Education Opportunity Network

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What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

One of the big winners in the 2018 midterm elections you may not have heard about was education funding. Why this may be news to you is because much in the same way some observers incorrectly concluded the blue wave was merely a ripple, quick takes on last week’s results of important education-related ballot referendums have overlooked important lessons to learn about where and when increased funding for schools can win.

First, high-profile ballot initiatives to boost school funding statewide have always had mixed success. This year’s referendums were no exception.

The Winners

Voters in Georgia overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that allows school district within the same county to put sales and use tax increases for funding public schools on local election ballots.

Maryland’s voters nearly unanimously voted to dedicate from state video lotteries to education supplementary funding, potentially boosting school spending by $125 million in 2020, with an additional $500 million annually thereafter.

In New Jersey, voters passed a ballot referendum that raises $500 million in funding for school security. And a strong majority of Montana voters agreed to continue a mill levy that provides an estimated $19 million a year to the state’s university system.

The Losers

On the other hand, in Utah, a “ballot question” asking voters to approve a ten-cent tax increase on gas that would allowed more state funding to go to public schools was rejected by roughly two-thirds of the voters.

A Missouri initiative that would have allowed for a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana to go toward drug treatment, veteran services, and early childhood education lost.

And Colorado voters rejected an amendment that would have overridden constitutional restraints on state spending and provided $1.6 billion a year for school funding by creating a progressive income tax system that would raise taxes on those making more than $150,000 per year.

(An Oklahoma school funding initiative that failed at the ballot box really wasn’t a vote for increased funding, as it would have mostly just given school leaders permission to engage in a shell game with school funds.)

Local Success

Yet, while voters were often rejecting sweeping, statewide ballot measures, they were overwhelmingly approving increased school spending closer to home. In Florida, in large counties across the state, every proposed local education tax for funding education passed.

Similarly in Ohio, 69 percent of levy referendums to raise schools funding passed. In Wisconsin, 55 of 67 local initiatives to raise taxes for schools on ballots across the state were approved, potentially generating as much as $980 in new funding for schools.

In southeast Minnesota, nine of the 12 ballot referendums to generate more tax revenues for local schools were successful. including in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, where voters said yes to more than $1 billion for new construction, renovations, and technology improvements for schools. Indianapolis voters approved two ballot referendums increasing tax revenues for schools, extending a long winning streak for education-related ballot referendums across the state.

And Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed a $600 million levy for local schools.

A Pattern, Not a ‘Paradox’

The dichotomy of rejecting grand calls for school funding versus embracing measures closer to home was particularly jarring in Colorado, where voters rejected the statewide ballot initiative while “about two-thirds” of the local school tax measures across the state passed.

Education correspondent for the New York Times Dana Goldstein looks at this inconsistency between success for education funding in local elections while broader initiatives often fail, and she sees a “paradox.” She also observes that while most public opinion expresses support for increase school funding, voters frequently approve ballot measure that cap income tax or require hard-to-achieve two-thirds majorities for new taxes and fees, which make it “difficult to direct money to schools.”

But what would seem to be a contradiction is actually consistent with a pattern.

For years, surveys have found that while public attitudes about schools in general have continued to sour, local schools continue to be held in high favor. In the long-running public opinion survey conducted annually by PDK, “public school parents overwhelmingly believe the schools attended by their oldest children are worthy of A’s and B’s,” while only about 20 percent of parents give the same high ratings to the nation’s schools.

Many have speculated why this would be case – that local attitudes toward schools vary based on proximity – but the pattern nevertheless holds true to school funding initiatives too, and it would seem that advocates for increased school funding are bound to have more success if they aim initiatives at local levels.

When Going Local Won’t Work

Of course, relying on local taxes alone for increased school funding is an imperfect solution.

Economically disadvantaged communities are often unable to raise local taxes and desperately need the financial assistance of the state.

Also, rightwing political advocates and stingy business proponents have understood that voters are way more inclined to boost tax rates for local schools, for years, and have worked steadily in many states to cap or prevent local property, sales, or use taxes and severely limit local revenues for schools and other public services.

One of those states is Michigan, where the state limits annual property tax revenue growth to the rate of inflation and restricts annual property valuation increases after they’ve experienced a downturn due to an economic recession, natural disaster, or other calamity.

Michigan is also where voters just elected Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer over her Republican opponent due in large part for her support for making greater investments in public schools. Down-ballot progressive challengers like Rashida Tlaib also won due in part to campaigning for increased funding for public schools.

All this suggests a way forward for school funding advocates in 2019 and 2020: Go local when you can, and when you can’t, get behind candidates who will champion your cause.

11/8/2018 – Education Issues In The Midwest May Have Saved The Democrats

THIS WEEK: DeVos Will Be Targeted … Conservative Governors Fall … Midterms Impact Higher Ed … Changing Charter Politics … ‘Public’ Means Everyone

TOP STORY

Education Issues In The Midwest May Have Saved The Democrats

By Jeff Bryant

“The need for Democrats to prevail in the Midwest was critical to the party’s success … The importance of Midwest races to the Democrats should also be appreciated because of what the winning campaigns were about, more often than not … Up and down the ballots, especially in state contests, Democratic candidates emphasized increasing school funding and ending or at least providing greater government control of school privatization efforts … As Democrats now prepare for hopefully bigger wins in 2020, the party should take the valuable lessons learned from the Midwest midterms to heart.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

House Democrats Expected To Ramp Up Oversight Of DeVos

Politico

“Democrats seized control of the House on Tuesday night, likely placing Rep. Bobby Scott in charge of the House education committee. And that means the hot seat is about to get even hotter for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos… The stage is set for at least two showdowns … The handling of campus sexual assault cases under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. And a White House school safety commission led by DeVos … Look to Scott to push a legislative agenda focused on passage of his Rebuild America’s Schools Act, H.R. 2475 (115), which would invest billions of dollars in new funding into improving school infrastructure.”
Read more …

