No New Charter Schools – NAACP Draws Line in the Sand

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In the education market, charter schools are often sold as a way to help black and brown children.

 

But The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) isn’t buying it.

 

In fact, the organization is calling for a halt on any new charter schools across the nation.

 

Delegates from across the country passed a resolution at the NAACP’s national convention in Cincinnati last week calling for a moratorium on new charters schools. Approval of the new resolution will not be official until the national board meeting later this year.

 

This resolution isn’t a change in policy. But it strengthens the organization’s stance from 2010 and 2014 against charters.

 

Specifically, the resolution states:

 

“…the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools…”

 

“…the NAACP calls for full funding and support of high quality free public education for all children…”

 

 

The resolution goes on to oppose tax breaks to support charter schools and calls for new legislation to increase charter school transparency. Moreover, charters should not be allowed to kick students out for disciplinary reasons.

 

This goes against the well-funded narrative of charter schools as vehicles to ensure civil rights.

 

The pro-charter story has been told by deep pocketed investors such as the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family Foundation. But the idea that a separate parallel school system would somehow benefit black and brown children goes against history and common sense.

 

The Supreme Court, after all, ruled separate but equal to be Unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education. Yet somehow these wealthy “philanthropists” know better.

 

People of color know that when your children are separated from the white and rich kids, they often don’t get the same resources, funding and proper education. You want your children to be integrated not segregated. You want them to be where the rich white kids are. That way it’s harder for them to be excluded from the excellent education being provided to their lighter skinned and more economically advantaged peers.

 

Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California and Hawaiian NAACP chapter which proposed the new resolution, says its ironic charter schools are marketed as school choice.

 

The endgame, says Heilig, is to replace the current public schools with privatized charter schools. This is exactly what’s been proposed in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

 

It’s not about giving parents more choices. It’s about eliminating one option and replacing it with another. It’s about reducing the cost to educate poor and minority children while also reducing the quality of services provided. Meanwhile, public tax dollars earmarked to help students learn become profit for wealthy corporations running charter schools.

 

As the Presidential election heats up, it will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump address the issue. Already school choice policies have been wholeheartedly embraced by the Republican nominee. Not only does he favor charter schools, he also supports school vouchers and other schemes to privatize public tax money. This shouldn’t be a surprise since he ran his own private education scam – Trump University.

 

Clinton, on the other hand, has been more measured in her support, even criticizing some aspects of charter schools. However, her campaign has issued statements saying she supports only “high quality charter schools” – whatever those are.

 

Moreover, just this week at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton staffers met with hedge fund mangers from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

 

According to Molly Knefel who covered the meeting for Truthout, the mood was not positive toward ending corporate education reform strategies.

 

She reported that moderator Jonathan Alter worried about the argument becoming based on social justice.

 

“If it becomes a social justice movement, doesn’t that in some ways let, for lack of a better word or expression, Diane Ravitch’s argument win?” asked Alter. “Which is, ‘don’t blame any of us, don’t focus on schools; if we don’t solve poverty, nothing is going to get better.’ Isn’t there a danger of falling away from the focus on at least some responsibility on schools?”

 

Apparently Alter is falling back on the old chestnut that under-funded schools should be blamed and shut down if they can’t help the neediest children to the same degree as well-resourced schools. And any attempt to focus on underlying inequalities would somehow give teachers a free pass? I suppose Alter believes a fire company that can’t afford a fire truck should be just as effective as one with three new ones.

 

Meanwhile, longtime corporate education reformer Peter Cunningham was asked specifically if school integration was important. He responded tellingly:

 

“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.”

 

The number of segregated schools where students “are doing great” is certainly in question. Perhaps he’s referring to well-resourced all-white private schools for the children of the rich and powerful. Or maybe he means the all-black charter schools where administrators handpick the best and brightest students and refuse to educate those most in need.

