Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super "Bowling For Dollars" — How Politicians & The @NFL Screw Taxpayers

Happy Super Bowl LIII! Today is Georgia taxpayers' day to get screwed! 

Photo credit: Danny Karnik

During the NFC & AFC playoffs, I wrote about the financial train wreck that was Super Bowl XLVIII, played in New Jersey in 2014, and how the NFL and its teams reap all the profits while host cities—and taxpayers—get screwed. Today the train wreck comes to Atlanta. 

The city just opened the shiny, new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, paid for by taxpayers, the majority of whom cannot afford a Mercedes Benz; all of whom had no say in how their tax dollars were going to be spent. 

Michael Farren and Anne Philpot, researchers with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, reported on just how much the state will lose not only during the Super Bowl, but for many years to come. This isn't an anomaly. This is what happens when taxpayers subsidize professional sports. This is why 70% of Americans are against this practice.

So sit back with your guacamolé and wings and read their words. All emphasis mine:

Sunday’s Super Bowl, a rematch 17 years in the making, harkens back to a thrilling 2002 title game between Tom Brady’s underdog New England Patriots and the high-flying St. Louis (now-Los Angeles) Rams. 
But the host of this year’s game, Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, reminds us of something less thrilling: the $1 billion or so that politicians give away in unnecessary public handouts to professional sports every year. 
The $1.6 billion stadium was underwritten by $248 million in local bonds. Once taxpayers pay those off, they’ll then write the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons an annual check for stadium operations and upkeep. 
Our calculations suggest taxpayers will pay around $1.02 billion over the course of the deal. Combined with $77 million in sales tax rebates, infrastructure investments, and city-provided land, locals could be on the hook for over five times the initial $200 million estimate. 
The story is the same in most other sports cities. And like other sports teams, the Falcons rake in buckets of money: corporate sponsorships ($900 million) and personal seat licenses ($267 million) could have paid for 75 percent of the stadium cost alone, not to mention annual revenue from season ticket sales ($550 to $3,850 per ticket), TV revenue and merchandise licensing ($256 million), stadium concessions, and other events held in the stadium. 
There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Misspending them to enhance sports industry profits means that public services must be cut, taxes have to be higher, or both. 
Atlanta will spend about as much on the stadium as it would cost to employ an additional 300 Atlanta police officers or educate 2,900 public school students for 30 years. 
Perhaps even worse, Americans from coast to coast share the burden. The income that lenders earn on the municipal bonds typically used to finance stadium construction is exempt from federal income taxes. 
That means the rest of us have to pay higher taxes (or see the federal deficit climb even higher) to make up for the shortfall. 
A tax exemption for stadium subsidies may sound like small potatoes, but Brookings Institution researchers estimated the loophole was responsible for $3.7 billion in lost federal revenue between 2000 and 2014. 
Former President Obama tried to end it, as did House Republicans in last year’s tax reform, but the sports industry won each time. 
Lately there have been encouraging examples of taxpayers and principled political leaders standing up to the sports industry. 
Last fall local citizen groups in Austin and Seattle gathered signatures to force public referenda that would require popular votes on future stadium subsidies — which is meaningful, since 70 percent of Americans say they’re against giving money to sports teams. 
Meanwhile, a group of Atlanta taxpayers are challenging another tax exemption. 
Their lawsuit argues that even though the Falcons’ stadium is built on publicly owned land, the fact that the team controls all events and revenue it generates means it should pay local property taxes. That could amount to $700 million over 30 years. 
And in the Washington, D.C. area, Virginia Delegate Michael Webert has for the past two years partnered with Maryland Delegate David Moon and D.C. Council member David Grosso to advance perhaps the best idea of all: an “interstate compact” that would prohibit subsidies for a new Washington Redskins stadium. 
This would prevent their three governments from engaging in a taxpayer-funded bidding war to attract the team. 
If all 50 states were to sign on to a similar agreement, we could permanently end the subsidy war for sports teams. As a bonus, it would eliminate a major reason that leagues restrict the number of teams, so new franchises could expand into more cities. 
Fans may be excited to experience the Super Bowl at Atlanta’s new state-of-the-art facility, but they should remember that the money that subsidizes stadiums could go to much better purposes. Sunday’s spectacle will show yet again that the NFL doesn’t need — or deserve — public money.
We have the money to fully fund public education, pay teachers a living wage, provide universal health insurance, pay for college, raise people out of poverty, and a whole host of other things that will improve the quality of life for millions in the richest country in the history of this planet. 