Democrats Oust Walker In Wisconsin And Kobach In Kansas But Fall Short In Florida And Ohio

The New York Times

“Democrats wrested control of governorships from Republicans in seven states on Tuesday including Wisconsin, where they ousted Scott Walker … and Kansas, a surprise victory in a longtime Republican stronghold … The victories expanded the number of states with Democratic chief executives … Democrats also picked up governor’s seats in Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico and Maine … Mr. Walker fell to Tony Evers, a Democrat and the state schools superintendent. As in other Midwestern states, Democrats ran against Mr. Walker and the Republican establishment rather than against Mr. Trump.”
Read more …

What The Midterm Elections Mean For Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Democrats … seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, tipping at least 26 seats to emerge with a clear majority. In doing so, they earned the opportunity to step up oversight of the polarizing presidency of Donald J. Trump. That oversight could extend to higher-education policy … More likely, the House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce could schedule a number of oversight hearings … on potential conflicts of interest and defend the Obama-era regulations that DeVos has put in the cross hairs … The prospect that the new Congress will consider a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act remains remote.”
Read more …

The Midterm Elections Show America’s Major Shift In Attitude To Charter School Privatization

Salon

Jeff Bryant writes, “In midterm elections, one can see the policy window on school privatization gradually shifting back to support for public schools and increasing skepticism about doling out cash to private education entrepreneurs … The endless revelations of corruptions in the charter school and school voucher racket are now what’s driving policy, more so than dry, empirical studies about whether privatizing public schools ‘works’ academically. You can see that especially in the campaigns of progressive standouts … The trend that made privatizing public schools an acceptable if not preferential policy has at least stalled, if not completely been thrown into reverse.”
Read more …

Public Schools For Private Gain: The Declining American Commitment To Serving The Public Good

The Kappan

David Labaree writes, “To clarify what we mean by public schooling, it’s helpful to broaden the discussion by considering not just the formal features of schools (their funding, governance, and admissions criteria) but also their aims. That is, to what extent do they pursue the public good, and to what extent do they serve private interests? … A public good is one that benefits all members of the community … In contrast, private goods benefit individuals, serving only those people who take advantage of them. Thus, schooling is a public good to the extent that it helps everyone … The institution that for much of our history helped bring us together into a community of citizens is increasingly dispersing us into a social hierarchy defined by the level of education we’ve attained … We have grown all too comfortable in allowing the fate of other people’s children to be determined by the unequal competition among consumers for social advantage through schooling. ”
Read more …

Education Issues in the Midwest May Have Saved the Democrats

Those who speculated that the Democrat’s prospects in the midterm elections would only happen if they won big in the Midwest were prescient. Indeed, it’s hard to make the argument that any semblance of a Democratic Party “wave” would have been possible without key wins in these states.

The need for Democrats to prevail in the Midwest was critical to the party’s success. Donald Trump won Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin in 2016 and came close in Minnesota. But a perhaps more important trend in these states had been the Republican dominance down ballot where Republicans controlled both chambers of state legislatures and governors and most of the U.S. House seats in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

In the 2018 midterm contests, that trend took a substantial turnaround. Of the 75 Republican Congressional Representative seats that were rated “vulnerable,” 28 flipped Democratic, so far, and 12 of those red-to-blue flips were in the Midwest – four in Pennsylvania; two each in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota; and one each in Kansas and Michigan – more than any other region. The Democratic Party held on to vulnerable Senate seats in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In state races, of the seven governors who flipped red to blue, four were in the Midwest – Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Democrats flipped the Minnesota House, broke a Republican super-majority in Michigan, and won a super-majority in Illinois.

The importance of Midwest races to the Democrats should also be appreciated because of what the winning campaigns were about, more often than not.

Democrats running for offices across the Midwestern states ran against “the Republican establishment rather than against Mr. Trump,” according to political analysts for the New York Times.

“Democrats in these states ran on health care, education, and other bread-and-butter issues,” writes Jennifer Rubin, a Republican political analyst for the Washington Post. Education was “the major theme,” writes Ruth Conniff for The Progressive – especially in Wisconsin races, but also throughout the region.

Indeed, up and down the ballots, especially in state contests, Democratic candidates emphasized increasing school funding and ending or at least providing greater government control of school privatization efforts, such charter schools and voucher programs that give families public funds to transfer children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer knocked off her Republican opponent for an open but previously Republican-held governor’s seat by campaigning on women’s reproductive health and investing in public infrastructure – especially in public education. She won the backing of the National Education Association by calling for greater investments in schools, ending for-profit charter schools, and enacting more accountability for nonprofit charters.

Down-ballot wins in the Mitten State included one of the country’s first two Muslim-Americans to serve in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat elected in the 13th Congressional District around Detroit. Tlaib’s campaign pledged to “increase funding for public schools and to ensure charter schools are regulated and held accountable. Charter schools cannot be allowed to take money away from public schools while failing our kids.”

In Wisconsin, where voters rated education a top issue in the election – with 40 percent saying it’s a first or second priority, second only to the economy at 41 percent – longtime state school superintendent Tony Evers defeated two-term incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker. Evers drew a sharp contrast to Walker, who had made Wisconsin a national leader on cutting education funding. “Evers proposed increasing funding for schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years,” while Walker pledged increased support but left few details.

In Kansas, Democratic State Senator Laura Kelly defeated Secretary of State and Trump ally Kris Kobach for an open governor’s seat long held by Republican Sam Brownback, who had a disastrous legacy of crippling tax cuts that left schools so inadequately funded that the state Supreme Court sued state lawmakers. Kelly called for increasing spending on local schools, while Kobach maintained the state “couldn’t afford” to adequately fund schools.

Pennsylvania reelected Democratic Governor Tom Wolf who was swept into office by a wave of opposition to the previous governor’s massive budget cuts to public schools. In this year’s midterms, voters in state level races flipped a substantial number of seats in the State Senate and House from Republican to Democratic, although Republicans remain in the majority in both houses.

