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Why Teacher Uprisings May Hit Blue States Too

Surprising results from a new survey of teachers reveal the depth of “financial strain” classroom professionals face. These include high levels of college debt, stagnation of already subpar pay, increasing housing and childcare costs, rising health insurance premiums and prescription costs, and escalating out-of-pocket expenses for their own classroom supplies.

More than half of the respondents resorted to second jobs to try to close the gap between what their teaching jobs paid versus their actual cost of living.

The revelation teachers are financially struggling wasn’t what was surprising about the survey. Recent news of teacher “red-state rebellions” in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona have brought great depths of attention to the economic plight of teachers who are walking off the job in Republican dominated states because of years of education funding cuts. No, what was surprising about this survey was the teachers weren’t in a red state at all; they were in true-blue Vermont.

The sad truth is financial austerity that has driven governments at all levels to skimp on education has had plenty of compliance, if not downright support, from centrist Democrats who’ve spent most of their political capital on pressing an agenda of “school reform” and “choice” rather than pressing for increased funding and support that schools and teachers need.

Colorado Uprising

In a startling sign that teacher uprisings may move to purple and blue states too, Colorado teachers recently left schools and stormed the state capitol to protest their subpar wages – ranked 46th in the nation, reports the New York Times, and “rock bottom” when compared to other professionals in the state. “Colorado has a Democratic governor,” notes the Times, “and a Legislature split between Democrats and Republicans.”

Soon after their rally at the capitol, teachers in Denver, the state’s largest school system, announced a systemwide walkout on April 27. The next day, administrators in the state’s second largest district, Jefferson County, announced their schools would close a day earlier on the 26th in anticipation of teachers not showing up for work.

Since the Great Recession in 2009, Colorado has had one of the best performing economies in the nation, but school funding has increased only 3.4 percent above 2008 levels according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Much of the school funding woes can be traced to the enactment of a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) constitutional amendment in 1992 that severely limits school funding. Democrats have done little to try to repeal or devise workarounds to the amendment, and centrist Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper recently declared he “can’t imagine” TABOR being repealed.

Another school funding can Colorado Democrats keep kicking down the road arises from a constitutional amendment, Amendment 23, passed in 2000 that was designed to boost and protect K-12 funding but was subsequently limited when state coffers shrank in 2009. (Funny how amendments to increase school funding can be quickly undone while those limiting funding can’t.)

In his final state of the state speech, term-limited Governor Hickenlooper called for more education funding but blamed “voters” for lack of action on that front. Then, his final budget proposed $5.5 million more for charter schools.

Subsequently, Democrats in the state legislature spent considerably more energy staving off further cuts to education, rather than pushing for bold efforts to increase funding. What ultimately passed with “broad bipartisan support” barely raises funding but also mandates school districts share locally-raised tax money with state-created charters.

Saying No to Centrism

The Colorado teachers’ plans to walk out of school is a strong sign they’ve had it with state government inaction on funding. There’s also a sign many Colorado Democrats feel that way too.

At the most recent state assembly of the Colorado Democratic party, delegates sent a strong rebuke to the state chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, demanding the organization cease to use “Democrats” in its name, Chalkbeat reports.

The platform amendment, passed overwhelmingly by the delegates, opposed the group’s intentions of “making Colorado’s public schools private or run by private corporations or becoming segregated again through lobbying and campaigning efforts.”

This rebuke has significant ramifications for the Democratic party and the direction of education policy not only in Colorado but nationwide.

“Democrats for Education Reform, founded more than a decade ago, was at the center of a split within the Democratic Party over school reform that began to play out with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama,” explains Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post. The organization’s embrace of traditionally Republican education policies – including charter schools, vouchers, standardized testing, and enforced closure of neighborhood schools – instead of funding schools and supporting teachers, had the effect of wiping away “the traditional partisan divide over education policy,” she argues.

Now there are growing signs Democrats want to bring those traditional partisan distinctions back.

Where Next?

A recent analysis by Brookings spotlights North Carolina and Mississippi as the most likely states for the next teacher uprising. Other candidates include Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.

It’s interesting that analysis, likely completed a few days before trouble started brewing in Colorado, doesn’t have that state on the list.

Now Watch Republicans Blame Obama for Test Scores

One of the more interesting stories about the recent release of scores on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (aka. The Nation’s Report Card) is not about the scores themselves but the way conservative education policy operatives are spinning them.

The scores themselves were disappointing.

As US News reports, fourth- and eighth-graders, the only two grades tested, “made little to no gains in math and reading since 2015,” the last year the NAEP was conducted. “While the average reading scores for eighth-graders increased compared with 2015, there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade.”

Not only were scores flat, as they have mostly been since 2009, but “the latest results reveal a disturbing trend in which the country’s poorest-performing students scored worse in both subjects.”

The 2017 scores were not as bad as scores in 2015, which showed statistically significant dips, but the general lack of progress in this year’s results gave education policy mavens fodder to make all sorts of claims.

Who’s to Blame

Education pundits from the right were quick to locate the cause of such a prolonged stagnation.

Mike Petrilli of the conservative Beltway policy shop Thomas B. Fordham dubbed NAEP doldrums “the lost decade,” which, by his reckoning, would take the timeline for stagnant NAEP scores back to 2008. And we all know what happened that year.

The arch-conservative Heritage Foundation is much more blunt, saying, “The scores are a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies, including historically high levels of spending, the addition of new programs, numerous federal directives, and perhaps most consequentially, Common Core.”

What’s downright laughable is the preposterous notion that the nation’s supposedly anemic academic achievement began immediately as the Obama administration took office. All those nine- and thirteen-year-olds who generated flat scores from 2009 to 2015 spent precious little of their academic careers under the Obama regime.

Indeed, if we were to play the pin the NAEP tail on the presidential donkey, we would be looking at that guy who proceeded Obama – George W. Bush.

And that’s what’s so ironic about conservative claims of an Obama education policy failure. Over at least the past 20 years, whether under Republican oversight or Democratic, the nation’s schools have been lorded over by an “education reform” agenda that has always been decidedly bipartisan.

Both Parties

The chronology of education reform’s widespread impact on the nation’s schools begins with the enactment in 2002 of No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan law that began the regime of requiring states to test every student every year in reading and math and using the scores to evaluate schools and determine all sorts of consequences as a result of their scores.

The Obama administration upped the ante by using test scores to evaluate teachers too and developed even more elaborate actions to take when schools had poor results.

