This Week in Education Organizing - February 9, 2018

Betsy Gets an "F!"

On February 6th The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools issued a Report Card to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The evaluation of DeVos’s tenure at the head of the U.S. Department of Education was based on the mission statements of the Department itself. While the Department considers its core mission to ensure equity and access for all students, and to protect the civil rights of students in their schools, AROS found that DeVos is intentionally taking the department in the opposite direction with her focus on stripping the federal education budget and promoting vouchers and charters.   

Joining in the critique of the Secretary’s leadership at the DOE, both the NEA and AFT conducted online surveys of their members, asking them to grade to DeVos after a year on the job. Over 80,000 people responded to the call. Both the AROS assessment and the AFT and NEA petitions came to the same conclusion: Betsy Gets an “F”!!

On Thursday this week, the unions, the Journey for Justice Alliance, and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools came together to deliver those petitions to the Department. After a rally, a delegation walked the boxes over to the Department across the street, only to find that the doors had been locked. “Her department has zero regard for parents, educators and students, remarked AROS co-director Keron Blaire. “We were treated like hostile combatants as opposed to concerned constituents.”

The National Education Association is calling on Secretary DeVos to resign. A statement from President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was released on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, across the country, AROS tables, unions and community groups held actions demanding increased investment in public education, targeting “DeVos Disciples” who are hurting public schools in our cities, and connecting, in some cases, with the powerful actions of the Black Lives Matter at School week of action. Here are some brief reports. We couldn’t fit everything in! If you are interested in receiving a more comprehensive round-up of the February actions, please email AROS at Ldingerson@gmail.com and request a copy:

 In BOSTON, the Massachusetts Education Justice Coalition, marked the DeVos anniversary with a week of activities in support of public schools. The Coalition urged members to attend the Boston Public School Committee Budget hearings to support more state and federal funding of our schools, and to fill out a “Valentine” for members of the Committee with messages about why we love our public schools. Teachers are planning to wear Red on Valentines Day to keep the message going.

Grassroots Education Movement, Journey for Justice and CTU delivered a report card to CHICAGO Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with the AROS DeVos Report Card. The Mayor plans to close all of the all-Black high schools in the gentrifying Black community called Englewood, as well as a high-performing neighborhood school in the south loop.  Fight-back groups learned that on Wednesday, February 7th, the Mayor was attending an event to announce a donation to the Koch brothers- and DeVos-backed United Negro College Fund. Parents, community members, teachers and other supporters converged on the event to elevate the issues of equity. How can he fund Black and Brown children to go to college while at the same time he closes all of the high schools in their neighborhood? The delivered a Report Card to the Mayor, linking his destructive agenda with that of Betsy DeVos.

 In CINCINNATI on Monday, the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC), along with the Southwest Ohio chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, are demanding “Fair Funding NOW!” for the city’s public schools. On Thursday the CEJC joined a broad community coalition to fight back a planned soccer stadium that corporate investors want to build in place of a public school's stadium in an historically African American neighborhood that has experienced displacement and divestment for years. The CEJC tied this corporate greed to the #FairFundingNOW campaign and stood with concerned residents. 

Following that action, the CEJC braved an ice storm that had closed the city’s schools, as 19 members of CEJC took their message, including the AROS Report Card on Betsy DeVos to the offices of the state’s U.S. Senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman.  The group is campaigning for fully-funded sustainable community learning centers in their public schools. 

Organized by Our Community, Our Schools (OCOS), DALLAS parents, community and union members rallied outside of Thomas A. Edison Middle School in Dallas to highlight how disastrous state and federal cuts to public education impact local public schools. Edison is one of five (5) campuses that will either be closed or consolidated because they have been unable to meet state standards. OCOS called for the resignation of Betsy DeVos, pointing to her failure as the Education Secretary to improve public education in this country.

OCOS also identified and visited State Senator Don Huffines who sits on the Texas Senate Education Committee to deliver a "Report Card" and a letter explaining his failing grade of “F” on his performance as a legislator for Texas school children. Senator Huffines has been an outspoken advocate for vouchers and charter schools. He has stated he believes public education is "over funded" and his legislative votes for public education have certainly proven that. Check out this video of the action. The action was covered by local media, here and here.

The Colorado Education Association held a lobby day at the State Capitol in DENVER on Wednesday, demanding more funding for public education in the state.  To illustrate the lack of funding, CEA surveyed over 2,200 educators to find out how much teachers are spending out of their own pockets to purchase supplies and materials for their students and classrooms.  The average?  $656 per year—totaling about $23 million annually.  Teachers took their own stories to the Capitol to talk about the impacts of underfunding, and the growing crisis of a shortage of qualified teachers. They presented invoices to the legislators for the past-due amount.

Colorado public schools and students lose revenue every year to tax incentives that support large corporations; over the last 10 years those incentives have added up to over a billion dollars. Four of the five largest companies headquartered in Colorado have received large tax subsidies totaling more than $31 million and Colorado has lost more than $121 million in revenue to subsidies for the oil and gas industry alone.

“While corporations are getting millions in tax breaks, educators are spending their limited salary dollars on classroom supplies. Colorado consistently underfunds public education, and this groundbreaking research shows why the state must increase funding for public education,” said Kerrie Dallman, CEA President. 

Coordinated by the DETROIT Education Justice Coalition, a rally was held to demand full funding for Michigan’s public schools. The target? The Detroit Amazon Bid Committee—which had been promoting the Motor City as the best option for Amazon’s highly touted new second headquarter building. Dozens of cities around the country have been pulling out all the corporate tax break stops in order to secure the massive office complex.  

