Archives for category: Disruption

We are living in a perilous that demonstrates the need for tenure and unions. With so many astroturf parent groups making spurious charges against public schools and their teachers, who will dare to stand up to bullies? In New Hampshire, it’s the president of the state AFTDeb Howes.

Contact:
Deb Howes
president@aft-nh.org
603-930-9248


AFT-NH Statement on Bill on ‘Obscene Materials’ in K-12 and Higher Education Classes, Public Libraries

CONCORD, N.H.—The following is a statement from AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes on HB 514, a bill to provide a procedure for people to complain about so-called obscene materials in K-12 and higher education classes and public libraries but that does not even clearly define what would be considered obscene:

“For all intents and purposes, this legislation about the dissemination of obscene materials is a book ban bill. Incredibly, the bill’s sponsors don’t even have the guts to clearly define what would be considered obscene, so it’s really meant to intimidate teachers and deprive students—both school-aged and adults—of books that one person who files a complaint deems objectionable. It practically begs parents or guardians to complain about a particular book to their local school board in the case of public schools, opening the way to a chaotic free-for-all. For public universities, public libraries and museums, it adds the Department of Education to the agencies that can initiate legal hearings to find material ‘obscene’ after receiving anonymous citizen complaints. Higher education faculty actually could be arrested, charged and indicted if they are found to be using a book that is judged to be obscene, whatever that means.

“This is disgusting and meant to censor students’ education and deprive them of quality books. Book bans have no place in New Hampshire K-12, public libraries or higher education classes. We will fight vigorously to ensure that our students have the books they need to receive a well-rounded, honest education. We also will stand firm for the right to access the whole world of ideas through public libraries and universities.”

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Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters seems to have absorbed all his talking points from ALEC, the rightwing bill mill or he may just be trying to duplicate whatever Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing. All the talking points are there about critical race theory, “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the “science of reading,” the fear of students turning transgender or being recognized as such, the readiness to censor anything that mentions sexuality or gender, and of course, vouchers for home schoolers and religious schools.

Superintendent Walters adds another item to his “reform” agenda: pay for performance, which has been tried for a century and never worked anywhere. It is hard to find an educational program that has been more thoroughly discredited, especially in the past dozen years. Performance these days equals test scores, and the teachers in the most affluent schools always come out in top, while those who teach the most vulnerable children are always on the bottom. No need to reinvent that broken wheel. Even Republican legislators know instinctively that “performance,” defined as test scores favors those in the whitest, most advantaged schools.

John Thompson, historian and former teacher, writes:

Last week, rightwing Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters tried to “Shove ‘Choice’ Down the Throats of Unwilling Schools and Parents,” but he received serious pushback by influential Republicans for ignoring legislative norms in budget-making. This week, Walters’ revealed more of his plans to divide and conquer public schools, while ramping up the stakes for educators who don’t comply with ambiguous and weird mandates. The response by numerous Republicans, however, seems to indicate that a bipartisan effort against Walters’ and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s extremism is growing.

Walters started the Board of Education meeting, where his budget was presented with a prayer, which included a “reference to his school choice goals.” He then condemned “a loud and vocal crowd, a minority for sure, that say that all that is needed to fix the problems in education is to toss more money and to leave everything alone.” Walters then promised:

“There will be school choice. We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT (critical race theory) are eliminated in our state. We will also make sure that our kids are safe. There will be no boys in the girls bathrooms. There will be no pornography in our schools. We will make sure all of our vendors and the schools are focused on education and not diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Then, Walters met with rural superintendents in Atoka, the home of the Republican Speaker of the House Charles McCall, who has opposed voucher expansion. Walters explained that his “incentive pay plan that would reward a select few highly rated teachers in each school with up to $10,000 on top of their salaries.”

Walters then complained that:

“Tulsa has done so poor that if you took Tulsa Public Schools out of what we’re doing, we’re in the top half nationally. If you take Tulsa and OKC out, we’re in the top 15.”

So, the Tulsa World reported that Walters said:

“He would be open to pushing for Tulsa Public Schools to be broken up into smaller schools because of academic results there he says are dismal and parents who complain they are locked in because they can’t afford private school tuition and suburban schools bursting at the seams.”

At the same time, Walters’ allies are revealing more options for punishing educators who don’t comply with confusing mandates. While Walters seems to be backing off from his suggestion that all federal education funds be rejected, Sen. David Bullard filed a bill to “develop a ten-year plan to phase out the acceptance and use of federal funds for the support of K-12 education.” Sen. Shane Jett would “add seven more prohibited topics to House Bill 1775, which bans eight race and gender concepts from K-12 schools.” Jett and Rep. Terry O’Donnell seek to ban “teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to elementary-age children,” And Jett “would outlaw any school policies that respect or promote ‘self-asserted sex-based identity narratives,’” as well as hosting “drag queen story time.”

Moreover, Sen. Cody Rogers “would prohibit school employees from calling students by names or pronouns that differ from the students’ birth certificates, unless having received written consent from the child’s parent.” Rep. Danny Williams would completely ban sex education from public schools.

Then, it was learned, Walters fired the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Assistant general counsel Lori Murphy. The veteran attorney was “known for her support of transgender people and objections to the state’s rulemaking on classroom race and gender discussions.”

And the Tulsa World reported, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education responded to Walters’ “urgent request” to audit spending on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. The Regents, “scrambled hundreds of employees to compile a 10-year review of its spending history on and current materials used for … DEI programs.” They found that DEI spending was “a third of 1%” of the budget.