 

One hopes Clinton will continue to fight alongside the NAACP and other civil rights organizations like Journey for Justice and the Rev. William Barber’s Moral Mondays to defend public schools against the failed education policies of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

 

Two weeks ago DFER President Shavar Jeffries criticized the finalized Democratic education platform for turning against corporate education reform. This transformation away from school privatization and standardized testing was the result of education activists Chuck Pascal of Pittsburgh, Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Christine Kramar of Nevada who worked hard to ensure the platform – though non-binding – would at least set forth a positive vision of what our public schools should look like.

 

 

Make no mistake, the tide is turning. It is becoming increasingly difficult for charter supporters to claim their products boost minority children’s civil rights.

 

Too many people have seen how they actually violate them.

The Theft of a Great American School: José Meléndez Ayala Elementary

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They came in the early morning like thieves in the night.

The predawn chill was still in the air.

But employees of Puerto Rico’s Department of Education (DOE) were already at work closing a beloved public school.

They sneaked into José Meléndez Ayala Elementary Tuesday around 4 a.m. taking out desks, chalkboards and any equipment that could be repurposed. Then they loaded it all into trucks and zoomed off.

By the time the sun had risen, it was all over.

In the morning light, parents and children staggered to their neighborhood school in the Manatí region of the U.S. territory to find it an empty shell.

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For 9 months they had been camping out in front of the building during the day to stop anyone from doing what had just been done.

“Tears were shed by parents and children. We will never forget,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – the teachers union.

Even though the school was one of 150 closed in the past 5 years, roughly 35 community members refused to let government employees step foot inside.

For about 180 days, they had kept the DOE away with placards and slogans like “This is my school and I want to defend it,” and “There is no triumph without struggle, there is no struggle without sacrifice!”

Officials hadn’t even been able to shut off the water or electricity. Until now.

The community had hoped to convince the government to reopen the school.

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Parents went to Governor Alejandro García-Padilla’s mansion and spoke with his assessors, members of the legislature, the Secretary of Education Rafael Román, regional officers from the DOE, candidates for both major parties, and members of the municipal assembly.

“All stated their support except the DOE,” Martinez says. “But nothing was done.”

The municipal assembly even passed a resolution requesting the school to be reopened. It never happened.

The Commonwealth Senate sent its education committee to visit the school and inspect it. They made a recommendation to reopen it.

It never happened.

“The Secretary of Education didn’t answer,” Martinez says. “He’s behind all this.”

Manatí’s Mayor Juan Aubín Cruz Manzano may have wanted the building to use for anther purpose.

“The Secretary of Education confabulated to give it to him, as he handed him two other schools he shut down in Manatí for the mayor to use the buildings as he pleases,” Martinez says.

Perhaps most hurtful, says Martinez, is that employees of the DOE weren’t alone in looting the school.

After the DOE left, teachers from other schools came to take whatever free materials were left behind, she says. They were directed to do so by principals who had never supported the occupation.

“It was shameful,” Martinez says. “Now this building will become part of the obsolete infrastructure. Parents are demoralized.”

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Community members whose children went to the school now have to pay to transport their kids to new schools miles away. With drastic budget cuts, these remaining schools often have class sizes of 35 students or more. Amenities like arts, music, health and physical education have typically been slashed.

The island territory’s financial woes stem from a flock of steady circling vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling Puerto Rican debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

Since 2012, U.S. citizens who live on the island for at least 183 days a year pay minimal or no taxes, and unlike those living in Singapore or Bermuda, they get to keep their U.S. passports. After all, they’re still living in the territorial U.S. These individuals pay no local or federal capital gains taxes and no local taxes on dividend interest for 20 years. Even someone working for a mainland company who resides on the island is exempt from paying U.S. federal taxes on his salary.

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Big corporations are taking advantage of the situation, too.

Worldwide, American companies keep 60 percent of their cash overseas and untaxed. That’s about $1.7 trillion annually.

Microsoft, for instance, routes its domestic operations through Puerto Rican holdings to reduce taxes on its profits to 1.02 percent – a huge savings from the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent! Over three years, Microsoft saved $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the U.S. alone. That’s a savings of $4 million a day!

Meanwhile, these corporate tax savings equal much less revenue for government entities – both inside and outside of Puerto Rico – to use for public goods such as schooling.