Throughout both presidential administrations, there was an assumption that stoking the system with more charter schools to compete with public schools would yield improvements, and although Common Core curriculum standards pushed by Obama became a flashpoint of dispute, both Democrats and Republicans insisted schools needed some sort of “higher standards” to “raise the bar” for students.

Sure, there were lots of policy nuances over the years that may have divided the parties – including the extent of the federal government’s influence on implementation of the policies – but the test-and-punish, standards enforced, and market-base competition philosophy of reform was a Washington Consensus uniting both parties.

MisNAEPery

It’s not surprising conservatives would bend NAEP results to an agenda.

Scores are often used to justify or vilify whatever education policy the author prefers.

Because scores are broken down by student demographics and reported out for the nation as a whole, for each state and the District of Columbia, and more recently, for many large municipal school districts, there is a wealth of speculative conclusions that can be derived.

This is not to say NAEP scores are useless. But there’s a whole genre of education punditry called “misNAEPery” that exemplifies the way scores are used to make false claims about what “works” in schools.

For instance, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used NAEP results for Tennessee from 2009 to 2013 to claim the state’s embrace of reform policies he preferred  – including basing teacher evaluations on test scores and turning over struggling schools to charter management organizations – was proof his reform policies were working. But the claim was roundly debunked by more careful observers, and the state’s scores were flat in 2015 and somewhat down this year.

Similarly this year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called out NAEP results in Florida, a state she has long touted as a model for other states to follow. Yet many states with education policies similar to Florida’s – including vouchers, charter schools, and performance grades for schools – had lackluster NAEP results in 2017, including Arizona, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

But why would Republicans reject reform now?

Stealing Away from Reform

“Educators, scholars and policymakers now almost universally regard No Child Left Behind as a washout,” writes education historian and college professor Jack Schneider. “And many critiques of Obama-era reform efforts have been equally blistering.”

DeVos has made it clear she believes nothing Obama or Bush did in education reform really worked. States ruled by Republican governors are abandoning Obama-era test-based teacher evaluations right and left. And influential Beltway education policy poohbahs have posted reflective tomes in which they admit they may have gotten some things about reform wrong.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Arne Duncan fight a rearguard battle to defend reform policies, performing feats of MisNAEPery including going all the way back to 1971 to conflate strong growth in test scores in the 80s and 90s with the general stagnation since 2000.

So, it’s clear Republicans are stealing away from reform and leaving Democrats holding the bag. Recent NAEP scores give them the perfect opportunity to make their case.

 

 

Striking Teachers Are Fighting for Communities

Teacher strikes that started in West Virginia and are now raging in Oklahoma and whipping up in Kentucky and Arizona are being called a “nationwide movement.” But a nationwide movement for what?

The Wall Street Journal calls the teacher rebellions a “response to years of steep cuts to state education budgets.” Similar articles in other outlets make the argument that because strikes are currently confined to “teachers in states governed by Republicans,” they are mostly about challenging “GOP austerity.”

While there is much more than a grain of truth to these observations, they are short-sighted.

These striking teachers, in saying “We’ve had enough,” are taking a stand  not only about their own financial situations, but also about the conditions of their students, their schools, and their communities.

These teachers – who span the political spectrum – are taking their grievances beyond the normal confines of partisan politics and labor disputes to decry the dire conditions in struggling communities across the nation. Their ultimate aim is to have an effect at the ballot box.

Uniting a Range of Issues

For sure, a theme uniting the strikes is the need to pay teachers more and fix their broken health insurance and retirement programs. And for good reason.

As the Economic Policy Institute reports, teachers “are burdened by growing pay inequities. Over the last two decades, teachers are contributing more and more toward health care and retirement costs as their pay falls further behind. Teacher pay (accounting for inflation) actually fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124.”

But teachers who are striking “are concerned with a range of issues,” EPI reports, and their grievances have been calling attention to much more of the problems in our communities.

Striking for Communities

Since the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, teachers have been aligning their labor actions to the tenets of social-justice unionism that extend teacher grievances beyond the defense of their own wage and benefits to fighting for the rights and needs of students and the broader community.

What followed the Chicago strike was a series of generally successful strikes where teachers embedded their demands for better pay with calls for improving the learning conditions of students and increasing community-enhancing supports in schools.

In 2014, teacher unions in Portland, Oregon and St. Paul, Minnesota averted threatened strikes and won significant contract struggles by asserting a bargaining platform based on “the schools our students deserve” and increased supports for struggling students and families, including expansions of pre-kindergarten programs and smaller classes.

In 2015, striking teachers in Seattle not only won increased salaries, but they also were successful in winning student-centered demands for recess, discipline reform, and physical and mental health supports. These were school improvements parents also demanded.

In 2018, St. Paul teachers again averted a strike and won their negotiations, not only for wage increases, but also for student-centered issues, including reducing class sizes, improving education services for English learners and special education students, and funding the implementation of restorative practices – an approach to school discipline that focuses on reconciliation rather than harsh punishments.

Similarly, striking teachers across the nation this year are making demands that go far beyond wages and benefits.

Beyond Wages and Benefits

The wage and benefit demands West Virginia teachers made were accompanied by demands for a five-percent pay raise for all public employees, a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program, limits on charter school expansions, and the ability of all public employee unions to deduct dues through payroll collection.

The Oklahoma strike demands also go beyond issues of teacher pay to propose increased taxes on the states’ oil and gas industry so all schools can return to five day weeks, reduce class sizes, renew outdated textbooks, and address chronic teacher shortages.

There’s evidence that public opinion in Oklahoma aligns with the teachers. A recent poll conducted by the Oklahoma association of teachers found, “93 percent of Oklahomans believe the state legislature has not done enough to increase funding for Oklahoma students and public schools. Public support continues to be strong for teachers at 77 percent, while support for the state legislature (17 percent) and Governor [Mary] Fallin at (18 percent) remains very low. The poll also found public support for the walk-out is increasing.”

Seizing Political Power

The message from the current round of teacher strikes is that not only have governing policies made teachers an unappreciated, underpaid workforce, but that lawmakers have forced teachers into becoming first responders on the front lines of communities that are being disinvested and decimated.

Students who are increasingly living in impoverished households are bringing the problems of increasing wage inequality and a declining healthcare system into classrooms while teachers have fewer resources to deal with those problems.

The teacher strikes currently taking place are in states where children are among the most under privileged in the nation. None of these states rank high in health care, and wage growth is exceedingly slow.

Thus, the strikes are an understandable response as teachers in these states are increasingly challenged to deal with the fallout of political systems that are negligent of the student populations they have to serve. It’s no wonder teachers are making their voices heard and calling on allies to come to their support.

Politicians Take Heed

Striking teachers have an eye on November elections.