But, on the eve of submitting his budget to the legislature, Walters, as well as his ally Gov. Stitt, faced more bad news. As the Oklahoman reports, Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who defeated Stitt’s appointee, John O’Conner, announced an “investigation into misspent education funds” which “hung over the state Capitol on Wednesday.” As an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found, Connors’ lawsuit led “some critics to question whether the lawsuit was an honest attempt to recoup the funds.” Consequently, The Oklahoman reported, “some high-ranking lawmakers appeared hesitant to heed funding requests from Oklahoma’s new state superintendent because of his alleged part in the controversy.” The reason was it was “a mix of Walters’s and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s staff, not a state agency [that] was overseeing the program.”

The Republican Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee for Education, Mark McBride, said (and Speaker Charles McCall confirmed) he had been authorized to investigate the lawsuit, and was wrong in not doing so. But now, as Nondoc reports, A.G. Drummond said he “would pursue accountability for state officials, potentially including Walters owing to his prior role as director of an organization tasked with dispersing the funds.” (for what it’s worth McCall, a likely candidate for governor, attended the budget presentation.)

The Tulsa World added that Stitt had blamed the parent company of ClassWallet for the “unflattering audit of federal pandemic relief funds under Stitt’s control.” But, the audit was critical of how the Stitt administration spent $31 million to provide pandemic relief for students’ educational needs.”

Nondoc further explained that Walters’ presentation to the committee “took the opportunity with some of the lawmakers’ questions to expound on campaign rhetoric, including addressing questions regarding his ‘liberal indoctrination’ comments and past declarations to get federal funding out of Oklahoma public education.” And, his two-point plan, funding “science of reading” and pay-for-performance, drew plenty of criticism.

Republican Rhonda Baker, chair of the Common Education Committee, told Walters, “We have, as a legislative body, voted on the science of reading.” She added, “We’ve been very supportive of that, and we have made sure that there has been funding for that, so none of that is new. What is challenging, though, … is that we are not keeping teachers.”

Moreover, Democrat Rep. Andy Fugate said Walters performance pay plan would backfire by drawing teachers away from high-challenge schools and finding schools where “it’s easiest to teach.” Similarly, McBride said:

“Merit pay, I’m OK with it if you work in the oil field or some industry, but in education I just don’t see it working. … If you’ve got a classroom of troubled youth, how do you compare that to the classroom over here where the teacher’s got all the A and B students? It’s just almost impossible to me to evaluate that.”

I’ve heard mixed appraisals as to whether Walters really believes his own words. Regardless, as his ideology-driven claims become more extreme, it seems more likely that there will be more bipartisan pushback against Walters, Stitt, and MAGA true-believers. And, who knows, maybe it will open the door to Republican Adam Pugh’s bill, based on discussions with hundreds of superintendents and education leaders and over a thousand educators, that “would spend $241 million on teacher pay raises, guarantee 12 weeks of maternity leave for teachers and offer $15 million in scholarships to future educators who pledge to work in high-poverty schools,” while bestowing respect on teachers.

Sara Stevenson was a librarian in an Austin, Texas, middle school. The following opinion piece was published in the Fort Worth Telegram.

When schools went remote at the beginning of the coronavirus era, parents were briefly in awe at teachers’ patience and skills.

As schools remained closed and parents grew angry, educators quickly fell from grace, and 370,000 have left the profession since the beginning of the pandemic.

Even at that, school librarians experienced the steepest fall.

During my 15 years as a public middle-school librarian, I frequently received affirmation for my vocation to encourage young people to read.

But ever since then-Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth published a list of 750 questionable books in fall 2021, Texas librarians have been put on the defensive.

School librarians fully support parents’ rights to monitor their children’s reading choices. In fact, some parents use the selection of library books as a way to facilitate conversations and even read books together.

Problems arise when particular parents try to usurp this role from the professionally trained librarians and decide which books belong or don’t belong in the library — not just for their kids but for all children.

School librarians in Texas are required to hold master’s degrees (or be working towards them) as well as teaching certificates and are charged with curating their library collections.

Each school population has different age levels, interests, needs and community standards, and the librarian’s duty is to choose suitable titles while making sure many points of view are represented.

A book’s inclusion in a library is not a librarian’s endorsement of the content. The book is there to provide access and choice.

Now, several Texas House members have introduced bills that would directly affect school libraries.

House Bill 338, filed by Republican Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, would skip the role of the librarian altogether by putting the onus directly on the book publishers. Under this measure, publishers would have to rate every book for age appropriateness and display these ratings on their covers.

The labels wouldn’t just rate for sexual content; they would even warn if a book might be too scary for a child younger than 7.

How can anyone possibly decide this for all children? How would Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” be rated? It has monsters, yes, but it’s also adorable.

The consequence for a publisher’s failure to include the rating would be that its books will not be available for school libraries to purchase.

This demand on private companies certainly seems like overreach, and it would significantly slow down the process of getting new books into the hands of eager readers.

And once again, we are faced with the question of who decides. Is it the publisher, who may be quite liberal or overly strict in standards? Will the publisher hire readers to count “dirty words” and “inappropriate” or “scary” scenes, or will the book be judged as a whole? Will every parent in every Texas community agree with these ratings? And why bypass the professional librarian in this process?

At the other end of the pendulum, we have House Bill 552 from Republican Rep. Ellen Troxclair of Austin. This law would remove the education protection clause, “repealing the affirmative defense to prosecution for the criminal offense of sale, distribution, or display of harmful material to a minor.”

This stems from the accusation that certain librarians are “groomers” for sexual deviancy.

This threat will affect the contents of libraries, causing librarians to self-censor and limit books with mature or controversial themes, LGBT characters or racial conflict.

Librarians cannot possibly read through every book acquired, so they will err on the side of safety and limit the choices of their students, especially when threatened with arrest.

During the last year and a half, I’ve watched clips of school board meetings that have been hijacked by Moms for Liberty and other organizations that ironically seek to curtail the liberty of students to select and parents to monitor their children’s reading choices.

