This Week in Education Organizing - May 11, 2018

Louisiana Senate Passes Community Schools Resolution

The Louisiana Senate has passed a resolution asking the state’s department of education to consider community schools as a reform strategy for schools needing comprehensive support and improvement. The resolution, SR 133, stands as a mandate to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to include this evidence-based framework as a reform strategy for failing schools. It also sets the foundation for local communities, decision makers, and elected school boards to employ a turnaround model that honors the community while addressing the needs of its students.

The resolution specific defines community schools as providing culturally relevant and rigorous curricula, as well as academic, social and health services for students, families and communities. The resolution ends by requesting that the state Department of Education support schools and districts to develop plans for implementing community schools transformations. Read the full text of the resolution here.

The Louisiana Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (LAROS) intends to utilize this opportunity over the next year and beyond, to educate communities and public officials across the state about community schools and their benefits. 

In These Times Features the Peoria People’s Project

Like other rust-belt cities, Peoria, Illinois has faced the loss of important manufacturing and other economic opportunities over the last few decades. As a result, the city has been struggling with unemployment, rising poverty and declining schools. Now, a new initiative to build a labor/community power base in Peoria is starting to pay off, according to a new article in In These Times. Supported by the Chicago-based Grassroots Collaborative, the Peoria People’s Project is hoping to mobilize voters in upcoming elections, as well as to focus on progressive policy on issues like adequate funding for education, access to quality health care and more. Representatives from the Peoria People’s Project attended an AROS meeting in April in Chicago, sharing their strategies for increased revenues and political mobilization to ensure investment in public schools.

Our Community, Our Schools in Dallas Shows Backpack Full of Cash

The Our Community, Our Schools coalition in Dallas, along with the Dallas AFL-CIO, Texas Organizing Project, NEA Dallas, Alliance-AFT, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Texas New ERA Center/Jobs with Justice hosted a showing of the documentary, Backpack Full of Cash on Thursday, May 10th

About 70 people attended the event and heard a terrific panel presentation afterwards, focused on education issues in Dallas, especially the impact of Charters and the refusal of legislators to fund education adequately. The panelists included Chandra Villanueva with the Center for Public Policy Priorities; Dr. Charles Luke, Associate Director, Pastors for Texas Children; Andrew Kirk, Dallas ISD Teacher and Executive Board Member, Alliance/AFT and Stephanie Elizalde, Dallas ISD Chief of School Leadership.

Participants signed an education voter card committing to vote for candidates who support adequate funding for public schools, a moratorium on charters, no vouchers, and who support community schools. 

Boston and Philadelphia Zero in on PILOTS to Help Fund Schools

Last week, Boston City Council member Anissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing on the city’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT program. PILOT programs call on property-owning tax-exempt institutions to make voluntary contributions in lieu of taxes, to help cover the costs of city services such as police and fire protection, snow removal, and public education. In Boston, with its unique concentration of universities, hospitals and museums, 49% of city property is tax exempt.   

Boston has had a PILOT program since 2011. But many of the institutions covered by it do not pay the full cash amount requested through the program, and accountability and encouragement on the institutions to pay up has been lax. Contributions fall millions of dollars short each year. Essaibi-George’s call for a hearing is part of an effort by education advocacy groups and others to increase investment in the city’s public schools.  

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the Our City, Our Schools Coalition (OCOS) is urging the City Council to create a PILOT program, which they say could raise over $250 million annually. OCOS has developed and presented a broad revenue-raising proposal that also would end a 10-year tax abatement on value generated through new construction, and stop a coming decrease in the city’s business tax rate. “There are plenty of ways to fund our schools…We want City Council and the Mayor’s Office to know that it’s time for the rich to pay up, and we are done taxing working people,” said Tonya Bah, a parent and soon-to-be member of the new 9-member Philadelphia Board of Education that will shepherd in the return to local control for Philadelphia in July.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Charter Appeal

By a vote of 6-0, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of the state’s cap on charter schools. The lawsuit argued that limiting the number of charter schools in the state denies students the opportunity for a quality education.

The suit was one more in a series of attempts by the state’s charter lobby to expand charters in the state. In November of 2016 a ballot initiative to allow the state to lift the cap was soundly defeated by voters across the Commonwealth.

Justice Kimberly S. Budd, who wrote the decision, noted that there is no constitutionally protected right to attend a charter school, and that a number of other options might also help improve access to quality education in the state. She also noted that “the expansion of charter schools has detrimental effects on traditional public schools,” because they siphon public education funds away from the traditional school system.