The strikes, Dana Goldstein observes for the New York Times, “are occurring in states and districts with important midterm races in November, suggesting that thousands of teachers, with their pent-up rage over years of pay freezes and budget cuts, are set to become a powerful political force this fall.”

Teachers in West Virginia made a point of saying their protests were about making a difference at the ballot box. And teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona are making lawmakers in those states choose between demands for lower taxes and smaller government versus upholding the needs of students and communities.

Striking teachers are making it very plain the nationwide movement they represent is reflective of widespread feelings everywhere that political governance has gotten woefully out of touch with what the vast majority of people want. What’s not clear is if politicians will listen.

Democrats Can Win if They Lead on Education

While progressives lament their recent failure in an Illinois primary to knock out Dan Lipinski – a conservative, anti-abortion, Congressional Democrat who voted against the Affordable Care Act – they mostly fail to note where and how they won elsewhere in the state.

Zaid Jiani reports for The Intercept that there were numerous progressive “upstart candidates” further down the ballot in Illinois who beat more established Democrats, including Aaron Ortiz in a State House race, Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Assessor, and Brandon Johnson in a Cook County Commissioner contest. Delia Ramirez also won running as a progressive in a State House primary without an incumbent.

These victors had a number of things in common, including endorsements from labor unions and progressive advocacy organizations. But another startling commonality among at least three of the four candidates was a strong support for public schools – Ortiz, Ramirez, and Johnson all made increased funding for public schools key stances in their races. Ortiz and Johnson are public school teachers, and Ramirez pledged to “protect our public-school system from corporate interests which attack teachers and students to destabilize public neighborhood schools and profit from privatizing education.”

Contrast the victors’ strong stances for public schools to Lipinski’s failed challenger, Marie Newman, whose education platform was about “education that leads to real jobs” – a position suitable for a Republican candidate to run on.

Education First

These examples from Illinois align with electoral contests around the country.

In high-profile Democratic party primaries, education has become a significant issue that progressive candidates are using to challenge more conservative, establishment Democrats. There’s also ample evidence education could be a key issue for Democrats to use against their Republican opponents in midterm general elections in November.

But getting the education issue right – something Democrats have not been very good at – will be key.

Education is definitely on voters’ minds. According to a recent survey by Pew Research, 72 percent of the American public rank education as a top priority for the country, behind only one other issue, terrorism, and ahead of the economy and healthcare.

Further, with the ascension of the deeply unpopular Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to President Trump’s cabinet, Democrats are making her an issue in state and local elections and invoking her name in fundraising emails to whip up opposition to centrist Democrats and Republicans.

Virginia, New York and California

Education is already a key issue in Virginia where Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam beat former Congressional Representative Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary in part because Northam has been strongly committed to funding public schools while Perriello has courted the charter school industry.

With education as Virginia voters’ “top concern,” according to at least one poll, Northam went on to win the governor’s race against a Republican opponent tagged as a “clone of Betsy DeVos.”

Education is also a prominent issue in Democratic contests for governor in New York and California.

In the Empire State, actress and public school advocate Cynthia Nixon is challenging sitting Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic party primary. So far, she has aimed her attacks on Cuomo mostly at the chronic under-funding of public schools that has taken place under his regime and his cooperation with state Republican senators who are now pushing to fund school safety measures that include more armed guards in schools rather than counselors and other student supports.

In the primary contest for governor of California, education could be the deciding factor among the three top candidates, former Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and State Treasurer John Chiang – all Democrats (California’s primary elections have a top-two design that virtually ensures no Republicans will be in the general election).

Big money interests that back the state’s charter school industry have coalesced behind Villaraigosa while Newsom and Chiang have called for more charter school accountability.

The power of education to be a determining factor in primary contests also holds true for elections where Democrats face Republicans.

A Way to Beat Republicans

Democrats, and even many Republicans, are expecting 2018 to be a wave election favoring blue candidates

Democrats can indeed deliver a beating to Republicans in the 2018 mid-term: since the Civil War, the President’s party, with the exception of two years, has lost seats in both the House and the Senate in midterm elections.

At the state level, this could also be a year of big changes. Of the ninety-nine state chambers in the U.S., eighty-seven are in play. The total number of potential contested seats is 6,066—about 82 percent of the nation’s state legislative seats, over 100 more than were contested in 2016. And thirty-six gubernatorial seats will be up for grabs—there were only 11 in 2016.

Republicans have made themselves especially vulnerable on the issue of school funding by imposing years of financial austerity on schools. Aware of this vulnerability, Republican governors in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere are already flipping their austerity scripts to highlight what budget increases they have pushed in their states, even though these increases still haven’t brought education funding up to pre-recession levels of 2008.

A good indicator of an oncoming blue wave continues to be the number of special elections where Democratic candidates have flipped a Republican seat to their party’s side – at least 39 state legislative races so far.

in a much-publicized upset win for a Democratic candidate in a Wisconsin special election to replace an incumbent Republican State Senator in a strong pro-Trump district, former school board member Patty Schachtner made education her top issue, campaigning to “restore funding for our local schools” and “maintain curriculum, services, and extracurricular opportunities for our kids.”

In another example of a Democrat flipping a traditionally GOP-held office, Margaret Good triumphed over her Republican opponent for a Florida State House seat in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 13,000. Good made support for education a top issue, with pledges to “ensure that our public schools are fully funded … to provide wrap-around services at local schools,” and to oppose “taxpayer dollars to fund for-profit charter schools.”

In a Kentucky House special election, former teacher Linda Belcher flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic in part by pledging to secure more funding for local public schools and infrastructure. The district had gone for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 72 percent to 23 percent.

in Conor Lamb’s winning campaign to upset a Republican in a Congressional special election in a deeply conservative Pennsylvania district he used an ad in which he talked about his brother and sister serving as school teachers but not getting the respect that he got for being in the military.

A Winning Issue If …

Education is the Democratic party’s “winning issue hiding in plain sight,” writes New York Times columnist David Leonhardt.

Leonhardt points to the Senate special election in Alabama where Democratic upstart Doug Jones beat Trump-backed conservative firebrand Roy Moore. He cites the effectiveness of an ad run by the Jones campaign that appealed to voters’ high priority for education.

But Leonhardt demonstrates his consistently poor grasp of education issues when he recommends, based on his observations of the Jones campaign, that Democrats pledge their support for “big, ambitious ideas” such as “universal preschool” and “universal tuition-free community college.”

However, the ad he lauds clearly doesn’t confine education to the early and post-secondary years. And what, pray tell, should Democrats propose for the 13 years in between pre-K and college?

