Why Are So Many Democrats Behind Backdoor School Voucher Expansion in Pennsylvania?

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Democrats are supposed to be liberals, progressives.

 

That means upholding the Constitution and the Separation of Church and State.

 

So why are so many Pennsylvania Democrats sponsoring an expansion of the state’s de facto school voucher bill?

 

A total of 11 out of 84 sponsors of HB 250 are Democrats. The bill would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.

 

The Commonwealth already diverts $200 million of business taxes to private and parochial schools. That’s money that should be going to support our struggling public school system.

 

The new bill would add $50 million to each program for a total of $100 million more flushed down the drain.

 

Pennsylvania has a budget deficit. We’ve cut almost $1 billion a year from public schools. We can’t afford to burn an additional $300 million on private and church schools.

 

 

We expect Republicans to support this regressive nonsense. Especially in gerrymandered Pennsylvania, they’ve gone further and further right to please their Tea Party base and avoid being primaried.

 

But the few Democrats left in the House and Senate are likewise in districts that would never vote Republican. You’d expect them to get more and more progressive. Instead, even here we see them taking steps to the right!

 

Democratic sponsors of the bill are almost exclusively from the state’s urban centers – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

 

They are:

 

Vanessa Lowery Brown (Philadelphia County)

Donna Bullock (Philadelphia County)

Dom Costa (Allegheny County)

Daniel J. Deasy (Allegheny County)

Michael J. Driscoll (Philadelphia County)

Jordan A. Harris (Philadelphia County)

William F. Keller (Philadelphia County)

William C. Kortz II (Allegheny County)

Joanna E. McClinton (Delaware & Philadelphia County)

Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County)

Mark Rozzi (Berks County)

 

These corporate tax giveaways are based on the premise that our public schools are failures and that students must be rescued from them. The Commonwealth has developed a list of approximately 400 “failing schools” and created a voucher-like system allowing students living near them to take public taxpayer money to go to private and religious schools. Students can also go to another public school in a different district, if they will accept them. However, few public schools take part in the program because school boards know it’s just another attempt to weaken their districts.

 

How does the state define a “failing school”?

 

Partially it’s based on standardized test scores. Districts with the bottom 15% of reading and math scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) and Keystone tests are supposed to earn this label. However, the state has been notorious for including districts that actually are making academic progress.

 

Since low test scores are highly correlated with poverty, that’s the real indicator. If you live in a poor enough district, you’re probably eligible.

 

What about charter schools?

 

It’s funny you asked. Though they often have subpar test scores, they rarely are included on the state’s list of “failing schools.” They even exclude most of the state’s execrable cyber charter schools. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students in every single Pennsylvania cyber charter school performed “significantly worse” in reading and math than their peers in conventional public schools. But somehow that’s generally not failing enough to earn you a voucher-like tax credit.

 

How can we tell that students at private and parochial schools are doing better than those in public schools?

 

We can’t.

 

The scholarship organizations have no auditing requirements and almost no reporting requirements. Moreover, private and parochial schools don’t have to take the federally-mandated standardized tests! So there’s no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison!

 

But here’s the best part. The EITC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement. You’re not even allowed to ask!

 

However, the law goes out of its way to remove regulations on how these tax dollars are spent. For instance, schools taking these tax credits can spend as much as 20% of the money to cover pure administrative costs.

 

Yet the public schools are still responsible for many of the costs of students living in their attendance areas but who use these de facto vouchers. For instance, there’s no limit to how far away an EITC student can go with their publicly-subsidized scholarship. But the student’s home district is legally obligated to provide transportation for up to ten miles.

 

Vouchers have been repeatedly defeated on every referendum held on the subject in the entire country. One of the reasons people have been up in arms against Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary has been her support of vouchers.

 

What do voters have to do to tell legislators that they don’t want school vouchers – no matter what you call them? What do voters have to do to show that they support our public school system – a system that despite being underfunded and weighed down with corporate education reforms remains one of the best in the world?

 

And when will Pennsylvania’s Democrats start acting like Democrats on the subject?

Pennsylvania: No School Property Tax for the Rich, Poor Still Pay

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Eliminating property tax to fund public schools sounds like a great idea!

Until you read the fine print.

Because what Pennsylvania legislators are proposing won’t actually eliminate property taxes – unless you’re rich.

And it won’t ensure students get the funding they need.

And it will limit school boards’ local control.

But it will benefit the rich and big corporations, which is really the only reason we’re talking about it – AGAIN.

Let me break it down for you.

First, the bill being shopped around is called the Property Tax Independence Act or SB 76. It would get rid of all property taxes used to fund public schools and replace them with increases in sales and income taxes.

Somehow these increases would need to generate an additional $12 billion a year in revenue so that we can keep funding our schools at the present level. That’s some tax increase – and guess who’s going to pay the bulk of it – YOU.

Guess who’s not going to pay much of it – the huge corporations who used to pay property taxes on all those commercial, industrial, oil and gas properties.

This is a huge giveaway to big business, and it’s a substantial hike for regular Commonwealth citizens like you and me.

But that’s not all!

If you live in a poor school district, you’ll still have to pay property taxes. That’s right – if your district is in debt, you’ll still get a property tax bill to pay it off.

Considering that the state cut almost $1 billion a year in school funding for the past 6 years and that most districts have had to go into debt, increase taxes or both, you’re probably not going to see your property taxes go away anytime soon.

They might go down up to 40%. Or they might not go down at all. AND you still have to pay higher sales and income taxes.

But here’s the best part.

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being the national leader in unfair school funding.

We spend 33% more money on our rich students than on our poor ones. That’s the greatest disparity in the entire country!

And that’s saying something in a nation where spending more on wealthy kids is the norm.

However, this new bill won’t do anything to change that. In fact, it will lock-in that disparity.