Amazon told Detroit two weeks ago that they weren't coming to Michigan because of the city’s “talent deficit.” Public school advocates picked up on the implications, and targeted the high-powered committee, demanding that they use the same energy they put into courting Amazon to work with local advocates to hold candidates for Governor accountable to fully funding Michigan's public schools.

 The Reclaim Our Schools LOS ANGELES coalition led an action on Thursday 2/8 at the office of Bill Siart, the Founder and Chairman of ExED, a charter school back office provider. Siart is also the Board Chair of Great Public Schools Now, a billionaire-backed nonprofit that is working to transform half of LAUSD schools into charter schools.

Reclaim Our Schools LA has launched a campaign to push for $20,000 in per pupil funding by 2020 (“20 by ‘20”) and to increase LAUSD investment in the Community Schools approach to strengthening struggling schools. In December, the coalition sent letters to 22 wealthy individuals — including Siart — who are some of the most active in funding pro-charter candidates and the charter industry in California, asking the recipients to sign a Statement of Support to invest in a strategy for traditional neighborhood schools, ensuring that all children have access to a truly high-quality education. 

At Thursday’s event, Reclaim Our Schools LA called on Bill Siart, one of the billionaires most deeply involved in public education in Los Angeles, to support the call for “20 by 20” and an expansion of the Community Schools model. View photos here: goo.gl/swWfZU

 The MILWAUKEE Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) membership voted unanimously to endorse this year’s “Black Lives Matter at School” week of action – which coincided with the AROS week of action and release of the DeVos Report Card. The goal is to send a strong message to students that their lives matter and that their future has a purpose.

MTEA was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary and Rufus King International High School on Monday for the two school’s kick-off events. Photo by Joe Brusky.

In the midst of bargaining a contract this winter, the ST. PAUL Federation of Teachers (SPFT) and the Black Visions Collective (a local BLM chapter) converged on the downtown Minneapolis offices of U.S. Bank on Monday as part of the ongoing campaign to demand that the bank contribute more of its wealth to public education. SPFT has identified hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues that have gone missing over the past decade, as corporations like U.S. Bank and the area’s massive non-profit hospital sector have enjoyed sweet tax deals with both the city and state.

The protests at U.S. Bank had a different focus on Monday, demanding that the city rein in police violence and racialized policing, and invest in stronger communities, including schools. About 200 people turned out, and 40 were arrested for tying themselves to a Metro Transit rail line, stopping train traffic for about two hours.

The SPFT is continuing contract negotiations with a school district claiming to be under tight budget constraints. SPFT’s set of bargaining demands includes calling for the expansion of the district’s pilot restorative justice program, smaller class sizes and more funding for school nurses, librarians and counselors. The union has called on the school district to join them in demanding the claw-back of tax revenues from corporations and hospitals. As negotiations continue, a walk-out remains a possibility, as early as next Monday.

See additional background and information here, and here.

In NEW YORK CITY, The Alliance for Quality Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice are holding 28 days of actions throughout the month of February. This week, they joined forces with Black Lives Matter in Education national week of action in communities across New York City and the rest of the country.

​Events focused around three key demands: ending zero-tolerance policies and implementing Restorative Justice, hiring more Black teachers in their schools, and mandating Black History/Ethnic Studies in grades K-12.

One event was a dance performance entitled Unapologetically Black, by students from Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) Middle School. Other events have included readings, discussions and arts performances through the week.

​During our event we took parents and students on “Journeys for Freedom.” Each journey focused on the issue, and an action everyone could take. Participants rotated from one journey to the other and was able to experience how all were connected, but also be part of setting us on the path to freedom by taking action. We partnered with Citizen Action, Gathering for Justice, Integrate NYC, NY Appleseed and Broadway Advocacy Coalition. Folks made phone calls to the Governor, took #TakeAKnee and #WeChoose pics​ for social media and young people signed up to job with Integrate NYC. It was a great event!

AQE leader Zakiyah Ansari  was interviewed on the Bob Lee program (which network/channel is that?). 

Also in New York City, the Coalition for Educational Justice The Coalition for Educational Justice has been running a campaign for over a year to push New York City to implement culturally responsive education, including cultural competency trainings for all school staff, diverse curriculum in every subject and grade, and an Office of Culturally Responsive Education within the NYC Department of Education. Then last week, it was reported that a middle school teacher in the Bronx made Black students lay face down on the floor and stepped on them, asking "See how it feels to be a slave?" CEJ parents exploded into action, holding a Twitter action, taking over City Hall, and demanding that Mayor de Blasio take immediate action to expand cultural competency trainings, to help ensure that nothing like this ever happen again. Some of the extensive press coverage of CEJ's actions are here, here and here, and an NPR story on how enslavement is taught, which includes CEJ, is here

NYC parent and coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice Natasha Capers was interviewed on WNYC about the campaign for Culturally Responsive Education. Please help advance CEJ's campaign by watching and sharing this video widely: https://youtu.be/UBweg0BrMls

Tennessee AROS Teams up with State Innovation Network with Blog Post

Tennessee AROS coordinator Lyn Hoyt offered a blog post to the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) – an association of progressive state legislators – for their week of action this week. The SiX #FightingforFamilies week of action is designed to shine a light on policy solutions being advanced by progressive legislators at the state level to build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. Lyn’s blog highlighted the work being done in Tennessee to win funding for sustainable community schools. Read Lyn’s post here.

 

UPCOMING EVENTS

February 13th: #WeChoose Critical Conversation in Detroit. For more information, check out their Website here.
February 24th: A day of action for working people! Dozens of cities will play host to rallies, demonstrations and other events on February 24th to support the power of working people. The events come at a moment when public sector workers like teachers are under attack. On Monday, February 26th the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Janus v AFSCME