Similarly, the Center for American Progress, in anticipation of a Democratic sweep in the 2018 elections, recently outlined “7 great education policy ideas for progressives in 2018” that are mostly reflective of lefty pundits and policy makers rather than what’s percolating from the ground up from voters and the campaigns run by progressive Democrats.

For instance, CAP’s proposals for paying teachers more, fixing decaying school buildings, and creating safe and healthy school environments seem in line with grassroots education advocates, but curiously absent from CAP’s “great ideas” are proposals to adequately and equitably fund schools across the board, create more community schools with wraparound services for disadvantaged kids, and resist the creeping privatization of public education through the charter school industry and school voucher programs.

Grassroots progressive Democrats are telling the party’s establishment how it can lead and win on education issues. What’s not clear is if the party’s pundit and policy apparatus is willing to listen.

Betsy DeVos Wants To Cut Public Education To The Bone

Updated

True to form, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress this week was yet another example of how her utterances about American public education and her governance over the system send people into fits of frustration and outrage.

Appearing before a House subcommittee, she was tasked to defend the Trump administration’s 2019 budget for her department. As prominent news outlets reported, she mostly sparked intense disagreement with her views on “gun control, racial bias, and civil rights.”

Repeated questioning over her views on whether students of color were far more apt to be discriminated against in school disciplinary actions – a matter of fact, rather than opinion – prompted California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee to exclaim, “Madam Secretary, you just don’t care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.”

In another fiery exchange, Massachusetts Democratic Representative Katherine Clark repeatedly asked DeVos to say “yes or no” to whether a federal school voucher program would allow public dollars to go to schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students. After Clark’s repeated questioning, DeVos eventually answered, “Yes,” but her answer seemed more like a tactic to end the questions rather than a genuine pledge to prevent against discrimination.

On the issue of gun control, Politico noticed that when news of a new school shooting in Maryland trickled into the hearing, Connecticut Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro asked DeVos, “Do you believe we have a crisis with gun violence in our country? That’s a yes or no question.” DeVos replied, “I believe we have a crisis of violence in our country, yes,” omitting the word “gun.”

Getting Lost in the Outrage

The outrage over DeVos is warranted. Her inability to answer direct questions is confounding, and she insults public school educators, who she’s expected to help support and lead, at nearly every turn.

It’s hard to imagine a worse secretary of education. But public exchanges with her tend to generate more heat than light, and there’s a danger that opposition to her views can veer away from substance toward style.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that DeVos and what she stands for are not a strange aberration, but rather representative of a powerful faction in American politics.

If you don’t believe that, look at the document she attempted to defend before Congress – her budget.

DeVos’s Budget Is Doctrinaire Conservative

Trump’s budget – and in turn the one DeVos defended for her department – is straight out of conservative doctrine for stripping government to the bone. In other words, it’s right in line with what nearly every conservative Republican governor has been inflicting on education systems in the states for years.

Straight off, the Trump education budget would strip 5.3 percent from the total federal education outlay, Education Week reports, sending federal funding for schools down 10.5 percent from 2017 levels, according to the Center for American Progress.

Two programs would see the steepest cuts: Title II funds that help recruit and retain teachers and the 21st Century Learning Centers block grants, which fund after school programs. Title II funding helps reduce class sizes and bolster the teaching workforce in low-income communities. And after school programs promote academic, social-emotional, and health and wellness benefits for children and youth, particularly in low-income communities.

In complete disregard to recent school shootings and calls from students and teachers to create safer learning environments, the Trump budget would also eliminate Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Mother Jones reports. These grants help fund school district programs to promote “safe and healthy students,” including social emotional learning and restorative justice alternatives that are showing promising benefits.

Federal funds for the Special Olympics program also get the axe.

Funding for truly essential programs would be flat-lined – which is a really a cut – including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state formula grants for educating students with disabilities and Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the biggest single K-12 program at the department.

In the meantime, the proposed budget adds $500 million in grants for charter school funding, an increase of roughly 50 percent from current spending levels. The budget also contributes $1 billion to fund a new pilot program for districts to let local funding follow students to their school ‘choice,’ including charter schools. Little is known about how billions of dollars in previous federal grants to charter schools have been spent, and there’s ample evidence much of it has gone to schools that either never opened or quickly closed. Why would we want to add to this wasteful outlay without including new safeguards and accountability?

A proposal to spend $200 million on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education seems like a boost for learning opportunities, but here again, evidence is ignored in favor of conservative orthodoxy. There’s little evidence increased spending on STEM education in K-12 schools increases the number of students choosing STEM related college degree programs. And prioritizing STEM and other “career training” education tracts, while cutting education funding elsewhere, reflects the conservative antipathy to teaching humanities.

Do Budgets Matter?

Does Trump’s education budget and DeVos’s defense of it matter?

“Members of Congress signaled they would probably reject many of the proposed cuts in DeVos’s budget, as they did last year,” the Washington Post reports, due in part to the opposition of some Republicans.

House members who just voted on a final version of the 2018 budget soundly rejected budget cuts Trump and DeVos proposed for education last year, Education Week reports. The House version of the budget the senate will have to vote on would increase spending at the U.S. Department of Education by $2.6 billion, including boosts of $300 million to Title I, $299 million for special education grants, and $20 million for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (instead of being cut entirely).

Funding for Title II would be retained rather than ended, and a a block grant for districts to address school safety, among other needs, would nearly triple from $400 million to $1.1 billion.

Federal aid to charter schools would get the big increase DeVos wants, from $342 million to $400 million, but a $250 million private school choice initiative and the $1 billion program for “school choice” DeVos wanted got axed.

Nevertheless, conservative stalwart the Heritage Foundation calls the cuts in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget “needed” and differs only with the budget’s targets for “school choice” and not the philosophy behind it.

DeVos defended her budget by saying, “President Trump is committed to reducing the federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in this budget.” Few conservatives would disagree with this intention.

The federal government supplies only a small percentage of school funding – less than 10 percent. But in today’s austerity climate, every bit helps because the level of funding that schools get matters a lot to the education opportunities they can provide. Research consistently shows there is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures. In states that were forced by court order to increase education spending, research shows students experienced gains in student achievement. Studies also show that higher teacher salaries tend to correlate with better student outcomes. And smaller class sizes often correlate with improvements in student achievement

So it’s important to oppose what Trump and DeVos are proposing in their budget, not because DeVos is a person with reprehensible views, but because she is a person who represents a political philosophy with reprehensible values.