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Public schools get their funding from tax revenues. Less tax money means less money to pay for children’s educations. As the Puerto Rican government borrowed in an attempt to shore up budget deficits, the economy tanked.

But have no fear! In swooped Hedge Funds to buy up that debt and sell it for a profit.

When this still wasn’t enough to prop up a system suffering from years of neglect, the Hedge Fund managers demanded more school closures, firing more teachers, etc.

Wall Street greed has devoured another public school. But the battle for public education goes on.

Tania Ginés, the community leader who organized the occupation for so long says she is not defeated.

“I have decided to become the voice of those with no voice and will continue organizing parents throughout the island against any more School closings.”

“These are our schools, our children’s schools. The government of the slogan ‘Put Children First’ just demonstrated one more time that it’s just that – an attractive slogan they’re not willing to live by.”

The Teachers Federation supported the parents 100% and wants to recognize this humble community for its big heart, says Martinez.

“We want to show the world what a true revolutionary is. Che Guevara once said that the “true revolutionary is guided by a deep love feeling.’ These parents showed him to be true.”

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MORE ON PUERTO RICO:

 –‘Pay Our Special Education Teachers Before Vulture Capitalists’ Demand Puerto Rican Protesters

 

Hundreds Gather in Puerto Rico on Martin Luther King Day Demanding Arts Education

 

Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

 

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

 

Parents and Children Occupy Puerto Rican School Refusing to Let Corporate Vultures Raid Its Contents

‘Pay Our Special Education Teachers Before Vulture Capitalists’ Demand Puerto Rican Protesters

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Every student with special needs in the United States is guaranteed a Free and Appropriate Public Education under national law.

 

So why has the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico stopped paying its special education teachers?

 

More than 100 parents, therapists, psychologist, occupational therapists, students and teachers marched on Monday to the capital in San Juan to find out.

 

The rally began in front of the legislature at 9 before protesters marched to the governor’s mansion at 10:30 am. Demonstrators then met with representatives of Governor Alejandro García-Padilla.

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The answer may be a crippling $72 billion debt. Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling the territory’s debt.

 

The Commonwealth government has been prioritizing payments to American private equity moguls instead of services for communities such as public schools.

 

“Our Children Before Vulture Capitalists,” proclaims one protestor’s sign.

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Jinnette Morales agrees with the sentiment. Morales organized the protest.

 

“No credit line would back up this lack of payment,” says the mother of a child with Down Syndrome.

 

 

“These therapists have been working for months without pay and if Secretary of Education Rafael Román says that he has paid them, I want to hear him say that when we take him to court.”

 

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Though the Commonwealth Department of Education hasn’t paid these professionals in up to six months, students still have been receiving services. Special education employees have been working without pay. However, that can’t continue indefinitely.

 

The therapists, psychologists and teachers have had enough. They simply can’t continue without an income.

 

So starting this week, roughly 1,200 students are without services they are guaranteed by law.

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“We are talking about children’s humans rights to receive an appropriate and quality education,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – the teachers union.

 

 

“Children need these therapies to progress in their development. Therefore, we stand with the workers, parents, and students and demand action from the governor of our country.”

 

Protesters are demanding special education employees be paid immediately so child services can continue with as little interruption as possible.

 

After arriving at the governor’s mansion, activists met with the governor’s attorneys.

 

They were told the government will eventually pay the special education teachers, says Martinez. In the meantime, officials suggested improving billing for services. Instead of having all invoices be digitized and go through corporate channels, special education teachers can provide manual bills. This will shorten the amount of time between billing and payment.

 

Protesters are scheduled to meet again with government officials on Thursday to pin down an exact date when payments will begin.

 

Until then, many demonstrators are camping out in front of the governor’s mansion vowing not to leave until the government makes good on its fiscal responsibilities to teachers and students.

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“The government needs to pay the debt with these professionals before our country’s debt,” says Martinez.

 

“Our children should come first.”

 

 

This monetary crisis is imported from the mainland. Legislation is being manipulated by corporate interests profiting off the chaos. Moreover, hundreds of American bankers and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

 

As a result, tax revenues are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

 

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills sometime this year. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

 

Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years, Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.

