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PUBLIC EDUCATION GROUPS WILL HOST TOP DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES AT 2020 PUBLIC EDUCATION FORUM

MSNBC Will MODERATE AND LIVESTREAM PITTSBURGH FORUM
ON DEC. 14

 

 

PITTSBURGH—The Network for Public Education Action will join with other public education groups, unions, civil rights organizations and community groups to host a forum for Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday December 14 in Pittsburgh. 

The “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All” will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. MSNBC will moderate and exclusively livestream the forum on public education issues.

Ali Velshi, host of “MSNBC Live,” and Rehema Ellis, NBC News education correspondent, will serve as the forum’s moderators, together interviewing candidates on priority issues facing students, educators and parents in public education today. The event will be streamed live on NBC News Now, MSNBC.com and NBC News Learn, and will be featured across MSNBC programming.

Each candidate will provide opening remarks and then answer questions from Velshi and Ellis, forum attendees and others from across the country who submitted questions.

 

WHO:              

Alliance for Educational Justice

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Center for Popular Democracy Action

Journey for Justice Alliance

NAACP

National Education Association

Network for Public Education Action

Schott Foundation for Public Education—Opportunity to Learn Action Fund

Service Employees International Union

Voto Latino

 

WHAT:            Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All

 

WHEN:            Dec. 14, 10 a.m.

 

WHERE:          David L. Lawrence Convention Center

1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

 

 

Can this be true?

Anand Giriharadas, author of Winner Take All, writes in TIME that the elites lost their grip in 2019.

Let’s hope it is true.

Democracy is a great idea, worth fighting for.

 

Many people have written to me to complain about an article that appeared Wednesday on the front page of the New York Times, saying it was pro-charter propaganda. The article claims that black and brown parents are offended that the Democratic candidates (with the exception of Cory Booker, now polling at 1%) have turned their backs on charter schools.

This is not true. Black parents in Little Rock, Arkansas, are fighting at this very moment to stop the Walton-controlled state government from controlling their district and re-segregating it with charter schools. Jitu Brown and his allies fought to keep Rahm Emanuel from closing Walter Dyett High School, the last open enrollment public high school on the South Side of Chicago; they launched a 34-day hunger strike, and Rahm backed down. Jitu Brown’s Journey for Justice Alliance has organized black parents in 25 cities to fight to improve their neighborhood public schools rather than let them be taken over by corporate charter chains. Black parents in many other districts–think  Detroit–are disillusioned with the failed promises of charter schools. Eve Ewing wrote a terrific book (Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side) about resistance by parents, grandparents, students, and teachers in the black community to Rahm Emanuel’s mass closings of public schools to make way for charter schools; Ewing called their response “institutional mourning.” When Puerto Rico teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, parents, teachers, and students rallied against efforts to turn the Island’s public schools over to charter chains.

The article’s claim that “hundreds of thousands” of students are on “waiting lists” to enroll in charters links to a five-year-old press release by a charter advocacy group, the National Alliance for Charter Schools. In fact, there has never been verification of any “wait list” for charters. Although there are surely charters that do have wait lists, just as there are public schools that have long wait lists, there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are clamoring to gain admission to charters. That claim appears to be a marketing ploy. Earlier this year, a member of the Los Angeles school board revealed that 80% of the charters in that city have empty seats. Just this past week, a well-established Boston charter announced that it was closing one campus and consolidating its other two because of declining enrollments. Four of Bill Gates’ charter schools in Washington State have closed due to low enrollments. The only effort to verify the claim of “waiting lists” was carried out by Isaiah Thompson, a public radio reporter in Boston; his review showed that the list contained many duplications, even triplications, since many students applied to more than one school, and the same lists held the names of students who had already enrolled in a charter school or a public school.

