Archives for category: Supporting public schools

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson has organized strong resistance to the vouchers touted by the most powerful elected official in Texas, not the governor, but the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a former talk show host. Rev. Johnson is leader to Pastors for Texas Children, which has 2,000 members across the state. They are united in their opposition to vouchers and their support for public schools. Year after year, they have defeated vouchers in the legislature, and they are gearing up to fight them again. You can read more about his and his organization here.


I am happy to place Rev. Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children on the blog’s honor roll for their stalwart defense of public schools, of the children of Texas, of religious liberty, and of the principle of separation of church and state.



Johnson, 59, is the Fort Worth-based executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a network of about 2,000 church leaders around the state who work to support pubic schools.


Johnson and his group have emerged as chief adversaries of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Patrick champions a breed of education reform forged around vouchers — which steer money from public schools to parents to pay private school tuition.


“The lieutenant governor said, a couple of weeks ago, he’ll keep bringing it up until it passes,” Foster told the pastors, who were gathered for a meeting of Texas Baptists Committed in Waco. “It’s up to us to stop him.”


In his baritone southern drawl, Johnson told the pastors that vouchers siphon funds from schools in low-income neighborhoods and violate the separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment. School vouchers contradict God’s law of religious liberty, he said, by providing government support for religion.


The organization’s mission is twofold: To advocate for public education with state lawmakers and to mobilize individual churches to support public schools by providing services such as student mentoring and teacher appreciation events.


Members have linked dozens of churches with public schools, met with more than 100 lawmakers since the organization’s inception in 2013, and published dozens of anti-school voucher editorials in newspapers across Texas.

Rosann Tung is a parent in the Boston Public Schools and is director of research and policy at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. In this article, she connects the meaning of the successful campaign to block the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts and the present moment, where public schools across the nation are under threat. The parent-teacher victory over the out-of-state billionaires was a resounding affirmation of public support for public schools. Please open the article to see the links to sources. Tung’s article is a good reminder of the importance of joining with allies in your district, town, city, or state. Every region has an organization that is supporting public education and opposing privatization. For help in finding your allies, contact the Network for Public Education.


Tung writes:


On November 8, Massachusetts voters decided to keep the charter school cap by voting “no” on Ballot Question 2, with only 16 (mostly wealthy) towns out of 351 voting “yes.” School committees in over 200 districts passed resolutions against Question 2, because communities want local control over their schools and understand that the charter industry forces them to run two parallel school systems, one of which is not fully accountable to the community.


The ballot proposal would have allowed up to twelve new Commonwealth charter schools each year indefinitely. In addition, the proposal would have removed limits on the amount of money that districts can be required to pass through to charter schools, enabling situations in which charter school growth could eventually cause the collapse of urban public school districts due to loss of revenue. Raising the charter cap would have bled our districts of resources necessary for early education, engaging course offerings, and professional development, and crippled the system’s ability to improve public, accountable schools for all students.


Not all charter schools exacerbate inequities, but lifting the charter cap would have allowed the creation of more charters that do widen the opportunity gap for students historically marginalized by unequal systems – especially schools that are run by for-profit corporations or charter management chains, that lack transparency and accountability in their governance, or that follow practices such as inequitable enrollment, punitive discipline policies, or excessive focus on raising standardized test scores. Choosing to keep the charter school cap was a win for equity in our state’s public school system.


Given the election of Donald Trump as our next president, we need to use this win to continue the strong advocacy for equitable and accountable public schools that the No on Question 2 supporters organized. During the fight for Question 2, charter proponents raised over $26 million to support their cause, primarily from “dark money,” out-of-state, and corporate donors. The aims of these donors are aligned with those of our president-elect; Trump promises to further privatize public schools and reduce government’s role in public education. While Trump’s education platform lacks specifics and details, we know that he has promised to divert $20 billion from school districts and perhaps even eliminate the federal Department of Education.


Building on the grassroots victory over Massachusetts Question 2, we need to ensure that his administration’s policies do not succeed in: dismantling federal oversight for students’ rights to quality education; further privatizing public education through private and parochial school vouchers and the expansion of charter school chains dominated by large corporate interests; and traumatizing students of color and immigrant students through a culture of intolerance and government-sanctioned racism and xenophobia.