Rich districts that today spend $23,000 per student will still spend $23,000, and poor districts that today spend $8,000 per student will still spend $8,000. But instead of your tax dollars going to the kids in your community, they’ll go to the state to be distributed everywhere. This means folks living in poor neighborhoods will probably be paying higher taxes so that they can fund the wealthiest kids. Likewise, rich parents will probably pay less while the difference is made up from taxes collected from the poor.

Call me crazy, but that just isn’t fair.
Finally, it takes away a lot of the local control from your local school board.

At present, if your local district has needs, your board can meet them by raising taxes. But under this bill, the only entity that can do that is the legislature.

I know, I know – your taxes are already too high. But the issue is who is more suited to making that decision – Harrisburg or your own community?

This bill is nothing new. Legislators have been trying to sneak it through for years.

Back in 2015 it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate when the Lt. Governor cast the deciding ballot against it. In 2013, it almost passed as an amendment to another bill, but the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office ruined it by projecting a $1 billion shortfall within four years if it were passed.

However, the makeup of the Senate has changed. Now we have two new members who campaigned promising to pass this legislation, so it might actually squeak through.

The bill is being shopped around by state Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) who authored it along with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations.

This group claims to be a simple citizens organization made up of 87 nonpartisan tax-conscious advocacy groups. But a quick look at the names of these organizations includes multiple uses of terms like “patriot,” and “freedom,” and “liberty,” and “conservative,” and “tea party.”

Nonpartisan, my butt!

Moreover, the stated goal of the group is just to pass this legislation.

That’s not a group of concerned citizens. It’s almost a PAC!

The organization has even endorsed candidates – some of them noted progressive Democrats like state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-West Chester) and James Brewster (D-McKeesport), who both voted for the legislation in 2015.

To make it even more complex, the authors of the bill have a point. Property taxes are a terrible way to fund schools. They ensure that some districts will be better funded than others based on the local wealth of the community.

However, this bill does nothing to fix the inherent problems for children or poor and middle class communities. It compounds them.

Ironically, Gov. Wolf proposed a compromise solution two years ago with his first budget. He suggested reducing residential property taxes by $3.8 billion, targeting the biggest cuts for the neediest taxpayers and neediest schools. Moreover, he proposed increasing funding to the most impoverished districts so they could catch up to the well-funded ones.

But Republicans, who control both houses, refused to even consider it.

So here we go again. We have another Trojan Horse proposal. A good idea has been twisted and bastardized so that it serves the wealthy and private enterprise while doing irreparable harm to children and the poor. And even though it is an example of far right ideology, it has received bipartisan support.

Gov. Wolf is set to propose his new budget sometime this month. Sen. Argall is expected to reintroduce SB 76 during the subsequent budget negotiations.

It is a piece of zombie legislation that no matter how fetid and rotten just refuses to die. But this time, it just might bite us.

School Privatization Turns Business Into Predator and Students Into Prey

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The mother sea turtle struggles to shore to lay her eggs.

 

A typical clutch includes anywhere from 50–350 eggs, which the mother hides under the sand. Her sole contribution to their future complete, she swims away.

 

They incubate underground for 50-60 days. Then just at dusk, the tiny sea turtle hatchlings emerge and struggle their way to the waiting sea and surf.

 

Well they try to get to the sea. Most of them don’t make it.

 

Predators are always lurking in the shadows to pluck up these movable hors d’oeuvres. Sea gulls, crabs, small fish – all are waiting to enjoy a meal of fresh baby sea turtle.

 

It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood.

 

Is that really the model we should be using for our public schools?

 

Because – make no mistake – it is exactly the kind of thing the market-driven model of education is based on.

 

The idea goes something like this: schools should be run like a business. Parents and students should choose between educational institutions, which would then compete for their budget allotments.

 

Some schools would thrive but most would fail – just like in business, athletics or other competitive pursuits. And while these fledgling schools struggle to make ends meet, predators will be waiting in the wings to benefit from their failure and perfidy.

 

To be fair, it’s a model that works well in many circumstances. In business, it ensures that only the best enterprises stay open. In sports, it translates to athletes striving to give there all to prove superiority over competitors.

 

But if we look at it through clear eyes, it’s obvious that this is really just the same as baby sea turtles struggling to get to the ocean. Many will compete. Few will win.

 

That’s a terrible way to run a school. Think about it.

 

We don’t want only our best students to get an education. Nor do we want only our best schools to provide one. We want all schools to provide the best education possible to the highest number possible. Clearly some schools will be better than others. That can’t be helped. However, we can maximize the quality of the education each provides. We can ensure that none fail.

 

That isn’t what the market-driven approach does. It forces schools to compete for their very existence. They have to spend a considerable amount of time and money attracting students to enroll. That’s time and money that doesn’t go to education. It goes to advertising.

 

Moreover, any school that attracts a surplus of students can choose which ones its wants to enroll. The choice becomes the school’s – not the parents’ or students’. In fact, administrators can turn away students for any reason – race, religion, behavior, special needs, how difficult it would be to teach him or her. This is much different from traditional public schools. There, any student who lives in the district may attend regardless of factors such as how easy or difficult he or she is to educate.

 

Another major change with this approach is how these schools will be run. Many of these institutions will be operated privately without the input of a duly-elected school board, without transparency for how they spend tax dollars, without even the guide rails of most regulations.

 

Like in the charter school sector, these schools will get almost free reign to do whatever they want. And we can see the results of this bold experiment already. The predators are lining up to make a meal of their students.

 

Corporate interests offer to run charter schools while cutting services and increasing profits. In fact, administrative costs at charter schools are much higher than at traditional public schools. Students lose, the market wins.