 

Despite Wall Street manipulation, Puerto Rican communities aren’t letting their government sell their children short. The fight goes on.

 


 

MORE ON PUERTO RICO:

Hundreds Gather in Puerto Rico on Martin Luther King Day Demanding Arts Education

 

Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

 

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

 

Parents and Children Occupy Puerto Rican School Refusing to Let Corporate Vultures Raid Its Contents

Hundreds Gather in Puerto Rico on Martin Luther King Day Demanding Arts Education

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They came with trumpets, tubas, bongos and acoustic guitars.

They came with brightly colored banners and freshly painted posters.

They came armed with songs, dances and slogans.

More than 500 teachers, students and college professors marched to the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan to demand the island government bring back public school arts classes.

The group of activists calling itself Let’s Save the Arts has been fighting against the narrowing of curriculum for the last three years.

At that time, the island Department of Education changed the length of class periods at all public schools in the U.S. territory.

Students used to have seven class periods of 50 minutes each. Now students have six class periods of 60 minutes each. In effect, officials eliminated one class.

Students still receive Spanish, Math, Science, Social Studies, and English instruction. However, now they have to choose between Physical Education or Arts where they used to be able to do both.

Secretary of Education Rafael Román approved the measure to save money. More than 3,000 half time teaching positions were lost.

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“It was an austerity measure,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – the  teachers union.

“They’re saying these teachers are not needed.”

Senator Rossana Lopez has proposed a solution. She introduced Bill 584 – legislation that would require all Commonwealth schools to include arts courses as a graduation requirement.

Arts teachers across the island formed the collective group to help pass the measure.

“Having a holistic  education is a right and not a privilege,” said Carlos Vélez, an art teacher from Ángel Sandín Martinez Middle School in the Vega Baja region.

“The study of the arts benefits all students – especially those living under poverty that can’t pay for art courses elsewhere.”

The teachers union issued a strong statement of support.

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“Students were off school Monday,” Martinez says. “In symbolism to MLK’s holiday celebration, they protested the best way they know: performing.”

During those performances, Román, the architect of the plan to eliminate the arts, changed his tune. While at the rally, he said he supports the bill.

However, the Secretary of Education could make most of these changes, himself, without legislative action. He could return the alignment of class periods to their previous configuration tomorrow.

“We’re waiting for him to put words into action,” Martinez says.

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Meanwhile, supporters hope Bill 584 will pass before this Congressional session ends in June.

Corporate education reform measures like this one limiting arts classes are a consequence  of financial woes imported from the mainland. Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling the territory’s debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills this year. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years,  Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.

The people of Puerto Rico aren’t letting their government defund and defraud their public schools without a fight. Monday’s musical and artistic protest was just another note in the battle hymn of the people.

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Gadfly’s Choice – Top 5 Blogs (By Me) You May Have Missed from 2015

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There are an awful lot of great blogs out there.

Especially if you’re into education. But many are telling the same story.

You don’t hear much about it in the mass media, yet our public schools are being systematically starved to death. They’re being set up to fail while the vultures of privatization and free enterprise drool over the corpse.

Phony philanthropists offer schools fake donations with more strings attached than Pinocchio and noses twice as long. To secure these financial “gifts,” schools are forced to pay out more than they receive for reforms that ultimately benefit the benefactor more than the beneficiary.

And even when these philanthro-capitalists are absent, our government is pretending to hold schools accountable by forcing them to enact these same unproven, disproven or counter-factual policies that actually make things worse. Then when these schemes fail, lawmakers use that as a justification to close schools and gift them to for-profit companies who squeeze every ounce of profit they can from what’s left while further cheating students out of resources.

It’s a scam, a heist, a racket – and you’re paying for it with your tax dollars.

But if you’ve been reading the plethora of excellent edu-blogs out there, you already know this.

Who writes about this public school shakedown? Often it’s the same teachers, parents, professors and bonafide education experts whom policymakers have excluded from the conversation.

