Archives for category: Support for public schools

Steve Hinnefeld, Indiana blogger, reviews recent polls and reports that the public continues to prefer public schools to school choice. The public schools are the heart of their communities. They are democratic, overseen by elected boards. They belong to the public.

If ever there was a time for parents and the American public to turn against public schools, you’d think this would be it. But two recent polls show it hasn’t happened.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling for a year and a half, forcing children to learn online. Schools have been under relentless attack for requiring masks and teaching about racism. State legislators have bashed public schools as they pushed to expand school choice.

Johann Neem is a historian of education. He understands the central importance of public education in our democracy.

He wrote this thoughtful, important commentary about the task ahead for the Biden presidency:

Restoring the Democratic Promise of Public Schools: An Integration Agenda for the Biden Administration– Guest Blog Post by Johann N. Neem

The last four years have taught us just how fractured America is. After a decisive but divisive election, President-elect Joseph Biden now begins the most difficult work ever: trying to weave back together a social fabric that has, after years of neglect, come unraveled. Biden has promised “to restore the soul of America.” At the heart of his vision must be a reinvigorated and renewed commitment to the democratic purposes of public education.

 To restore the soul of America, we need to restore the soul of our schools. This means being committed to public schools as sites of integration, where students learn in common, equally, in the same classrooms. This means rejecting the privatization agenda of choice and vouchers, where the logic of the market instead of the commons dominates. It means remembering that public schools are not just serving individuals or families, as our current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argues, but all of us. It means finding real solutions to the ways in which residential segregation divides us by race and family wealth. Our public schools today reflect our divided soul, with whiter and richer Americans segregating themselves into exclusive neighborhoods with their own schools. All Americans must go to school together. 

 The founders of America’s public schools in the nineteenth century considered their integrative function essential. They imagined schools where native-born and immigrant, rich and poor, would learn to live with and for each other. The new state of Michigan’s first superintendent of public schools John Pierce celebrated public schools where “all classes are blended together; the rich mingle with the poor … and mutual attachments are formed.” 

Our public schools’ founders shared the racism of their time. America’s public schools were segregated both de facto and by law. Black Americans struggled to achieve integrated schools in which all Americans would be treated equally. Sixty years after six-year-old Ruby Bridges courageously entered New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School, that struggle continues. President-elect Biden must work for schools that integrate us across our ethnic, racial, religious, and economic divisions. We must learn that we are not enemies, but Americans.

Learning to see each other as Americans also requires a curriculum that integrates rather than divides. The culture wars have torn us apart and undermined our faith in common institutions. Nowhere have the culture wars been more divisive than over the humanities curriculum, and history in particular. We need to move beyond multiculturalism to telling stories about ourselves that bring us together. But to do that, we also need to avoid moving backward to stories that emphasized the experience of one group of Americans—white men—and ignored or erased the experiences of others.

As an immigrant myself, I know how powerful and important public schools can be when they bring diverse people together and welcome them into the nation. By inviting me into these traditions, Americans demonstrated that, despite my foreign origins and brown skin, I was welcome here. This openness was considered a hallmark of American society. We considered ourselves a nation of immigrants, a place where people from around the world could start new lives in a new country.

While the federal government does not determine curriculum for local school districts, the Biden Administration can use its bully pulpit to do the opposite of what Trump did with his. Under Donald Trump, education was weaponized to tear us apart. In response, the Biden Administration should encourage educators to embrace cultural integration rather than division.

A curriculum that integrates across cultural and racial lines is going to be politically challenging. Today, many on the right are suspicious of such efforts. Fed on right-wing media, they respond with anger, especially when riled up by the likes of Trump, who argued, in his speech celebrating American independence at Mount Rushmore, that he and his supporters “will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.” He reiterated these words at the first ever “White House Conference on American History.” “Whether it is the mob on the street, or the cancel culture in the boardroom,” the President proclaimed, “the goal is the same… to bully Americans into abandoning their values, their heritage, and their very way of life.”

The Biden Administration will also face resistance from the other side. Today, many on the left worry that to offer a common curriculum is inherently racist or ethnically biased because it privileges some Americans’ stories at the expense of others. Instead, they advocate culturally specific curricula for students based on their ethnic or racial backgrounds. Such an approach also divides rather than unites; it privatizes our history and culture. In contrast, an integration agenda emphasizes the public schools’ democratic aspiration to bring all students into the nation’s common life. Every student deserves to be introduced to American literature and history, as well as such subjects as math, science, and civics. Few Americans get this at home, whether they be native or foreign born. An integrative approach respects students’ diverse backgrounds while preparing all young people to be fluent, competent, and empowered citizens.