When schools have to compete with Tik Tok and every new app that comes along to get children to read in the first place, this manufactured fight against libraries is not just misdirected but harmful.

If you want to protect kids from bad influences, take away their phones, not their library books.

Read more at: https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article271647162.html#storylink=cpy

Governor Ron DeSantis hates the fact that there is a progressive public college called New College that openly teaches diversity, equity, inclusion, feminist studies, ethnic studies, and gay studies. That’s WOKE, and he vowed to crush anything WOKE.

He named 6 conservatives to the 13-member board, and the board of the state university system added another, meaning that Rightwingers are in charge. A hard-right board needs a hard-right president, and they got one.

Their first meeting was this afternoon, and they are expected to appoint former State Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as the new president. From the following story, it appears that no one bothered to let the current president of the New College know that she was being shown the door.

DeSantis is showing how to stamp out ideas he doesn’t like, with power, not subtlety. Is he a fascist or is he pretending?

A new board of trustees at New College of Florida intends to name Richard Corcoran as its next President.

Corcoran, a former House Speaker, served as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first Education Commissioner.

Carlos Trujillo, president and founder of Continental Strategy, revealed the plans in a letter to clients and colleges.

“We are beyond excited to announce that one of our Partners, former Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, will be returning to higher education to serve as the Interim — and hopeful permanent — President of the New College of Florida, in Sarasota,” Trujillo wrote.

“This move comes as part of Gov. DeSantis ongoing work to refocus the university on providing the most value to its students and their parents.”

Corcoran was a founding partner for the consulting firm.

The news comes hours before the first board meeting since DeSantis appointed six new trustees on the 13-member board. The State University System Board of Governors also appointed a new trustee with a similar conservative think tank background.

Of note, work of Corcoran’s apparent hire comes before any news of current President Patricia Okker’s future with the school. Eddie Speir, co-founder of Inspiration Academy, wrote a blog post this weekend promising to call for Okker to be renamed as interim President and to terminate all faculty and staff before deciding who still fit in the new vision for the college.

While Florida’s Sunshine Law requires all decisions by the board to be made in publicly noticed meetings, Trujillo treats the matter like a done deal.

“The selection of Richard distinguishes our firm as a leader in innovation and strategic solutions for the clients we serve. We look forward to finding new synergies that can better serve our current clients and ensure their goals are made a reality,” his letter reads.

John Thompson, a retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, has written frequently about events in his state for this blog. Here, he describes the political coercion that determined right-wingers are promoting in Oklahoma and calling it “choice.” From his description, some Republican legislators are worried about “liberal indoctrination,” transgender students using the “wrong” bathroom, litter boxes for children who think they are cats (this seems to be a QAnon idea), and the danger of “social-emotional learning.” Apparently students in Oklahoma have no social or emotional issues.

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s newly elected, extreme rightwing Secretary of Education, first says that “the state should have the ‘most comprehensive school choice in the country.’” Secondly, Walters pushes the rightwing Michigan-based Hillsdale College curriculum; he doesn’t want to allow schools to choose to retain research-based curriculums that he identifies as “liberal indoctrination.” As Clark Frailey, executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, says, Walters seems to be pushing for “Christian Dominionism,” which is “based on the philosophy that Christianity is at the core of America’s foundation and all institutions need to align with that viewpoint. If people won’t convert, then a government religion must be forced upon them.”

Two voucher programs for private schools and homeschools have been filed. The most interesting one is Sen. Shane Jett’s Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids (PEAK). Even extremely conservative Republicans legislators worry that vouchers would undermine the finances of their rural schools. Jett seems to be offering a carrot and a stick to those vulnerable constituencies. He would impose vouchers only in counties with a population of more than 10,000 people. But, vouchers would be offered in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents if they are served by a “trigger district.”

The Oklahoman then reports:

Jett defined a “trigger district” as a public school system that allows or tolerates House Bill 1775 violations, use of school bathrooms according to gender identity, anthropomorphic behavior known as “furries,” disparagement of the oil and gas industry, lesson plans promoting social-emotional learning and animal rights activism, among other topics.

In other words, the bill would coerce schools into “choosing” to comply with the entire extremist agenda. But that begs the question about how educators would choose to deal with today’s threats to public education. Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s newly revealed plan for school improvement was based on meetings with 200 public school superintendents; every college president in Oklahoma; and “hundreds, if not thousands” teachers and parents and advocacy groups.  Based on these listening sessions, Pugh did not propose vouchers.

Pugh’s plan would raise teacher pay so the minimum starting salary was $40,000, “with graduated raises to the minimum salary schedule based on longevity.” The estimated cost would be $241 million, which is less than the cost of Sen. Julie Daniels’ voucher bill ($275 million). They would  also create an “Oklahoma Teacher Corps” and a teacher mentoring system;  provide certain teachers at least 12 weeks of maternity leave; update the school funding formula, and pass Pugh’s seven other constructive reforms. 

As Pugh explained, “I hope this plan will demonstrate to teachers that we’re serious about the work that you do, and we appreciate how you pour your heart and your soul into educating kids, as we need you to stay in the classroom, and we need more of you.”

But, the Stillwater News Press offers an equally important response:

While that offers us a bit of a sigh of relief, Oklahomans should be aware that the push [to] move taxpayer money into private schools isn’t going anywhere. It’s a well-funded campaign and the state’s administrators and board members have been handpicked to make that a top priority.

I’m afraid I agree with the Stillwater News. Pugh’s bills raise hope. But Oklahoma Republicans will continue to coerce schools into compliance with their extremist privatization and Christian Dominionism ideologies – and call it “choice.”