As a public school teacher, myself, with more than a decade in the classroom, a masters degree and a national board certification, my empiricism and experience is not valued. So like many folks burdened with real-world knowledge, I write a blog.

In only a year and a half, I’ve had more than 487,000 hits and 9, 208 followers. In my last post I listed my 10 most popular articles from 2015.

Today I propose to continue a tradition I stole from fellow blogger Russ Walsh. I present not my most popular work, but 5 articles that deserve another look. Most of these didn’t receive massive public attention, but perhaps they should.

Please enjoy your humble gadfly’s choice.


 

5) Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich

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Published: Nov. 18

Views: 5,005

Description: America is rife with myths about the poor – mainly that the impoverished deserve their poverty. If they just worked harder, they wouldn’t be poor. Moreover, it’s a scam. The rest of us pick up the slack while they lounge around at home living better than we do. These are pernicious lies told with the certainty of truths. This article is my attempt to dispel these myths with facts.

Fun Fact: In my experience, often people are afraid to say certain things because they don’t want to appear racist. However, no such fear exists about sounding prejudiced against the poor, because few realize such bigotry even exists. It does. Big time.


 

4) Stories about Puerto Rican Resistance to Corporate Education Reform

Parents and Children Occupy Puerto Rican School Refusing to Let Corporate Vultures Raid Its Contents

(Aug. 22 – 1,551 hits)

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

(Sept. 25 – 1,211 hits)

Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

(Nov. 15 – 634 hits)

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Published: Aug. – Nov.

Views: 3,396 TOTAL

Description: The US territory of Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling island debt. Meanwhile hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven. As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up and hundreds of schools are being closed. However, the citizenry is putting up one of the most aggressive and successful resistance campaigns against corporate education reform in this hemisphere.

Fun Fact: For a while, few people on the mainland were talking about this – certainly not in the media. That appears to be slowly changing. There is so much we can all learn from Puerto Rico. We need each other.


 

3) Education Does Not Cure Poverty – It Cures Ignorance

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Published: Oct. 18

Views: 3,080

Description: One of the biggest lies told by our national education policymakers is that schools alone can cure poverty. We don’t need an anti-poverty campaign. We just need to ensure people get a good education. This is baloney. The purpose of learning has never been to gain wealth or even teach how to gain wealth. It is and always has been about eradicating ignorance.

Fun Fact: If more people knew this, there would be no more high stakes testing, Common Core, etc. Also I’m kind of  partial to this article because of the image I made to go along with it. Campell Brown vs. Socrates!? That always makes me smile!


2) Do Americans “Throw Money” At Their Schools? A Fair Funding Primer

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Published: July 9

Views: 1,372

Description: How many times have you heard someone complain about all the money we throw at our schools? It’s dismissive nonsense. We aren’t throwing anything. We INVEST in children. That money is not a waste. In fact, it is far from adequate for the job. This post is my attempt to explain the facts behind school funding. Please share.

Fun Fact: It is so nice to have all of this information in one place. I have tweeted, emailed, and posted this article to blowhards and ignoramuses more times than I can remember. Feel free to do the same.


1) We Shall Overcome… Our Lack of Standardized Tests!?

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Published: July 19

Views: 628

Description: This is the newest myth being spread about standardized testing. Somehow high stakes assessments ensure that minorities civil rights don’t get violated!? It is exactly the opposite of the truth. Yet many of the more well-funded civil rights organizations suddenly began singing this tune over the summer. My article tries to explain why.

Fun Fact: Make no mistake. Many civil rights organizations still vehemently oppose high stakes testing. If we really want to stand up for our black and brown brothers and sisters, we need to stand with them and counter this AstroTurf narrative at every turn. Testing violates their rights, not protects them.

Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

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Welcome to sunny Puerto Rico.

The ocean is a gorgeous cerulean blue. Palm trees wave gently in the salty breeze. And in the distance you can hear percussion, horns and singing.

The protest has begun.

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Residents of this United States territory have been fighting freshman Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s efforts to close public schools, privatize those left and shackle teachers to the same corporate education reform schemes that are crippling schools on the mainland.