In Pennsylvania Congressional races, the red-to-blue trend was significantly more apparent, where Democrats split the 18 seats formerly dominated by Republicans. Among the victors in Pennsylvania U.S. House races were May Gay Scanlon who ran on “making education, and its funding, a national priority,” and Susan Wild whose campaign pledged to “keep public tax dollars in public schools. The myth that ‘school choice’ will be the tide that lifts all boats is much like the myth that tax cuts for the wealthy will ‘trickle down’ to the middle and lower class. Tax revenue should be invested in our public schools – especially those that are struggling.”

In Illinois, Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeated incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, in part, by drawing stark differences on education. While Rauner pledged to expand the state’s voucher program to $100 million tax credit scholarship “to a billion” dollars if he could, Pritzker said he’d curtail the program, which already diverts public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition for 5,600 students, and use that money instead for public education.

In Minnesota, voters elected Democratic candidate Tim Walz, to an open governor’s seat.. Walz, is a former public high school geography teacher and football coach, who during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives authored the Forever GI Bill to expand veterans’ education benefits and voted against a school voucher program the federal government funds in Washington, D.C..

While he made support for public schools a cornerstone of his campaign, his opponent Jeff Johnson insisted that what Minnesota families need is a voucher program like Michigan’s or Wisconsin’s that would direct public education funds to private schools. Walz pledged to block any proposed voucher programs.

Of course, Democrats had setbacks in the Midwest too, especially in Ohio where a strong candidate for governor lost to a vulnerable Republican.

But as Democrats now prepare for hopefully bigger wins in 2020, the party should take the valuable lessons learned from the Midwest midterms to heart.

(Photo credit: Amtrak)

11/1/2018 – The Education Wave That Began In West Virginia May Change Politics For The Nation

THIS WEEK: 1,500 Educators Running For Office … Using The DeVos Card … Beating Back Koch Bros … Historic Charter School Strike … When Rural Schools Die

TOP STORY

The Education Wave That Began In West Virginia May Change Politics For The Nation

By Jeff Bryant

“Whether Democrats take back the House in the midterm elections may come down to races like the one in West Virginia’s third Congressional District … Richard Ojeda has taken a district that Trump won by almost 50 points … and turned into a toss-up … But if races like the one in West Virginia’s third Congressional District determine the direction of politics in the country, the fight over education will have a lot to do with it.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Nearly 1,500 Teachers Are Running For Office In November’s Elections

HuffPost

“The widespread teacher protests that swept through states like Kentucky and West Virginia this spring have given way to an unprecedented wave of educators pursuing political office in November’s elections … Nearly 1,500 current or former teachers and other education professionals are running for elected offices across the country … Teachers are also providing a groundswell of grassroots support for other pro-public education candidates … The bulk of teachers seeking office are doing so in the states that experienced protests … But the protests and the issues underlying them have also inspired teachers in other states.”
Read more …

DeVos Used As A Villain To Rally Democrats In Midterm Ads

Politico

“Democrats intent on making this year’s elections a referendum on President Donald Trump’s policies are targeting a Cabinet member who galvanizes their base: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos … Democrats have been using DeVos as a symbol of what’s wrong with Trump policies — mentioning her in more than $3 million worth of TV ads that aired more than 6,200 times … Democrats are turning to DeVos in an election year in which education issues have been hotly debated on the campaign trail. They’re trying to capture the same momentum that animated teacher strikes in states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, focusing attention on Democratic plans to boost teacher pay and funding for schools.”
Read more …

How Teachers Might End Up Beating Back The Koch Brothers’ Plan To Privatize Arizona Schools

Alternet

Jeff Bryant reports, “In the upcoming Arizona midterm elections … Arizona Democrats running for office, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia … have embraced opposition to [Proposition 305] a voucher program and thrown their support behind teachers who are calling for more funding of public schools. Should pro-education candidates win, and Prop 305 go down in flames, the teachers would have led a remarkable campaign that not only would be a victory for public schools but also would threaten to topple the Koch brothers’ political empire in the Grand Canyon State … Those leading the opposition to Prop 305 hope to do more than just defeat the bill; they want to expose the corrupt network behind the effort to privatize Arizona public schools and change the conversation about what would truly help education in the state.”
Read more …

Chicago Teachers Just Voted 98% To Authorize The First Charter School Strike In U.S. History

In These Times

“Chicago could be home to the nation’s first-ever charter strike … That’s a stunning reversal from 2012, when Chicago charter operators bragged that, unlike unionized public schools, charters were unaffected by teacher strikes … In addition to teacher pay and benefits, the union is pushing for guarantees that schools will be adequately staffed with counselors, social workers, school psychologists and nurses. If charter teachers are successful in winning contract guarantees for wraparound student services, it could have a ripple effect.”
Read more …

When ‘The Heartbeat’ Stops: Rural Schools Close As Opportunity And Residents Flee

The Washington Post

“School closures and consolidations are a familiar story in cash-strapped, rural corners of the country – places where schools are integral to a sense of identity and belonging. In many cases, rural schools are burdened by afflictions that also strain urban education systems: declining enrollment, teacher shortages, decaying buildings … In 2015-2016, the latest school year for which data is available, 27,145 schools were in rural areas, nearly 2,700 fewer than a decade earlier … Student departures also affect school funding, siphoning money for building repairs and other needs in rural schools, which educate about 9 million students nationally. ‘If your numbers decline, that’s going to affect your funding …They kind of go hand in hand.'”
Read more …

The Education Wave That Began In West Virginia May Change Politics For The Nation

Whether Democrats take back the House in the midterm elections may come down to races like the one in West Virginia’s third Congressional District.