On the other hand, more Republicans sound like they are getting fed up by Walters and his minions. This week, the Secretary of Education was supposed to present a budget to a legislative subcommittee for planning purposes, but a letter obtained by the Tulsa World shows that Walters seems to be prioritizing “ridding public education of ‘liberal indoctrination.’” Walters’ “spokesman” said he “has requested additional information on diversity, equity, inclusion programs (DEI) to fully understand the extent of indoctrination happening in higher education.”

The letter said:

Please provide a full outline and review of every dollar that has been spent over the last 10 years on diversity, equity, inclusion. Additionally, I want an overview of your staffing and the colleges underneath your oversight as the Chancellor of Oklahoma Higher Regents within every DEI program … and expenditures,” Walters wrote on letterhead of the Office of the Secretary of Education. “Lastly, please provide a copy of the materials that are being used in any of these programs.”

Neither has Walters followed legislative norms for presenting a public education budget. As Nondoc reported, Walters said he instituted a hiring freeze and a spending freeze for the State Department of Education when he took office and all related decisions require his approval. And, in addition to demanding vouchers, he has insisted on any teacher pay raise being performance-based. Above all, Walters said he would be bringing a completely different budget than the one his predecessor drafted. 

Republican Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) responded saying, “district superintendents had expressed concern for ‘the next four years’” because of Walters’ campaign comments. Rep. Dell Kerbs, (R-Shawnee) commented, “I don’t need elevator speeches. I need details.” Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore) understood the argument that performance pay could be a part of teacher pay, but he said that Walters’ plan went too far. And then he tried to get Walters back to the normative procedures which the subcommittee follows for helping craft funding priorities.

McBride “interrupted Walters,” and asked, “Are you saying the budget will totally change — you’re presenting a budget that’s not going to be the same budget, and you’re going to totally change it?”

Nondoc reported that “McBride seemed confused and paused for a moment.” When Walters tried to change the subject, [McBride] interrupted him and asked why Walters was presenting a budget that would not exist in a week. Walters again changed the subject and, as Nondoc reported, “McBride interrupted him again, asking him to stay on topic presenting monetary figures rather than discussing policy and slipping into “campaign rhetoric.” McBride said, “With all due respect, I need the performance review for last year. That’s what you’re here to present.” Then, after that interruption, Walters stopped his presentation.

 After the meeting, Matt Langston, Walters’s “spokesman” (a paid GOP consultant based in Texas) said, “Not one person in Oklahoma is surprised that Democrats are unhappy with the political theater that was orchestrated today.” According to Langston:

They do not want transparency, accountability or even basic reform because they are used to playing in the shadows. Union bosses, whining and liberal tears will not stop education reform, and the superintendent is looking forward to next week’s actual budget hearing.

Stay tuned! When Walters reveals his budget, chaos and vitriol will increase, and we’ll see whether Walters really believes he can implement his promise or “suggestion,” that “received some pushback from lawmakers in 2022,” a ten-year plan to reject all federal spending on education

Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times describes the assault on librarians by rightwing groups and parents who want to ban books. Across the country, but especially in red states, librarians are vilified as “the arm of Satan” by those who want to control what books are on the library shelves. If you want to read a concise summary of book-banning, read my book The Language Police, published by Knopf.

He writes:

In her time as a Texas school librarian, Carolyn Foote watched the image of her profession veer from “shrinking violets behind spectacles” cataloging titles to “pedophiles and groomers” out to pollute the minds of the nation’s youth.

“Librarians came from a climate of being so appreciated to hearing this message that we’re reviled,” said Foote, co-founder of Freadom Fighters, an advocacy group for librarians that has nearly 15,000 Twitter followers. “It was an astonishing turn of events.” A lot of librarians are asking themselves whether they want to remain in the profession, she added. “At least five people I know have retired early.”

Once a comforting presence at story circle and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, bullied and drawn into battles over censorship as school and library boards face intensifying pressure from conservatives seeking to ban books exploring racial and LGBTQ themes. Those voices have grown stronger in red states since the pandemic, when parental groups opposed to mask mandates expanded their sights and became more involved in how and what their children were taught.

Recent polls suggest most Americans are not in favor of banning books. But concentrated pressure by politically connected parental groups, said Peter Bromberg, a board member at EveryLibrary, a nonprofit library advisory group, “has librarians facing a great deal of stress. There are signs on people’s lawns calling librarians pedophiles.” They face pressure from principals and administrators over book displays, and “neighbors talk about them being an arm of Satan.”

Books are displayed at the Patmos Library

The Patmos Library in Jamestown, Mich., which lost public funding after a campaign by conservatives, forcing it to rely on donations.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

Some librarians are fighting back; others have lost or left their jobs. The culture wars over books come at a time when about 27% of public libraries have reduced staff because of budget cuts and other reasons, according to a 2021 national survey. Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozado, president of the American Library Assn., said librarians’ problems are compounded by attacks that are part of an effort “seeking to abolish diverse ideas and erode this country of freedom of expression. I see it as the dismantling of education.”

::

A number of school board meetings in recent years have become explosive and emblematic of the country’s political animosities. Parents yell, boo, shake fists and hold up sexually graphic images in dramas that play out on social media. Similar scenes have erupted at public libraries, including at the Patmos Library in western Michigan, where at least two librarians have quit amid pressure and harassment from residents demanding the removal of LGBTQ books and young adult graphic novels.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

At the library’s December board meeting, librarian Jean Reicher denounced critics a week after the building closed early over fears for the staff’s safety. She said that signs around town labeled her a pedophile and that she’d received abusive phone calls and had iPhones pointed at her. Her emotional retort came a month after a campaign led by conservatives succeeded in defunding the library, forcing it to rely on donations.

“We have been threatened. We have been cursed,” said Reicher. “How dare you people. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You have said I’ve sexualized your children. I’m grooming your children.”