This Tuesday island educators are asking parents not to send their children to school. Teachers plan to conduct a one-day strike to protest legislation that could be passed the same day to further cripple the Commonwealth’s public education system.

“On November 17th we’ll be giving our lesson’s outside our classrooms,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the teachers union.

“We’ll be in front of our schools early in the morning and at 10:00 a.m. will march from Congress to the Governor’s Mansion in San Juan. This is one of many activities that we’ll perform in defense of public education. We will not accept these precarious impositions and will fight back.”

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The protest is in response to Project 1456 which would close more than 380 public schools. The government has already closed 150 schools in the past 5 years.

This would force many students into even more overcrowded classrooms. Thousands of children would have to be relocated to schools far from their homes.

But that’s not all.

The proposed legislation would also privatize 15% of those schools left standing. Unlike the mainland, Puerto Rico has no charter schools. Teachers went on a 10-day strike in 2008 which only ended after the island Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde signed an agreement promising not to open any charters.

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If privatized schools opened on the island, parents might have to pay an additional fee for services they now enjoy for free. Amenities like lunches and even tuition may have to be subsidized by parents out of pocket.

Moreover, it would collapse the teachers retirement system, Martinez says. Charter schools would not deduct employees payments to the pension system so it might not be able to remain solvent.

Project 1456 would harm teachers in another way, too. It would enact a punitive evaluation system where 20% of educators value would be based on students standardized test scores. Any teacher with a 79% or less would have two years to improve or be fired.

“Teachers will have no rights,” Martinez says.

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The proposed legislation has already been approved by the Commonwealth Senate. It’s main author Sen. Eduardo Bhatia is pushing for the House to fast track it for approval.

Discussions began in the House last week.

Protesters were there on Wednesday. They stood up in the government chamber and walked out en mass when it was brought up for discussion. Eighteen of them wore white T-shirts spelling out the message “Our Schools Are Not For Sale.”

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Inside the House, presidents of private universities testified in favor of the measure.

“Obviously they want to become administrators of charter schools on our island,” Martinez says.

Outside the building, protesters held their own emblematic hearing on the matter. Community members, teachers and parents testified in the open air about how this legislation would hurt children. They ended with a symbolic vote against it.

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Puerto Ricans are not alone in this fight.

Jitu Brown, a community organizer from Chicago and Director of Journey for Justice Alliance traveled there to stand in solidarity with those fighting for their schools. Brown participated in a 34-day hunger strike in his hometown a month ago to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close the last open enrollment school in his neighborhood.

“This beautiful, breathtaking place is marred by ugly U.S colonialism and privatization of public services on steroids!” says Brown of Puerto Rico.

“I was blessed to spend time with powerful people fighting for a better world. Big ups to your warrior spirit, discipline and hospitality! Where we struggle, we can win! If we don’t struggle, we are guaranteed to lose.”

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The plight of Puerto Rican communities also inspired support from the Badass Teachers Association, a group of more than 56,000 educators, parents, students and activists.

“The Badass Teachers Association stands in strong solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who are fighting for the very foundation of their democracy – the survival of their public school system which is under assault by the 1% who seek to close it up and deny Puerto Rican children a right to an education,” says Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle.

Protesters are getting the word out. They’ve already handed out thousands of fliers. Today they plan to drive in a large caravan across the island.

“We’ve got a bunch of cars with sound equipment,” Martinez says.

“We will go to all the communities near our schools in different regions asking parents to support the strike on the 17th.”

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Much of the the island’s financial woes are imported from the mainland. Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling the territory’s debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

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“That’s why the Teacher’s Federation and other teacher unions allied together to fight back against the attack on our education system,” Martinez says.

“As you can see, we’ve been busy.”

If Project 1456 is passed by the House, the union is considering a general strike.

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Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years, Commonwealth Secretary of Education Rafael Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.

Protesters stormed the Senate in October when Bhatia first introduced Project 1456.

“Senators decided to approve it without discussion because they did not want to listen to teachers chants and indignation,” says Martinez.