Given Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos, a pro-voucher billionaire, as Secretary of Education, the Trump administration will likely allocate Title I dollars to “school choice,” which includes a voucher program for students to attend private and parochial schools and the creation of more charter and magnet schools. This “portability” could reverse what 62 percent of Massachusetts residents just voted for – keeping funds in traditional public schools. Trump’s approach to improving schools through a market-based, competitive approach will reduce the ability of public schools and systems to improve due to funding and resource shortfalls. And it will widen the opportunity gap, since a disproportionate number of Massachusetts’ charter schools have zero tolerance discipline policies and disproportionately low enrollment of English language learners.


In the aftermath of Trump’s election, many educators have led emotional classroom discussions to help students process their reactions, which include sadness, fear, rage, and uncertainty. Students who are Muslim, LGBTQ, immigrant, undocumented, Latino, female, and/or of color describe anxiety over their civil rights and their futures in this country. Superintendents in urban districts around the country have tried to reassure students and families with public letters and offers of support and counseling. Now more than ever, under a Trump administration, we must provide civic education that promotes critical consciousness, teaches about structural inequality, and empowers students to voice their concerns, organize, and advocate for humane and equitable policies.


In the next four years, with Trump as president and with a Republican Congress, we must continue to demand inclusive, transparent, and accountable public schools that serve each community’s distinct needs and desires, rather than quasi-public, unaccountable charter schools and private schools. We must ensure that our public schools create greater opportunity for all of our students, especially those most marginalized by our inequitable systems.





Here is a great article in The New Republic by staff writer Graham Vyse, asking the crucial question, “Can Democrats Save Public Education from Trump and DeVos?” It acknowledges that the Democrats paved the way for the school choice agenda of the far-right by touting privately managed charter schools for the past eight years.


So the question now is whether Democrats will really fight for public education or will they continue the pretense that privately managed charter schools are “public?” Will they continue to endorse charters and oppose vouchers? Can you be half-pregnant?


As the Democrats aped the Republicans on key social issues, like education, they lost their unique identity. Now there are only 14 states with Democratic governors. If they keep pretending to be Republicans, there will be even fewer.


Andrew Cuomo of New York has used the same language as Trump, referring to community public schools as a “government monopoly,” and he endorsed legislation to compel the city of New York to give free space to charters, even those that are able to pay rent, like Eva Moskowitz’s fabulously wealthy charter chain. Dannell Molloy has been a champion for charter schools in Connecticut and gives them preference over public schools. Jerry Brown in California opened two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charter schools.


Will they fight the privatization agenda, now that it is the Trump agenda?

After a hard-fought election that produced a narrow margin of victory, State Attorney General Roy Cooper was elected the next Governor of North Carolina. Pat McCrory, current governor and Tea Party hero, conceded defeat.


Education was the leading issue for Roy Cooper. He railed against the actions of McCrory and the legislature, and he was elected even as the state voted for Trump. Maybe that’s a lesson for Democratic candidates in other states. Supporting public schools is wise and politically powerful.


This is what Governor-elect Cooper says on his website:


We need to make education a priority. Governor McCrory has prioritized huge tax giveaways to big corporations and those at the top while he cut teaching assistants and failed to provide the resources our children need and to pay our teachers what they deserve.


We have to give more pay and respect to teachers, and to treat them as the professionals they are. Among the top priorities are increasing teacher pay, reversing cuts to textbooks and school buses, and stopping teacher assistant lay-offs.


Teachers will ultimately know we respect them when our policy reflects our rhetoric. Reinstating a teaching fellows program to attract the best and brightest, providing opportunities for teachers to improve their skills as professionals, and making sure their kids are healthy and ready to learn in the classroom are vital.


North Carolina already ranks 46th in the country and last in the Southeast in per-pupil expenditures for public schools. Many good teachers are leaving for other states for better jobs, and class size has increased. That’s causing parents to lose faith in public schools and undermining North Carolina’s best jobs recruiting tool, our education system.