Why Public Schools Have Become The Epicenter Of Rebellion

The revolution may not be televised, but it is happening in public schools. This is evident in the growth of student and teacher actions across the country, from walkouts to strikes.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Public school communities – students, teachers, parents, and citizens – have seen their institutions targeted with deeper budget cuts, greater inequities in the system, harsher penalties for “underperforming” on arbitrary standards, and deadlier gun violence.

Is it any wonder that these constituents are starting to stand up and say they’ve had enough?

Students Demand Freedom to Learn

This week, mass walkouts of students in middle schools and high schools spanned the nation to protest school shootings and lack of sensible gun control. Actions in nearly 3,000 schools were planned, and news organizations and social media users reported thousands of students participating in the demonstrations in countless cities and towns. Many of the events were captured on a nationwide “snap map” using the SnapChat social media app.

The walkouts, billed as the Enough National School Walkout, took place one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and educators. The organizers, the Youth Empower branch of The Women’s March organization, called for students to leave the classroom at 10:00 a.m. and stay out of class for 17 minutes: one minute for each person killed in the shooting.

Students haven’t only kept their protests on campus. In Washington, D.C., thousands of students descended on the White House and Capitol Hill. An estimated 60,000 students flooded the streets across New York City.

School boards, administrators, and teachers were generally supportive of the student actions; although there were isolated incidents of schools preventing students from walking out, or threatening suspensions.

The students demand the right to attend school in an environment where they don’t have to worry about being gunned down. “Protect lives, not guns” was an oft-observed sign held aloft in the demonstrations.

Teachers Want to Teach

The mass student walkouts came close after another headline-grabbing story born from the public school community: the successful teacher strike in West Virginia.

In defiance of state laws making public employee strikes illegal, nearly 20,000 teachers and about 13,000 school service personnel in all 55 counties of the Mountain State shut down schools for nine days. School boards and administrators across the state expressed strong support for the teachers and took no actions to end the walkouts.

West Virginia lawmakers buckled to all five of the teachers’ demands including a five-percent pay raise for all public employees, a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program, limits on charter school expansions, a continuation of seniority privileges for teachers and the ability of unions to deduct dues through payroll collection.

The successful action of the West Virginia teachers is inspiring similar actions in other states.

Teachers in Oklahoma have set an April 2 date for a statewide strike, if their demands for better pay and working conditions aren’t met by state lawmakers. Like West Virginia, Oklahoma is also a “right to work state” where collective bargaining is outlawed. But the teachers are defiant none the less, and once again, school boards and administrators are backing the teachers.

In Arizona, two public school advocacy groups are planning a march on the state capitol for March 28. Their chief complaints are lousy teacher pay, college student-loan burdens, a shortage of qualified teachers, and cuts to classroom resources.

In Kentucky, hundreds of teachers are protesting cuts to their benefit programs. Local media are reporting the actions are a “precursor to a statewide strike.”

Why Schools?

It’s not surprising that school communities have become a breeding ground for dissent.

People who rely on public schools have a lot to complain about. Government officials at all levels have been underpaying teachers and making their lives miserable, wielding budget cuts that close learning opportunities for students, and pushing schools toward more prison like conditions instead of doing something meaningful about gun violence.

Policy leaders and lawmakers have also remained largely deaf to the demands of those in the public education system.

Even as students were out in the streets calling for sensible gun control, President Donald Trump was reversing himself once again, backing off meaningful steps for gun control and increasing funds for arming teachers instead.

This is opposite of what public-school students and teachers say they want: meaningful gun control. A new bill passed by the House funds new school safety measures without directing more money for guns in schools. That’s progress, but it does nothing to control the proliferation of guns that menace schools.

Kate Doyle Griffiths, writing in Viewpoint Magazine, puts her finger on another key reason public schools are at the epicenter of a new populist rebellion.

In explaining how the West Virginia teachers won, she argues the teachers were successful because “the strike was socialized because of its location at a concentrated point of reproduction: schools.” As occupations increasingly drive employees into cubicles and career niches, schools are one of the few remaining institutions where employees “interface with more people than most other workplaces do, at least in an immediate sense. That these workplaces are connected to other ‘kinship networks’ mean that there’s an imminent possibility that they can be activated politically, becoming a privileged site of class organization.”

Schools are America’s most collaborative endeavor, by far. They’re the places we’ve entrusted to teach the values of democracy. They’re working.

West Virginia Teachers Tell Us Why Public Schools And Unions Matter

Striking public school educators in West Virginia overcame all odds in getting lawmakers to agree to a five-percent pay raise and a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program.

Equally remarkable is how the West Virginia strike is already inspiring similar actions in other states. Teachers in Oklahoma recently set a strike date of April 23 if their demands for pay increases aren’t met by the state legislature. [UPDATE: Oklahoma teachers have pushed the strike date forward to April 2.] Kentucky could be next, as teachers warn of a statewide strike to protest changes to their retirement benefits. And Arizona teachers are organizing a “day of protest” to express their grievances over lousy teacher pay.

But the West Virginia teachers’ strike is not only a startling victory for labor rights; it’s also a reminder of the important role public schools and public school educators can and should play in progressive populism.

Left Behind

For years, prominent progressive voices have been weak in their support for school teachers and public schools. But the West Virginia teachers may have started to change that; at least progressive activists in the Mountain State seem to think so.

“The teacher power on display in West Virginia aligns with the other progressive movements that are speaking truth to power,” Gary Zuckett, the Executive Director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, told me in an email. “Everyone, from the across the justice movements – environmental, social, economic, racial, and gender – were totally inspired by the throw down of the teachers and the way they stood their ground without backing down.”

“Through the strike, West Virginians learned the power of their voice and ability to move policy,” said Ryan Frankenberry, Executive Director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, in an email. “Now, we’re going to harness that energy and turn it into progressive wins at the state and federal level in this year’s elections.”

Odds Against Them

Make no mistake, the statewide walkout that shut down schools in West Virginia for nine days was a brazen act of mass civil disobedience.

West Virginia prohibits collective bargaining, and all teacher contracts are controlled by the state. So getting an agreement from Republican Governor Jim Justice and the GOP-controlled legislature seemed like a longshot at best.

At one point, state officials threatened to take legal action against the teachers, but teachers didn’t back down.

When union leadership accepted the governor’s preliminary proposal, they told teachers to report back to work. Rank and file teachers went wildcat, and refused to cooperate, noting the state legislature had yet to vote on the raise and the settlement did not include a fix to the health insurance program.