It's all about priorities.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

UPDATE & ACTION: @GovMurphy Promised To Ditch #PARCC. Is He Going Back On His Word?

Gov. Murphy promised to end PARCC testing. Tell him #KeepYourWord!

Update and Action Alert!

Last week I wrote about S-3381, Sen. Teresa Ruiz's bill to change the state's high school graduation requirements that, if signed into law, could have a devastating effect on thousands of New Jersey high school seniors. 

S-3381 now has a companion Assembly bill. A-4957 was posted by Assembly Education Chair Pamela Lampitt, although as of this writing, it has not been assigned to a committee. The Senate bill will be heard in the Senate Budget room tomorrow at noon.

All of this is moving very quickly, and for no good reason. Both bills are expected to be voted on by the full legislature this week, so quick action is needed (see below for specific action items).

Yesterday Save Our Schools NJ posted an extensive update. You can read the full text here. These are the main concerns: 

The NJ Appellate Court indicated that the current high school graduation testing requirements, which were imposed by the Christie Administration in 2016 and ruled illegal by the Court on December 31, 2018, will stay in effect until the Court rules on the Murphy Administration's request that all current juniors and seniors who had partially or fully met those requirements by December 30 2018 be allowed to graduate under the testing options specified in those requirements. In its December 31 ruling, the court had originally indicated that the Christie graduation requirements would be struck down as of January 31. Those testing requirements are available here.
If the Court does not grant the Murphy Administration's request regarding current seniors and juniors, there would need to be some other way for those students to meet the high school graduation testing requirements. If the Court grants the Administration's request to allow current seniors and juniors to graduate under the Christie 2016 regulations, that problem would be solved. 
Currently, NJ law requires students to take a single 11th grade basic skills test of English and math in order to graduate. The Ruiz bill would require students to take as many standardized tests as imposed by the NJ Department of Education and for those tests to be a demonstration of "college and career readiness," even though many students do not intend to go to college and even though this terminology is vague enough to allow a gubernatorial Administration to abuse it. The Ruiz bill also requires students to take the college and career tests before they qualify for any other graduation options, which could force current seniors to take PARCC 10th grade ELA and Algebra 1 tests in order to graduate. 
With the additional time granted by the Appellate Court, there is no need to rush this legislation through. These bills would be a substantial change that is likely to have a major negative impact on our children. They should not be pushed through with back room deals, as is currently happening. Parents, students and other education advocates should be able to testify and the legislature should understand the broad-reaching consequences of these bills before they vote to impose them on our children. (emphasis mine)

Here's why we need to fight the Ruiz/Lampitt bills:

  • This would be a major change in our law with no study of the impact on kids or costs to districts
  • Doubles down against the promise made by Gov. Murphy to end high school exit testing
  • Leaves the class of 2021 and beyond without a clear path to graduation
  • It's unclear if the bill actually protects the classes of 2019 and 2020. As written, they may have to take PARCC in order to graduate.

Here's why we need to support S-558/A-672, posted by Sen. Nia Gill and Asw. Mila Jasey respectively:

  • They provide immediate relief to all current high school students
  • They provide breathing room for the NJDOE to come up with a new assessment system. The current 40-year-old statute has never been reviewed.
  • They provide time for the legislature to hold hearings on the use of high school exit tests. Research since the 1970's shows that exit testing is very bad for low-income students, students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities. 
  • Only 12 states have some form of exit testing; it is not federally mandated
  • More tests = more money spent 

Take Action Today!