“Richard Ojeda has taken a district that Trump won by almost 50 points … and turned into a toss-up,” writes Bill Scher for Politico. The article includes Ojeda in a list of 15 candidates that will not only determine control of the House and Senate, but also signal “how the party tries to oust President Trump” in 2020.

“If Democrats want to reclaim white working-class Trump voters in West Virginia, Ojeda may be their best hope to do so,” writes Elia Nilsen for Vox, “His … challenge is to persuade the Trump-loving voters of his district to send him to Congress as a Democrat.”

But if races like the one in West Virginia’s third Congressional District determine the direction of politics in the country, the fight over education will have a lot to do with it.

‘The Political Face’ of the Education Wave

Ojeda (you pronounce the “j”), a much-tattooed Iraqi war veteran who appeared in Michael Moore’s recent documentary, state senator of the district that includes counties that sparked the statewide teacher strike earlier this year that shut down schools in all 55 counties. His prominent support of the teachers made him the “the political face” of the strike, reported the New York Times .

The teachers eventually forced the legislature to fix the state employee’s health-insurance plan, raise public workers’ salaries, halt an expansion of charter schools, kill a proposal to eliminate seniority, and scuttle a bill that would take away the rights of unions to deduct dues through paychecks. Their labor action is credited with inspiring teaches in nearby Kentucky – then, in turn, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina – to also walk out of schools to protest lack of education funding, poor teacher pay, and other grievances.

Scher and Nilsen note that Ojeda is running on a populist platform that mixes some of the proposals of Bernie Sanders – such as a public option and Medicare buy-in for health care and legalized medical marijuana – with some of the rhetoric of Donald Trump, including tirades against big business, Wall Street, and the loss of jobs in coal mining and manufacturing.

What Scher and Nilsen overlook completely, however, is the impact education has, not only on Ojeda’s race, but also on the potential redirection of the Democratic party.

‘Education Is a Major Factor’

“Education is a major factor in both our federal and state elections,” Gary Zuckett tells me in a phone conversation. As Executive Director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Zuckett leads a grassroots progressive advocacy that is canvassing and phone-banking to elect a slate of like-minded candidates who support public schools, affordable housing, environmental protections, and universal access to affordable healthcare, among other issues.

“We’re out in places like Fayette County knocking doors in towns with only 200-300 people because they are the folks we need to bring over” to the Democratic party, Zuckett says.

Zuckett considers sending Ojeda to Congress “a major focus” of his organization’s advocacy. “He was one of the first state lawmakers to come out in support of the teacher walkouts,” Zuckett explains. The movement by and large started in Mingo, Wyoming, and Logan counties. Logan is wholly in Ojeda’s State Senate district (the seventh), and the other two are split down the middle with half in his territory. He was on the floor of the capitol broadcasting live videos telling teachers how Republican lawmakers were screwing them. He was the first to warn the West Virginia State Senate to pay attention to the teacher rebellion.

“Our other objectives are also to whittle away at the Republican majorities in both chambers of our state government and build momentum to electing a Democratic governor in 2020,” Zuckett tells me. Education has become a hot button in many of those state races as well.

Grassroots Momentum

Zukett sees much of the grassroots momentum for Democrats coming from the teachers’ walkouts because of “the sense of pride going back to our labor roots,” that includes historic railroad strikes and “mine wars.” West Virginians take a lot of pride that so many teachers in other states used the teachers’ action in their state as inspiration for their own school walkouts. he feels. “I loved seeing teachers in other states carrying signs that read, ‘Don’t make me go West Virginia on you.’ That people looked at West Virginia as a ‘if they can do it, we can do it’ model continues to inspire us.”

It should be noted that the impact of the teacher walkout is not just being felt in the Democratic party. Many of the West Virginia Republicans who opposed the teachers’ demands lost in their state primary elections. Republicans – including Ojeda’s opponent for the open seat, Republican State House member Carol Miller – credit themselves for having voted to pass the pay raise, but that came after fighting the pay raise all session, notes Zuckett, calling the supposed claims Republican make for raising teacher pay “revisionist history.”

“Our Republican governor has even announced, a month before the election, that he will seek an additional raise next session,” Zuckett explains, while, in the meantime doing nothing about the constantly increasing costs to teachers for their health insurance plan. “It’s a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he argues

A Crossover Issue

While Zuckett concedes healthcare is truly “the top issue” in this election, he explains how that issue easily crosses over to education as well because the teacher walkouts were just as much about healthcare as they were about teacher pay and school funding. Every year, public employees, including teachers, face higher health insurance premiums and copays in the state’s healthcare plan, while salaries remain essentially flat, when accounting for inflation.

Further, Medicaid expansion is a huge issue because one-tenth of the state’s population is covered by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which provides federal funding for the expansion. Battling the state’s horrendous opioid crisis – West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdoses in the nation – is another major healthcare-related issue.

Yet, even these issues cross over into education because teachers are often the first employees of the state to see firsthand how lack of medical care and the ravages of drug addiction affect children. Groups around the state that came together first because of education issues are now also organizing around economic, environmental, and social justice issues.

Another profound impact the teacher walkouts are having on West Virginia politics is the “heightened awareness among teachers about how the workings of state government, and their individual state representatives, directly affect their lives and livelihood,” says Zuckett. “Many of the throng of teachers who filled the capitol last year had never met as constituents with their lawmakers, and most got a quick civics lesson on political power.” That “lesson” was that, far too often, that power resided with corporations and big money interests rather than with voters.

Changing ‘The Old Rules of Politics’

Plus, the fact that teachers in West Virginia are overwhelmingly women, as they are everywhere, has resulted in many more teachers running for statehouse seats who were never in politics before, Zuckett notes.

“In this election the old rules of politics seem to be out the window,” says Zuckett. “I see more people getting fed up by the craziness coming out of Washington, DC and the indifference in our state legislature to the struggles of working people.”

Chances are, that if teachers are fed up, many more others are too.

