This Week in Education Organizing - March 9, 2018

AROS Sends Open Letter to Puerto Rican Legislature

On Wednesday, March 7th the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools issued an open letter to members of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico, opposing pending legislation to introduce charter schools to the island. In an accompanying statement, AROS Co-Director Keron Blair said, “these assaults on public education are artificially manufactured and predatory in nature…Today, we join with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico in urging the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico to reject any attempt to privatize public education.” Read the entire statement here.

As reported last week, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosellό and Education Secretary Julia Keleher have been touring charter schools on the mainland, meeting with Betsy DeVos and now we learn, consulting with EdChoice—one of the nation’s most prominent charter and voucher advocacy organizations. The AROS letter was signed by dozens of local, state and national organizations asserting their opposition to the privatization of Puerto Rico’s schools.

Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition Fights New Soccer Stadium’s Tax Abatements

Earlier this year, the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC) launched it’s Fair Funding NOW! campaign to crack down on property tax abatements that have drained millions from the city’s schools. Their current target is a package of incentives being offered to the owners of FC Cincinnati, a professional soccer team that is entering Major League Soccer this year. FCC is proposing to build a new stadium in the city, and the city is offering property tax exemptions that would cost the city’s public schools about $3.2 million annually.  

Adding insult to injury, the stadium will be built on property currently occupied by the historic William H. Taft High School stadium—not surprisingly (if you follow this newsletter)—a stadium in the heart of the Black community, at a school serving African American students. It is little comfort that FCC owners are promising to build a new stadium for Taft High School on a new site across the street. 

The stadium deal has helped amplify the crux of the tax abatement issue: Cincinnati children are getting the short end of the stick, while property owners who pay their full tax bill are paying more and more for school levies every time they turn around, so that wealthy developers and investors can profit.

CEJC is asking elected officials to not allow FCC to demolish Taft’s Stadium, which serves 6 area public high schools, and not to allow the team to build their stadium in the residential neighborhood of the West End due to the inevitable displacement and gentrification it will cause. Hundreds of West End stakeholders have testified, petitioned, and spoken out against the plan. President of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers wrote a powerful opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Massachusetts Charter Schools Leaning in to the Wind

The Boston Globe is reporting that the Bay State’s charter industry is encountering some heavy headwinds these days. Quoting both Barbara Madeloni (Massachusetts Teachers Association) and Lisa Guisbond (Citizens for Public Schools)--both part of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, the article reflects on a series of recent black eyes for the industry, including allegations of drug abuse and financial mismanagement, and the recent kerfuffle over a charter school in Malden that prohibited the wearing of braided hair extensions (we are not making this up). This, of course, on top of the announcement that the Families for Excellent Schools—a leading charter advocacy organization in the state, had collected over $15 million in campaign contributions and illegally failed to disclose the donors. Not to mention the fact that the ballot initiative that the funds were pumped in to, lost decisively at the polls. And then a proposal to create a unified enrollment system in Boston—which would have helped funnel more students in to charter schools—failed to make it off Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s desk. Woe unto them that attempt to hijack the public school system in the Commonwealth. Students, educators and parents are mightily organized to retain and reclaim their schools!

Guns in Classrooms? Tell Florida’s Governor to Say No

Just three weeks after a former student gunned down seventeen high school students in Parkland, Florida, the state’s Legislature approved a bill that, among other things, would allow teachers, coaches, counselors and even librarians to carry guns in schools.

With the approval of both the House and Senate, the bill is headed to the desk of Governor Rick Scott for signing. Scott has the power to veto the bill, however. Please SIGN THIS PETITION hosted by the Advancement Project, the Alliance for Education Justice and other organizations, calling on Scott to say no to pistol-packing teachers.

DeVos Watch

DOE continues to keep the public in the dark about her appearances: The AROS “DeVos Watch” project checks the Department of Education website every Monday morning to find out what’s on the Secretary’s schedule. As is often the case, this Monday, DeVos had “no public events scheduled” other than a Monday address to the Council of Chief State School Officers. Imagine our surprise (not) when it was announced on Tuesday that DeVos was moderating a discussion on higher education on in Austin, and on Wednesday that she was visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL! 

Despite the Department’s best efforts, though, DeVos continues to draw heckles wherever she appears. In Austin, she took questions from what Chalkbeat referred to as “a somewhat rowdy crowd.” At Parkland, it was even worse. Although the Education Department said that DeVos would “connect with” students and teachers at the school, she apparently declined to do so. "I thought she would at least give us her 'thoughts and prayers,' but she refused to even meet/speak with students. I don't understand the point of her being here," Tweeted Douglas student Carly Novell, according to CNN“Do something unexpected: Answer our questions,” wrote another student, Aly Sheehy. According to a NY Daily News article, when pressed on the issue of arming teachers, DeVos actually walked away from her own press conference in Parkland.

Education Department Continues Dismantling Protections for Transgender Youth

If any readers think that public opposition to Betsy DeVos is slowing her agenda in Washington, we can disavow you of those misperceptions.  This week, the Department removed from its website, documents aimed at supporting transgender students and protecting their right to use bathrooms of their choice in schools.  

One year ago, the DeVos Department of Education (ED) announced that it was rescinding Obama guidelines that specifically sought to protect the rights of transgender students. This week, an investigation at the behest of Politico revealed that the Department had deleted records of seven federal civil rights complaints and three federal court filings that Obama’s Department of Education had filed in support of trans students. Last month, ED announced that discrimination based on gender identity is not protected by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, and that the Trump administration is no longer investigating complaints filed by transgender students seeking to use bathrooms and locker rooms in alignment with their gender identity. Most of the pending complaints on this topic have been dismissed.

College Students Demand a #DebtFreeFuture

Organized by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), 500 college students gathered at the State House in Boston on March 5th for a rally and lobby day for more funding to make college affordable.

The students met with their state representatives and senators through the day, laying out an ambitions agenda for affordable and accessible higher education. Students are demanding several measures to address public college costs and quality. One is to win commitments to spend $500 million in new annual funds from the Fair Share Amendment as a first step towards high-quality, debt-free public higher education. The Fair Share Amendment is a November, ’18 ballot initiative calling for a tax on all incomes over a million dollars.

Racial Justice NOW! in Dayton Fighting School Closings

Dayton, Ohio—like so many other cities, is seeing gentrification running roughshod over the city’s Black and Brown communities. Nine schools, a hospital, a mental health center and a grocery store are all slated to be shut down this year, according to The Real News.com. Instead of investing in the community, the city is handing tax incentives to developers to increase investment downtown.

Racial Justice NOW! is the grassroots organization at the head of the fight. Zakiya Sankara-Jabar and Hashim Jabar were Interviewed by The Real News.Com recently, to talk about their work.

 


UPCOMING EVENTS

Racine, Wisconsin Screening of Backpack Full of Cash. Monday, March 12, from 5-8pm at Gateway Technical College. Screening will be followed by a panel Q & A. Refreshments provided. For more information: www.bitly.com/RacineBackpack

Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition Rally and Cookout:  Saturday, March 17th: “NO FC Cincinnati Stadium in the West End!” The event begins at noon, at Laurel Park in the West End. For more information, check the CEJC Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/2065270080416233/

Journey for Justice Alliance National Conference 2018: May 18-20 at Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago. Registration is now open here online or by mail or fax!   Register, pay and get more details on the conference itinerary and activities here! Youth and J4J member discounts are available. 


Follow the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools on Facebook and Twitter and learn more at www.reclaimourschools.org.


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