Gov. Murphy's office does not believe there will be parent backlash on the Ruiz bill. But, people who've already called his office are reporting frazzled staffers on the other end of the line. 

  • Keep calling the Governor's Office: 609-292-6000. Tell him #KeepYourWord: veto S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672.
  • Tweet @GovMurphy. Tell him #KeepYourWord: veto S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672.
  • Call Speaker Coughlin's regional office: 732-855-7441. Tell him to support S-558/A-672 and reject S-3381/A-4957.
  • Tweet @SpeakerCoughlin. Tell him to support S-558/A-672 and reject S-3381/A-4957. 
  • Call your state reps. Tell them to reject S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672. Find yours here.
  • Share this post and encourage others to take action as well

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

@GovMurphy Promised To Ditch #PARCC. Is He Going Back On His Word?

What's harder than navigating 'Spaghetti Junction' on the Garden State Parkway? Figuring out what it takes to graduate high school in New Jersey. We thought we had it fixed, but not so fast...

Parents, educators and education activists cheered last month when the New Jersey appellate court struck down the requirement that high school students must pass the PARCC Algebra 1 and English Language Arts 10 tests in order to graduate high school because it violated state law requiring students to take only one exam in 11th grade to graduate. 

There was plenty to cheer about. The test is awful, and was never designed for its current use. From its inception under Gov. Christie, it was met with sustained and vociferous pushback from parents, educators and testing experts. And it has turned our public schools into test-prep and data-collection factories, gavage-feeding our students more and more grade level inappropriate info lest educators be found sleeping at their desks. This despite the fact that New Jersey consistently ranks in the top two or three states in the country for quality public education. The test is so bad that out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium, only one other remains: New Mexicowhich consistently finishes at or near dead last. In its first year of administration, we had the second highest opt-out rate in the nation, bested only by New York. But Gov. Christie and his buddies down at the DOE (with plenty of help from some powerful state Democratic lawmakers) couldn't have that egg on their faces, so they forced it on our kids as a graduation requirement.

State graduation requirements have changed so many times in the past five years, that it's clear the DOE has no idea what it's doing. And it's hurting kids. Here are just two of the many, ever-changing grad requirement charts on their website. Want to bring a high school kid or their parents to tears? Have them take a look at all of them and figure it out.

Confused yet?

Gov. Phil Murphy made dumping PARCC one of his signature campaign issues. We grudgingly gave him a pass when he said he couldn't eliminate it for this school year because too many wheels were already in motion. But, when the appellate court rendered its decision, there was much cause for celebration. Until...
A bill introduced... in the state Senate would change state law to accommodate rules created by former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration rather than repealing or revising those rules to comply with state law. The proposal would allow the state to keep in place the current graduation rules, which include the controversial requirement that students pass PARCC exams...
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said she introduced the bill after discussing the ruling with attorneys for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. The state no longer gives a standardized test to all 11th grade students, so its options were limited.
 “The easiest way to go about it, we all decided, was to have a legislative fix," said Ruiz, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee. (emphasis mine)
At least she admits it was a back-room deal. But, sorry Senator, you're wrong. Here's "the easiest way to go about it", courtesy of Julie Larrea Borst, Executive Director of Save Our Schools, NJ:
The governor should move immediately to announce an emergency suspension of the graduation testing requirement for the class of 2019. The Legislature then should extend that temporary suspension for a few years, to protect students in subsequent classes and create an opportunity to review New Jersey’s exit testing policy. (emphasis mine)
This review should include representatives from all stakeholder groups, including—and especially—educators, parents and testing experts.

Borst continues: 
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Sen. Nia Gill have introduced bipartisan legislation (A672/S558) that would accomplish that, suspending exit testing without interfering with the federal accountability testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 
A review of New Jersey high school exit testing is long overdue. New Jersey adopted exit testing 40 years ago, when the idea was first gaining traction nationally. Over the subsequent four decades, however, multiple studies have documented that exit testing produces no educational benefits; increases high school dropout rates; and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Exit tests are particularly damaging for low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. (emphasis mine)
The very students Sen. Ruiz calls "her kids" are the same students most hurt by PARCC testing, but even more so by a high school exit test, and yet, she's introducing S-3381 to the Senate Budget Committee next Monday instead of the Education Committee. 