 

Moreover, many charter schools provide a sub-par education. To put it more bluntly, they do things that would be impossible for public schools to do. One in Philadelphia literally transformed into a nightclub after dark. Another funneled profits into the CEO’s personal bank account to be used as a slush fund to buy gifts and pay for rent at an apartment for his girlfriend. Another CEO used tax dollars to buy a yacht cheekily called “Fishin’ 4 Schools.” A study found that cyber-charters provide almost less education than not going to school at all. Even brick and mortar charter schools can close on a moments notice leaving students in the lurch.

 

It’s a Darwinian model made to benefit the predators, not the prey. It’s a boon for any unselfconscious businessman who doesn’t mind getting rich stealing an education from children.

 

By contrast, our traditional public schools are modeled after something else entirely. Instead of offering various kinds of school competing with each other, they provide one basic type that is shielded from predation.

 

In short, public schools are modeled after primate childcare practices – not the egg-laying habits of reptiles. Primates usually have a very limited number of offspring per pregnancy – often just one. Unlike sea turtles, they don’t just lay their eggs and leave their offspring to their own devices. Primates provide excellent care and nurture for their child making sure it is safe from those that would hurt it.

 

This is exactly what public schools do. They provide one basic kind of school. The public gathers twice a month with an elected school board to decide how the school should be run. Most functions of the school are open to public view as are expenditures, documents, etc. And there are regulations that stop the most extreme practices that put students at risk.

 

Public schools aren’t perfect. Neither are primate parents. But the model is child-centered where the goal is all about what’s best for the next generation – every member of that generation.

 

In short, the entire debate about school choice really has little to do with choosing this or that school. It’s about choosing a style of education – public or private, primate or reptilian, one that favors prey or predator.

 

Deep down, the public knows this. That’s why school vouchers have never passed a public referendum despite obscene spending from advocates. That’s why the money behind school choice is almost entirely from the same would-be predators who would benefit from opening our tax dollars and our children to such harm.

 

The media churns out the myth of failing schools and this has had a damaging effect on public perception of public education in general. However, when you ask people about their neighborhood school, opinion is generally high. People like their schools the way they are. Ninety percent of American students attend public school and that’s just the way we like it.

 

We aren’t about to take a chance on a system that instinctually reminds us of neglect. For school choice advocates, it really comes down to ideology. They hate anything public. They hate government in all its forms and wish for the freedom to do as they wish.

 

They wish for the freedom to be a predator – a predator of children.

Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses

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America loves business.

 

We worship the free market. Nothing is more infallible – not reason, not morals, not even God.

 

Money is the true measure of success – the more you have, the better a person you are.

 

This perverted ideology has taken over much of American life. Where we once cared about our country, justice and fair play, today it has all been reduced to dollars and cents.

 

Every problem can be answered by business. Every endeavor should be made more business-like. Every interaction should be modeled on the corporate contract, and every individual should try to maximize the outcome in his or her favor. Doing so is not just good for you, personally, but it’s what’s best for everyone involved. And this dogma is preached by the high priests of the market who claim that as they, themselves, get wealthier, one day we too will reap the same rewards – but that day never seems to come.

 

These principles are articles of faith so deeply ingrained that some folks can’t see past them. They have become the driving force behind our country and much of the world. Meanwhile, most people get ever poorer, our environment gets increasingly polluted and everything is up for sale.

 

One of the last holdouts against this market-driven nightmare is the public school system.

 

We still have widespread educational institutions run democratically at public expense dedicated to providing every child with the tools and opportunities to learn.

 

They’re not perfect. Far from it. But they enshrine one of the last vestiges of the America of our grandparents. Democracy and justice are the system’s core values – not profit, expansion and market share.

 

However, our schools suffer from disinvestment. Since we’ve segregated the rich from the poor into privileged and impoverished neighborhoods, it’s easy to provide more funding and resources to wealthy children and less to poor ones. That’s the main reason why some schools struggle – they haven’t the resources of the Cadillac institutions. Whenever we look at school spending, we look at an average allotment never bothering to consider that most of that money goes to children of the wealthy and much less to poor kids. Nor do we consider that more than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. Public schools strive to overcome the barriers of poverty, but the way we fund them ensures many of them are burdened by these same factors.

 

 

To make matters worse, our federal and state governments have allowed huge corporations to profit off our schools through an industry based on constant standardized testing and then selling schools the remediation materials to pass the tests. That’s all Common Core is – a more efficient way to market text books and test prep materials regardless of their inherent value (or lack thereof) to students. The same people criticizing public schools for being untouched by a business ethic often ignore how much they have already been brutalized by free market capitalism and the profit motive.

 

In any case, despite all these encumbrances, these problems are all surmountable. Doing so only requires us to go in the opposite direction away from the boardroom and the Wall Street subprime bubble. We need to work intrinsically for the good of each student. We need to see them as ends in themselves and not just incidentally for how much profit they can generate.

 

Unfortunately, such a solution is inconceivable to those in power. It goes against everything in which they believe. Too many Americans have been converted to the cult of the market so that the only solution they can support is to double down on what’s not working – to turn public schools even further into a business.

 

It’s absurd. Not everything benefits from being sold for a profit. Imagine if your spouse suggested running your marriage that way. It would turn you both into prostitutes selling yourselves at ever cheaper rates while any self respect, dignity and love disappeared.

 

Some things just are not for sale. Would you give up your deepest held convictions because doing so might help you turn a profit? Today I’m not a Christian, I believe in Baal because he’s got a bigger market share. Today I’m skeptical about gravity because the Acme Parachute Company is offering a bonus to jump out of the tenth floor naked.

 

Only fools let themselves be manipulated in this way. And that’s exactly what corporations and big business are trying to do with our public schools. Make no mistake. These are our institutions – they belong to us – yet privateers see a way to gobble up tax dollars while downgrading the services provided. They want to play us all for suckers even if it means leaving the next generation of poor and middle class children in the lurch. The only thing that matters to them is making bank.