(Photo credit:: Lily Altavena, Arizona Republic)

10/25/2018/ – Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

THIS WEEK: What Teachers Want … DeVos Calls Kids Socialists … Crushing Pre-K … It’s The Economy … Blue Wave Hits DeVos

TOP STORY

Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

By Jeff Bryant

“It’s important to know that in many places, voters still care first about issues that affect them at home, more than the latest outrage coming from the White House. One of those places is Wisconsin, where deep cuts to education by the incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker have put it at the top of many voters’ priorities … The race between Walker, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave that swept Wisconsin, and his opponent, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers, has become especially focused on education – ‘an arms race over who can sound the best.'”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

The Teacher’s Prayer

USA Today

“We think we know teachers … But the suddenness and vehemence of the Teacher Spring suggest we don’t understand their pressures and frustration … Teachers are worried about more than money. They feel misunderstood, unheard and, above all, disrespected. That disrespect comes from many sources: parents who are uninvolved or too involved; government mandates that dictate how, and to what measures, teachers must teach; state school budgets that have never recovered from Great Recession cuts, leading to inadequately prepared teachers and inadequately supplied classrooms … Teachers everywhere say that if only the American people … really understood schools and teachers, they’d join their cause … These people, whom opinion polls show to be among the nation’s most respected, feel disrespected. This year, that dichotomy led to revolt. Where it leads next is a matter for speculation.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Was Asked Whether U.S. schools Are Teaching Kids To Be Socialists. Her Answer Was Rich.

The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in an interview that she believes many young people support socialism because they don’t get sufficient government and civics education and are not permitted to ‘discuss and debate those ideas freely’ on college campuses. Schools, then, are to blame … It certainly is true that many schools don’t provide enough civics and government education … It is also worth noting that the Trump administration and her department have proposed cutting federal funding for civics education programs.”
Read more …

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

The Atlantic

“It can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed … Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called ‘seat work’ … and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades. … more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art … Expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful … New research … found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more ‘school readiness’ skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating … The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to – while at the same time obscuring – the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.”
Read more …

OECD: How Economics Still Shapes Students’ Educational Paths

Education Week

“While overall educational attainment is rising globally, students’ educational success is still largely a function of their economic status growing up … Performance disparities related to socio-economic status often develop early and widen throughout students’ lives. More than two-thirds of the achievement gaps seen among students at the age of 15 were associated with having more books at home at age 10. Half of the achievement gap among 25-29-year-olds was already evident when students were 10-years-old… Disadvantaged students also expressed lower levels of psychological well-being than advantaged students.”
Read more …

Education May Propel The Blue Wave In Devos Country

Salon

Jeff Bryant writes, “In the stomping ground of U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos … Democratic candidates are getting an edge by sharply opposing the DeVos agenda of privatizing public schools. Up and down the ballots in state contests in the Midwest, Democratic candidates call for an end to school voucher programs that use public taxpayer funds to pay for tuitions at private schools, they propose tougher regulations of privately managed charter schools funded by the public, and they pledge to direct public money for education to public schools. Should Democrats retake the Rust Belt, it may not only snuff out the DeVos legacy but also change the course of education policy in the nation.”
Read more …

Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

Local issues hold the key to many midterm elections, despite all the talk about how President Donald Trump is nationalizing these races and Democrats should follow his lead and do the same. It’s important to know that in many places, voters still care first about issues that affect them at home, more than the latest outrage coming from the White House.

One of those places is Wisconsin, where deep cuts to education by the incumbent Republican governor, Scott Walker, have put it at the top of many voters’ priorities.

Wisconsin, which went for Trump in 2016, has been under Republicans’ control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s seat and mostly sends Republicans to the U.S. House. If a “blue wave” is truly to take place in November, it will have to include Democratic victories in Wisconsin. And it will have to include a new direction for education in the state.

“Education is either the top one or two issue in this election,” says Matt Brusky, Deputy Director at Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Health care is Badger State residents’ other top priority, he adds.

Brusky should know. He and and other members of this progressive grassroots group, part of the People’s Action national network, have been going door to door across Wisconsin to canvass for candidates that support the group’s Rise Up platform, an eight-year plan to move the state towards guaranteed comprehensive healthcare, environmental safeguards, criminal justice reform, and equality of educational opportunity.

When I called Brusky, he was gassing up his rental car after knocking doors in Fountain City, where locals are struggling with a school consolidation due to lack of funding from the state. “Education is usually a top issue in the state because of what Walker has done to it,” he says. “Almost all candidates are running on it.”

“It is moving to see how education has become a headline issue for the election,” says Julie Underwood, a University of Wisconsin professor. “During the public hearings on the last budget, over 30 percent of the public comments had to do with public education, and there has been a focus on education issues in candidate forums and debates.”

‘An Arms Race Over Who Can Sound the Best’

The race between Walker, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave that swept Wisconsin, and his opponent, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers, has become especially focused on education – “an arms race over who can sound the best,” says Robert Kraig, Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Under Walker’s leadership, the state has slashed education spending to levels below what they were in 2008 and redirected millions in education funds to private alternatives such as charter schools and voucher-funded private schools. Under his leadership, the state enacted Act 10 – a crackdown on teachers job protections’ and collective bargaining rights – which has resulted in widespread teacher shortages and inexperienced staff.

In contrast, Evers calls for a double-digit increase in school spending, a repeal of Act 10, limits on the state’s voucher programs, and increased financial transparency of private schools that receive voucher money.

Yet astonishingly, Walker claims he is the “education candidate” in the election, pointing to recent funding increases he signed, that despite their impressive sticker price, still provide less per pupil than in 2011, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“Walker can try to pump up his education credentials, but the problem is he is a long-standing incumbent with a clear track record,” says Kraig, “The fact he has done a lot to try to change his education profile is evidence, given his campaign’s immense polling apparatus, the he must know the issue is causing people who voted for him in the past to vote against him this time.”