What is the rush? Since its inception, the call for slowing down, reflecting, analyzing and studying has been loud and clear, but has fallen on many deaf ears on both sides of the aisle in Trenton. To whom are elected officials beholden, and why isn't it the students and parents of New Jersey?

High school exit exams are not federally mandated. In fact, only 12 states require them. And they come at a cost. At a time when the state is strapped for resources, we do not need multiple PARCC tests administered to high school students when the law only requires one.

Never mind the fact that the Murphy administration's own attorneys are in on this fix, presumably with his blessings. If Ruiz's bill passes, Gov. Murphy must veto it or face serious backlash from everyone in this state who voted to end the Christie reign of error. Parents, educators and concerned citizens must call our state representatives and the governor's office and demand an end to the nightmare of standardized testing.

What can you do?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How NJ Politicians—D & R— Stick It To Consumers

"Are you ready for some football good ole' fashioned consumer screwing?"

This blog has been quiet for some time. The "shock and awe" of Trumplandia has left me mouth-agape, clinging to the lifesavers tossed by our better angels in the not-"fake news" who remind me that while the rudder is shaking, the seas are rough, and we've taken on water, the good ship USS Democracy is holding steady—so far.

With PARCC testing, the minimum wage, legal pot, lax oversight of corporate tax breaks, and the usual political sliminess that defines the Garden State all making headlines recently, there's no shortage of subject matter. But with the NFL playoffs starting, synchronicity was at work. As I was reading the Star Ledger this story about the 2014 Super Bowl caught my eye:

So? That was five years ago. What does all this have to do with the 'All Dem, All the Time' New Jersey State Legislature and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy? Well, this entire story is a shining example of elected officials feeding their egos at the expense of citizens, elected officials allowing big corporations to stuff their wallets at the expense of consumers and how electeds make back-room deals in the dead of night and there's not a damned thing we can do about it. Stick with me and you'll see...

While "New York/New Jersey" won the bid to host Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, New York got all the glamor and New Jersey got... nothin'. We've always been the ugly stepsister of New York, despite the fact that both the Giants and the Jets play at MetLife Stadium in Secaucus, a stone's throw from Manhattan, the only thing between it and The Big Apple being the forever-under-construction-American Dream Mall—and possibly Jimmy Hoffa's body. 

In 2013, then-Gov. Chris Christie touted the event as a windfall for New Jersey, promising huuuuge (ooops, sorry, wrong NJ bloviator) big revenues for our state which was reeling under the weight of nine credit downgrades (a record eleven by the time he left office). But, as with most things Christie, it didn't pan out. 

In fact, it was a financial disaster. Not only did the NFL skip town leaving an $18 million unpaid tab, local businesses and municipalities lost approximately $600 million in revenues because they were denied the right to use any Super Bowl branding to promote watch parties, and all the official events in the week leading up to the game were held in New York City. Even the hotels right near the stadium got screwed because attendees were forced to use mass transit. New Jersey spent—and lost—tens of millions in infrastructure and security upgrades, and snow removal contingencies. It was the most expensive Super Bowl to date. How expensive? We may never know.
A definitive cost for the New Jersey Super Bowl has never been tallied. An NFL spokesman said they do not provide such figures and the state treasury officials said they did not do any extensive economic analysis (of course not). A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie declined comment, but pointed to earlier statements by the governor, saying the costs to New Jersey on balance “would be outweighed by the benefits given to the state and the region by having the Super Bowl here.” (emphasis and snark mine)
Ummm... no. We lost. Bigly. And so did fans. See, actually attending a Super Bowl isn't for ordinary Joe Schmoes like you and me. It's insider baseball—er—football. Ninety-nine percent of the tickets for that game were reserved for the teams and other VIPs, and the one percent that was available for purchase by fans who had to win a lottery (boy, does this sound familiar) in order to even purchase them were going for exorbitant prices. One fan, Josh Finkelman, was only able to purchase tickets for $2000 each, twice their face value. He called foul and filed a lawsuit against the NFL citing New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act that is supposed to protect consumers from just this sort of thing. Unfortunately, he lost. 