 

They say we should run schools like a business? What kind of business exactly?

 

There are many different kinds of free enterprise. A coal company runs much differently from a restaurant, for example.

 

Public schools are nothing like any for-profit business. Sure, historically we’ve had a small percentage of private schools, but our country has never survived on an education system that is wholly private. By definition, the model does not work for everyone. That’s what the term “private” means – belonging to one person or group and not another. Our schools traditionally serve everyone. No single business in the country does that day-in-day-out. Perhaps we could find some new paradigm that would fit public schools, but let’s not pretend we can take some business model that already exists and apply it willy nilly. At the start, this mindset is naive at best.

 

Second, most businesses fail.

 

Most public schools succeed. They have a proven track record. Why are we going to jump to a model that builds its success on the failure of competitors?

 

Competition means there will be winners and losers. That’s fine in sports. It’s even fine in most goods and services. There’s not so much at stake. If I go to a bad restaurant, I have a bad meal. No big deal. I just go somewhere else tomorrow. If I get a bad education, there is no do over. I’m screwed.

 

That’s just not acceptable. Would you bet your life on opening a new restaurant? Would you bet your child’s education? Schools might not live up to your expectations, but the system isn’t set up from the outset so that some of them will eventually crash and burn.

 

Third, businesses get to choose their raw materials. If you’re making pizzas, you buy the best grains, cheese, tomatoes, etc. But public schools don’t get to choose their students. They have to teach even those who are more difficult to instruct. They accept kids with special needs, kids who’ve been abused, who live in poverty, who are undernourished, etc. And that’s how it needs to be.

 

If we were to follow the typical business model where the goal is merely profit, we would try to find ways to weed out these difficult students and make them someone else’s problem. In fact, that’s exactly what many privately-run charter schools and vouchers schools do. If they want our tax dollars, they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against our children. We should be seeking to stop such nefarious practices, not universalize them.

 

Finally, businesses are not essentially democratic. Corporations are beholden to their shareholders and businesses are beholden to their founders. Who, exactly, fits that role if we model our school after a business?

 

Public schools are run by democratically elected school boards. Privately run charter and voucher schools often are run by appointees. They aren’t beholden to the public who provide the tax dollars they need to operate. They are beholden to the limited group of people who would profit from them economically.

 

This is a terrible model for public schools. It gives very little back to the taxpayer. It gives less value to the student.

 

Should we run our schools like businesses? Not if we value students and taxpayers more than the handful of investors looking to profit off our dime.

Goodbye, 2016, and Good Riddance – Top 10 Blog Post by Me From a Crappy Year

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Is it just me or did 2016 really stink?

Both personally and publicly, it was a year I’d rather not revisit. I lost family. I lost idols (RIP, David Bowie and Prince). And we lost a horrible, protracted Presidential election.

But as has become a tradition, I find myself in front of the computer compelled to compile this list of the best of my own writings.

It would be easy to just say nothing much of value happened in 2016 so let’s just move on. But that wouldn’t be true.

There were good things. I’m just stumped to remember many of them right now. Perhaps as time goes on we’ll look back fondly on a smattering of events from this year that was. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That was kinda cool. There were some decent movies and a heck of a lot of good TV shows. The Arrival, Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool… Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, two excellent series about O. J. Simpson. We got a Harry Potter sequel of sorts – and another movie! I thought “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters was quite good. We got an amazing musical in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Technically it opened in 2015, but it swept the Tonys this year. And hey! We stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline – for now.

It was certainly a productive year for blogging.

There was so much to write about.

This little education and civil rights blog went into overtime. I almost doubled traffic to the Website and got 2,145 more followers for a total of 11,335.

Gadflyonthewallblog, or if you prefer Gadfly on the Wall Blog, has been going strong since July 2014. In those two and a half years, I’ve gotten 849,000 hits – 363,000 just this year, alone. I also increased the number of posts I write a year. Last year, I only managed about 90 posts. This year it was 120 posts – a full 30 additional articles.

I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I hope you’ve found them valuable.

Sometimes readers send me a note saying that they’re going to share this post or that post with their school board or their representative in the House or Senate. I’m always very flattered to hear that something I wrote is helping someone else fight for what’s right. Of course, I do get a lot of hate mail, too. No death threats yet, but it’s getting awfully close. Readers have wished I was dead, but no one has offered to give me that little push to the other side.

I hope that no matter what your reaction, you’ll remember these are just the writings of a humble public school teacher and father. No one pays me, though sometimes I do get donations for the right to reprint something elsewhere. I write all this stuff because I have to. So few people seem to care what people like me have to say – even in my own profession. Like many others, I’ve stopped waiting to be asked.

So for your end of the year amusement, I offer this top ten list of my most popular writing from 2016. And here’s to a better 2017.


10) F is for Friedrichs… and Freeloader: A Supreme Court NightmareScreen shot 2016-01-11 at 9.50.07 PM

Published: January

Views: 5,550

Description: Some crazy lady didn’t want to pay the union for benefits that she got as a member and didn’t want to give them up. And rich folks everywhere had her back. They slobbered all over and pushed forward a bull crap case through the Supreme Court that probably would have made it much more difficult for labor unions everywhere had not Justice Antonin Scalia died deadlocking the vote. This article was my attempt to show how absolutely absurd the argument was against being forced to pay for something that benefits you.

Fun Fact: Now that Congress blocked President Obama’s Constitutional right to appoint a replacement for Scalia, and Donald Trump will probably get to pick a replacement, look for a similar case to come down the pike and win! Oh, 2016, will you ever truly leave?