“Senator Bhatia has become the symbol for privatization under this administration. He has never been in a public School. He has no bond with it. He’s a demagogue.”


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

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Students streamed out of their classrooms chanting in unison in the mountainous Utuado region of Puerto Rico earlier this month.

They took over the halls and doorways of Luis Muñoz Rivera High School on Thursday, Sept. 10, locking their arms together to create a human chain.

They paralyzed their school, shut it down, and allowed no one in or out.

The reason? Not too much homework. Not lack of choice in the cafeteria. Not an unfair dress code.

These roughly 100 teenagers were protesting the loss of their teachers. And they vowed to occupy their own school until the government gave them back.

Six educators had been ordered to other schools, which would have ballooned classes at the Rivera School to 35-40 students per classroom.

Government officials claimed the high school had too few students to justify the cost. However, with more than 500 young people enrolled, the school has more than double the island average.

“These teachers provide education to almost 140 students,” said Sharymel Montalvo Vélez, a senior at the school. “Do you think this is not enough (to justify the) tuition?”

“Those teachers are excellent. I was their student. I learned with them. I’m grateful for it. Their teaching quality is amazing. I can prove that.”

The students including Vélez, 17, called an assembly to discuss the situation where they voted unanimously to take action. They blocked two gates and wrote a document demanding the Puerto Rican Department of Education revoke the decision to remove their teachers.

Later that day, Sonia González, a representative of the Secretary of Education, met with students and signed the document promising to keep the teachers at the Rivera School. Three parents and one student also signed.

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The affected teachers are Alex Natal, a 10th grade physical education instructor; Naixa Maldonado, an 11th grade Math educator; José Cruz, a 10th and 11th grade History teacher; María Medina, a 12th grade Physics instructor; Damaris Figueroa, an 11th grade Spanish educator; and an 11th grade English teacher.

Vélez said she’s surprised the government agreed to students’ demands. “ I was willing to keep the strike all the time necessary to solve our problem and get our teachers back,” she said.

“I experienced a large class size some years back, and it was hard on both teacher and students. It’s not that easy to make 30 students understand something and go explaining it chair by chair. Every student likes to show his/her ideas and in a large class there is not enough time for everyone.”

What happened in the Rivera School is not an isolated incident. All across the island, communities are fighting government mandates to relocate teachers, increase class size and shutter more schools.

This Tuesday at Pablo Casals School, an arts institution in Bayamon along the north coast, students protested the government decision to relocate their theater teacher, Heyda Salaman.

About 100 students hung the Puerto Rican flag upside down and taped their mouths shut to represent the state of the government and the silence officials expect from the community.

Young people at the specialized arts school which offers visual arts, theater, music and dance as well as academic classes, protested with music and chants of “injustice!”

Just like in the case of the Rivera School, the government eventually relented and agreed to keep the teacher with her students.

The teachers union – the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – has supported student protesters throughout the island.

“The Teachers Federation from Puerto Rico is proud of the actions these students performed,” said union president Mercedes Martinez about student actions at both facilities.

“Schools belong to our communities according to the law, so the communities have every right to fight for the school they deserve. No more cutting funds to create over-sized classrooms.”

Vélez echoes that statement.

“We have a good education and excellent teachers but the administration is failing their workers,” she said.

“The government is cutting rights and benefits to the teachers and employees and soon there will be no teachers. Maybe our schools get privatized and then only people with money will send their children to (public) school.”

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The Commonwealth government has closed 150 schools in the past 5 years in the U.S. Territory.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

The island is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling Puerto Rican debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

The indigenous population has suffered at the hands of western conquerors since Columbus, but the newest fruit of Colonialism may be these corporate education reform policies.

Young people like Vélez aren’t revolutionaries. They look just like any ordinary teenage boys and girls wearing t-shirts and blue jeans, baseball caps turned backwards, backpacks slung across their shoulders.

But they have had enough. They aren’t going to accept the low expectations of the corporate world about what constitutes a fair education.

Viva Puerto Rico!


NOTE: This article also was quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published in full on the Badass Teachers Association blog.