In writing the unanimous decision, State Supreme Court Justice, and Christie appointee, Judge Anne Pattersonwrote that this practice "does not constitute the unlawful withholding of more than 5 percent [of tickets]. The tickets at the heart of plaintiff’s action were part of the 99 percent of tickets reserved long before the 2014 Super Bowl for specific entities with ties to the NFL. Those tickets were never destined to be part of a public sale.” 

Finkelman’s attorney, Bruce Nagel, shot back:
It’s the most anti-consumer opinion that has been issued in decades out of New Jersey,” said Bruce Nagel, a partner at Nagel Rice LLP in Rosewood, New Jersey. “The Legislature passed a law to ensure the public had access to fair-priced tickets and the Supreme Court, at least with regard to the Super Bowl, basically nullified the statute. It’s a sad day for consumers under this ruling today.
So, how did Finkelman lose a case that seemed like a no-brainer win? Could this possibly have something to do with it? 
[In August], Gov. Phil Murphy... signed a controversial bill that restructures the state’s law on ticket sales, repealing 17-year-old rules that were intended to protect consumers. 
Lawmakers quietly sent the measure to Murphy in early July as they wrapped up weeks of intense budget negotiations, moving the bill through both houses so quickly that there were no public hearings on it.

While sponsors say the bill, NJ A 4259 (18R), is intended to protect consumers — it includes a number of provisions meant to do just that — it also repeals a law barring anyone with access to tickets that haven’t gone on sale from withholding more than 5 percent of those tickets from the general public. 
(Remember, the NFL withheld 99%!)
In a statement accompanying his signature, Murphy said he understood the concerns people have about that aspect of the bill, but believes the provision puts the state at a competitive disadvantage and had sewn confusion into the industry. He noted neither New York nor Pennsylvania have this "holdback" rule. 
"Entertainers have an interest in rewarding their most loyal fans with access to live performances, and the 5 percent cap can act as a hindrance to this objective in certain circumstances... (I bet Bruce and Bon Jovi could count a lot more than 5% of NJ concert-goers as 'loyal fans') Moreover, the difficulty in identifying tickets that have been held back and tickets that are available to the general public has led to substantial confusion and ongoing litigation, particularly when entertainers reserve tickets for groups that can encompass a wide subset of the population." (So, fix it, don't scrap it.)
The governor instead called on Congress to pass a bill creating a comprehensive federal approach “that will promote competition and protect consumers.” (Congress? Seriously? Good luck with that.) He noted Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) sponsors such a measure...
Pascrell said he was pleased the governor had endorsed his federal legislation, but said he was disappointed Murphy was moving forward with the New Jersey bill. The measure, the congressman said, will worsen an industry that “has been increasingly hostile to music and sports fans just looking to enjoy some entertainment without being gouged." 
“Too much of this bill takes the wrong approach to addressing the unregulated, multi-billion dollar ticket marketplace,” Pascrell said in a statement. “Addressing speculative ticket reselling is a welcome policy. But the whole law reads like a wish list from Ticketmaster, a company almost universally loathed by consumers. Eliminating limits on withholding tickets from the public while hindering transparency in pricing are steps in the wrong direction.” (emphasis and snark mine)
And there you have it. Arguably the most Democratic state in the country, that elected a self-described progressive governor last year, quietly stuck it to her citizens. 