9) The Charter School Swindle – Selling Segregation to Blacks and LatinosScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.22.46 PM

Published: June

Views: 6,489

Description: Charter school promoters often sell these institutions to minorities as being “Separate but Equal.” Hm. Didn’t Brown v. Board outlaw that kind of practice because if schools were separate, they usually were anything but equal? This article is my attempt to explain how charter marketers are really selling minorities on segregation and trying to talk them out of their own civil rights.

Fun Fact: During the Obama years, it was common practice to sell corporate education reform as a way of increasing civil rights while it actually violated them. It will be interesting to see if that rhetoric gets left behind in the Trump years when lawmakers already seem to have little interest in them at all.


8) ‘We’re Sorry Teachers are Unfairly Blamed’ says John King – Man Responsible for Unfairly Blaming Teachers

Published: February John King AP

Views: 6,832

Description: When John King became temporary Secretary of Education, he went on an apology tour telling educators that the federal government was sorry for how terribly it had treated teachers. In particular, he was sorry the department had blamed educators for societal problems that our schools need to fix without giving them the resources necessary to actually correct them. However, King was personally guilty of many of these same practices in his old job in New York. It was typical disingenuousness from the Obama administration and the Democrats – ignore and abuse their key constituents until election time and then make positive noises in their general direction hoping we’d support them at the polls.

Fun Fact: It didn’t work.


7) Bernie Sanders is Right: We Should Federalize Public School FundingBernie_Sanders_by_Gage_Skidmore

Published: January

Views: 6,947

Description: The way we fund public schools in this country is messed up. In many states, we rely heavily on local property taxes which result in poor communities being substantially underfunded and rich ones having more than enough of everything. In most of the world, funding is done much differently – the burden is handled mostly by the federal government who then distributes it equitably from place-to-place. Bernie Sanders proved he was the real deal by suggesting we do the same thing here in the US, a suggestion that no one in either party was ready for.

Fun Fact: Even some of my readers were uncomfortable with this one. They feared that if the federal government took responsibility for funding, it would increase their ability to micromanage local school districts. This is a fair concern, but there is a way to do this without increasing federal control of education policy, just funding. In any case, funding disparity is an issue that hardly ever even gets acknowledged less than discussed. Thank you, Bernie!


6) Summer Break – the Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life

Published: June Screen shot 2016-06-20 at 4.18.07 PM

Views: 7,429

Description: Just about every teacher gets crap from non-educators about summer break. Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher and how easy we’ve got it. This post was my way of shutting up the ignorant. It explains why educators aren’t teaching in summer, what they’re actually doing and how the public benefits from giving teachers this time. Share it with someone you love.

Fun Fact: Or just shut someone up with it.


5) Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Manager is a Longtime Corporate Education Reformer

Clinton Gives Speech On American Global Leadership At Washington Conference

Published: March

Views: 9,268

Description: Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, is not a nice man. I unearthed a speech he gave to corporate school reformers including Jeb Bush in 2012 where he pledges his allegiance to conservative, market-driven school policies. And THIS is the guy who was influencing Hillary’s approach just like he influenced Obama’s when he worked on that campaign. Legend has it, Podesta is responsible for giving us Arne Duncan. He suggested Duncan over Obama’s campaign education advisor Linda Darling Hammond, a critic of high stakes testing. These were truths that needed to be told and tell them I did.

Fun Fact: That this came out was a huge embarrassment to the Clinton campaign. All they could do was suppress it. Even dedicated supporters who read the article had to admit that she would probably not be very good for education – but she’d be better than Trump. It’s these kinds of Faustian bargains that derailed her campaign. How much better off we would have been had we had a real progressive to vote for than just another Democrat in Name Only!


4) What Antonin Scalia’s Death Means to the People I Loveantonin-scalia-26

Published: February

Views: 14,001

Description: Scalia was a terrible Supreme Court judge who used his position to justify hurting a lot of people. While others tried to hide their excitement at his passing, I let mine show. It might not be nice to say, but the world is a better place without him in it. I had hoped my honesty would make it harder for anyone like him to ever reach that office again. Unfortunately, weak Democrats and an incoming Republican President mean his replacement will probably be just as bad as he was.

Fun Fact: Originally my title was much more provocative – something like “Antonin Scalia was a Terrible Person and I’m Glad He is Dead.” It got over 10,000 hits in a few hours, but then I reconsidered and changed the title. People almost immediately stopped reading it.


3) Without Black Culture There Would Be No American CultureScreen shot 2016-06-28 at 12.10.37 AM

Published: June

Views: 15,519

Description: We often talk about black people as victims. Police brutality, civil rights violations, economic disparities – but this is only half of the story. There is a buried history of success that rarely gets mentioned. Think of what American culture would look like without black people. It would be something completely different. This was my attempt to tip my hat at the incredible ways black Americans have made their mark on our society especially in the field of music.

Fun Fact: Black Twitter really liked this article. It was especially gratifying to see how appreciative people were. Of course, at the same time, some folks’ white fragility couldn’t handle it, either. Some readers tried to bully me into making changes here or there for no reason other than that it made black people look too good. Sorry, folks, no one determines what I put on this blog but me.


2) The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

Published: November img_5992

Views: 40,268

Description: School choice is less an education policy than a propaganda effort. Most people don’t understand what it really is. They don’t understand how essentially selfish it is like cutting a piece of pie from the middle of the dish so no one else can get a whole slice. I tried here in the most simple, direct language I could to explain why.

Fun Fact: With the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary and Trumps’ promise to spread school choice across the land like a Trump University franchise, the article remains popular. A lot of readers told me that it helped make sense of the issue for them for the first time. No doubt it’s been sent to policymakers across the nation. And it all started when I saw that picture of a ruined pumpkin pie on Reddit. I started to think – isn’t that a lot like school choice?


1) Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice

Published: JanuaryLittleKidThumbsDown

Views: 77,139

Description: Both Democrats and Republicans love school choice. So I thought that real education advocates needed a quick list of the main reasons why it is bad policy. There’s nothing really new or amazing here. We’ve known this for decades, but this keeps getting brought up again and again like zombie legislation. The wealthy will push this forward whether we want it or not. There’s just too much money they can make if it passes. That’s why it’s good to know why what they’re peddling is so harmful to students, parents and communities. Consider it ammunition for quick come backs.

Fun Fact: I wrote this long before the Trump administration was a prospect to be taken seriously. This was long before DeVos or the Donald pledged to bring this to the national stage. It has continuously gotten a steady flow of hits since it was published. If my goal as a blogger is to be useful, I think this post more than any other written this year fits the bill. You can quibble with one or two points here, but all ten are enough to show any rational person why school choice is no choice.

Four Practical and Four Moral Reasons to Make Your City a Sanctuary City

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There’s an entire underclass of people living among us.

These are people like you or me who have no choice but to do the most menial jobs for meager pay under the table. And when reality-TV-stars-turned-politicians like Donald Trump come around offering to solve all our problems with magic, you know who they blame for everything? THEM!

They’re illegal immigrants. They had the gumption to flee countries with worse economies than ours for the privilege of being our construction workers, housekeepers, gardeners and janitors. They are the fruit and vegetable pickers and the restaurant workers putting food on our tables.

They don’t collect social security, they don’t have health benefits or retirement plans and employers can pay them less than minimum wage. Heck! We can do almost whatever we want to them because who are they going to complain to – the police? If they do anything to get noticed by the law, they could be deported. So they keep a low profile doing the work no one else wants while the rest of us allow ourselves to be fooled into accepting them as easy scapegoats for all our ills.

What we need are sensible immigration laws that offer these people a path to citizenship, a way for them to climb out of perpetual servitude and fear. But that would cost us too much money, so it will never happen.

The least we can do – literally the least – is allow them some moderate amount of safety. We can let them partake in the minimum advantages of our society – protection from crime, a safe place to live, schools for their children, and an end to the fear that at any moment they could be kidnapped and taken away.

It’s called being a sanctuary city and more than 300 urban centers across the country have officially or unofficially adopted it as their local policy.

Though there’s no clear legal definition of sanctuary cities, in places like New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston, it goes something like this – if someone questions a person’s immigration status, local police don’t investigate it. You arrest someone for a non-violent crime, he does his time, then you let him free. If he has a long rap sheet, all bets are off, but in general you don’t hold him past his sentence for the feds to come and drag him away unless he’s got a substantial criminal record.

These sanctuary policies came under fire after the July 2015 death of Kate Steinle, a woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant and repeat felon who had been deported five times to Mexico. He was being held by police but was released when drug charges were dropped. Police clearly made a mistake. Most law enforcement – even in sanctuary cities – would have contacted Homeland Security about someone like Lopez Sanchez. Moreover, deportation isn’t an answer either because Sanchez had already been given the boot multiple times. Unfortunately, the case has become the poster child for everything that’s supposedly wrong with these policies.

Trump became President on the backs of a promise to deport up to 3 million illegal immigrants because he said they are more violent and sanctuary cities result in increased crime. However, as are most things that come out of his mouth, it’s simply not true. These people are less likely to commit serious crimes than those born in the U.S. They can’t attract attention to themselves. Even in sanctuary cities, going on a crime spree is a sure way to get yourself deported.

On average, between 2011 and 2013 immigration courts ordered about 414,650 people removed from the country. Adding to those numbers won’t solve the problem, but there is something we can do.

If you live in a sanctuary city, protect that status. If you don’t, lobby to make your city a place of sanctuary. There are plenty of good reasons to do this – some practical, some moral. Here are four examples of each:


Practical

1) Holding Suspected Illegal Immigrants Drains Resources

Local and state police departments are not made of money. Like most public services these days, law enforcement agencies are cash-strapped. They only have so much funding to spend protecting and serving communities. Holding people in jail who are suspected of being in the country illegally costs money -money we don’t have to waste.

Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to even prioritize deporting convicted illegal immigrants. Suspects can spend days, weeks or longer in lock up waiting for the feds to get in gear.

It has become increasingly common for law enforcement to let these people go instead of taking responsibility for what is, after all, a federal job. Between January 2014 and September 2015, local and state law enforcement agencies declined 18,646 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, the Texas Tribune found. The majority were from California, where the notion of sanctuary cities first took root.


2) Holding Suspects Without a Warrant Can Get Your City Sued

Not all sanctuary cities lean left like Los Angeles. Many are deep in the red states and deeply conservative. In 2014, sheriff’s departments across the country announced that they would no longer honor detainer requests from the federal government. Instead, they would require ICE to get a formal warrant or court order before they would jail someone longer than they would otherwise.

The reason explicitly laid out in policy memos and press releases in places like rural Oregon, eastern Washington, and Kansas was to avoid expensive lawsuits. Federal courts in Pennsylvania and Oregon ruled in 2014 that detainer requests are not legally binding. In other words, counties jailing people based solely on those detainers could be violating individuals’ rights.

So these cities are trying to shield taxpayers from potential lawsuits. Residents may not consider themselves to be in sanctuary cities. Officials and sheriffs in these areas may even object to the label, but they are effectively doing the same thing.


3) Complying with the Feds Infringes on Local Autonomy

No one likes to be told how to do their job – especially police. Some law enforcement experts claim that the federal government is overstepping its authority by demanding state and local police to comply with requests for detention.

When Louisiana was considering a state law banning sanctuary cities, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, a Republican, gave legislators an earful at a senate hearing on the matter: “Don’t come down here with some overarching bullshit Republican philosophy from Washington, DC…. and tell me how to do my business!” he said. “This bill goes down to discretion of a frontline officer and usurps my authority as a manager in how I’m going to deal with my officers… Give me a break!”