She raised her hands. Her anger welled.

“I have six grandkids out there,” she said, ticking off the offenses aimed at her. “I moved to this town 2½ years ago, and I regret it every day for the last year. This has been horrible,” she continued. “I wasn’t raised this way. I believe in God. I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian. I’m everything you are.”

School and library boards are encountering demands from conservative lawmakers and parental groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Mama Bears Rising, and in a few instances the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, to scour libraries of what they consider upsetting pornographic and LGBTQ depictions. Many conservatives criticize schools as overrun with progressive ideas that are confusing children about race and gender.

“By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them,” Kit Hart, a Moms for Liberty member, said in a video posted last year from a school board meeting in Carroll County, Md. “A 10-year-old should not be reduced to his sexuality.”

A video posted on the Moms for Liberty website shows another one of its members outlining her concerns at a public meeting in Mecklenburg, N.C.: “Parents beware of terms like social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion. Those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda,” she said. “Our schools are becoming indoctrination camps and a breeding ground for hatred and division.”

Florida and other states have placed tougher restrictions on books that schools can stock. A Missouri law passed last year makes it a crime for a school to provide sexually explicit material to a student. After a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school district after a superintendent directed librarians to remove LGBTQ-related books.

“We have been thrown to the forefront of the cultural wars whether we want to be there or not,” said Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Livingston Parish, La., who last year broke out in hives and fell into depression after she was threatened for speaking against censorship. “It’s not fun to be vilified in your small town or the country at large. It’s all related to their using political fear and outrage. And they’re using children to do it.”

Jones was skewered by conservative activists, including Citizens for a New Louisiana, after she warned at a library meeting that “hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.” A picture of her appeared online with a red circle around her head — resembling a target — and she was called a pig and a supporter of teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Someone suggested she should be slapped.

Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in Annandale, N.J., endured similar stress and said she lost 12 pounds in one week after she was accused by a parent at a school board meeting of being a groomer by providing graphic novels and memoirs, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, that could influence children toward “heinous acts.”

“What really stung was that my name was used in that context,” said Hickson, 63,who in 2020 received the American Assn. of School Librarians’ Intellectual Freedom Award. “It was devastating. I broke down and I couldn’t stop crying.” She couldn’t catch her breath, she said, and “couldn’t speak in full sentences. I cracked two teeth from grinding and was fitted with a night guard. I go to the pool now and swim three times a week. It washes the stress away.”

Jessica Brassington, head of the Texas-based Mama Bears Rising, which advocates for increased parental oversight in education, said her intent is not to rebuke librarians or teachers but to get stricter state guidelines on selecting school books in what she sees as a broader war against her Christian faith.

“We want to protect our children. We’ve seen the dark side of what can happen beyond the book. Suicide. Alienation,” said Brassington, whose organization has pressed for the removal of books in school districts and warned against children being indoctrinated by an “evil” sexual agenda. “We want to know what books are available to our children. … The parents are being bypassed.”

::

Calls to ban certain books in schools have arisen for generations among liberal and conservative parents, educators and activist groups. Classics such as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” have been pulled from reading lists. Books deemed to be obscene such as “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Tropic of Cancer” were censored for decades. In the 1980s, well-funded and organized groups like the Christian right Moral Majority condemned books on secular humanism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed laws to restrict school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

(Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Those battles echo today and have accelerated as religious conservatives and right-leaning politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have backed bills to limit school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. Of the 1,648 titles banned in schools across the country in the 2021-22 school year, according to a PEN America study, 41% had prominent LGBTQ characters or explicitly explored LGBTQ themes.

“It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the Red Scare in the 1950s,” said Foote, a retired high school librarian of 29 years who was named a Champion of Change by President Obama. “There’s nothing else remotely close to this.”

Open the link and read the rest of the article. It might be behind a paywall. I subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. It’s a terrific newspaper.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Mercedes Schneider’s wonderful blog!

I learned about it last night, too late to mark the actual blog birthday.

Mercedes is one of the sharpest, smartest voices of the Resistance to privatization. She is a hero of the Resistance thanks to her incisive, brilliant exposés of “reform” hoaxes.

She is a high school English teacher in Louisiana. She has a Ph.D. in statistics and research methodology. She could have been a professor but she wanted to teach high school students.

I started my blog in April 2012; she started hers in January 2013. We exchanged emails, and we met when I came to speak in Louisiana. We became fast friends. Mercedes has been a regular at annual conferences of the Network for Public Education, where she most recently gave lessons on how to obtain tax forms and other public data about “reform” groups, which sprout like weeds, with new names, lots of money, and the same set of actors.

Mercedes is relentless. While teaching and blogging, she wrote four books over the past decade.

In 2014, her first book was A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of Public Education, a vivid portrayal of the cast of characters who pursued privatization and teacher-bashing while calling themselves “reformers.” Might as well have called themselves “destroyers,” because that’s what they are.

In 2015, she published Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, with a foreword by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

In 2016, she published School Choice: The End of Public Education?, with a foreword by Karen Lewis, the late and much-loved President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

In 2020, she gathered her advice about research and published A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies.

In her blogday post, she reflected on some positive developments in the past decade

Of course, the fight continues, but allow me to celebrate a few realities:

  • Bobby Jindal is no longer governor of Louisiana, and his 2016 presidential ambitions were a flop.
  • John White is no longer Louisiana state superintendent. In fact, he is not a superintendent anywhere at all.
  • Michelle Rhee is no longer DC school chancellor. She, too, is chancellor of nowhere at all.
  • Hanna Skandera is no longer NM school chief. She, too, is school chief of nowhere at all.
  • Joel Klein holds no sway over NYC schools. Chief of nowhere.
  • Teach for America (TFA) is losing its luster. Though it tries to reinvent itself, the bottom line is that the org depends upon class after class of willing recruits– a well that appears to be hitting bottom.