This story isn't just about football, but January 12, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest Super Bowls in my lifetime: Super Bowl III, Broadway Joe Namath and the Jest vs. the Baltimore Colts. In a (for that time) shocking display of bravado, chutzpah and plain ole' confidence, Namath infamously predicted the Jets would wipe the floor with the Colts. And they did. Those were simpler times, when the Super Bowl was about the game, not days-long pre-game shows, 'wardrobe malfunctions', $2 thousand dollar tickets and $2 million dollar commercials, and all those endless stats. But what do I know? I was a mere 10-year old girl who thought Joe Namath was pretty awesome and bet my father that he was right. I won. 

Fifty years later, New Jersey consumers lost.


Here's the full game. Sit back and kick it old school for a couple of hours. 

* Please be sure to read the link to the Blue Jersey article that details exactly how Judge Patterson gained her seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court. It's sickening. The People's Organization for Progress Chair, Larry Hamm described her as a lawyer who had "consistently chosen to vigorously champion the interests of deadly corporate giants against the interests of the people" 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

#EducatingReformers - Pt. 1 Samuel

Credit: AJ Garcia - UpSplash
Last week I wrote about how I was going to tell the stories of students who, far too often, become statistics on both sides of the education battle. 

This is my first installment. This story comes from a teacher who works in an alternative high school for students who have not been successful in the regular public school setting. This isn't because of 'bad teachers', it's because they face a host of other challenges, including overwhelming obstacles at home. Over 90% of the students in this school are minorities and qualify for free and reduced lunch.   

As with all of these posts, certain identifying information, including names and locations have been changed. It is also edited for brevity and content.

This is Samuel's story:

I’ve been peripherally noting that one of my senior students, Samuel, who is inches from graduation, comes in as soon as the doors open for teachers at 7:30 am. A bit disheveled, but I know his home life isn’t perfect. Today I came in at 7:15, and he was there. Spent 15 minutes in the bathroom with a lot of water and paper towels. Couldn‘t disguise the filth. I told my school counsellor I thought he slept on the street and yup, he’s homeless. The staff who know Samuel knew immediately what had happened. Of course there were clues: dirty, not shaving, downing energy drinks without eating, and not looking at us in the eyes even for a lunch order. BINGO. I have great staff support this year.

(Note: This teacher went on to say that next year her school is getting a new principal who knows nothing about working with this student population, but simply needs more 'experience' on their resumé, which will be a huge blow to the atmosphere at the school.)

We all kind of enfolded him with gentle questions. He finally opened up and cried. We bought take-home food for him and got him the address of a men’s shelter. He is so reluctant to accept help. As I would expect, knowing his pride.

He is so smart! He can read a lesson 2 or 3 times and pass a test with no notes anywhere! He was on ADHD and anti-depressant drugs throughout elementary school and middle school. Mom married an alcoholic and threw him out. He's been off all prescription drugs, but living on caffeine. He moved in with his girlfriend this year when he was homeless. They had a fight over the weekend. He is back on the streets. 

The counselor, principal and I talked to Samuel at different times today. Lots of work ahead — not to get him to graduate, but to get him to realize he deserves to not be thrown around like an empty trash bag. And a lot of help to get him on his feet after graduation. Meanwhile, his mother called today to find out “what’s going on with Samuel?” Samuel is 18. Our counselor talked to him before she would call mom. She will not call mom back. Samuel is an adult now, and his wishes come first. He wants nothing to do with her. (emphasis mine)

Thank you. This kid is brilliant and broken. 

Standardized testing will not help Samuel, nor will school choice or vouchers, and certainly not decreased school funding. Not being 'college and career ready' is not his problem. This child needs love, security, a home, proper medical and psychological care and a strong support network. He is getting some of that at school, but as this teacher said, what happens after he graduates?

Will he be able to get health insurance from whatever remnants of the Affordable Care Act are left in his state, or will he continue to suffer the debilitating effects of ADHD and depression? Will he find the inner strength to succeed? Or will his life continue to spiral out of control? If he is unable to find that support network, the odds are not in his favor. And yet, 'reformers' say public education is the problem. For Samuel, public education has been his only hope for survival.

