all the musical equipment: “That was back when they had all the keyboards sitting out and had them all plugged up. Ooh, that was fun!”

She had no problem finding the keys to play the theme songs for kids’ shows like Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. “I really don’t know how I did it,” Bradley says. “I loved my little cartoons, and so I would hear that and then I could sing it or play it. I just needed to hear it, and I had it.”

Neither of Bradley’s parents had studied music, but both loved to sing. They had met during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, two of the first Black students to integrate their Kentucky high school. Bradley’s father passed her mother a note that read, “I want to be your man.” They sang together in church choirs ever since they started dating.

It was with their help that Bradley started to overcome her shyness. Her father, a police officer, was a deacon at Polk Memorial Baptist Church. Her mother continued to sing in the church choir. Bradley started by learning to play services with the church pianist. By high school, she could carry a whole service.

And when, at age 14 or 15, she started singing in public, Bradley’s parents were always there, cheering her on. “Honestly, that’s who I would focus on when I was singing. I would look at them if I got nervous. So that helped me a lot. They helped me a lot.”

Soon, Bradley had the confidence to sing at school pep rallies and Christmas parties. “When I started doing that, when I started singing at school, people stopped picking on me. I was going from, ‘Hey, a crooked-tooth girl’ to ‘Hey, can you come sing for us?’”

It was the start of something great. Bradley would go on to graduate from the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Her voice won her awards galore—from the Leonie Rysanek Award to the grand prize at the Marilyn Horne Song Competition—and she toured Europe, performing in great opera houses from Berlin to Vienna to Paris and beyond.

Now, she’s taking the U.S. by storm. This past fall, she starred as the heroine Liù in the Metropolitan Opera’s Turandot, and in March, she makes her debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as the title character in Tosca. Then, she joins San Francisco Opera for its Centennial Season, making her inaugural appearance in the company’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.

Bradley frequently visits Houston, because that’s where her voice teacher, Lois Alba, lives. When the pandemic closed down everything, including opera, she stayed with her family in Versailles for eight or nine months. She practiced at Kentucky State and the local church.

During that time, she got requests to sing virtually. She found that the best acoustics in the house was in the bathroom. So she would get dressed up in her regalia and sing at an angle that didn’t show the toilet.

When she was in high school, she thought she might one day be a music teacher or choir director. But in her freshman year at Kentucky State, her voice teacher, AndrewSmith, told her she had the voice to sing opera and encouraged her. She “just fell in love with it.” He showed her Turandot on a VHS, the first opera ever for her and she was immediately transfixed. Mr. Smith also gave her a CD of Leontyne Price, and Michelle was star struck.

It was like when I was a little girl listening to Whitney Houston, except this was an opera singer. I heard that voice and I don’t know what inside me said, “That’s me. I can do that.” But hearing one of the greatest voices of our time, I said, “I can do that too.” I still, to this day, don’t know where that came from. Or maybe I do know where it came from. But that was really my first thought: that I can do this. I can sound like that. It’s like I found a home.

From Versailles, Kentucky, to the Metropolitan Opera!

What a remarkable story, and what a wonderful voice!

Liz Meitl is a public school teacher in Kansas. She usually testifies against vouchers and other forms of privatization, but she suddenly realized what she could do if the Kansas legislature passes a voucher bill. She would open a completely unregulated school to do what the rightwingers fear most!

She wrote in The Kansas Reflector:


Liz Meitl

Liz Meitl testifies Feb. 6, 2023, before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee regarding legislation that would create vouchers for unregulated, unaccreddited private schools. GOP education proposals could allow for schools to turn into indoctrination mills, Meitl writes. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

Two years ago I wrote an opinion piece for the Kansas Reflector in which I argued that the Legislature should be celebrating Kansas public schools, rather than trying to tear them apart through voucher plans.

In the two years since, the fight has been ongoing, with no break in the Legislature’s efforts to destroy public education. This year’s session has brought us a tidal wave of proposed legislation that would divert hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to private schools.

The legislation has shifted, though. Now it’s not just for low-income students, or for already established private schools.