Yet, the solidarity of nearly 20,000 teachers and about 13,000 school service personnel in all 55 counties remained solid. County school boards and district superintendents unified behind the teachers. And parents and students expressed widespread support for the strike, with many of them joining in the raucous demonstrations at the capitol. When a group of students formed a solidarity group to support teachers, their effort quickly spread to at least 12 other counties.

Not a Typical Union Strike

“This was way beyond a typical union strike,” retired West Virginia school teacher Paul Epstein told me in a phone call. Epstein was a third-year public school teacher in West Virginia in 1990, the last time the state’s teachers went on strike.

In that strike, according to Epstein, not all teachers walked out, and not every school closed. Many parents chose to cross picket lines to take their kids to schools.

What’s different now?

Teachers’ lives in West Virginia and nationwide have gotten considerably worse.

When teachers won a pay increase as a result of their 1990 action, Epstein recalled, it added $5,000 over the next five years and lifted his meager salary of about $16,000 by nearly thirty percent.

Things are much worse now, he noted, as West Virginia teachers are near bottom of the barrel in teacher pay, ranking 48th compared to other states and the District of Columbia – with a minimum salary of only $32,000. Teachers haven’t had a statewide pay increase since 2014.

Further, spiking costs of premiums in the state-supported public employee health insurance program have made small increases in salaries almost irrelevant.

West Virginians know the dismal condition of their state’s teacher pay. A recent survey found over 70 percent of them think teacher pay is too low.

West Virginia teachers aren’t alone. Their peers in the U.S. are paid 17 percent less than  similarly educated professionals. Their average weekly wages have declined by $1,122 to $1,092 in the past 20 years, while weekly wages of all college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416.

A second factor to note, according to Epstein, is the impact of President Donald Trump’s ascendency, especially on women. About 75 percent of West Virginia teachers are women, which closely matches national percentages.

Anecdotally, the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement would seem to indicate that public school teachers may becoming a fertile ground for populist dissent. Empirical analysis would support that conclusion too. Recent polls show that college educated women nationally are increasingly turning against Republicans and the Trump administration, especially in financially downtrodden states like West Virginia.

The Importance of Unions and Schools

Without a doubt, union organizing was instrumental in generating the West Virginia teachers’ successful action. But the strike may illustrate the changing nature of union power in the progressive movement.

Some have pointed to the strike as the future of labor organizing, because the teachers transcended the constraints of right to work laws and political party lines.

Many argue an imminent Supreme Court decision that could marginalize unions of their ability to collect dues through employee paychecks will result in more wildcat strikes like the one in West Virginia, because well-funded unions and collective bargaining actually have led to less contentious labor conflicts.

What also makes the West Virginia Teachers strike similar to other effective acts of solidarity against entrenched right-wing power is that it was borne in the democratic cauldron of public schools.

It was public school students reacting to a horrific school shooting in a Florida high school who staged spontaneous protests across the country to demand sensible gun control and call out the National Rifle and politicians who accept their donations for opposing any gun control bills.

The students have been joined by teachers who are also calling for an end to gun violence. The upsurge shows no signs of withering.

These protests from public school teachers and students are mere baby steps for what is needed to overcome the powerful and unjust entrenched forces in society. But those who support progressive change must embrace them.

Where From Here?

Some observers have accused West Virginia teachers of settling for “toxic terms,” because Republican Senators in the legislature have vowed to make up the cost for the 5 percent raise by gouging funding for general government services and Medicaid. Spokespeople in the governor’s office disagree, saying money for the raise could come from cuts in executive branch spending or from new appropriations resulting from expected revenues increases.

A deal on the state’s broken state employee health insurance program, a driving concern in the negotiations, also has yet to be worked out. But the teachers persuaded the governor to create a bipartisan task force, including current and former state employees, to hammer out the details.

In the meantime, the strike’s results, and the organizing and communications effort that brought the results about, seem to be galvanizing a movement for progressive change that could carry into November elections.

“Communicating via social media was empowering because everyone could watch hearings and share information without an intermediary,” Frankenberry told me. “Pictures and videos of communities supporting workers, teachers taking care of their students during the strike, and massive mobilizations in the state capital inspired and powered solidarity.”

“This massive action has gotten more voters to pay attention to what happens at the statehouse and how it directly affects their lives,” wrote Zuckett. “‘We’ll Remember in November’ was a common chant in the halls of the capitol.”

Will Lawmakers Again Make Schools The Sacrificial Lamb For Gun Control?

Democratic Senators were positively “giddy,” according to the New York Times, when President Donald Trump, during a live televised meeting, declared his strong support for gun control and urged Congress to pass a comprehensive bill that would expand background checks, keep guns from mentally ill people, and raise the age limit for purchasing guns to 21.

No doubt Democratic lawmakers will seize on the president’s sudden conversion to their side and try to rush through Congress new legislation to address gun violence. But there’s a part of what the president is pushing that should caution Democrats against acting too hastily to embrace his proposals.

In addition to acting on guns, Trump also wants to “harden our schools against attack,” Education Week reports, by adding more “security” apparatus to schools and arming more school personnel, including teachers.

School security measures are all the rage with lawmakers right now because of the horrendous shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That tragic event is what has put the issue of gun control and school safety on the Beltway’s radar in the first place.

Real action on meaningful gun control should get the happy support of Congressional Democrats. But if precedent holds, the likely outcome of any “bipartisan” action on guns and school safety will be that the gun lobby will convince enough Republicans to suppress any meaningful control of firearms and ammo while legislators in both parties will let new “security” measures for schools sail through, and teachers and students will be worse off for it.

The Media’s Big Lie

The media’s big lie is that “we’ve done nothing” to address school shootings that continue to plague the nation. More accurate is to say we’ve done the wrong things.

After the appalling slaughter at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, Congress took up legislation to address school shootings. But nothing meaningful about gun control made it out of the Senate, while plenty of new laws got passed, in Washington and in state capitals across the country, that turned school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments – all for the sake of “security.”

Using the Sandy Hook narrative as a rationale, lawmakers proposed dozens of new bills to either allow educators to carry weapons, add armed guards to public schools, or take other steps to make it easier for school personnel to carry guns on school and college campuses.

The Obama administration helped incentivize the arms race in schools with lots of new federal grant money for school cops, commonly called “school resource officers.”

Since Sandy Hook, over 101 bills have been proposed to increase school police forces, 84 to arm school personnel, and 73 to ease restrictions on guns in schools, according to Education Week. Only 51 bills targeted gun control, and 81 addressed school climate and support.

Meanwhile, there have been 63 school shootings during the same time period, and cops now outnumber counselors in the nation’s largest school systems. Nationally, the ratio of school counselors to students is 1:491 – almost two times the recommended ratio.