Yes, the fight continues. But today– today I take a moment to celebrate just a wee bit.

Happy Blogday to me.

I celebrate Mercedes too and happily name her to the honor roll of this blog.

Love you, Mercedes! May you keep on making a difference.

Maurice Cunningham, retired professor of political scientist, has written an exposé of the well-funded fake “parent groups” that spring up overnight to disrupt school board meetings and demand control of books, curriculim, and COVID protocols. Who is behind them? Read the latest report from the Network for Public Education: “Merchants of Deception: Parent Props and Their Funders.”

They show up shouting at school board meetings with endless complaints. The press interviews them as though they are some “regular moms” looking out for their children, but they are not. They are a well-funded facade for the Koch, Walton, and DeVos families to disrupt and destroy public education.

In our new report, author and academician Maurice Cunningham pulls back the veil on the players, tactics, and funders. This must-read report identifies the who, how, and why behind “Merchants of Deception: Parent Props and Their Funders.

Cunningham is author of the new book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Dana Milbank, my favorite columnist at The Washington Post, wrote about the chaos that has been normalized in the House of Representatives, now that it’s controlled by the Republican Party.

Ryan Zinke stepped up to the microphone and into the Twilight Zone.

“Despite the ‘deep state’s’ repeated attempts to stop me, I stand before you as a duly elected member of the United States Congress and tell you that a deep state exists and is perhaps the strongest covert weapon the left has against the American people,” he told the House. The Montana Republican, who has returned to Congress after a scandal-plagued stint in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, informed his colleagues that “the deep state runs secret messaging campaigns” and is trying “to wipe out the American cowboy.”

Yee-haw! Zinke was speaking in support of a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, or, as Democrats call it, the “Tinfoil Hat Committee.” In substance, it’s the QAnon committee, with a remit to probe the “deep state” and other wacky conspiracy theories. With the panel’s creation, QAnon completes its journey from message board for the paranoid to official policy of the House Republican majority.

After the chaos of the first week of the 118th Congress, many Americans wondered: If it took them 15 ballots just to choose a speaker, how could Republicans possibly govern? Now we know. They are going to govern by fantasy and legislate on the basis of fiction.

On Monday, their first day of legislative business, they voted to repeal funding for a fictitious “87,000 IRS agents” who don’t exist and never will. On Wednesday, they approved legislation purporting to outlaw infanticide, which is already illegal and always has been. In between, they set up the deep state committee.

What next? Sorry, that’s secret. And therein might be the biggest falsehood of all. After numerous promises of “transparency” from the new leaders, they are refusing to reveal multiple backroom concessions Kevin McCarthy made to secure the speakership. You might even call it a conspiracy of silence.
···
Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the GOP conference chair, boasted this week that “we passed the most … transparent rules package in history.” McCarthy tweeted that the new rules would “increase transparency” and that “Republicans are keeping our commitment to make Congress more open.”
Alas, the transparency claims could not survive the light of day. Punchbowl News reported that McCarthy’s team had inked a secret three-page “addendum” to the rules package outlining the giveaways he bartered with holdouts blocking him from becoming speaker.

McCarthy, in a caucus meeting Tuesday, reportedly denied the addendum existed. Alas for McCarthy, other Republican lawmakers claimed to have read the document whose existence McCarthy denied.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) told Axios he was personally reviewing the document. Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) acknowledged that “it has to be out there.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), leaving the caucus meeting in the Capitol basement Tuesday, told a group of us that there remained “questions that I think many of us have about what side deals may or may not have been made.”

On the floor, where Democrats were hollering about the “secret three-page addendum,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who negotiated much of the deal, countered that it was “classic swamp speak” to be “talking about secret deals.” But negotiating such secret deals is totally fine?

One change Republicans did reveal is the gutting of the Office of Congressional Ethics (it won’t be able to hire new staff when current employees leave), which will help shield lawmakers’ wrongdoing from public scrutiny. Also made known: a commitment to vote on abolishing the IRS and eliminating income taxes.


The one beacon of transparency in this sea of opacity? McCarthy’s leading critic, Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He wants to free C-SPAN cameras to film the House floor the way they did during last week’s speaker-vote chaos — during which the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee was physically restrained from lunging at Gaetz.
···
Steve Scalise is the ideal majority leader for the post-truth era.


Boasting to reporters about passage of “the bill to repeal those 87,000 IRS agents,” he claimed that the Congressional Budget Office “confirmed” that those agents would “go after people making less than $200,000 a year,” including “the single mom who’s working two shifts at a restaurant.”


In reality, the IRS is only hiring about 6,500 agents — and that’s over a decade. In reality, the CBO said that only “a small fraction” of revenue from increased enforcement will come from taxpayers earning less than $400,000 a year.


Here’s what else CBO said: The Republicans’ bill to cut funds to the IRS — the new majority’s first legislation — would add $114 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.


But Republicans spent the entire debate repeating the outright falsehood that 87,000 “agents” would “target American working-class families” (Jason T. Smith, Mo.) and “harass and spy on middle-class and low-income families” (Michelle Steel, Calif.). Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) falsely said the CBO had projected “as many as 700,000 more audits, [of] Americans making less than $75,000 a year.”

Beth Van Duyne (R-Tex.) added the inventive claim that the fake agents would “make the IRS larger than the Pentagon, State Department, FBI and Border Control together.” The Defense Department alone employs about 3 million people.

Former majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told the House it was the “most dishonest, demagogic rhetoric that I have seen.” But he hadn’t yet witnessed the infanticide debate.
···
“If a baby is born alive, outside the womb, alive, how could you kill that baby and that be legal?” Scalise asked during debate on the Republicans’ “born-alive” abortion bill. “And yet in a number of states, it is legal and happening today.”