4) Holding Detainees Makes Law Enforcement’s Job Harder

Being a police officer is hard enough. If the people in the community you’re trying to protect and serve are afraid you’ll detain them for suspicion about their immigration status, they’ll be less likely to co-operate in the everyday business of policing.

People will flee from police on sight because they’re afraid some minor incident is going to get them deported. This is exactly what happened in North Carolina after the state passed a law requiring officers to fully comply with ICE, according to Jose Lopez, the Durham police chief.

Some agencies say it leads to mistrust between the community and the police, because victims and potential witnesses don’t come forward to report crimes. The fear of being deported is too strong. That is a real threat to public safety.


Moral

1) Violations of Human Rights/Unconstitutional

Detaining a person in jail for unspecified periods of time simply on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant is certainly of dubious legality, but it may also be immoral.

It certainly creates a situation ripe for corruption and graft. From 2004 – 2012, it was common for law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements to help federal authorities with immigration enforcement. These agreements allowed local jails to house undocumented immigrants after they had served time on state charges and then bill the federal government for this service.

Unfortunately, this turned detainees from suspects into sources of revenue and profit. The program was widely criticized because it incentivized detentions in the same way that for-profit prisons incentivize convictions. Local jails made money from detaining suspected illegal immigrants, so detentions skyrocketed. Suddenly every brown skinned person walking the streets was a potential payday.

People disappeared without warning, explanation or recourse. Inmates sometimes were passed along to jails in other municipalities without any formal notice to family members, then into the immigration court system for an expedited removal hearing. In some cases, people were returned to their home countries in weeks. Detainees were unable to communicate with embassy officials from their countries of origin or notify family members of their arrests. They were simply gone.

At very least, it was a potential violation of international human rights accords. Civil liberties groups called it a vehicle for racial and ethnic profiling. One Tennessee sheriff said it allowed him to “stack these violators like cordwood.” The system was out of control. More than one analysis of who was deported and what happened during that process showed that most were people initially arrested for minor traffic violations and who had no criminal record.

This is not how you should treat people no matter how they may or may not have entered the country. Disappearing people is the mark of a fascist state, not the land of the free, home of the brave.


2) Historical/ Biblical Precedent

Offering sanctuary has a long and respected history.

The concept derives from the ancient imperative to provide hospitality to strangers. In Greek cities, slaves and thieves took sanctuary at the shrines of the gods. In Biblical times, people who committed accidental murder could escape to sanctuary cities where they could remain in safety. These cities of refuge were places for wrongdoers who did not merit the fullest sanction of the law but were instead supposed to be kept separate from the community for a certain period.

In the Middle Ages, accused felons were allowed to seek sanctuary in any church. They could stay there, fed by neighbors for up to 40 days. When they emerged, they could confess, give up all their belongings and go into exile. This delayed prosecution so the community could cool off and not make judgements in haste. It gave the community time to determine the facts and come to a fair sentence.

Even in America, sanctuary is not a new concept. Though we have been criticized for not doing more, we have continually offered safe harbor to thousands of refugees fleeing violence in other parts of the world from Central America to Africa to central Europe. This is why some municipalities use the term “sanctuary city,” – to connect with this long history. Their morality demands they protect immigrants.


3) Immigration Law is Broken, Unfair and Unjust

Sanctuary cities aren’t the problem. Our immigration laws are. Allowing rampant deportation does nothing to solve the very real issues we have with citizenship. We are, after all, a country of immigrants. It makes little sense to kick out people many of whom have longer ancestral ties to these shores than the white majority. This is our land? Actually, many illegal immigrants could make a stronger case for ownership.

In addition, illegal immigration is a breach of civil law, not criminal. Therefore, violators don’t deserve to be deported. They deserve a chance to make things right, to become full citizens. Our laws don’t adequately protect the needs of the strangers who, for the most part, have crossed the border to take work that is eagerly offered them. Deportation is purely a bureaucratic enforcement system, which can include long detainment and judgment without judge or jury. It’s an arbitrary prejudicial policy, not just law.


4) Deportation can be a Death Sentence

Some asylum seekers don’t come to this country just to find work. They’re fleeing incredible violence in their home countries. If we simply deport them, we may be sending them to their deaths.

Officially, asylum is limited to individuals who can provide evidence that they have faced persecution or might be killed if they return to their home country. And U.S. law says that most people caught inside the United States should be given a chance to prove those claims in an immigration court. However, there are more than 445,000 people awaiting immigration hearings. Most of these people cannot make a successful asylum claim but might have some other legal defense such as proof of a U.S. citizen parent or grandparent.

Even so, mistakes have been made. Expediting deportation, holding hearings in secret, etc. increase the potential that we’ll have blood on our hands. Many would rather err on the side of caution especially when the stakes are this high.


 

As we see, there are many reasons to make your city a sanctuary city. It’s a bipartisan decision that’s being politicized. The Trump administration is using the worst kind of racist dog whistles and proto-facist propaganda to convince the public that deportations must increase and sanctuary cities must be abolished.

However, there are plenty of practical and moral reasons to think otherwise.

The best argument against sanctuary cities is Trump’s threats to use the federal government against states and local municipalities.


Losing Federal Funding?

Trump has threatened to take away federal tax dollars from sanctuary cities. Last year, a proposal to defund sanctuary cities, introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), was blocked by Senate Democrats. Yet at least 18 states, including Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania, have considered comparable bills.

If these measures pass, they could cost municipalities billions of dollars.

But doing so would have drastic consequences for the federal government as well. It would be tantamount to declaring war on states and local governments. These monies that they’re threatening to withhold come from taxes. It’s our money!

