This Week in Education Organizing - January 26, 2018

New Jersey Students Tell Charter School Industry, “#WeChoose to Defend Public Schools!”

On January 24th, during the charter school industry’s “School Choice Week,” student leaders from public schools in Camden and Newark joined forces to take over the offices of the NJ Charter Schools Association (NJCSA). Both school districts have been under state control for years, while public education dollars have been diverted to privately operated charter school chains like KIPP, Uncommon, & Mastery.

Using the hashtags #WeChoose and #J24, the student activists – members of NJ Communities United - took their militant action to social media posting videos and photos of their occupation - including the moment that police arrived.

Belmaris, a student leader from Camden, had planned to deliver a powerful appeal to the industry association’s staff and leaders, but the unnerved NJCSA staff fled their offices within moments of the students marching in.

“I come from a city that normalizes…lead water, leaky ceilings, undercooked, moldy food…we normalize the poor education and say ‘that’s just how it is’. Where is the money going if not to our public schools? We do not have a democracy over our schools in Camden…they allow for-profit charter schools to take away funding from our public schools. We have a right to have a say in how our education runs and we demand a moratorium on charter schools!” (You can watch Belmaris’ moving remarks at https://www.facebook.com/NjCommunitiesUnited/videos/1452468914858615/).

Under former Governor Chris Christie, charter school expansion in state controlled school districts – which are in primarily Black & Brown cities - shuttered dozens of public schools. In Camden, a new breed of charter schools, known as Renaissance schools, have expanded so rapidly that entire communities have become public school deserts, leaving parents no choice but to enroll their children in charter schools that have no accountability to the community.

The state relinquished control over Newark’s public schools last fall and is currently transitioning to local control after more than two decades. Parents, students, and teachers in Newark are demanding a full audit and accounting of the school district’s finances in order to know the true impact of state control and charter expansion in the city.

With Christie now out of office, the students used #J24 to send a message to the new Governor, Phil Murphy.

“The resources in our public schools have been cut…and we need you to understand where we’re coming from,” said Ibrahim a student leader from Newark. “Teachers have been pulled in and out of our classrooms like they don’t matter. Our public schools have been closed. And I’m not going to live through this anymore…I will not stand by things like this because I have a little brother shouldn’t have to go through a school system like this.” (You can watch Ibrahim’s full remarks at https://www.facebook.com/NjCommunitiesUnited/videos/1452565574848949/)

Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance Blasts Baker’s Budget

When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker released his budget proposal this week, the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) struck back quickly. The governor proposed just a 1% increase in education funding—less than the inflation rate over the past year.  The governor’s proposal also endorsed so-called “empowerment zones,” which put public schools under the authority of an appointed board instead of the locally elected School Committee.

MEJA issued a public statement, and a digital report card to let the parents, students and teachers across the state give Governor Baker a grade on how he’s treating the state’s public schools. Stay tuned for their answer.

New Michigan Study Recommends Restructuring the State’s School Funding Formula

A new report from the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative recommends that the state restructure its school funding formula to provide additional support to students who need it most—including students living in poverty, students learning English and students with disabilities.

The Collaborative, which includes Angie Reyes, a board member of AROS partner 482Forward, was put together last year after a state study found that schools across Michigan are under-funded to the tune of about $700 million.  The new study offers up detailed recommendations for how schools could use additional support to lower class sizes, add counselors and social workers, and better support teachers.  

You can find more about the report here.

Task Force Recommends Return to Local Control in St. Louis

After ten years of oversight by a politically appointed Special Administrative Board (SAB), the people of St. Louis are preparing to regain control of their schools.

Missouri law gives the State Board of Education the power to appoint an SAB when a school district is unaccredited based on academic performance, lack of financial stability or other factors.  Once a district steps above the cut lines for these indicators, the process of returning it to local control begins.

In St. Louis, the SAB appointed a Task Force to plan for the transition, and a series of public meetings was held to explore governing options.  AFT St. Louis, Local 420, along with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Jobs with Justice and other groups helped drive participation in public meetings, surveys and petition efforts.  The public was offered three options: a return to a fully elected board, an appointed board, or a hybrid appointed/elected board. The surveys found that the public and St. Louis Public School employees overwhelmingly supported an elected board.