No, it isn’t. Infanticide, of course, has always been murder, and a 2002 “born alive” law affirmed that.
The dispute is limited to rare cases, typically involving a fetus born or aborted with a medical condition that isn’t survivable: Should it be treated with heroic measures or compassionate care? Infanticide isn’t on the table.


The bill was one of three antiabortion measures House Republicans prioritized in their first week of legislating: New House rules promising a vote on permanently banning federal abortion funds, a denunciation of violence against antiabortion groups and the born-alive bill.


It was a curious response to the 2022 elections, when voters angered by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade propelled Democrats to better-than-expected results, and abortion rights supporters prevailed even in red states such as Kentucky and Kansas. “We learned nothing from the midterms if this is how we’re going to operate in the first week,” complained Mace, the South Carolina Republican. “What are we doing to protect victims of rape and victims of incest? Nothing.” She said her GOP colleagues were only “muddying the waters and paying lip service.”

Perhaps that’s to be expected from a GOP leadership in which, as Business Insider pointed out, there will be more guys named “Mike” running committees — six — than there are women in charge of them (just three of the 21 chairs). The old boys of the House Republican caucus might benefit from a Mike drop.
···
What will be the priorities of this new House majority? Well, let us take them at their word.
Fox News host Sean Hannity visited the Rayburn Room off the House floor this week where, under the watchful eye of a George Washington oil portrait, he broadcast interviews with McCarthy and his leadership team.


Total mentions of inflation: 1.
Total mentions of jobs: 1.
Total mentions of the economy: 2.
Total mentions of investigations: 20.


“Thank you, brother,” McCarthy said to Hannity before they got down to probing all of the planned probes: investigating the FBI, DOJ, China, the “weaponized” feds, the Afghanistan pullout, covid-19’s origins, Anthony Fauci, the “Biden family syndicate,” Hunter Biden’s laptop and more.
And now: President Biden’s handling of classified documents. Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (Ohio), who dismissed Trump’s hoarding of classified documents as a “bookkeeping issue,” now demands “a full and thorough review” of Biden’s conduct. Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (Ky.), who said probing the Trump documents would “not be a priority,” said of Biden’s documents: “We’re probing it.”


Oversight is important, but the deep state committee in particular goes beyond oversight and into the realm of vengeance. Under the chairmanship of the voluble Jim Jordan (Ohio), it gives lawmakers powers to interfere in active criminal investigations — including, potentially, investigations into themselves. (Six House Republicans requested pardons from then-President Trump for their role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.)

On the floor, the committee’s proponents didn’t hide their conspiracy beliefs. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) meandered into remarks about the FBI spying on Frank Sinatra before proclaiming: “Mr. Speaker, today we are putting the deep state on notice. We are coming for you.”


House Republicans gave themselves another tool of vengeance by reviving the Holman Rule, which allows lawmakers to cut the salaries of individual federal employees. They’re also planning to kick Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) off the Intelligence Committee, explicitly as punishment for handling Trump’s first impeachment.


By contrast, McCarthy has promised committee assignments to George Santos (R-N.Y.), who won election on a fabricated life story and résumé. Santos faces multiple investigations, and New York Republicans (including members of Congress) have called him a “fraud” and a “joke” and demanded he resign.


But McCarthy is having none of it. “He is seated,” said the man who chose to seat Santos. “If there is a concern, he will go through Ethics,” said the man who just disemboweled the Office of Government Ethics. McCarthy’s logic is as obvious as it is unprincipled: Without Santos, his four-vote majority would become a three-vote majority.
Even the four-vote majority is confounding McCarthy. House Republicans had planned this week to vote on a pair of symbolic resolutions expressing support for law enforcement. But they had to pull the bills from the floor; they didn’t have the votes.


If McCarthy can’t get his fractious caucus to agree on the easy stuff, what happens when he has to avoid defaulting on the federal debt in a few months? McCarthy, who promised not to approve a debt-limit increase without massive spending cuts, has no room to maneuver — and he has legislative rookies running key committees.

House Republicans and their usual allies in the media had already been trading epithets: “fraud.” “Harlot.” “Benedict Arnold.” “Insurrectionists.” And now comes word that Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and other Republican moderates, in a sign of their lack of faith in McCarthy, have begun talks with Democrats about a “discharge petition.” That would circumvent GOP leaders, increasing the debt limit without them.


Republican leaders are right to be paranoid about “weaponization.” But the biggest conspiracy might come from within.

Utah’s House passed a voucher bill, even though the state voted against them by 62-38% in 2007. Republicans in Utah are determined to bypass a referendum, as they are in other states, because voters have never passed one. Voters don’t want to defund their public schools.

You can bet that 70-80% of the students who get vouchers are already enrolled in private religious schools. That’s the proportion reported in every state that has vouchers. The small number who ask for vouchers will lose ground academically and eventually return to their local public school. The research is unequivocal: vouchers do NOT improve academic achievement. They are a gift to parents whose kids are already in private schools.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

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Utah House pushes through controversial voucher bill after suspending rules

HB215 would allow taxpayer funds to be spent on private schooling and home schooling. The largest teachers union in the state is opposed. 

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, sponsor of HB215, is pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Her bill was approved by the House on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, after less than 24 hours of consideration.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, sponsor of HB215, is pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Her bill was approved by the House on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, after less than 24 hours of consideration.

By Courtney Tanner

A controversial bill to create a taxpayer-funded, $42 million school voucher program in Utah — the most expansive in state history — was pushed through the House on Friday under suspended rules that allowed lawmakers to approve it without the required wait time.