The debate between left and right has played out, in negative ways, over the merits of the New York Times’ 1619 Project. The conversation has become, like our culture itself, artificially divided. On one side, Republican Senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill to prohibit federal funds from being used to teach the 1619 Project. But the left responds, too often, in ways that make finding common ground harder. Thus, Illinois state senator LaShawn K. Ford, as if to prove Trump right, urged that public schools stop teaching all history until the curriculum can be revised to be less racist. As long as we think of our history as “us” versus “them,” rather than a complex story we all share, we will not heal America’s divided heart.

There is no conflict between an integration agenda and telling the truth about the past, unless we imagine that the past has only one truth to tell. For example, the national story means both celebrating our founding fathers for creating a democratic republic and coming to terms with their racism and support for slavery. They were—and we are—imperfect, but the goal of our country, as the Constitution proclaims, is to become “more perfect.” 

Testifying before Congress in June 2019 during hearings about reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates  argued, “we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.” For us to see ourselves as a collective enterprise will require, first, rejecting the privatization agenda of choice and vouchers. The next step is a positive commitment to bridge the boundaries dividing us, whether they be racist and economically exclusive school district boundaries, or curricular boundaries that reinforce our differences. White Americans need to see themselves in the experiences of those with darker skin, and those of us with darker skin must be allowed to consider the history and culture of white Americans ours as well. Our failings and our successes, our good and our bad, our flaws and our promise, and our traditions, belong to all of us. We are all Americans.

The public schools are public. Their mission is to forge a public. They should help young people to move beyond their pre-existing identities to see themselves as part of the nation. In a country so divided that we no longer consider each other fellow citizens, reviving the democratic mission of public schools has never been more essential.

Johann Neem is author of Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America. He explores his own personal experiences as an immigrant growing up during the culture wars in his essay, “Unbecoming American.” Neem teaches history at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Over 600 faculty and staff at Penn have organized Penn for PILOTS and issued a statement calling on the university to make “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) to the Philadelphia public schools. As is well known, the public schools in Philadelphia are chronically underfunded, thanks to a hostile Republican legislature, and they are currently facing devastating cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Penn is the largest property owner in Philadelphia and the only Ivy League university that doesn’t pay PILOTs. Calls for PILOTs have surfaced for years, but support for the idea has now reached an unprecedented level. A significant number of Penn faculty and staff believe that it is time for the university to pay its fair share for public schools.

As the organizing statement of the group says, Penn is the seventh wealthiest university in the nation, and the Philadelphia schools are among the poorest in the nation.

This is the petition of the organizers. The statement begins:

We are faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania who believe that Penn has a responsibility to ensure adequate funding for the Philadelphia public schools. Penn is the largest property owner in the city of Philadelphia, but as a non-profit institution, it pays no property taxes on its non-commercial properties. In other words, it contributes nothing to the tax base that funds Philadelphia’s public school system—this in a city whose schools are underfunded and facing deep budget cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Commitment

Penn should contribute to an Educational Equity Fund governed by the school district and city of Philadelphia. These would be payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)—a fraction of what Penn would owe if it were subject to property tax assessment. We commit ourselves to seeing our university pay its fair share.

Nearly every other Ivy League university already makes payments in lieu of taxes. Penn would be joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth in recognizing its financial obligation to the community of which it is a part.

The supporters of this demand explain their rationale:

This is not a matter of charity but of justice. Penn’s tax exemption is predicated on the notion that it is a non-profit institution that exists to fulfill a public purpose, not a for-profit corporation that exists to accumulate capital. That distinction must be made meaningful. Today, Penn is the seventh richest university in the country. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. If Penn’s public mission is to have any meaning at all, the university must not be an exemplar or engine of urban inequality.

Yet the existing system of public finance ensures that Penn benefits from city services that it does not pay to maintain. Penn’s administrators, faculty, and staff rely on city schools, sanitation services, transportation, and other programs. Penn’s location in the city of Philadelphia is one of its defining characteristics that enables the university to attract faculty and students. When the university does not pay for the services and environment that make its work possible, other Philadelphians are left to make up the difference—or city schools and other institutions simply go without. Penn has a duty to contribute to the city that sustains it.

Here is their list of frequently asked questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this remarkable movement.

I salute the faculty and staff at Penn who support this movement. The financial condition of the Philadelphia public schools is dire. They need all the help they can get. In this age on intense individualism and greed, it is wonderful to see people acting with a sense of social responsibility.

Please read the NPE Action endorsement of Joe Biden for President.

We support public schools.

Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, are hostile to the very idea of public schools. They have spent three years proposing deep cuts to public education and attempting to establish federally-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.