Perhaps the Times will now interview Dr./Rev. Anika Whitfield in Little Rock to learn about the struggles of Grassroots Arkansas to block the Walton campaign to destroy their public schools. Perhaps its reporters will interview Jitu Brown to hear from a genuine civil rights leader who is not funded by the Waltons or the Bradley Foundation or Betsy DeVos. Perhaps they will dig into the data in Ohio, where 2/3 of the state’s charter schools were rated either D or F by the state in 2018, and where the state’s biggest cyber charter went into bankruptcy earlier this year after draining away over $1 billion from public schools’ coffers. Perhaps they will cover the news from New Orleans, the only all-charter district in the nation, where the state just posted its school scores and reported that 49% of the charters in New Orleans are rated either D or F. Perhaps they will cover the numerous real estate scandals that have enabled unscrupulous charter operators to fleece taxpayers.

Fairness requires that the New York Times take a closer look at this issue, not by interviewing advocates for the charter industry but by trying to understand why so many Democrats, especially progressives, have abandoned the charter crusade. Why, as the Times asked in July, have charter schools lost their luster?  (I asked the same question last April.) [Editor’s note: I added these two links to refer to use of the term “lost their luster.”] Why have the number of new charters plummeted nationally despite the expenditure of $440 million a year by the federal government and even more by foundations like Gates, Broad, DeVos, Bloomberg, Koch, and Walton. Maybe it was disappointment in their lackluster, often very poor, academic performance. Or maybe it was the almost daily revelations of waste, fraud, and abuse that occurs when public money is handed to entrepreneurs without any accountability of oversight.

The question that must be answered is whether it is just and sensible to create two publicly funded school systems, instead of appropriately funding the public schools that enroll 47 million students, almost 90% of all students. It serves the interests of billionaires to keep people fighting about governance and structure, but it serves the interest of our society to invest in great public schools for everyone.

 

ON TAP Today from the American Prospect

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

The Times: In the Tank on Charter Schools. The Times ran an overwrought and overwritten front-page story Wednesday under the breathless headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.” Betrayed? The headline on the jump page where the story continues is even more exaggerated: “Minority Voters Chafe as Democrats’ Charter School Support Wanes.”

The piece reads as if it were dictated by the charter school lobby. Read the story very carefully, if you bother to read to the end, and you will learn that some black and Hispanic voters see charters as a good alternative to public schools, while others are concerned that charters, which serve only a fraction of minority kids, drain resources from the larger number of kids in public schools, as the Prospecthas documented.

And if you read all the way to paragraph 38 (!), you will learn that according to a poll by Education Next, a journal that supports charters, black opinion on charter schools is in fact evenly divided, 47 percent supportive to 47 percent opposed. But that kind of nuance doesn’t get your story on the front page, while quoting fervent charter school activists and making unsupported generalizations does.

Other 2017 polling by Peter Hart Associates showed that large majorities of voters, black and white, oppose shifting funds from public schools to charters. Black parents were opposed, 64 to 36. Hart’s Guy Molyneux says there’s no evidence that these views have changed.

Does the Times have fact-checkers? Editors? Do they hold writers accountable?

Back to school!

Robert Kuttner’s new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

If anyone doubts that big money is buying our democracy, read Mercedes Schneider’s post about the recent election in Louisiana.

Anyone who doubts that ueber-wealthy ed reformers are purchasing elections in other states need only consider this November 10, 2019, campaign finance reportfor the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) Action Fund PAC. Even so, as one quickly realizes when following ed reform money, the connections readily become numerous and complicated.

Let’s see how concise I can keep this this post centered on a single, LFC campaign finance report.

LFC is a state-level tentacle of the American Federation for Children (AFC), the school choice vehicle formerly chaired by US ed sec, Betsy DeVos. Louisiana gubernatorial challenger, Eddie Rispone is the former LFC chair. and also the former treasurer of the LFC Action Fund PAC.