Witness recent events in Florida, following the Parkland shooting, where state lawmakers voted against a bill to ban assault weapons while eagerly pushing forward a bill appropriating $67 million to arm school teachers – all done in defiance of the vehement criticism of Parkland survivors who looked on. Did these Florida officials not know Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did have a sheriff’s deputy on duty at time of the shooting, but he never discharged his weapon?

The Florida measure to arm teachers resembles a bill enacted in Texas in 2013. There have been 25 school-related shootings in the Lone Star State since then.

Research studies overwhelmingly show teachers don’t want guns in schools and the proliferation of guns correlates with increases in shootings.

Guns and Guards Don’t Help Kids

Not only has the school arms race been ineffective in addressing school shootings; but turning our institutions for teaching and learning into environments that more resemble prisons is having a severely negative impact on students and teachers.

“The most striking impact of school police officers,” the New York Times reports, “has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior …. that sends children into the criminal courts.”

“Every day in our nation’s schools, children as young as five are charged with “crimes” for everyday misbehavior: throwing a paper airplane, kicking a trashcan, and wearing sagging pants. In the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which statistics are available, schools reported over 223,000 referrals to law enforcement,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU’s study found increased police presence in schools added “an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in schools, police presence often results in physical harm when children are body slammed, tased, pepper sprayed, choked, or placed in handcuffs.

“The psychological impact of school policing on children has lifelong consequences,” the ACLU stated, including increased feelings of alienation, anxiety, and rejection and a heightened perception of education institutions as negative places.

“There is no routine place for police in our public schools,” the study concluded.

Do the Right Thing

There are alternative to guards and guns. The Advancement Project, a civil rights coalition, that has proposed a “Gun Free Way to School Safety” plan for schools calling for preventing crisis situations “through creation of a positive school culture” and enacting “appropriate security measures” that don’t involve law enforcement personnel.

So yes, Democrats should embrace any efforts on meaningful gun control proposed by President Trump or any other Republicans. But let’s not make public schools, and in turn students and teachers, the sacrificial lamb continually slaughtered for the sake of saying we’re “doing something.”

[This article has been updated with additional research.]

 

Student and Teacher Leadership Will Change the Politics of Gun Control

This time is different.

After the horrendous shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students are taking over the debate on gun control that politicians in both parties have so horribly botched for decades.

The protests are not confined to the courageous survivors of the Parkland atrocity, as walk-outs, rallies, “die-ins,” and other forms of mass demonstration have broken out at middle and high schools and in communities across the country. Teachers are joining in the widespread dissent, not as instigators but as collaborators in raising a unified message that “enough is enough.”

Parkland student leaders have called for a March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, on March 24 to end gun violence and mass shootings schools. On March 14, Women’s March organizers are urging students, teachers, and their allies to walk out of schools to protest gun violence. On April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, a coalition of teachers and public school advocates, including two national teachers’ unions and the Network for Public Education, is calling for nationwide sit-ins, teach-ins, walkouts, marches, and other actions to show their determination to keep students safe from guns.

This push for meaningful gun control seems more promising than efforts in the past for numerous reasons, including the leadership of the students and teachers and the moral clarity they speak from. Students and teachers are intent on making politicians who ignore their demands pay at the ballot box in November. And although the policy agenda has not fully formed, those engaged in the movement are clear about the results they want – laws enacted to end mass shootings.

Republican lawmakers are falling back on old rhetoric and policies to uphold their entrenched positions on guns. But Democrats should be forewarned the half measures and false solutions they’ve supported in the past aren’t going to pass muster with this new movement.

Why This Is Different

Of course, the outrage over children being gunned down in schools, parks, and city streets did not start with Parkland. For years, students and families in Black communities have brought attention to gun violence plaguing their public spaces and called for new laws to stem the flow of firearms.

But as Phillip Bump explains, this new mass movement for sensible gun control come from a whole generation who has seen the horrors of school shootings become “an endemic problem” – from Columbine to Sandy Hook and the more than 400 shootings since Sandy Hook.

Also, the expertise today’s students have with social media and online organizing comes at a time when political orthodoxies are more vulnerable to disruption and dissemination of messages is less reliant on broadcast media.

Most important, the students have yanked the dialogue defining the debate about guns out of the passive voice of “thoughts and prayers” and “nothing will change.” Instead, they are directing their anger at the opponents of sensible gun control: political leaders and the National Rifle Association.

Finally, these protests seem well-timed with public opinion. According to a recent survey, a strong majority of Americans say Congress is not doing enough to stop mass shootings. Over half, 58 percent, think stronger gun restrictions would have stopped shootings like the one that occurred in Florida from occurring.

Let Students and Teachers Lead

Students and teachers have both the moral and practical authority to lead the drive for gun control.

First, they’re the ones being shot at.

Students lose their friends in horrendous ways and have their feelings of security shattered. They understand all too well that guns and shootings have helped make America the most dangerous wealthy nation for children in the world, while it doesn’t have to be that way.

Teachers are the ones who have to tell their spouses and families they may have to take a bullet for their students.

Both understand their lives have become more perilous and uncertain because congress has done nothing since the Sandy Hook shooting, and they feel the only people who don’t care are the people making the laws.

From a practical standpoint, students and teachers more clearly see the consequences to schools when lawmakers fail to act on gun control or choose ineffective remedies because of their unwillingness to take on the tough work of legislating real solutions.

Both students and teachers know school security measures are a band aid on the cancer of gun violence in America. The school cops they see every day in their schools do not reassure them they are safe.

Teachers feel the pain of making children as young as four years old go through active shooter drills that traumatize students, add stress to the school environment, and take away from instructional time.

Teachers know all too well their schools do not have the resources and staff specialists they need to identify and monitor troubled teens who could turn into shooters.

Also, from a movement standpoint, having students and teachers at the head of gun control advocacy is a huge advantage.

As Andre Perry points out, “No one can ignore millions of students out in the streets as they might ignore op-eds and interviews with grieving families. There are an estimated 3.6 million teachers and more than 50 million public school students in the country.”

“Neither the NRA nor their legislative puppets will be able stand up to” 3 million teachers who are the “nurturers and guardians of our youth” calling for sensible gun laws, says university professor and education research expert David Berliner in an interview for Slate.

Real Consequences to Those in Power

“Lawmakers say they are feeling more pressure than ever to act on gun control,” reports The Hill, largely because of the “emotional pleas from students” and the “new type of organic outcry” represented by the students’ movement.