The charter lobby has vowed to continue their efforts. In a fascinating, recently leaked post-mortem funded by the Walton Family, the industry indicated that after losing numerous battles to expand charters in Massachusetts, their new strategy would include grassroots “organizing” to convince individual families of the benefits of charter schools. 

Journey for Justice Releases New Report

The Journey for Justice Alliance is releasing a new report—Failing Brown v Board: A Continuous Struggle Against Inequity in Public Education—on Monday, May 14th in an event at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

The report illuminates just how inequitable public education remains today, largely across racial lines. Through examining course offerings at high schools in 12 cities (and at three elementary schools in Chicago), the report, demonstrates that, 64 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, black and brown students are still denied "access to inspiration" in comparison with their white, more affluent peers. Failing Brown v. Board will be released on the first day of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. 

Victories in New Jersey Fights for Local Control

Efforts in Camden and Paterson, New Jersey are beginning to pay off with rulings paving the way for a return to local control for the city’s schools.

On April 24th, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court’s Appellate Division in New Jersey ruled in the favor of Camden plaintiffs seeking the right to determine whether the city should have an appointed or elected school board.

Camden’s public schools were taken over by the state in 2013. Under state control, the local school board has been appointed by the mayor but serves in an advisory capacity only. The district is run by a superintendent appointed by the Governor.  

The Appellate Court panel ruled that citizens in Camden have a right to determine whether the school board is elected or appointed, but said that either way, the board will continue to serve in an advisory role while the district remains under state control.

The plaintiffs in the case included the Camden County NAACP, and other grassroots groups including members of the #WeChoose Campaign and the Journey for Justice Alliance.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education voted on May 2nd to return Paterson, NJ’s school district to full local control after almost 30 years of state takeover. “It’s been a long time coming. Today is the beginning of a new and exciting future for the Paterson school district, the community, and our children,” said Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund.

The fight is not over in either city, as Camden must now continue their advocacy towards an eventual ballot initiative, and Paterson must work to re-instate local control. But these are important steps forward for both cities!

New Charter Study Examines the Cost to Public Schools

In the Public Interest (ITPI) has released a report by political scientist and professor Gordon Lafer on the cost of privately managed charter schools for public school districts. It’s no surprise that charter schools are draining education funding from neighborhood schools, but this is the first study to directly measure the cost. The findings? Charter schools are taking over $1,000 a year from the education of each student who attends a neighborhood school in the three California school districts studied for by ITPI.

In 2016-17, charter schools cost Oakland’s school district a total of $57.3 million, San Diego’s school district $65.9 million, and San Jose’s East Side Union High School District $19.3 million.

Those are significant costs regardless, but they’re especially striking given that all three districts—like many statewide—have recently been forced to make deep budget cuts. In January, Oakland Unified School District cut $9 million, including slashing funds for academic counselors, school supplies, and even toilet paper. But Oakland isn't alone—California is ranked 46th in the nation in per-pupil funding.

The report release includes this explainer video, a two-minute executive summary of the findings.  Please reshare the video on Twitter and Facebook, and share these articles about Oakland and San Diego.

Betsy Gets an Earful

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met privately with the nation’s 50 top teachers on April 30th, only to get an earful from them about how her policy agenda is threatening public schools. According to an article in the Huffington Post, based on interviews with participants in the meeting, DeVos invited the group to offer reflections on the challenges of their work. Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year for 2018 took her up on the offer. He noted that school choice policies like charters and vouchers are siphoning resources away from public schools and making it more difficult for them to adequately serve their students. Hazell told the Huffington Post that he was a republican who voted for Donald Trump, but that he found DeVos’s response to his challenge unsatisfactory. Other teachers in the meeting corroborated his story, noting that while both DeVos and the teachers were respectful to each other, the tension in the room was clear. The Department of Education refused to comment.


The Bargaining for the Common Good Network is hosting a webinar on May 17th, entitled “Map the Power with LittleSis.” 

A key element of bargaining for the common good is challenging the corporate and financial actors who are driving an austerity agenda and profiting off privatization and other policies that threaten our communities. The webinar will cover how researching these actors can help strengthen your campaigns. LittleSis is an interactive database that tracks and maps information about powerful people, corporations and organizations. The webinar is at 3:00 eastern time.

Register HERE.

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