According to LFC Action Fund PAC’s November 10, 2019, filing, three out-of-state donors (two individuals and one PAC), donated a combined $825K in October 2019. The same three donated a combined $2.6M in 2019 alone. They are Arkansas billonaire and Walmart heir, Jim Walton; California billionaire William Oberndorf, who succeeded DeVos as AFC chair, and a school choice PAC, Public School Allies:

  • William Oberndorf (CA): $275K in 10/19; $550K YTD (year to date).
  • Jim Walton (AR): $350K in 10/19; $912K YTD.
  • Public School Allies (VA): $200K in 10/19; $1.2M YTD.

Public School Allies lists as its address “6312 Seven Corners Center #354
Falls Church, VA 22044,” which is a UPS drop box. However, the October 24, 2019, Chlakbeat reports that Public School, Allies is the “political arm” of the City Fund, created in 2018 to spread school choice by three individuals, including former New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) CEO, Neerav Kingsland. From Chalkbeat:

The political arm of The City Fund, the organization with ambitions to spread charter schools and the “portfolio model” of school reform across the country, plans to spend $15 million to influence state and local elections over the next three years.

That political group, known as Public School Allies, has already directed money toward to school board races in Atlanta, Camden, Newark, and St. Louis, and state elections in Louisiana, Georgia, and New Jersey. Donations have ranged from $1 million to as little as $1,500.

The information was shared by Public School Allies and, in a number of cases, confirmed by campaign finance records. The $15 million comes from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and former hedge-fund manager John Arnold, the organization said.

According to his Linkedin bio, Kingsland worked for both Hastings and Arnold “leading education giving” immediately prior to establishing the City Fund.

Sure makes it read like the City Fund “belongs” to billionaires Hastings and Arnold.

But they are not alone. In 2018, billionaire Bill Gates gave the City Fund $10M “to increase the number of high-quality public schools in Oakland.” Of course, to the City Fund, a “public school” is a charter school.

Those complex ed-reform funding paths always seem to end with a few millionaires and billionaires, tossing their cash and puppeting the strings of American K12 education.

Open the link to read the list of officials who were elected by out-of-state billionaires.

Here is the thing: They can buy the seats, but once they have bought them, they have no plans that will actually improve anything. They love power. They buy elections.

Big money is a malignant force in our democracy.

Here is an excellent idea from the California Democratic Party: Charter schools should be governed by elected boards, just like real public schools.

California is a bellwether for the nation. This strong stance shows that teachers are reclaiming their profession from billionaires and hedge fund managers.

Edsource reports:

Taking aim at the majority of charter schools in the state, the California Democratic Party has included language in its platform declaring that these schools should be overseen by publicly elected boards, in contrast to the self-appointed boards that run most of them.

The new language, adopted at the state party’s annual convention in Long Beach over the weekend, was promoted by the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers and strengthens an already strongly worded section of the California Democratic Party’s platform on charter schools.

It is especially significant because it comes from a state with by far the largest number of charter schools in the nation, enrolling just over 10 percent of all the state’s public school students. It also underscored the ongoing divisions within the party over charter schools, which have become about one of the most contentious issues on the nation’s education reform agenda.

“We need to keep certain services public, and education is one of them,” said California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas.

The party platform includes this new language:

CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM

Urges “support for those charter schools that are managed by public and elected boards, not for profit, transparent in governance, have equitable admissions, adopt fair labor practices and respect labor neutrality, and supplement rather than supplant existing public education program.” — Adopted by California Democratic Party, November 2019

 

 

Let me explain why I post articles critical of billionaires on a blog about (mostly) education. Our nation, our states are underinvesting in education. Our teachers are underpaid. Class sizes, especially in urban districts, are too large. Too many teachers pay for supplies themselves. The rate of child poverty, which is correlated with low test scores, is very high (about 20%) compared to other developed nations. We can’t pay for education while lowering taxes and reducing revenues.

Michael Tomaskey makes the case in this important article that the concentration of wealth in a few hands is dangerous to democracy. The middle class is losing ground while money flows to the top. That’s wrong.