In contrast, Joe Biden has proposed dramatic increases in funding to public schools by tripling the amount that Title I schools would receive. He has voiced strong support for more counselors and psychologists in our schools, as well as increased funding for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs. He supports community schools that link social services and the school together to serve children and their families better.

At the Public Education Forum held in Pittsburgh in December of 2019, Joe Biden was asked by NPE Board member Denisha Jones if he would commit to ending standardized testing in schools. His unequivocal response was, “Yes. You are preaching to the choir.” He said to a national audience that “teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to know.” He described evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students as a “big mistake.”

At the same public forum in Pittsburgh, he was dismissive of the policies of Secretary of Education DeVos, saying that under his administration, “Betsy DeVos’s whole notion of charter schools…are gone.”

The public statements expressed by Joe Biden encourage us to believe that he does not intend to follow the disastrous education policies of the Obama years included in Race to the Top, which were closely aligned with the failed policies of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind.

We are taking candidate Joe Biden at his word. We believe that he recognizes that Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind were harmful to our schools and our children.

However, if those policies re-emerge, we will vigorously oppose them. We will also continue to be engaged in monitoring the words of both candidates and their parties’ platforms.

We urge our supporters and all friends of public education to go to the polls in November and vote for Joe Biden. The future of our public schools and our democracy is at stake.

In the words of NPE Action President, Diane Ravitch, “We support Joe Biden because he has promised to reverse the failed “test-and-punish” federal policies of the past two decades. For the sake of our children, their teachers, our public schools, and our democracy, Trump must go.”

Charles Foster Johnson, leader of Pastors for Texas Children, reports on the election results and their implications for public schools:

2018 Texas Midterm Election Analysis for Public Education

Thanks to a groundswell of grassroots advocacy efforts during the 2018 electoral season, the Texas Legislature has taken a dramatic step toward the support of universal public education for all children.

The Texas Senate, misled by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, took a demonstrable step away from the narrow anti-public fringe and toward an embrace of their constitutional responsibility to “make suitable provision for public free schools.” A key pro-public education moderate Republican from Amarillo withstood a vicious primary attack from Patrick’s rightwing forces in the spring, and two of his Tea Party allies were replaced with pro-pub education Democrats in Fort Worth and Dallas this week. This effectively strips Patrick of his supermajority of 19 votes required by Senate rules to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.

What this means is that privatization policies will have a much harder time making it past the Senate in the upcoming 2019 legislative session. These bad ideas have prevailed in the Senate, due to Patrick’s strong-arm tactics, only to be squashed by the more moderate Texas House, but Tuesday’s election results make this strategy far less likely.

On the House side, Democrats picked up twelve seats, bringing their total to 67 of 150 members of that chamber. This all but ensures the election of a moderate Speaker of the House like Joe Straus, who is retiring in January. Speaker Straus’ deft leadership helped block Patrick’s voucher and bathroom bills last session. The House is marked by a creative and dynamic alliance of rural Republicans and urban Democrats unified in their opposition to vouchers, troubled by the proliferation of charters, and committed to structural increases in school funding.

An unsung positive sign for public education in Texas was the close race that Mike Collier ran against Dan Patrick for Lt. Governor. With little money or name recognition, Collier waged a robust pro-public education race, and lost by less than four percentage points. This serves a terse notice to Patrick that his anti-public education platform is crumbling.

The cherry on the cake is the passage of key school bond and funding measures in several urban centers.

There is a wonderful resurgence of support for our neighborhood and community public schools in Texas. Public education emerged as the most vocal, visible issue in the midterm campaigns. Those who ran unabashedly in support of it won handily, and those who sounded an uncertain trumpet lost. It is crystal clear that Texans love their public schools, and are prepared to support elected officials who represent them in this conviction—and retire those who don’t.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been a reliably Republican State, but this year may be different because of the state’s teacher uprising.

John Thompson writes here about the way that teachers and parents who want the state to invest in education are upending the Governor’s race.

He writes:

“In Oklahoma, the governor’s race would ordinarily result in a solid victory for an enthusiastic Trump supporter like Republican Kevin Stitt, who brandishes a “100 percent Pro-Life score” and an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

“But this year’s focus on education could turn the election for Stitt’s competitor, veteran Democrat Drew Edmondson, who trails by only four points, according to a recent poll.

“This year’s focus on education could turn the election for Democrat Drew Edmondson.
At a recent forum, Stitt has evaded the question of how he would fund a teacher pay raise without raising taxes. Edmondson, in contrast, committed to a $300 to $350 million annual increase for education, funded by taxes on oil and gas production, removing a capital gains exemption for high-income taxpayers, and a 50-cent tax hike on cigarettes.