The union and community groups are looking forward to a smooth transition of power back to local control.  Additional information is included in this article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Tension Escalates Over School Closings in Chicago

Tension is mounting of another round of school closings proposed in Chicago – this time including every public high school in the Englewood neighborhood.  A protest was held on Wednesday this week outside the swanky Chicago Lab School – the private school where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children are enrolled. The protest, hosted by the Journey for Justice Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and #WeChoose, pretty much framed up the problem with the latest effort to dismantle the Chicago Public Schools in favor of a privatized system:  The folks making the decisions aren’t the ones who are losing their neighborhood institutions. Chicago Public Schools, under mayoral control, have been among the most aggressive school closers in the country, creating “school deserts” where public schools barely exist.  They are replaced by charter schools, unaccountable to the community and governed by appointed boards. 

Canvassing for Sustainable Community Schools in Pittsburgh

OnePA, the Education Rights Network, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and PIIN are planning a “community needs assessment” canvass on Saturday.  Parents, teachers, school board members, community members and district staff will go door-to-door to talk to parents about what types of supports and services they would like to see in their schools and community.

The Assessment is part of the district’s implementation process for five new community schools.  Canvassers will have a 10-question survey.  They will also engage parents in discussions about what community schools are and can be.  This is just the initial step in a long process of community engagement, as the new community schools are developed and opened.

Racial Justice NOW! Promises a Fight if Dayton School Closings are Announced

Racial Justice NOW! (RJN!) in Dayton  hosted a press conference on Thursday  in front of Dayton Public Schools (DPS) office. The event lifted parent voices in to the debate over possible school closings in the district. RJN! Is bringing attention to the impact of gentrification on their schools, calling it a deliberate attack on Dayton’s Black community.

DPS Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Lollie announced at the December monthly review session the possibility of closing nine schools, all but one on the West side of Dayton.  A task force appointed by the city’s mayor, and made up primarily of businessmen who don’t even live in the city, has been providing recommendations to the city, including that some schools be closed.

RJN! has called out the district for following the gentrification tactics and plan of cities all over the nation, such as Chicago, IL Oakland, CA, Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. 

“Due to the clear racial divide in Dayton, the proposed school closing will disproportionally hurt Black students and families,” noted an RJN! Press release before the event. 

HedgeClippers Protest Interference in Puerto Rico Recovery

New York Communities for Change and other Hedge Clippers groups turned out in force in Boston on Thursday to call on Harvard University to divest from the Baupost Group—one of the holders of billions of dollars in debt for the cash-starved island of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has been mired in a financial crisis for years—now compounded by the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.  As Puerto Rico has been forced to borrow, bondholders have made millions off of the high interest loans. Until recently, information about who was holding the loans has been a well-guarded secret.  But a recent report by The Intercept has identified Seth Klarman—the principle holder of the Baupost Group as a major player in the Puerto Rican debt crisis.  The Intercept report shines a spotlight, once again, on the connections between billionaire hedge-funders and the austerity measures that decimate low-income communities.  There is grave fear that these opportunists may use the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico to pursue the privatization of the island’s schools—a la New Orleans. Activists noted that Klarman was a major funder of the “YES ON 2” campaign in 2016—a ballot measure that would have lifted the cap on the number of charters allowed in the state. The Massachusetts measure went down to decisive defeat.  Hopefully similarly strong organizing will help defeat any privatization efforts in Puerto Rico as well.  More information about the protest, the role of hedge-funds in Puerto Rico, and the connection with Harvard and other universities is included in this article in the Boston Globe.


UPCOMING EVENTS

Backpack Full of Cash will be screened at the offices of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers at 10 South 19th Street in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, January 31st.  More information is available at https://www.facebook.com/events/125607518240156/.   The PFT would appreciate RSVPs from those attending, particularly if you would like to take advantage of the free child care being offered.  To RSVP, call 412-431-5900.


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