In addition, though he doesn’t mention it, some billionaires—the Waltons, for example, the DeVos family, Charles Koch—spend millions every year to eviscerate and privatize important civic institutions like public schools that belong to all of us.

Tomaskey writes:

This column is not a brief for Ms. Warren’s wealth tax or for her candidacy — I don’t have a preferred candidate. Instead, I want to make a simple plea to the country’s billionaires: Multibillion-dollar fortunes are often called excessive and decadent. But here’s something they’re rarely called but ought to be: anti-democratic. These fortunes will destroy our democracy.

Why “anti-democratic”? Why would it matter to our democracy whether Jeff Bezos is worth $113 billion (his current figure) or $13 billion?

Because any democracy needs a robust and thriving middle class, and we have spent the last 30 or so years transferring trillions of dollars from the middle class to the people at the very top. Just one set of numbers, from the University of California, Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman: The 400 richest Americans — the top .00025 percent of the population — now own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of wealth distribution. The 400’s share has tripled since the 1980s.

This is carnage, plain and simple. No democratic society can let that keep happening and expect to stay a democracy. It will produce a middle and working classes with no sense of security, and when people have no sense that the system is providing them with basic security, they’ll make some odd and desperate choices.

This is obviously not hypothetical. It’s happening. It’s what gave us Mr. Trump (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what made Britons vote Leave (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what has sparked protests from France to Chile to Lebanon, and it’s what is making the Chinese model — no democracy, but plenty of security — more attractive to a number of developing countries around the world than the American model. Our billionaires ought to ponder this.

I imagine that Mr. Gates is repulsed by Mr. Trump on some level, and at the end of the day probably couldn’t vote for him. But if I could meet Mr. Gates, I’d ask him: Sir, do you not see the link between your vast fortune and the ascendance of Donald Trump? If not, I implore you to connect some dots. Wealth has shifted to the top. It has been taken away from the middle class. That makes people anxious. Anxiety opens the door to demagogues. It’s not complicated.

We need changes in our laws and institutional structures that will alter what economists call pretax distribution. This is a point made by the economist Dean Baker — that income inequality is less a result of tax policy than laws and regulations that have made the rich richer before taxes are even imposed. These changes have to do with monopolies, patents, executive pay and other matters.

And yes, we do need to tax rich people more. In my lifetime, the top marginal tax rate has gone (roughly speaking) from 91 percent to 77 percent to 50 percent to 35 percent to today’s 37 percent. That’s too low. I’m not with Bernie Sanders, who says there should be no billionaires. That’s too punitive. But I do think Mr. Bezos could get by on $15 billion or so.

Billionaires will protest that they’d rather give it away than trust the government with it. I applaud their generosity. But even someone as rich as Michael Dell, who went on a rather infamous riff along these lines at Davos, could not build a nationwide high-speed rail system, clean the country’s air and water (and keep them clean), create a network of free opioid clinics across the country or give towns that have been hollowed out by the global economy a second chance. Only government can do those things.

Somebody has to pay more if government is to function and to pay for education, Social Security, healthcare, defense, and infrastructure. Why not those who have the most money?

If you want to understand what is happening in the Little Rock school District today, read Eric Blanc’s article. 

Eric Blanc has covered every one of the teachers’ strikes since the West Virginia strike in the spring of 2018. Now he is in Little Rock, where he interviewed teachers who went on strike yesterday to protest the State Board of Education’s heavy-handed control of the district and its decision to strip school employees of collective bargaining rights.

Teachers are outraged that the State Board of Education, which took control of the district in 2015, utterly failed to improve student outcomes, yet refuses to relinquish control to a democratically elected board. Teachers believe that the state wants to resegregate the district.