The Republican-led proposal was approved on a 54-20 vote that came during the final minutes of floor time of the first week of what’s already shaped up to be a fast and wild legislative session.

“This is the beginning of us reinventing public education in Utah,” declared Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, the sponsor of HB215.

The bill sets up what Pierucci has called the “Utah Fits All Scholarship” that would allow students to use public money to attend private schools or be home-schooled. It’s touted as a way to give parents and kids more choice in education.

Pierucci’s proposal also includes an ongoing $6,000 salary and benefits raise for teachers across the state — made contingent on approving the vouchers.

The measure is opposed by the largest teachers union in Utah, which has said educators feel devalued by having their paycheck tied to a voucher program many don’t support and many worry will further hobble Utah’s public schools. Per pupil funding in the state is already among the lowest in the nation, passing only Idaho.

An attempt by Democratic Rep. Angela Romero of Salt Lake City to split the bill into two was voted down Friday by the conservative-majority body. Romero argued that teacher raises shouldn’t be a bargaining chip to pass other policies.

“I think these are two different issues, and they need to be discussed in two different bills,” she said.

Democrats and a few Republicans stood with her, including Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield. He called it “disingenuous” to connect the issues as a way to force support.

But Rep. Douglas Welton, R-Payson, who is a public school teacher, voted in favor of the bill with the raises — even after calling it “one of the biggest bribes.” He said he’d like to see more work done before any final passage of the bill, which will go next to the Senate.

The vote to pass the bill Friday was supported only by Republican lawmakers. All 13 Democrats in the House, along with seven Republicans, voted to oppose. Still, the vote was enough to represent two-thirds of the body. If the bill passes with the same margin in the Senate, it’s secure from both a veto or referendum.

Pierucci has insisted on the two issues of teacher pay and vouchers remaining together as a funding package. She believes it shows that even though the state wants students to be able to explore other education options, it also still supports public school educators; she talked about her own experience growing up attending public schools in Utah.

After the bill passed in committee late Thursday, she made a few changes before it was heard on the House floor Friday morning.

Her amended bill capped the amount allocated each year for the program at $42 million, instead of allowing it to grow with the annual adjustments to the weighted pupil unit amount, or WPU — which has caused problems in other states with similar programs. The WPU here, which is currently set at about $4,000, is what each public school is given by the state for each child enrolled there (not counting additional add-ons for students with disabilities).

But Pierucci didn’t change the amount her scholarship would allocate per student, which has been a source of heartburn. The Utah Fits All Scholarship is an $8,000 award — which is double the WPU set by the state.

Pierucci said she arrived at the figure by combining the roughly $4,000 WPU with the average amount spent by each Utah school district on students, which is about another $4,000. That second portion is collected locally, through property taxes, and is subject to local control and decision making on how to spend it.

Some have argued that isn’t a fair setup and values the scholarship students more than those who elect for public schools. And for every student who leaves a public school to enroll elsewhere, they said, the school no longer gets their WPU and essentially loses funding and state support.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said she doesn’t believe the bill supports low-income families, as Pierucci has argued.

Pierucci says students in households living below the poverty line will be prioritized for the scholarship.

But Hollins said many of those families wouldn’t be able to use it anyway because they don’t have the transportation to go to a private school and wouldn’t be able to pay the difference between the scholarship and private school tuition. The average tuition at a private school in Utah is roughly $11,000 a year.

“It doesn’t give every student equal access,” Hollins said, noting people in her district are choosing between paying for the bus to go to work, buying new shoes and keeping the lights on.

Others said they were worried about sending public dollars to private institutions that have no requirements by the state to hire licensed teachers or to teach a set curriculum. Most of the schools are religious. And there’s no obligation for private schools to help students with disabilities.

“Because it’s public money it should go to public schools,” which are held publicly accountable, said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, a former public school teacher.

The biggest concern raised by the largely Democratic opposition, though, was the rush to vote on the bill. The rules in the House typically require a bill to be on the calendar for 24 hours before a vote, giving lawmakers a chance to read through it before debate. It was only 19 hours after the bill passed in committee that the full House voted on it Friday, after suspending the rules.

The most recent draft with Pierucci’s amendments “was numbered at 10:00 this morning, introduced and debated under suspension of the rules at 11:15, and passed at about 12:30. For no good reason,” wrote Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, on Twitter after the vote.

He added: “Voting by an informed body and public could just as easily have been done Monday morning. #abuseofpower”

Pierucci and others, though, said it was largely the same bill with a few small changes that she’d been working on this week — and had tried to pass last year but failed.

The other changes she made include allowing a student to attend public school part time and then get a partial scholarship to get private tutoring or do home schooling for the remainder.

Rep. Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, said she liked that addition, suggesting it opened up the scholarship to more students living in rural areas that might not have access to a nearby private school (most of those are concentrated on the Wasatch Front).

The other change was what Pierucci is calling an added “accountability measure.” In the original bill, the test scores of students leaving public schools for private schools was not allowed to be tracked. Opponents wanted that provision to be able to study the success of the program.

In the version passed Friday, students on the scholarship have the option to take an assessment at the end of the year or submit a portfolio of their work in school to the scholarship administrator as proof of their education. Peterson believes that will help see if the vouchers “move the needle.” Others said it wasn’t strong enough.

Peterson said the bill supports the Republican values of creating choices and a competitive market for schools. And she likes the “guardrails,” too, for the administrator that will oversee the program.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, agreed, adding that in recent years he’s talked to parents with concerns about the books being taught in public schools — which he ran legislation on last year. And he didn’t like that schools required masking at times during the pandemic and feels parents should have a choice outside of that.

Pierucci said her impetus has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said proved to her that not all students thrive in public schools.

“The last couple of years,” she said, “have highlighted that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for every child.”

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