Similarly, I oppose vouchers that drain money from public schools. I support strong standards and openness for all schools, particularly charter schools. While some charters are strong, we see troubling trends, such as a re-segregation of the student population, or misuse of state funds without a way to make the wrongdoers reimburse taxpayers. We need to manage the number of charter schools to ensure we don’t damage public education and we need to better measure charter schools so we can utilize good ideas in all schools.


We must support early childhood education as well as our great universities and community colleges. Our approach to quality education must be comprehensive.


Here is his education agenda.

After listening to the debate between Duke Professor Helen Ladd and Harvard Professor Marty West about the funding of our schools (“Getting Our Money’s Worth“), a reader sent this comment:


I don’t understand why we’re not talking more about the great things our teachers are doing in spite of being under funded. What don’t our schools have? My goddaughter asked for a ream of copy paper for Christmas a couple of years ago! Her whiteboard is actually plastic shower stall wall material that can’t be cleaned. She works in the Boston area.


Our schools are giving our students wonderful, whole child educations. They’re winning awards for the wonderful things they do with parents, students and other community members but we rarely talk about it.


What do the almighty (all richy) charters have – facilities in good repair with great technology, small classes, resources we can’t even dream about? That’s what I hear is the case for many charters. Where does that money come from? Do they save so much by not paying certified teachers that they can afford all those amenities or do they get tax deductible gifts from afar? How much more money does all their splendor take? Can community public schools get some from the same places? How about just enough for small classes?


Proud of public schools

Carol Burris, veteran educator and executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes here about what the new Trump administration plans to do to American education. She foresees that President Obama’s “Race to the Top” will turn into President Trump’s “Race to the Bank,” as for-profit entrepreneurs find ways to cash in on the education industry. The ultimate goal is the elimination of public schools, which are a cornerstone of a democratic society.

She writes:

The elimination of democratically governed schools is the true agenda of those who embrace choice. The talk of “civil rights” is smoke and mirrors to distract.

The plan on the Trump-Pence website promotes redirecting $20 billion in federal funds from local school districts and instead having those dollars follow the child to the school of their choice — private, charter or public. States that have laws promoting vouchers and charters would be “favored” in the distribution of grants. Like Obama’s Race the Top, the competition for federal funds that states could enter by promising to follow Obama-preferred reforms, a Trump plan could use financial incentives to impose a federal vision on states.

The idea is not novel. Market-based reformers have referred to this for years as “Pell Grants for kids,” or portability of funding.

Portability, vouchers and charter schools have been hallmarks of Pence’s education policy as governor of Indiana. Unlike the Trump-Pence website, which frames choice as a “civil rights” initiative, Governor Pence did not limit vouchers to low-income families. He expanded it to middle-income families and removed the cap on the number of students who can apply.

Pence attacked the funding and status of public education with gusto as governor, following the lead of his predecessor Mitch Daniels:

It was promised that vouchers would result in savings, which then would be redistributed to public schools. What resulted, however, was an unfunded mandate. The voucher program produced huge school spending deficits for the state — a $53 million funding hole during the 2015-16 school year alone. That deficit continues to grow.

The “money follows the student” policy has not only hurt Indiana’s public urban schools, it has also devastated community public schools in rural areas — 63 districts in the Small and Rural Schools Association of Indiana have seen funding reduced, resulting in the possible shutdown of some, even after services to kids are cut to the bone.

In contrast, charters have thrived in Indiana with Pence’s initiatives of taxpayer-funded, low-interest loan, and per-pupil funding for nonacademic expenses. For-profit, not-for-profit and virtual schools are allowed. Scams, cheating scandals and political payback have thrived, as well. Former Indiana education commissioner Tony Bennett was forced to resign as the commissioner of Florida[1] after it was discovered that he had manipulated school rating standards to save an Indiana charter school operated by a big Republican donor who gave generously to Bennett’s campaign.

Burris shows how this kind of untrammeled school choice affected the schools of Chile and Sweden, where the far-right imposed Milton Friedman’s school choice theories. In Chile, the result was hyper segregation of all kinds; in Sweden, rankings on international exams fell. What was left of public schools were filled with the children of the poor.

