This Week in Education Organizing - February 2, 2018

Koch Brothers Announce a War – But Lose an Early Battle

This week, the Washington Post covered news that the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, Charles and David, are setting their sights on raiding public K-12 education for their own financial advancement. The news emerged from a swanky resort outside of Palm Springs, CA where the brothers Koch were holding forth with 550 of their favorite big-money donors. The group gathers annually to decide how to target their money in political and “charitable” giving. This year, the group plans to pump about $400 million in to wrecking public schools.  The agenda seemed to include fighting for the expansion of voucher programs, and increased marketing of online education options (which many of them are no doubt invested in).

“The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said one participant. Reports from the gathering point to a strategic decision that Arizona is ground zero for the effort. No big surprise: one of the guys in the room was Doug Ducey, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery and current Governor of Arizona, who last year signed legislation last year to dramatically expand the state’s tax credit voucher program. The state also has a robust charter industry that’s expanding rapidly and is largely unregulated. Seems like a smart pick for investment.

But hold on. Because the people of Arizona have already shown that they can fight back. After the new voucher measure was signed, public school supporters gathered thousands of petitions to require the state to put the expansion measure to a vote of the people. Though many said it couldn’t be done, the petition drive wrapped up well ahead of schedule with well above the required number of signatures.

Predictably, the American Federation for Children and other pro-voucher groups filed a lawsuit arguing that, for a number of reasons, the petitions were invalid, and the referendum should not be allowed to go forward. But last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge denied the suit, allowing the planned referendum to go forward. While the pro-voucher groups will appeal, it looks like this is going to become a massive effort to prevail at the ballot box. While funding from the pro-voucher forces will be seemingly insurmountable, let us not forget Question 2 in Massachusetts in 2016, which was also a national target for the charter industry, yet went down to defeat. Turns out money talks, but people vote. Much more to come from Arizona—and the Kochs—this coming year. 

Backpack Full of Cash Screening in Pittsburgh Draws a Crowd

Over 150 parents, teachers and community members showed up at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers offices on Tuesday night to see a free screening of Backpack Full of Cash, the documentary about the growth of the charter industry in the U.S. Pittsburgh has a growing charter sector, with about 11% of students attending charter schools.  So the screening raised lots of conversation. After the film, 19 people signed up to testify at either a Pittsburgh or (nearby) Woodland Hills school board meeting.

Rev. B. De Neice Welch of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) and Anger Gober from One Pennsylvania spoke to wide applause. Rev. Welch shared her personal journey through education as a student of the Newark Public Schools and a parent of four. Angel spoke about the immediate concern of two new proposed charter schools in Pittsburgh, and the negative impact that would have on students in the district. OnePA and other groups are advocating and organizing for sustainable community schools, rather than further expansion of charters. The film screening was hosted by OnePA, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Education Rights Network and PIIN.

National Critical Conversation Town Hall on Public Education: February 13, 2017.

The #WeChoose Campaign has organized over 30 town halls across the country, engaging communities in building grassroots visions for public education. On February 13th, the Campaign is uniting youth and national leaders who have been part of this work for a national town hall, being held in Detroit, Michigan. Speakers will include young people who will share how various education policies have impacted their lives; Aliya Moore, a Detroit parent and organizer with Keep the Vote, No Take Over; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, and Tara Stamps, a Chicago public school educator and activist. The event will be hosted by Dr. Yohuru Williams, author, activist, professor and historian. The town hall will be held at the Spencer M. Patrich Auditorium at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. Admission is free.

For those unable to make it to Detroit, #WeChoose will livestream the event on the Journey for Justice Facebook page:   Organize a watch party!!

Alliance for Quality Education Celebrates “Education Justice is Racial Justice” Month

February 2018 is now “Education Justice is Racial Justice” month on the calendars of Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) members across New York State. The organization is celebrating Black History Month and the continued fight for education justice. “We recognize that systemic racism has shortchanged entire school districts serving Black, Brown, low-income and immigrant students, resulting in the underfunding of high need schools for students of all races — and that in order to equip communities to overcome educational racism, we need New York State to provide equity by fully funding schools.”

In honor of Education Justice is Racial Justice month, State Senator Kevin Parker and Assemblyman Charles Barron have issued official proclamations. AQE will be marking every day in February with an action. Each action will usually take only a few minutes to participate in, but every action will have a common goal: building the movement for education justice. To find out what you can do to help participate, check out the AQE website at


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