Blanc writes:

Little Rock teachers today are not demanding raises for themselves, but an end to the state’s push to resegregate schools, its takeover of their district, its decertification of their union, and its disrespect for school support staff. As second grade teacher Jenni White explains, “this is literally about standing up for our kids and not dividing our community…

The immediate roots of this week’s action go back to January 2015 when the Arkansas State Board of Education announced that it was taking over Little Rock’s schools due to low standardized test scores. By all accounts, the ensuing state takeover failed to accomplish its nominal goal of improving stability and educational opportunities for the town’s low-performing schools. Yet rather than return Little Rock School District to local control in 2020 as promised, the state board instead proposed in September of this year that it would continue to oversee so-called “F”-rated schools, those with the lowest test scores.

Since all but one of the “F” schools were in black and brown neighborhoods south of I-630, teachers and parents saw this an attempt to create a two-tier school system. “The plan was blatantly racist, it separated the haves and the have notes,” Jenni White told me.

In a dramatic protest on the evening of October 9, thousands of teachers, support staff, students, and community members congregated on the steps of Central High, where the Little Rock Nine had famously confronted the National Guard decades earlier. Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association (LREA), closed the rally with the following declaration: “Either we accept segregation, or we stand and fight.”

This public outpouring forced the state board to change tactics. At the next evening’s contentious Arkansas Board of Education meeting, it dropped the proposal to split Little Rock’s school district. But surprisingly, the board then immediately proceeded to cease recognition of the LREA as the educators’ representative, thereby scrapping the last remaining collective bargaining agreement for school workers in Arkansas. The decision was blatant retaliation against not only teachers but also Little Rock’s school support staff, who were in the midst of negotiating a pay raise.

Next, the board issued a draft “Memorandum of Understanding” explaining that instead of returning full local control to the school board set to be elected in November 2020, the state would appoint a parallel “advisory board” that could veto local decisions. The Memorandum also insists on closing up to eleven neighborhood schools — which would thereby accelerate privatization, since state law gives charters first access to any vacant school. Stacey McAdoo, a teacher at Central High, told Labor Notes, “they are trying to charterize the [district] like what happened in New Orleans and disenfranchise people and make a separate school system out of the areas that are primarily Black and Latino.”

As in so many other states across the country, this offensive against the labor movement, public education, and working-class communities of color is being directly funded by billionaires. And it’s not just any billionaires: Little Rock teachers and students are up against the Arkansas-based Waltons, founders of Walmart and the richest familyin America.

The Walton family: the Death Star of Public Education. The ingrates who graduated from Arkansas public schools but now want to destroy them and public schools everywhere. Rich and shameless.

Jacob Carpenter, reporter for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted that the state education department plans to strip the Houston school board of its authority because of the persistently low scores of one school.

@ChronJacob

BREAKING: Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has notified Houston ISD that he plans to strip power from the district’s elected board and appoint a new governance team, the result of Wheatley High School’s chronically low performance and findings of trustee misconduct.

Morath previously served on the Dallas school board. He was a software developer, never an educator.

Craig’s Chicago Business acknowledges that the children in Chicago public schools need what the Chicago Teachers Union won in their contract negotiations. But still, they wonder, are taxpayers willing to pay the price? 

Now that financial details of the pact are starting to trickle out, it’s clear that the mayor was telling the truth—that is, for the teachers. And that truth raises a very significant question of whether the unprecedented, potentially $1.5 billion mayoral bet will be worth the cost to already struggling Chicago taxpayers.

That $1.5 billion figure comes from the Chicago Public Schools’ budget office. It’s at the high range of what officials say the new CTU deal will cost over the next five years cumulatively…

“The union won the strike. They absolutely won,” says Paul Vallas, a former CPS CEO who was one of Lightfoot’s rivals in the February mayoral election. “It’s going to be impossible for them to come up with that much dough without major tax increases if (Gov. J.B.) Pritzker does not fully fund the state’s new school-aid formula.”

Pritzker is working on that. But as Vallas noted, doing so likely depends on voters next year enacting the governor’s proposed graduated income tax amendment, and that’s no sure thing.