If you have a story you'd like to share about a student facing extraordinary odds, and how public education is helping him or her, email me at mcorfield610@gmail. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

It's Time To "Get Uncomfortable"

“Get uncomfortable, challenge your own perceptions to find clarity, be fearless, be kind, meet someone new.”

Those words were spoken by Mandy Manning, newly elected National Teacher of the Year. More on her below...

Time to focus on the little stuff

In a recent NY Times interview, Joan Baez said of her own activism, "I don't think we can think in big terms now, or we'll just get under the covers and never get out. The little stuff almost becomes more important right now, because you have a chance at it. The world we are living in is being made horrible and is going to need every little victory—that your family and friends feel some kind of support, some kind of goodness." 

It was like she was reading my mind.

With the advent of the current administration regime, education activism has become much more than fighting against vouchers, charter schools and standardized testing. It now also includes gun violence, immigration rights, racism, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, an education secretary who is a religious zealot, and the overall fight for the survival of our democracy. As our nation veers toward a Constitutional crisis, I want to focus—as Joan says—on "the little stuff"—our students, because that's where this all started. 

Time to challenge perceptions

In a recent open letter to Betsy DeVos on the current national wave of teacher strikes, I included some pictures of the horrendous conditions in which children in the wealthiest nation on earth are expected to learn. Far too many of our students also live in these—or worse—conditions. In another post, I called out the current keepers of the ideals of this once great nation for abandoning her most precious resource: our future, our children. The wealthiest nation in the history of humanity has turned its back on its children because tax cuts for the wealthy are supposed to magically cure our nation's ills. 

These posts are but drops of water in the vast ocean of education activists who, for more than a decade, have been challenging our nation's leaders on their failed and profit-driven education policies. But every drop combines to create great waves that batter the established shoreline—right on up to the White House—like this one last week:

On Wednesday, EdWeek reported that, at the State Teachers of the Year meeting with Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, staged a silent protest. She "wore several buttons on her dress, including one that said Trans Equality Now, one for the Women's March, and one of a rainbow-colored apple." She also presented him with letters written by her students. 
Manning said on a press call that the pins were meant to convey her message of support for all of her populations of students. "[Our students] are wanted; they are loved; they are enough; they matter," she said. 
Manning teaches newly arrived immigrant and refugee students in Washington state. She told Education Week that she had her students write letters to the White House to share their stories—from bureaucratic red tape splitting up families to being told to "go back to Africa." 

She was prohibited by Trump from giving her speech, which focused on the plight of her students, but later gave it on CNN's Van Jones Show:


Thank you, Mandy, for being a powerful voice for all your students, especially those whose voices have been silenced for far too long. I look forward to your advocacy this coming year.

The other State Teachers of the Year sparred with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a host of issues including vouchers, school funding and the current wave of teacher strikes, to which DeVos responded with her tired script about teacher protests being "at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn."

Montana's Teacher of the Year, Melissa Romano told reporters, "For her to say at the ‘expense of children’ was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever, because that is so far from what is happening."

Time to name names

Among the most moving memorials I have ever seen are the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, and the placards outside the late Senator Frank Lautenberg's DC office that listed the names and pictures of all our brave service men and women killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They remind us not only of profound events, but forever memorialize the individual human beings whose lives were ended by man's inhumanity to man. 

For far too many children in this country their home life is as horrendous as—or worse than—the conditions in their schools. It's easy for anyone (myself included) on either side of the education fight to speak of these children in terms of statistics and/or generalizations. Sometimes we need to. But we also need to give a name to these statistics. We need to hear their stories in all their heartbreaking detail, we need to confront our own fears, admit our misconceptions, and, as Mandy said, "get uncomfortable" with the reality they face, because that is what really matters.  

To that end, going forward I will be devoting much of this blog to telling your stories of individual students and the education professionals who are their greatest champions. The series will be called "Educating 'Reformers'". As always, student and teacher privacy and confidentiality are my number one concerns. Unless I have written permission from teachers and students, all names and locations will be changed.

