This Week in Education Organizing - June 29, 2018

Charter Fraud Takes Center Stage in Ohio

The Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC) was asked to speak at a local rally "For Ohio's Future" this week. The rally focused on the legislature’s failure to police Ohio’s corrupt charter school sector.

In particular, speakers called out the massive scandal involving Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT)—once the state’s largest charter school. ECOT was founded nearly 20 years ago, and despite posting terrible student achievement numbers, the school continued to operate largely unimpeded. But an audit of the school’s enrollment records in 2015 revealed problems that could no longer be ignored. It turned out that ECOT was charging the state for thousands of students who weren’t actually attending the school. The state demanded their money back, and ECOT took the case to court. The following year, a new audit showed the falsification continuing. The State has now issued an order that ECOT repay some $80 million in falsely collected fees.

This spring, Innovation Ohio, a progressive policy institute, estimated that ECOT may have bilked the state out of as much as $189 million since 2000. 

How did such fraud go unchecked? It turns out that the school’s owner is a big contributor—to the tune of some $2 million—to some of the state’s most powerful legislators, who were willing to look the other way when things started to smell fishy at ECOT.

Faced with the payback of $80 million, ECOT closed its doors in January of this year, and went in to receivership. The closure put 12,000 children and 800 teachers and staff on the curb in the middle of the school year.

This week’s rally indicates that the scandal may end up playing a key role in the November elections in Ohio, as powerful legislators are pressed to explain how they allowed the fraud to continue at ECOT.  CEJC leader Michelle Dillingham blasted the “wild west” of the state’s charter sector, which over and over demonstrates all that’s wrong with privatization. Check out that evening’s newscast about the rally HERE, and watch a video of the rally, including Dillingham’s powerful remarks, along with those of Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president Julie Sellers and Innovation Ohio’s Steve Dyer.

Millionaire’s Tax Denied Access to the Ballot in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court quashed an effort to put a popular “millionaire’s tax” proposal on the ballot in November. The Fair Share Amendment would have created a 4 percent tax on the wealthy and dedicated the resulting revenue to education and transportation funding.

The ballot initiative had been approved by the state legislature, but the court, in a 5-2 vote, pointed to a technicality in denying the amendment access to the November ballot. State Senator Jason Lewis has already announced a new effort to enact the tax during next year’s legislative session.

Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance Holds First Statewide Conference

On the heels of the defeat at the State Supreme Judicial Court, nearly 150 people turned out last weekend for the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance’s (MEJA) first statewide conference. There’s no doubt, the education justice movement in Massachusetts is strong and ready to take on the powers that be!

Three clear action steps were identified, including a July 12th rally at the State House, to demand that the legislature prioritize the need to #FundOurSchools and pull the state’s outdated school funding formula out of the past and into the present. Second, participants pledged to get at least five other people to call their state rep and demand that they ask Speaker DeLeo to move the school funding bill forward!  And third, people committed to writing a letter to the editor or an op-ed to their local paper talking about their disappointment in the Fair Share Amendment being off the ballot and the need for new state revenue for public education!

Many MEJA coalition partners will be holding events and trainings on corporate power, high-stakes testing, school closings and more over the next few months. PHENOM—a higher-ed coalition—is gathering folks for a #DebtFreeFuture campaign to discuss the road to building access to free public higher education.

MEJA is building local tables around the state, hoping to truly build statewide power for education justice.

AFT Leads Rally at the Border

More than 2,000 children seeking asylum in the U.S. have been ripped from their parents’ arms at the border. Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policies are shocking and inhumane--something you expect to see in a movie about a fascist government, not one you’d hope to see here in America. Last week the AFT alongside human, civil and immigrant rights partners filed a complaint with the United Nations and sent a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for an investigation to the cruel and egregious human rights violations taking place at the U.S. border impacting children and families. Over 23,000 people signed the petition appealing to the U.N. for an end to family separation. Watch a short video of the action at the United Nations.

This week, AFT president Randi Weingarten joined national and local civil and human rights activists, faith leaders, teachers, school employees and healthcare providers for a rally and protest at the El Paso County Court House in Texas, where children and parents are being processed. The rally was followed by a prayer vigil with various faith and national leaders including Dolores Huerta. Following the rally, the group boarded school buses to deliver books, clothing and supplies to children being held in the children’s detention camp tent city in Tornillo, Texas.

Congress Begins Work on 2019 Education Budget

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for marking up the federal 2019 education budget started work this week.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee has delayed its consideration of the education spending bill. The proposed bill is expected to come up after the July 4th recess. That bill would increase the Education Department budget by $43 million, contrary to the President’s request for a significant cut. The bill also does not include the expansions of school choice that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has advocated.

Some members of the House committee are"concerned about reports of expulsions and suspensions occurring in preschool settings and K-12 classrooms."  They have directed the Education department’s Office for Civil Rights to provide information on expulsions and suspensions in PreK through secondary school settings, along with recommendations for interventions to reduce the rates of severe disciplinary actions.

In other news from Washington, the DeVos Commission on school safety held a “listening session” in Lexington, KY this week. None of the actual commissioners were present (the Commission is comprised of four cabinet secretaries, including DeVos). But representatives from each of the commissioners heard testimony from a range of government leaders. Most criticized the President’s call for arming teachers as a way to keep schools safe. 


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