“Clearly Tony Evers has the best grasp on the issues,” says Underwood. “He has been a teacher, administrator, and state superintendent.  He understands that public education is the heart of a community and critical for our democracy. Although Scott Walker claims to be an education governor, public education has been greatly damaged during his term.”

‘Public Schools Under Attack’

In down-ballot races, education issues diverge somewhat, depending on community characteristics. “In the suburbs,” says Brusky, “most of the talk is about losing programs and the needs for holding local referendums” to shore up budgets. “Schools are getting crushed” In rural communities, he says, with many having to consolidate or close altogether.

The candidate who seems to have set the pace on education for other Democrats to follow is Marisabel Cabrera who ousted her incumbent opponent Josh Zepnick in a district on Milwaukee’s south side in the Democratic primary. She does not face a Republican opponent in November.

Cabrera is an unabashed advocate for public schools, saying, “We continue to see our public schools under attack, and it’s time to stand up and put an end to the takeovers, the cuts in funding, and the sale of public buildings to private interests.”

In interviews and candidate debates, Cabrera explicitly opposed school privatization, while Zepnik expressed support for voucher programs.

Another down-ballot candidate, Julie Henszey, running as a pro-education candidate in State Senate District 5, says, “Schools still face class sizes that are too large, special education programs that are underfunded, and a lack of investment in art, music, libraries, and physical fitness … The trend has been to siphon millions of dollars in public money over to private schools through less accountable, and less successful, voucher schemes.”

In addition to endorsing Evers, Cabrera and Henszey, Citizen Action of Wisconsin is also backing Jeff Smith, running for a state senate seat in the western part of the state that includes Eau Claire and many rural communities. Smith, who was elected to Wisconsin’s State Assembly in 2002 but was ousted in the 2010 Tea Party wave, got his start in politics as a public school parent activist, who served on a statewide education task force, then ran for office because he saw the need for funding schools.

Smith’s platform calls for raising education funding back to previous levels, ending the state’s “failed voucher school program,” expanding early childhood education programs, and mandating universal kindergarten.

Democrats Have the Education Advantage

None of this is to say Trump is not a factor in Wisconsin midterms, or that Democrats are unified on education.

While Kraig can’t personally attest to knowing many Wisconsin voters who voted for Trump and are now poised to vote Democratic, he hears secondhand accounts of voters flipping from Republican to Democrat and notices the enthusiastic reception Democratic candidates are getting in traditionally red parts of the state while rightwing campaign funders and groups, such as the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, are investing heavily in areas where their candidates have easily won in the past.

And Democratic candidates in the state often present a muddled message on education issues, says Kraig. For instance, when Republican candidates threaten to remove insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions from the Affordable Healthcare Act, Democrats tend to rally around in unified opposition.

“Threats to insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions are a political third rail,” Kraig argues, whereas, “we have not defined what a third rail would be in education.” While Democrats have created a clear idea of what a pro-healthcare candidate is, according to Kraig, “we haven’t created a clear perspective of what a pro-education Democrat is versus one who isn’t.”

Nevertheless, the impact education is having in Wisconsin’s midterm races appears straightforward, given the record Walker and his Republican allies have of enacting historic cuts and their antipathy for teachers, and Democrats are at least united in opposition to that and are using their opposition to their advantage.

Recent polls show the face-off between Evers and Walker is a toss-up, and Democrats could win two more seats this election, just a 12 percent change, to gain a Senate majority and have a chance to win 15 House seats, representing a 15 percent gain, to have a majority in that chamber.

(Photo credit: Sue Ruggles, LaborNotes)

10/18/2018 – Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

THIS WEEK: DeVos Thwarted By Court … If Dems Get Control … Europe’s Teachers Better Paid … Did DeVos Collude With The NRA? … An Edu-Win In Oklahoma?

TOP STORY

Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

By Jeff Bryant

“This year’s Educator Spring that brought teachers into the streets in massive protests has resulted in hundreds of educators running for office in November midterm elections, thrust education issues into electoral contests between Democratic and Republican candidates up and down the ballot, and pushed education-related initiatives on ballots in 16 states … In states such as Arizona and Georgia where gubernatorial candidates are locked in tight races and Democrats are anticipating gains in state legislatures, state ballot measures could help provide the difference between victory and defeat.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Delayed Obama-Era Rule On Student Debt Relief Is To Take Effect

The New York Times

“A long-delayed federal rule intended to protect student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their schools went into effect … after a judge rejected an industry challenge and the Education Department ended efforts to stall it … The new rule … is intended to strengthen a system called borrower defense that allows forgiveness of federal student loans for borrowers who were cheated by schools that lied about their job placement rates or otherwise broke state consumer protection laws. The new rule could expedite the claims of more than 100,000 borrowers, many of whom attended for-profit schools … The rule was supposed to take effect in July 2017. Shortly before that deadline, the Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, suspended the rule and announced plans to rewrite it.”
Read more …

Oversight Agenda Of A Democratic House”

Inside High Ed

“Democrats are widely expected to wrest control of the House of Representatives from the GOP in November … If that happens, the best indicator of the Democrats’ priorities may be the slate of programs they’ve already been scrutinizing during DeVos’s tenure – implementation of student loan rules like borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment; accountability for accrediting organizations; protections for victims of sexual misconduct on campuses; and alleged conflicts of interest among administration officials … Any officials who have received requests for documents or information from congressional Democrats should expect renewed interest in those inquiries should the majority change.”
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Why Are Teachers In Europe Paid So Much Better Than Those In The United States?