Overall, there is little dissent that putting increased staff resources into particularly needy schools—as the contract requires—is the right thing to do. Eventually, that should result in higher graduation rates and kids better prepared to enter the job market.

It is always good to get Vallas’ views, since he privatized schools in Philadelphia and New Orleans as his budget solution and ran unsuccessfully for mayor, governor, and lieutenant governor.

Are the voters in Illinois willing to pay higher taxes to improve conditions of learning, to assure smaller class sizes, and to get better prepared youth?

The Chicago teachers’ strike represents a change in Chicago, for sure. The harsh policies of Daley, Duncan, and Emanuel are over. A new day has dawned, with national implications.

It’s a definitive shift in the entire landscape, not just in Chicago, but throughout the U.S., away from privatization, school closures, charter schools, and the kind of Koch Brother-funding of private schools instead of public schools, a threat we’ve been fending off for the last 30 years,” said Jackson Potter, a high school teacher and union bargaining member in Chicago.

Potter continued, “This contract really represents advances—and not just trying to preserve what we had or prevent the annihilation of the public system—but how to expand it, fortify it, and have a considerable [investment] in low income students of color and their communities that starts to look more [like] what we see in wealthy white suburbs.”

The contract dealt a blow to the charter industry, with “hard caps on charter school expansion and enrollment growth.” The rightwing Heartland Institute called the settlement “a death blow to charter schools in the Windy City.”

Alas, the sustained efforts of the Disrupters foiled by one powerful teachers’ strike, joined by Chicago’s progressive new mayor!  Their policies of austerity and privatization undone. Calling the world’s smallest violin.

Thanks to the invaluable organization “In the Public Interest” for assembling these sources in one place.

Arthur Camins retired after a career as a teacher, aprofessor, a scientist, and director of a lab in charge of innovation.

In this post, he lays out the great mission of our era: take back our government, restore our democracy of the people. Start with public schools.

An excerpt:

Public schools are the bedrocks of democracy and equity. They are a great place to start reclaiming government because they are under assault by market enthusiasts who promote charter schools.

At best, charter schools–publicly funded but privately governed–benefit a few at the expense of the many. The evidence is in. At worst, they drain funds from public school districts, exacerbate segregation, facilitate corruption, and promote competition rather than solidarity among diverse constituencies for education quality and equity. It is time to hammer the nails in the charter school coffin.

In a dramatic and welcome shift for presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warrenhave announced their opposition to continued federal support for charter schools. However, don’t make plans for the Democratic funeral just yet. The charter school lobby has deep pockets for legislative and electoral influence.  However, we are seeing a political shift in response to changing public opinion, possibly a reaction to Betsy DeVos’s flagrant distain for public schools and recurring charter school corruption.

Since Albert Shankar abandoned his flirtation with charter schools as an end run around stultifying bureaucracy, advocacy for so-called school choice has been primarily about undermining unions, avoiding systemic solutions to poverty, and promoting unregulated markets in opposition to government responsibility. Public acceptance of charter schools reflects a desperate response to years of abandonment and bipartisan support for and bashing of public schools. I don’t blame parents for choosing charter schools or the teacher who work in them. The responsibility falls on the politicians who allowed schools to deteriorate and poverty to continue, and with the profiteers who seek to make a buck at children’s expense. We will need to find a responsible way to reintegrate current charter school students into the public school system.

The market notion is that when schools compete for students and parent compete for their children’s entry into charter school equity and quality will improve. That is a zombie idea.  The absence of evidence notwithstanding, it just will not die. With billionaire funding it just keeps coming back to life.

Just for fun, I did a search on the term, “How to kill a zombie.”  It appears that the only way to kill off zombies is to attack their brains. We need to attack the brainchild of markets-fix-everything limited government enthusiasts  The American majority needs to take back the role of government as an essential support of a decent life for everyone. We need to take back the idea of social responsibility. The education of our children– all of them –could be the vanguard of that struggle.