If you have a story you would like to share, please contact me at

Monday, April 9, 2018

Dear @BetsyDeVosED THIS is what it means to "serve the students"

Dear Betsy,

I hear you aren't happy with Oklahoma teachers who walked off the job to protest the drastic cuts to school funding in their state. You told them they should "serve the students." You also called the strike by West Virginia teachers—who, along with OK teachers, are among the lowest paid in the country—an "adult squabble." Interesting choice of words from the head of a department that has, for the better part of the past 20 years, treated us like servants. Interesting choice of words from someone who knows virtually nothing about education law or policy; who never spent a day in her life inside a public school; who has absolutely no concept of what a public school teacher does or what it's like to work two, three or more jobs to keep a roof over your head; who wants nothing more than to shutter public schools and use that money to fund religious schools. 

What, exactly, should that "service" look like? Tea and crumpets and classical music at lunch? Neck massages after computer class? Or perhaps valet parking for those students who are fortunate enough to afford a car? 

How much more "service" must teachers perform? How many more classroom supplies, and food and clothing for their students must they buy with their own money? How many more students must be packed into their classrooms? How much more are they supposed to do with ever-decreasing budgets before you, or some elected official with strings attached to the oil lobby realizes what's going on in Oklahoma's schools? 

When is enough enough?

Since you continue to remain woefully ignorant of the workings of public schools (I guess that stuff's just not important to a billionairess who can build whatever school she wants with a wave of her magic wand), allow me to educate you on exactly what those teachers—and others around the country—are doing in "service" to their students:

Did you see these images? I can't imagine you didn't, seeing as how they went viral. But just in case you missed them, here's CNN's report. They were taken by real Oklahoma teachers, and are real pictures of what they have to work with every single day thanks to their state's massive education cuts. Did you have these problems when you were in school? Did your children? I bet not.

Sarah Jane Scarberry
According to the article: 
Scarberry also shared images of her classroom's broken desks and chairs, and said they weren't too bad compared to other classrooms. 
"As for the desks, I'm more fortunate than most I guess. My husband works with me at Heavener and works in maintenance. He usually can use salvageable parts from discarded desks to keep me going," she told CNN. (emphasis mine)

Sarah Jane Scarberry

Mary Burton
Teacher Mary Burton shared this picture of the anatomy books her students have to use at Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma.
"I don't have enough and the ones left are in terrible shape," she said. 
Last year, her class's 25 anatomy books were shared by about 70 students, Burton said. 
"Because graduation requirements changed, I only have one section of human anatomy, so there are enough books for my students for the first year in a long time," she said.
On Twitter, user jamiebh73 shared a photo of a textbook from her daughter's eighth-grade history class in Owasso. In the book, George W. Bush is still president, she said. (emphasis mine)

Allyson Kubat, who teaches at Mustang High Scool, just southwest of Oklahoma City, said the textbooks students in her public speaking class use are so old that they advise them to ask librarians about "this new thing called the Internet" and explain how to use microfiche. (emphasis mine)
 The article ends with this quote from Scarberry:
"I could go on for days about the things we need, and the opportunities my students deserve. For myself, a raise sounds great, but this walkout for me was never about that. It was always funding for our schools," she said. (emphasis mine)

Can you imagine this??? I can. This is what happens when states give massive tax cuts to corporations. This is what happens when teachers are treated like servants instead of highly-educated professionals. This is what happens when years of begging and pleading with elected officials, who care more about tax cuts for corporate donors than the future of this country, falls on deaf ears. This is what happens when teachers and parents say, "Enough!" This is not an "adult squabble." This is a fight for every child in the state of Oklahoma (and West Virginia and Kentucky and Arizona) to have a good education. This is what happens when teachers "serve the students."

This is a national disgrace, and as Secretary of Education, you should be leading the charge to fix this instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. The wealthiest country in the history of humanity has schools that rival those of third-world countries while our government blames teachers, slashes budgets and says testing and privatization are somehow going to magically fix everything. 

This is just the beginning. This "service" to the students is only going to grow. You would do well to educate yourself.