The Washington Post

“The wages of American teachers … have dropped over the past decade. That’s a long way from similarly wealthy European nations … where teachers are among the nation’s top earners and can make more money than Web developers or sometimes even entry-level doctors. Besides the United States, no other developed country has such a large gap between salaries paid to teachers and to professionals with similar degrees … Europe’s social welfare states generally perceive education as a right rather than as a privilege. College, for example, is free in many of those nations … The importance of public education has translated into higher pay for teachers, who also often benefit from robust employment laws for public servants.”
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U.S. Department Of Education Is Sued For Withholding Information On Arming Teachers

HuffPost

“A coalition of advocacy and teacher groups sued the U.S. Department of Education … for information related to its decision to allow schools to purchase firearms using federal funds … In August and September, the groups filed two Freedom of Information Act requests for more information on the decision. The requests … were designed to glean information on issues such as whether the Education Department was influenced by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. A request also sought information on which school districts were interested in arming teachers using federal funds … The government has fallen short of its statutory obligation. The plaintiffs are requesting expedited processing of their information request, which the government previously denied.”
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Education May Spell Doom for Oklahoma’s Republican ‘Subprime’ Gubernatorial Candidate

The Progressive

“In Oklahoma, the governor’s race would ordinarily result in a solid victory for an enthusiastic Trump supporter like Republican Kevin Stitt, who brandishes a ‘100 percent Pro-Life score’ and an A’ rating from the National Rifle Association. But this year’s focus on education could turn the election for Stitt’s competitor, veteran Democrat Drew Edmondson … Drawing from his experience as the founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group, Stitt describes his [education] program as ‘performance metrics=accountability, efficiency and results’ … Gateway has been called one of ‘the 15 shadiest mortgage lenders being backed by the government’ … Stitt was a no show for a recent candidate forum, where education issues were discussed. In contrast, Edmondson attended every day of the nine-day teacher walkout this April … If Oklahoma teachers ‘Remember in November,’ it could drive an Edmondson victory.”
Read more …

Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

This year’s Educator Spring that brought teachers into the streets in massive protests has resulted in hundreds of educators running for office in November midterm elections, thrust education issues into electoral contests between Democratic and Republican candidates up and down the ballot, and pushed education-related initiatives on ballots in 16 states, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. “From taxes to bonds, governance to vouchers, education is on the ballot this November,” says the analysis. “Voters should not miss the chance to make their voices heard.”

In states such as Arizona and Georgia where gubernatorial candidates are locked in tight races and Democrats are anticipating gains in state legislatures, state ballot measures could help provide the difference between victory and defeat.

At least one study on the impact of ballot initiatives on voter turnout has found in midterm elections they can increase turnout at 7 to 9 percent in initiative states compared to non-initiative states, while turnout in presidential elections tends to be 3 to 4.5 percent higher in initiative states than in non-initiative states. Ballot measures have the power to “transform low information midterm elections to high information elections,” according to the study, and the presence of “even one initiative ballot is sufficient” to boost turnout.

School Privatization at Stake in Arizona

In what is perhaps the most-heated ballot initiative contest, in Arizona, voters will decide whether a state school voucher program providing taxpayer money for families to pay for private school tuitions will be expanded.

The massive #RedForEd teacher walkout that occurred in the state this spring resulted in a grassroots campaign to place an Invest in Education income-tax measure on the November ballot. Having that measure in the election, with the referendum to expand vouchers, was expected to bring out pro-education voters. But now that the state Supreme Court has ruled to remove the income-tax measure from the ballot, its supporters can focus their wrath on the voucher issue.

Incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey has come out strongly in support of the school voucher plan while his opponent Democratic nominee David Garcia is urging voters to vote no on the measure.

The program currently provides some 23,000 qualifying families access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) that give them public education funds to spend as they please for education services. About 5,000 families currently participate in the program, mostly to enroll their learning-disabled students in private schools.

An analysis of the Arizona program mainly serves wealthy families leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts to attend racially and economically segregated private schools. A state auditor’s office identified more than $102,000 from the program being misspent in just a 5-month period, including parents who spent program monies after enrolling children in public school, parents who did not submit required quarterly expense reports, and parents who purchased prohibited items. The report recommends the state strengthen safeguards and enforcement measures rather than expanding the program.

Nevertheless, last year the state enacted a new law expanding the program from only students with disabilities or who are enrolled in underperforming schools to all 1.1 million public school students in the state.

A petition campaign waged by grassroots groups supporting public schools successfully challenged the law expanding the voucher program, gathering enough signatures to push the law onto a ballot referendum, called Proposition 305, where a no vote would prevent expansion.

A recent poll found that Prop 305 could pass, primarily due to voter confusion about the true nature of the initiative and a disinformation campaign about the initiative funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and the organization founded by education secretary Betsy DeVos. But grassroots efforts to defeat school privatization attempts have come from behind and won in the past despite the big money campaigns they fought against.

School Funding Needs ‘Yes’ Votes in Many States

In Georgia, Amendment 5  would amend the Georgia Constitution to authorize a school district or group of school districts within a county to call for a sales and use tax referendum to fund local schools. The state funds its schools less than it did in 2008 and ranks fourth behind Arizona, Alabama, and Idaho for making the deepest cuts, 16.5 percent, to education funding.

Democratic candidate for Georgia governor Stacy Abrams has campaigned for fully funding Georgia schools and strongly backs a yes vote on Amendment 5. Abrams, who, if elected, would be the first female African American governor in America, has also received endorsements from both state and national teachers’ associations.

Her Republican opponent Brian Kemp has said little about his plans for education except for a vague pledge to raise teacher pay. Recent polls find the difference in voter approval for each candidate is “razor thin,” and a ground swell for Amendment 5 could only help Abrams over the top.

In Colorado, another state that saw a mass teacher walkout in the spring, voters have a chance to vote for increasing public school funding with a yes vote on Amendment 73 that would give a $1.6 billion boost to school funding in a state that has chronically shortchanged schools and created massive teacher shortages due to underfunding.

A yes vote on Amendment 73 would increase state income taxes for people earning more than $150,000 per year and increase the state corporate tax rate to 6 percent. These changes are estimated to generate $1.6 billion in revenue for fiscal year (FY) 2019–2020, all of which would support school funding.

