This Week in Education Organizing - September 28, 2018

Camden Parents Union Protests Racist Comments Made by CEO of Company Receiving State Tax Breaks

The CEO of Camden, NJ-based Holtec International told the media a couple weeks ago that he can’t find qualified workers in the Camden community. “They don’t show up for work…They can’t stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day.  They haven’t done it and they didn’t see their parents do it,” Krishna Singh told a local TV station.

Last Friday, the Camden community took him to task, demanding an apology at a demonstration in front of the sparkling new Holtec facility. "We demand an apology for his disrespectful, racially biased, untrue statements," said Ronsha Dickerson of the Camden Parent’s Union.  Students joined the demonstration as well.  A group of young people from the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy also denounced Singh’s remarks, calling them disrespectful and out of line. “How dare they come into our city and talk down about our people,” said Zhane Brown, one of the student leaders.  Acting Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs denounced the comments in a statement released the same day, as did Camden Mayor Frank Moran.

Holtec is one of 24 companies that has received over $1 billion in state tax credits or subsidies for agreeing to move to or expand operations in Camden as a way to help address the area’s high unemployment rate. Holtec alone received over $260 million as part of the state’s “Grow New Jersey” program, run by the state Economic Development Authority.  They opened their Camden facility, in a gleaming $320 million glass building, in 2017. But despite the program’s lofty language promising that the development subsidies will lead to more jobs, those jobs rarely materialize—at least for local residents.  And lax oversight and accountability in the program means that there are no ramifications for companies that benefit from the public subsidies.

More information about the “Grow New Jersey” subsidy program is included in this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Photo of Ronsha Dickerson: David Swanson, Philadelphia Inquirer.

Urban Youth Collaborative Demands an End to On-Campus Arrests

Members of the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) are demanding that New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio pass an “Operations Order” directing the NYPD Commissioner to stop arresting students and issuing summons on school groups for normal youthful behavior.  At a large rally on the steps of City hall, members of UYC and allied organizations let the Mayor know how deeply they care about ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

The City’s student-to-counselor ratio is 1:407 – far higher than is recommended by experts. Students are demanding that the administration prioritize school safety solutions that get to the root of the issues that young people are experiencing, rather than criminalizing youthful behavior.

Jeff Bryant Writes About the Changing Narrative of Charter Schools

Journalist Jeff Bryant, who writes our Tuesday weekly education message, this week reflected on the changing tenor of the charter school debate.

 Charter schools are different from community to community but one thing that is becoming certain nearly everywhere is that they are increasingly becoming a more contentious issue in local and state politics. California recently joined Maine, Mississippi, and Washington in having laws that either outright or in part prohibit for-profit companies from running charter schools. Another four states – New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Rhode Island –have some kind of ban on companies running charter schools. State officials in Pennsylvania and New York have recently announced intentions to toughen charter school laws. In charter-friendly states like Arizona, Florida, and Ohio, these schools have become a political flashpoint in statewide elections.

Because the academic benefits of charter schools are mixed at best, the controversy over these schools is not so much about education as it is about money – both in how they're financed and how they're allowed to use public tax dollars. First, charter schools have a negative impact on existing public school finances due in large part to the fact when a student leaves a district school and transfers to a charter the money follows, reducing funding levels of the public school. Second, because charter schools have the freedom to hire third party contractors, including management companies and real estate developers, they can hide many of their financial transactions and promote conflicts of interest.

Local and regional news outlets and citizen journalists in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have extensively exposed widespread examples of charter schools engaging in fraud, embezzlement, self-dealing, nepotism, and other unethical or unlawful financial dealings.  And mainstream media is starting to change its tune as well. This 2016 clip from comedian John Oliver provides an example of the willingness of public figures to go after the industry’s sometimes unethical behavior. 


UPCOMING EVENTS

Backpack Full of Cash is being shown as part of the Chicago International Social Change Festival this Saturday, September 29.  The screening will take place on Saturday at 12:00pm at theDuSable Museum, 740 East 56th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. The festival also includes other documentaries about pressing social issues, musical performances, talented art vendors, and more. Tickets can be purchased HERE .


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