“Asked about this difference in strategy, Edmondson’s campaign manager Michael Clingman said in an email, “the lack of specificity in Kevin Stitt’s messages is troubling. Teachers marched on the Oklahoma Capitol last April demanding real solutions, not vague promises….”

“Stitt is basing much of his campaign on running government like a publicly-traded company—setting performance metrics for state governance and holding subordinates accountable for measurable outputs. Drawing from his experience as the founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group, Stitt describes his program as “performance metrics=accountability, efficiency and results.” He promises to fire underperformers.

“But some of the “performance metrics” from his own company don’t look so good, as revealed in an ongoing legal controversy over questionable mortgage lending practices. His company originated subprime mortgages to homebuyers who may not have qualified for traditional loans (a hearing on the Lehman Brothers suit against Gateway is set for October 29 in the Southern District of the New York Bankruptcy Court.)

“Gateway has been called one of “the 15 shadiest mortgage lenders being backed by the government.” It paid fines in three states and was penalized in five for using unlicensed lenders. Gateway lost its license and signed a consent order barring it from seeking another lender or broker license in Georgia.

“Oklahoma educators have had enough of outsiders imposing their untested opinions on classrooms. Since the walkouts this spring, over 100 current or former teachers and family members of teachers have run for local, state, and federal office in Oklahoma. Only four of the nineteen Republicans who voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay remain in the running. Edmondson is benefiting from the energy generated by women such as congressional candidate Kendra Horn, and a record number of high-profile female teacher-candidates.

“Stitt was a no show for a recent candidate forum, where education issues were discussed. In contrast, Edmondson attended every day of the nine-day teacher walkout this April.”

Will teachers and parents “Remember in November?”

At last, a gubernatorial candidate who wants to rebuild public education and throw out the profiteers, frauds, and grifters! Voters in Florida have a chance to clean the Augean stables and elect a great Governor for public education!

The Network for Public Educatuon Action Fund is thrilled to endorse Andrew Gillum for Governor of Florida!

The Network for Public Education Action is proud to announce its endorsement of Andrew Gillum for Governor of Florida.

Andrew Gillum is a strong supporter of public education and he calls Florida’s corporate school reforms “a failure.” He has proposed a $1 billion increase in funding for public schools, which would include a minimum starting salary of $50,000 for teachers and an expansion of Pre-K opportunities.
Mr. Gillum believes that high-stakes testing reforms have failed our students and schools.

When it comes to charter schools and vouchers, Andrew Gillum had the following to say:

“Charter schools have a record of waste and unaccountability that we would never tolerate from public schools. Yet, our state’s education budget continues rewarding charter schools at the expense of public schools; for example, the 2018-19 budget allocates $145 million to charter school maintenance — three times the amount allocated to public schools. As a product of Florida’s public schools, I believe we make a promise to our state’s children to provide high-quality, accessible, public schools. We weaken that promise every time we divert taxpayer funds into private and religious education that benefits some students, but not all.”

On November 6, please cast your vote for Andrew Gillum.

EdWeek has a good article about the number of teachers who are running (or ran) for office this year. I guess the slogan is, “If you can’t persuade them, run against them.” According to the article, 158 educators filed for state offices.

In Oklahoma, 64 teachers ran for office. 37 lost their primary; 15 won; and 12 were unopposed. In Kentucky, 20 teachers ran for office, and only five lost their primary.

Teachers have figured out that they have to be “in the room where it happens” (to paraphrase the song from “Hamilton”).

The National Education Association has helped novice candidates. Good for NEA!

Through its See Educators Run program, a series of trainings for NEA members seeking local or state-level office, the nation’s largest teachers’ union is tapping into this political moment.

The organization hopes to create a “candidate pipeline” for members, said Carrie Pugh, NEA’s political director. “[We felt] like our voices weren’t being represented.”

For many of these first-time candidates, the union offers a gateway into the messy world of politics.

NEA launched the program in 2017, but the number of applications nearly doubled after this spring.

See Educators Run has held three trainings since 2017 and graduated about 200 educators. Any NEA member who is running for office, or considering a run, can apply for a space, and the program is free for participants. The two-day program was designed to cover the basics of running a campaign “soup to nuts,” said Pugh.

While See Educators Run is nonpartisan, Pugh says that the program seeks out candidates who are “values-aligned”: supportive of funding for public schools, collective bargaining rights, and accountability measures for charter schools. The NEA also requires that local unions sign off on candidates’ applications, as affiliates share the cost of training with the national organization. Training facilitators have backgrounds in politics: They’ve worked on campaigns or for organizations like Emily’s List and Emerge that train Democratic candidates to run for office.