So far, Republicans are staying firmly entrenched in the positions dictated to them by the NRA. In the Florida legislature, they voted on a strict party line against reviving a bill to ban assault rifles while aghast Parkland students looked on from the gallery.

Florida GOP senators also may increase spending on mental health programs for schools, expand law-enforcement power to “involuntarily hold someone considered a danger,” and “deputize a teacher or someone else at school so they are authorized to have a gun.” In other words, anything but meaningful gun control.

Florida Republicans took these actions while students flooded the capitol grounds in protest and chanted “shame on you” to the lawmakers.

Democrats can’t fall back on old ideas either.

After Sandy Hook, Democratic lawmakers generally supported measures to address school shooting by boosting the classroom security industry.

Many states enacted legislation that made it easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus. The Obama administration helped move this effort along by providing incentives for schools to take these actions. These measures helped turn school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments for the students while doing nothing to decrease the incidents of gun violence.

The result was more high-security school environments that intensified stress levels in schools, increased school suspensions, and pushed more students into the school-to-prison pipeline.

While politicians struggle with how to respond to the new phenomenon of mass student actions against gun violence, the walk outs and other demonstrations will likely grow into a mass movement.

Falling back on worn out ideology, bumper-sticker arguments, or self-serving strategizing likely won’t work. This is different.

 

DeVos Denies Students’ Civil Rights, Locks Out Teachers. But She’s The Victim?

A favorite tactic of the rightwing political establishment is to claim they are being victimized when those who’ve had their civil rights or their political voices stifled by rightwing policies make their grievances known and advocate for change.

It’s a clever way to turn blatant discrimination into a “freedom” and undermine the right to protest.

It appears US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been well schooled in this rhetorical trick.

Shortly after news reports that long-time Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz had been brought in to school DeVos on how to talk about controversial education policies without igniting the ire of parents, teachers, and voters, she played the “victim” card in saying criticisms of her actions as secretary have been “hurtful.”

“[It’s] hurtful to me when I’m criticized for not upholding the rights of students, the civil rights of students,” she told Politico. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

For someone who is one of the wealthiest people in America and who is so influential of the ruling party to express vulnerability seems disingenuous, to say the least. It becomes all the more preposterous amidst the recent actions of the department she leads to undo progress in civil rights and undermine democracy.

In her first year as secretary, DeVos has established a consistent pattern of first delaying then eventually curtailing her department’s duties to uphold the civil rights of students. And despite her role as a government official, she’s demonstrated little interest in hearing what the public thinks about these actions. Teachers, parents, and students who recently showed up at the Department of Education to express their dissent were locked out.

Denying the Rights of Transgender Students

Victims of DeVos’s education department include transgender students who want the freedom to use school bathroom facilities that correspond with their gender preferences.

This was their right under the Obama administration, and courts in at least three states – Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maine – have ruled that federal codes enforced by Title IX protect the rights of these students.

But beginning a year ago, DeVos’s education department decided it didn’t like these laws, began to deny their enforcement fell in its jurisdiction, and dismissed complaints from students who claimed arbitrary school rules were forcing them into situations that made them feel uncomfortable or subjected them to bullying.

Now, the department has officially announced it “won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity,” BuzzFeed reported.

While protecting transgender students when they are “penalized or harassed” is still “prohibited,” according to a department spokesperson, those prohibitions apparently no longer extend to bathrooms.

Since when did people’s rights end at the bathroom door?

Leaving Minority Students Unprotected

DeVos and her department have also signaled their intentions to ignore their duties to take on racial disparities in special education and school discipline policies.

Numerous studies have shown that black and brown school children are disproportionally identified as “learning disabled.” Other studies have found the opposite is true. But it seems reasonable that given the evidence that discrimination – of some kind – against nonwhite students in special education occurs, schools should devote resources to identify and address racial bias in their programs when it shows up.

That is what the Obama administration ruled when it required states to look for racial disparities in special education programs and devote a portion of their federally funded resources to ensure fairness in the identification, placement, and discipline of those students.

The new guidelines were to go into effect this month, giving states a full year to prepare, but DeVos and her department have now issued a two-year delay for “public comment.”

State leaders overseeing special education, who have been preparing to comply with these rules for months, say “they want the rule kept in place,” according to Education Week.

But much in the same way DeVos and her department first delayed and then dropped enforcements of transgender student rights, before eventually announcing a complete denial to enforce them, it’s not hard to imagine this “delay” in special education guidance is the forerunner to eventually abandoning the rules altogether.

Blocking and Locking Out Dissent

DeVos’s troubling history of political influence and her actions as secretary have made her President Trump’s most disliked cabinet member, and she’s constantly confronted with protests wherever she goes.

To shield her from public interaction, DeVos is escorted by federal marshals, an unprecedented security measure at great cost to the taxpayer. Her publically released schedule routinely omits many of the events and meetings she participates in. A recent trip she took to Indianapolis was completely “covert.” And many of the public events where she speaks have been before audiences that align with her political views.

The latest tactic to guard DeVos from the public was to lock the doors of the Department of Education.

Recently when leaders of two national teachers’ unions and 50-odd members representing a coalition of education and civil rights groups tried to deliver 80,000 report cards assessing DeVos’s performance, they were locked out.

Close to 90 percent of the report cards filled out by educators and public school activists gave DeVos an F, according to Education Week.  “A common theme: that DeVos was not doing her job because she appears not to care about public schools.”

“We were locked out,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers told Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. “We asked for an appointment, but they locked us out instead.”

The doors are normally open 24 hours a day, Strauss reported.

DeVos Threatens Our Democracy, Our Future

A year ago, shortly after DeVos took office amidst a storm of controversy, a well-known conservative cartoonist depicted her as a victim of civil rights abuse by inserting her image substituted for Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend racially integrated schools in New Orleans in 1960, in a cartoon rendition of Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

The false equivalency of a billionaire white woman able to buy her way into a US Cabinet position to a six-year-old black girl who helped desegregate New Orleans public schools sparked a firestorm of media outrage.

But it’s business as usual for Republicans.

People like DeVos are not victims of anything. She and the rightwing political machine funded by the Koch Brothers want to get rid of public education because they don’t believe in civil rights and democracy. These radical factions have made public schools one of their top targets, a progressive plum at least as important, if not more so, as Medicare and Social Security.

Speaking before the locked doors of the Department of Education, Keron Blair, co-director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, declared the protestors were there to speak out against DeVos’s “deliberate and stated purpose” to undermine her department’s mission and dismantle public education.

“Betsy DeVos and her agenda are a legitimate threat to our democracy,” Blair said, “We will not stand idly by while she dismantles public education and threatens our future.”