The political fallout of such a decision would be disastrous for any administration foolhardy enough to go through with it. At very least it would destroy the Republican brand as being against federal intrusion and for states rights. Libertarians, alone, could flee the party in droves. And when the next election cycle came, the administration would find itself quickly out of office.


 

Becoming a sanctuary city is not without risk. However, it is the right thing to do. It protects your community financially, legally and morally. And it forces us to confront the real issue that no one wants to face – we need rational immigration policy. We can’t continue to live as a society with an underclass.

If we really want to make America great, that may be the first thing to do.

Does Eating a Free School Lunch Give Kids “an Empty Soul?”

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Just about everyone admits the importance of eating lunch – especially for growing kids in school.

But if you get that lunch for free, does it leave you with “a full stomach and an empty soul”?

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan thinks so.

He famously made these remarks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference:

“Take Obamacare—not literally, but figuratively here OK? We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, ‘hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.’ But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working — I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.”

So, for Ryan, having affordable healthcare somehow has discouraged people from working. He seems to think there are millions of poor people out there who could get a job but have decided not to because their medical bills are too low.

It’s preposterous. Most poor people are working several minimum wage jobs just to get by. Very few people are sitting at home on the public dole, and those that are need help to find jobs, as he admits. They need help finding better jobs that pay higher wages. They need help getting the skills and training necessary to get those jobs. And they need for those jobs to actually exist! They don’t need condemnation or starvation to motivate them.

If Republicans like Ryan had offered a single jobs bill, perhaps such remarks would be excusable. If they had offered an alternative to Obamacare, likewise it might be excusable. In the absence of those things, his comments seem to be nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse for doing nothing to help the less fortunate.

But Ryan goes on:

“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

There are several problems with these remarks. First of all, Anderson later admitted that it never happened. She never met a boy who said this. She got the whole thing from “The Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff, either from the book, itself, or a TV interview about the book.

Second, Anderson’s cherry picking this example from the book goes completely against what the author was trying to say. The book is the true story of a business executive and an 11-year-old homeless boy who partnered together with an organization called No Kid Hungry to fight child hunger. One key part of the program is connecting hungry kids with federal programs such as school lunches and food stamps. The group also opposed Ryan’s 2013 budget for its proposed reductions in the food stamp program. In short, Schroff was trying to show how important it was to provide free lunches to students – not that we should let them go hungry. Using Schroff’s book to justify cutting school lunch programs is like using Nelson Mandela’s autobiography as a justification for apartheid.

Getting a free lunch doesn’t mean no one cares for you. On the contrary, it means that everyone does, that your community has pitched in to make sure you are fed.

Many politicians and media talking heads refuse to see the realities of modern American life. Deregulation of the banking and corporate sector along with outsourcing and rampant union busting have resulted in an economy where most of the good paying jobs are gone. This puts a tremendous strain on our education system. As a result, more than half of public school students live below the poverty line. But how to meet their needs without stigmatizing kids for circumstances beyond their control?

Many communities around the country including my own, have stepped up with a solution. For the last two years, hundreds of districts throughout my state of Pennsylvania and throughout the nation have offered free lunches to all of their students regardless of family income. Rich kids, poor kids, all kids eat for free. Though students can still bring a lunch from home, having the option to eat at school removes the dichotomy of brown bags vs. cafeteria lunches. All are the same.

The program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, is available nationwide as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. Its goal is to provide healthy lunches and breakfasts to millions of students nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Previously only low-income students or students from families receiving federal assistance received free breakfasts and lunches.

Now, only 40 percent of a single school or an entire district’s population must come from families receiving federal assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They may also be homeless or come from foster homes. Once that 40 percent threshold is reached, all students receive free lunch and breakfast. Districts are compensated by the state and federal government.

Before this program, providing school lunches, even at cost, was a losing proposition. Most districts end the year with students owing them large sums for lunches. For instance, two years ago, $25,000 of debt remained with Pittsburgh schools because some students didn’t pay for their meals.

Districts could stop letting these children eat the school lunch, but no one wants to refuse a child a meal. Under the previous system, the extra cost for unpaid lunches and the cost to complete mountains of paperwork involved in collecting the money was put on the backs of local taxpayers. Under this new program, all of this disappears. Moreover, we create a community of children who are better fed and thus better ready for the demands of school.

And mark my words, this IS helping kids become better prepared for class.

As a teacher, I used to have to buy snacks and meals for my students. I had a drawer full of Ramen noodles for children who came to me hungry. Many kids suffer from food insecurity but don’t qualify for SNAP. This program solves that problem.

My own second grade daughter has never known anything else but this system. Though I can afford to pay or pack her a lunch, she prefers to eat what her friends are eating. My wife and I are often baffled that she’ll try new foods at school that she would never give a chance had we made them at home.

And the food is actually pretty good. It’s not gourmet, but it’s better than what you’d get at most fast food restaurants. I even eat it, myself, from time-to-time. I have to pay two bucks, but it’s still a bargain. I particularly like the baked chicken.

People complain about new federal guidelines that have made school lunches healthier, but what they’ve really done is made them better. Whole grain bread and buns taste pretty much the same and are better for you. Using less salt and grease is better all around.

I’ve even noticed the kids learning new things about food from the increased menu. When all this began, I remember many of the middle schoolers expressing disgust at the chicken because it was in whole pieces. They had only seen chicken in nugget form.

Now kids will walk up to the cafeteria ladies and ask to try this or that. Many times they discover something new that they like. It’s really cool to see. Even their manners have improved.

Just today little 5th graders were remarking at how soft and delicious the croissant was on the breakfast sandwich. They had never seen a bun like that before. I literally heard comments like “delicious” and “mouth-watering.”

That’s incredibly high praise for children. Sure some of them still find the food is disgusting, but they are in the minority.

Do the kids who eat these lunches have “an empty soul”?

No, that’s just Paul Ryan.