This Week in Education Organizing - October 12, 2018

Boston Public School Students Have a Message for Northeastern University

Many Boston Public Schools lack librarians, cafeterias and nurses – partly because the city hasn’t had the money to pay for them. But parents, students, educators and activists have an answer: Boston’s wealthy institutions like universities and hospitals, need to pay their fair share towards the city’s public schools.

Boston has a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that asks non-profit institutions that are exempted from paying property taxes, to make a contribution towards the city services that they receive—like fire and police protection, snow removal…and public schools. But many of these institutions, even though they sit on huge endowments, fail to pay their full PILOT contribution each year, denying the city budget tens of millions of dollars.

For example, Northeastern University has paid only 29% of its requested PILOT taxes this year, meaning that over $13 million that could have gone to public education, healthcare or affordable housing, instead stayed in Northeastern’s coffers. Can the university afford to contribute? Well, the home of the Huskeys just finished construction of a new $225 million science and engineering complex, while still ending FY 2017 with a surplus of over $66 million.

Today, October 12th, over 90 elementary school students, high school organizers and parents are descending on Northeastern University to ask the university to do its part.

For more information about Boston’s PILOT program and the campaign, by the PILOT Action Group and the Boston Education Justice Alliance, is available at https://pilotaction.weebly.com/   You can also sign a petition urging Boston’s universities and hospitals to pay their share. 

A Shift in the Winds on School Funding -- A guest article by Jeff Bryant

In a promising sign, many Democrats running for office in the November midterm elections are proposing tax increases for education. In Arizona's competitive governors race, Democratic candidate David Garcia wants to bring back the state's sales tax, close corporate tax loopholes and exemptions, and make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. In the tight race for governor of Florida, Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum wants to raise corporate income taxes and tax legalized marijuana sales. Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland, wants to boost teacher pay by 29 percent and legalize and tax marijuana to pay for prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.

For years, polls have found that Americans name lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools. But the share of the public that agrees with that is the highest ever, with two-thirds saying teacher pay is too low and 60 percent supporting spending more on students who need extra support. Half of the public favors raising taxes to accommodate the additional need. There's a reason for the support for increased school funding. It works. There is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures. In states that were forced by court order to increase education spending, students experienced gains in student achievement.

Teacher Walk-Outs Help Elevate the Need for More Funding

You can credit last spring’s wave of teacher walkouts and protests for making people more aware of the need to fund school resources for students, pay teachers a professional salary, and upgrade aging school buildings. Listen to these teachers protesting in Raleigh, North Carolina explain what schools need to ensure their students are educated.

The spring “RedForEd” actions were heard by candidates for office at all levels. Over 500 teachers are running for office in November, and voters will have other opportunities to stand up for their schools. In November, important ballot measures in three states – Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah – call for raising taxes for schools. Here's a complete description of all the ballot measures in this election that could make or break school funding. Today, the Center for American Progress is out with a new report finding that if all the ballot questions on education passed in November, an additional $2.6 billion could be made available for schools. That’s a start.  More investment is needed at all levels, as documented in the latest report from AROS, Confronting the Education Debt

DeVos Watch

As is the tradition, Education Secretary embarked on her second “Back to School” tour last week. Again dubbed the “Rethink School” tour, DeVos visited a mixture of charter, public and private schools in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana—all states carried by President Trump in the 2016 elections, and surely targeted to boost Republican turn-out in the November mid-terms.

In one surprise comment, DeVos said she believes that teacher salaries should be raised, even suggesting that “the best teachers” should be making $250,000 per year. But, as Education Week noted, DeVos hasn’t backed that statement up with action, but has in fact called for the elimination of a federal program that helps cover teacher salaries in some districts.

DeVos was met by protesters when she stopped to visit the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The persistent protests against DeVos are probably part of the reason why DeVos is the first education secretary, and the only current cabinet member who is protected by the Federal Marshals Service, to the tune of over $7.7 million annually, according to the Washington Post. The Federal Marshals Service calls the protection of DeVos “commensurate with the existing threat.”  PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Andres, Atlanta Journal Constitution

DeVos Pays Secret Visit to Koch Industries Group

An unannounced component of Secretary DeVos’ travels last week included a visit to Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas on October 1st. The meeting at the Koch Industries offices was not listed in the Secretary’s schedule, published regularly by the Department of Education. Nor were local school district officials or the media informed of her visit.

DeVos apparently met with a small group of teachers and students from a Wichita-based non-profit called Young Entrepreneurs, which is funded by Charles Koch.

DeVos, as you will recall, is a major donor to the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing organization that has been active in the fight to privatize public schools among many other causes. Read more about the Secretary’s visit to Koch Industries HERE.


 


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