Burris asks important questions:

Do we want our schools to be governed by our neighbors whom we elect to school boards, or do we want our children’s education governed by corporations that have no real accountability to the families they serve?

Do we to want to build our communities, or fracture them, as neighborhood kids get on different buses to attend voucher schools, or are forced to go to charters because their community public school is now the place that only those without options go?

Do we believe in a community of learners in which kids learn from and with others of different backgrounds, or do we want American schools to become further segregated by race, income and religion?

The most shocking instances of charter school scandal and fraud consistently appear in states that have embraced the choice “market” philosophy. Are we willing to watch our tax dollars wasted, as scam artists and profiteers cash in?

Public schools are not a partisan issue. People of all political parties serve on local school boards.

Trump’s plan is a radical plan, not a conservative plan. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. Conservatives conserve.

Now is the time for people of good will to stand together on behalf of public schools, democratic governance, and schools that serve the community.

I am posting this again because I left out the link last time to Sarah’s story. I hope you will read it in full.

Sarah Mondale directed a wonderful new film called A BACKPACK FULL OF CASH, narrated by Matt Damon.

Ten years ago, Sarah and her partners Sarah Patton and Vera Aronow made a four-part series called SCHOOL, a history of the American public school; it was shown on PBS and won rave reviews.

Why did the team reassemble now to tell a new story about our public schools?

Sarah Mondale explains in her post why she cares so passionately about public schools.

She writes:

“My dad, Pete Mondale, was a lifelong teacher who spent most of his career as a professor of American Studies. His mother was a music teacher who taught for a while in a one-room schoolhouse. He went to public schools in the tiny farming town of Elmore, Minnesota, and thanks to the government-funded GI Bill, he was able to go to college. He later earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota, a great public institution. He reached the pinnacle of his career in the 1960s when he founded the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he inspired a very special group of students. He also made a difference in the lives of students at George Washington University where he taught for many years. A number of them became family friends, and growing up, I saw how much they respected him. After he retired, his Alabama students invited him back for a celebration in his honor. They came from all over the country to tell him how he had changed their lives, a type of recognition that is rare in the life of a teacher.”

Her father taught her that the public schools were the bedrock of our democracy.

“My dad would often talk about how his parents’ generation, the sons and daughters of poor immigrants, got their start in this country thanks to public schools. His father-in-law, my grandfather, came to America from Italy as a teenager, and talked about public schools as one of the greatest institutions this country had to offer. My mother, became a teacher of English to adult immigrants in the public schools of Washington, DC.”

When Sarah discovered a few years ago that our public schools and their teachers were under assault by powerful forces, she knew she had to do something. She was teaching high school at the time. She thought about what she could do. And she decided to tell the story in a way that a large public would understand. A film.

I have seen it. It is gripping. It should be shown in every community across the nation. Now, more than ever, we need this film to inform the American public about the unconscionable effort to turn our public schools over to private control. We need the people to understand the theft of their public property, the stealth attack on the commons, the harm that occurs when public schools are defended and closed to underwrite privately managed charters.

Please read her story.

Arthur Camins writes that in the wake of the election, with a public deeply divided, it is time to unify and organize around our public schools. Although the future of K-12 education was not part of the national election, it appeared on many state ballots, where significant majorities rejected privatization and voted to support their public schools.

He writes:

For many of us, our hopes and dreams are bound up with our expectations for our children. For that reason, it is ripe with potential for organizing to pressure our government to be more responsive to the needs of folks without privilege and to regain social trust.

Take a deep breath because now it is the time for a protracted struggle to revitalize the struggle for democratic, equitable education. Now is the time to reassert an ethos of citizen’s responsibility for one another in education policy and practice. Now is the time to reassert an ethos of improvement for all over the restrictive idea of improvement for a few. Now is the time to utilize the revitalizing power of collaboration instead of the divisiveness of competition as the primary lever to advance the academic, social and emotional learning of all students. Now is the time to advance the broad promises of education to prepare every student for life, work, and citizenship.