The new legislation allows any kid to access the funds, and it allows anybody to set up a school. And so I have had an entirely serious change of heart. I am in no way taking a ridiculous idea to its logical extreme, so just put that out of your mind right now.

Let me explain.

Bills in the House and Senate that would allow families to use state money to send their kids to private schools — specifically House Bill 2218 — represent an enormous opportunity for Kansas educators. This legislation will allow Kansas to be a beacon to the rest of the country. Just as the world watched on Aug. 2nd as Kansans defeated the anti-choice agenda, the world can now watch as our liberal, woke educators are freed from the bonds of bureaucratic oversight and local, state and federal regulations.

Other educators, like me, will jump at the chance to open our own micro-schools and enact our own curricular agendas. We will be able to recruit the students we want to teach. We will no longer be asked to serve all students equitably, but instead we can create small, insular communities of learners, focused on the topics we feel are most valuable.

This is an enormous opportunity for all Kansas teachers who are tired of being subject to democratically elected school boards’ rules and out-of-touch federal lawmakers’ regulations.

When I think about opening my own school, I can’t help but be thrilled at the potential freedom. I will have the opportunity to teach English classes rooted in critical race theory. I know many legislators think we teach CRT now, but really there is so much oversight and collaboration that I am hamstrung and forced to teach lessons based on “pedagogical research” and “student data.”

This legislation will allow me to teach what many of the conservatives assumed I most want to teach: a leftist agenda focused on my Marxist, atheist ideology.

I can create a social studies class anchored in the history of white people as oppressors and colonizers. I can develop a rich, interdisciplinary course of study in which we study the benefits of recreational marijuana and psilocybin, and we can take scientific field trips to grow houses and dispensaries. My math classes will focus on the benefits of a socialist economy, and I will do my best to cultivate highly educated, intrinsically motivated radicals.

Further, work with my students will be based on a feelings-first curriculum. Their social and emotional well-being will drive instruction. I recognize legislators’ intent, that parents need to choose educational environments, so I will invite parents to provide tokens of comfort from home and I will use them to decorate our classroom.

Without the burden of state-mandated assessments weighing me down, and free from any governmental oversight, I will have the bandwidth to focus on supporting students’ identities. That will be especially rewarding for me and my LGBTQIA students.

In addition to the curricular and practical freedoms offered, this legislation creates an enormous financial opportunity. I know, without a doubt, that I can recruit 21 students to attend my little school. I have a big basement, and the materials will come from my own head (and heart), so I will have almost no overhead.

This means that I will make somewhere around $100,000 annually, based on current base state aid per student. This is substantially more than I earn now, and I will be responsible for many fewer students. It is clearly a financial windfall for any motivated adult.

In conclusion, these bills are a giant win for Kansas educators and youths. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

The total lack of oversight and regulation, combined with the financial incentives, create an almost irresistible opportunity for those of us with an agenda for our state’s future. Teachers’ dedication to Kansas’s public schools and serving every student will certainly mean almost nothing when we consider the possibilities offered via this legislation.


Liz Meitl is a public school teacher in USD 500, and her two children attend Kansas public schools. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Andy Beshear was elected Governor of Kentucky in 2019 against Matt Bevin, a hard-right Republican who supported charters and vouchers and fought to reorganize teachers’ pension fund. Beshear, who was State Attorney General, successfully blocked Bevin’s efforts to harm teachers’ pensions.

Andy Beshear is the son of a Kentucky Governor, Steve Beshear (Governor from 2007-2015), and a graduate of Henry Clay High School in Lexington. Andy ran on a program championing public schools. He chose a teacher, Jacqueline Coleman, as his running mate.

Beshear narrowly beat Bevin, and he and Coleman are the only elected Democrats at the state level (remember, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul are Kentucky’s Senators).

He is running for re-election this year. He leads the polls over all his GOP competitors. His favorability rating is about 60%.

Last year, the legislature passed a bill to authorize charter schools. Governor Beshear vetoed it.

Please listen to his message when he vetoed it.

This is how Democrats win election. By speaking to the 85-90% of people whose children are in public schools and to the 90% who graduated public schools. They want better schools. They like their schools and their teachers. Andy Beshear knows it.