Amendment 73 opponents have falsely framed the initiative, calling it a “massive tax hike” mainly to feed administrative bloat in the system. But supporters of the amendment point out that should it pass, 92 percent of Colorado taxpayers will see no impact on their state tax bill and school boards of the state’s largest school districts have already pledged the increased funds would go to vital classroom needs, including raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes, providing more mental health services, and expanding pre-k programs.

Some school funding ballot initiatives are not what they seem, which is the case in Oklahoma, where State Question 801 proposes to let schools use property tax revenue for operations in addition to paying for buildings and maintenance.

Oklahoma is another state that saw massive teacher walkouts this year to protest low teacher pay and drastic cuts to education funding, and the ballot question is a response to the walkouts placed on the ballot by outgoing Republican Governor Mary Fallin as a way to deflect criticism of the state’s negligence in funding education.

The state’s education association has come out in opposition to State Question 801 because although it provides school districts with some added flexibility it does nothing to address the matter at hand – the state’s drastic underfunding of schools. “It is a shell game,” the director of National Education Association in Oklahoma tells a local news outlet, “another gimmick.”

Grassroots opposition to Question 801 may help feed the campaign for Democratic governor nominee Drew Edmondson who is facing off against Republican candidate Kevin Stitt in what has surprisingly become a red-hot race. Edmondson forcefully opposes Question 801, saying “it would lead to inequities in funding and provide the Legislature a ‘cop out’ for school funding needs,” while Stitt favors the measure.

Education-related ballot measures aren’t confined to states that experienced teacher walkouts. Other initiatives that put education funding on the ballot include an amendment for a gas tax to support schools in Utah and a referendum in Ohio to provide extra funding for school safety.

But the ballot initiatives, wherever they occur, observed a reporter for Politico, “reflect education-related fights smoldering around the country.”

10/11/2018 – During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

THIS WEEK: More Teacher Strikes Loom … Return to ‘Get Tough’ … Are Child Detainees Being Educated? … Cuts To College Funding … Organizing For Schools

TOP STORY

During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

By Jeff Bryant

“While the serial outrages of the Trump administration continue to make headlines and whip up popular protests, there’s a danger that the more mundane activities of his cabinet officials and their underlings are being ignored. Take US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … who now operates largely out of public view behind a security screen that is projected to cost the taxpayers nearly $8 million over the next year. What’s largely being overlooked behind all the lurid headlines and endless insults are all the ways in which officials like DeVos are quietly at work continuing to use our tax money to advance a deeply troubling agenda.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teachers Turn Focus To Ballot Box, But Threat Of More Strikes Looms Large

Education Writers Association

“In May … massive teacher strikes shook up politics in a half-dozen states … Was the ‘educator spring,’ as the teacher walkouts were dubbed, a one-off event or just a taste of what’s to come?Last month, teachers in more than a dozen Washington State school districts went on strike over contract negotiations … In Los Angeles, educators in the country’s second-largest school district could go on strike as soon as this month … In states that saw widespread walkouts and some that did not, organizers have set their sights on the ballot box – riding the momentum of the strikes to mobilize voters in support of candidates and ballot initiatives that align with what they consider a ‘pro-education’ agenda … Educators in other states are showing an openness to walkouts. In Louisiana, just over 60% of educators surveyed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said they would support a statewide walkout … In Texas … the state’s largest teacher union is mobilizing voters for the November elections but is also prepared to support walkouts if the elections don’t go their way.”
Read more …

Federal Government Abandons Mission To Ensure Children Are “Educated And Healthy”

Medium

“Our federal government quietly changed the mission of the executive agency responsible for juvenile justice policy, abandoning the vision that all our children should be ‘healthy and educated’ …. These changes broadcast its shift in direction from the reforms that have cut the juvenile crime rate by 58% … back to the failed ‘get tough’ policies that brought us mass incarceration … States need the guidance of the federal government that was previously provided.”
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Unaccompanied and Uneducated: The Billions Spent At The Border

US News & World Report

“Federal regulations state that children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, including unaccompanied migrant children, those who have been separated from their families, and those who are in shelters and other detainment centers with family members, must receive six hours of instruction every weekday, making education the single biggest part of their daily lives. But it’s unclear what that education looks like, who is providing it, how much it costs, whether there are proper supports in place for children with disabilities and those working through traumatic experiences, and who, if anyone, is overseeing it all … In response to a series of questions about how education is provided to unaccompanied migrant children, including a request for an interview, Victoria Palmer, who works in the Office of Communication at [Health and Human Services], said through an email, ‘We do not have anyone available for media interviews.'”
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State Spending On Higher Education Still Hasn’t Recovered From The Recession

Pacific Standard

“In the depths of the Great Recession, states … slashed their spending on higher education … During the 2017–18 school year, total state spending on public two- and four-year colleges was $7 billion less (adjusted for inflation) than it was in 2008 … Only four states … spend more per student today than they did in 2008 … The trend of the last several years … of slow, steady growth in higher ed spending … shows signs of stalling … While national spending was essentially flat between the 2017 and 2018 school years, 31 states actually cut per-student funding … Public institutions of higher education … have responded to these cuts in two ways: They’ve cut spending, reducing class offerings and eliminating other student services and supports; and they’ve increased tuition.”
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Can Community Organizing Improve Schools?

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “After years of disappointing results from top-down reform, there’s an urgent need to examine the positive progress that can happen when efforts come from the bottom-up. That is the subject of a new documentary The Long View … I spoke with The Long View producer and director Susan Zeig about the project … ‘There are lots of films about education but not many about the role community organizing plays in education. I wanted to portray that because people often forget it. Community organizing is messy. It takes a lot of time. It’s not always successful. But at a time when one might feel we’re at a low-point for our democracy, it’s the only tool for people without power to make some kind of impact. And you can see small victories.'”
Read more …