Several decades of a myopic bipartisan focus on the imposition of test-based accountability and punishment systems has failed to significantly narrow race and class-based opportunity and achievement gaps. Several decades of effort to create privately-controlled, but taxpayer-funded, charter schools and to provide tuition vouchers for private schools to compete with democratically funded public schools have increased segregation without achieving widespread improvement. Several decades of purposeful ideological propaganda and on-the-cheap silver-bullet solutions have undermined public confidence in democratic government as a problem-solving mechanism.

Public education remains as a commitment to the commons. Obviously, most of what we do is outside the commons. But the commons must be strengthened, preserved, transformed to represent the community’s commitment to its children, all of them.

Last week’s election was both a victory and a defeat for corporate education reform. On one hand, Donald Trump won with a strong commitment to school choice and privatization, which is the highest goal of corporate reformers. He will very likely appoint a Supreme Court justice (or justices) hostile to unions, another priority of the so-called reformers. Maybe now, they can give up their pretense of being Democrats and hail the new regime in D.C.

On the other hand, voters in two very different states–Massachusetts and Georgia–were asked if they wanted to “improve” their schools by turning them over to the charter industry, and both states answered with a resounding NO.

In Georgia, despite a deceptively worded constitutional amendment, a bipartisan majority voted 60-40 against allowing the governor to create a special district where low-scoring schools could be converted to charters.

In Massachusetts, the corporate financiers bundled $26 million, mostly from out of state donors, to promote Question 2, which would add 12 new charters every year. The advertising campaign tried to sell Question 2 as a civil rights issue. They promised it would not defund public schools. They swore it was only “for the kids.” Question 2 lost overwhelmingly by 68-32%. Two-thirds of the voters did not believe the promises.

Here is the big news: The largest vote against charters in the Massachusetts vote came in communities that already had charters. The voters knew that charters were taking money from their public schools. They didn’t like what charters were doing to their communities.

“Almost all of the fiercest Question 2 opponents were cities and towns whose public schools are losing money to charter schools.

“Easthampton topped all Massachusetts municipalities in the strength of its opposition — 76.2 percent voted ” No,” or 7,324 against 2,290 “Yes” votes — and that city will lose $940,000 to its charter school, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, in fiscal 2016.

“It comes right off the top,” Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux said Thursday. “If you’re saying it doesn’t cost us anything, then you need to explain why I’m $940,000 short.”

“Hadley and South Hadley also followed the pattern, voting “no” to the tune of 73.7 and 68.9 percent. South Hadley contains Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and Hadley houses Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

“Despite being located in Eastern Massachusetts, where opposition to Question 2 was not as high as in the rest of the state, Somerville also voted strongly against Question 2, with 71.2 percent of voters opposed. The city houses Prospect Hill Academy Charter School.

“Greenfield, where Four Rivers Charter Public School makes its home, voted against Question 2 by 71 percent. In Holyoke, which contains Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School, 66 percent opposed.”

Despite the millions of dollars in Dark Money, despite the big buy on television, despite the civil rights rhetoric, Question 2 was rejected.

The best part of this election, other than the victory of public education, was that opponents of Question 2 were fully informed about the threat that privatization posed to public education in General and to their public schools in particular. Only a handful of affluent districts supported the measure. The rest understood that they were repelling an existential threat to a democratic institution that belongs to their community: their public schools.

Jeff Bryant, a wise observer of politics and education, offers solace at a time when supporters of public education fear the ascendancy of a Republican President and Congress devoted to privatization of schools.

He reviews the electoral victories for public schools.

Chief among them, of course, were the overwhelming defeat of charter school measures in Massachusetts and Georgia.

Another victory occurred in Washington State, where Bill Gates spent $500,000 into an effort to unseat Supreme Court justices who ruled that charter schools are not public schools. The Justice who wrote that decision, Barbara Madsen, was re-elected with 64% of the vote. Two other incumbents were re-elected.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a strong supporter of public schools, was re-elected, running against an advocate of school choice.

California voters passed measures to assure school funding.

One other piece of good news–and these days, any piece of good news is welcome–is that Maine voters narrowly agreed to raise taxes by 3% on upper-income taxpayers, to increase education funding.