Topics ran the gamut from high-level strategy (how do you craft a campaign message?) to the granular details of social-media communications (how often should you post to your candidate Facebook page?).

In one session, candidates learned how to devise a field plan for their race, calculating their vote goals and the number of volunteers needed to meet them. Parts of the process read like algebra homework: If one volunteer can knock on 15 to 20 doors an hour, and you need to knock on 1,021 doors, how many volunteers do you need to sign up for two-hour shifts?

“I knew that you had to look at registered voters and things like that,” said Thomas Denton, a retired teacher from Kentucky considering a run for state legislature. “But exactly how to crunch those numbers is what’s being answered here.”
Several candidates said fundraising would be their biggest challenge.’

Know campaign-finance law inside and out, trainers told the candidates: Research the legal limits for how much individuals can contribute and the contribution filing deadlines.

In sessions, participants paired up to practice cold-calling for donations. The big takeaway? Make a clear, specific ask—even if it’s uncomfortable.

Kyla Lawrence, an assistant principal in North Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in the state’s house of representatives in 2020, said she would have to mentally prepare to make a lot of those calls, especially to bigger donors. As a teacher, it often feels “like you don’t have the financial status to play in this arena,” she said.

Candidates were also encouraged to reference the #RedforEd movement, which became a clarion call for educators during statewide strikes this spring, while campaigning. Trainers encouraged them to talk about collective action with constituents—especially other educators—and wear the trademark bright red shirt at town halls.

The message that campaigns should champion public education resonated with Carol Fleming, a speech-language pathologist in Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in House District 38 in 2020.

But she won’t be mentioning #RedForEd by name in her campaign, she said. In Arkansas, ” ‘strike’ is a word that you do not use.”

For many candidates in attendance, this spring’s statewide strikes were inspiring but not necessarily the catalyst for running.

Lakilia Budeau, the director of a youth-services center for Paducah public schools in Kentucky, said protests across her state reinforced her notion that she could govern better than the legislators currently in office. But she had already thought about a run for state representative before this spring.

“I’m just tired of [legislators] not having their students’ and families’ interests at heart,” she said.

Candidates said the union’s role in their campaigns wouldn’t end after they left the training.

Several plan to count on their local associations as major sources of volunteer and financial support.

Save Our Schools Arizona is a group founded by public school parents to fight the expansion of vouchers.

Prop 305 is a referendum that will appear on the state ballot in November. It calls for the universal expansion of vouchers so that all students can use public money to attend private and religious schools with taxpayers’ dollars.

Parents are fighting this. They fought the Koch brothers in court to get this referendum on the ballot.

This video explains what the issues are and why you should vote NO to support public schools, the schools that belong to everyone.

Voucher schools are not transparent and not accountable. Every dollar that goes to an ESA is taken away from public schools.

Vote NO!

Here are a few of the lessons I take away from the crucial Virginia elections. You may have others. Feel free to chime in.

First, the Trump message of ”American carnage” (the theme of his inaugural address) failed. Appeals to fear didn’t work. The blatant and latent warnings about crime, immigration, race, and insecurity lost. Virginians Close hope over fear.

Second, Trump phony themes of patriotism, delivered by references to athletes taking a knee and sacred Confederate statues, were not enough to overcome opposition to Trump and Trumpism. Voters are not dumb. They see through the smokescreen.

Third, Democrats win by uniting their base, including parents and teachers. Northam spoke positively about Virginia’s public schools and promised to reduce the burden of testing, to expand early childhood education, and to improve teachers’ Salaries. Not a word about charters or choice.

His pledge:

“Our kids deserve to go to schools where they feel safe and get the highest quality education. We can’t allow the Trump Administration to destroy the success of Virginia’s public schools, public universities, or community college system. Ralph will fight to defend our public schools and will support classroom innovation to develop new methods of teaching our kids the skills they need for a 21st century economy.

“As a member of the Children’s Cabinet, Dr. Northam and the McAuliffe administration are helping our most challenged schools combat chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance — but there’s still work to do. The commonwealth of Virginia spends, on average, $80 million per year to remediate students in kindergarten through third grade. We need to reevaluate how we test our youngest students and ensure we’re putting them on track for success at the beginning of their academic careers. A big part of addressing this issue is making sure quality pre-K is available to all young Virginians — though it also involves challenging conventional methods of student assessments and alternatives to having students repeat grades at early ages.”

There is more.

Every Democratic Candidate in 2018 should read Dr. Notham’s commonsense approach to education.