Crippled Puerto Rico Offered School Privatization as Quick Fix for Woes

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You’re Puerto Rico’s school system.

 

More than five months since a devastating hurricane hit the island’s shores, some 270 schools are still without power.

 

Roughly 25,000 students are leaving with that number expected to swell to 54,000 in four years. And that’s after an 11-year recession already sent 78,000 students  seeking refuge elsewhere.

 

So what do you do to stop the flow of refugees fleeing the island? What do you do to fix your storm damaged schools? What do you do to ensure all your precious children are safe and have the opportunity to learn?

 

If you’re Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, you sell off your entire system of public education.

 

After an economic history of being pillaged and raped by corporate vultures from the mainland, Rossello is suggesting the U.S. Territory offer itself for another round of abuse.

 

He wants to close 300 more schools and change the majority of those remaining into charter and voucher schools.

 

That means no elected school boards.

 

That means no public meetings determining how these schools are run.

 

It means no transparency in terms of how the money is spent.

 

It means public funding can become private profit.

 

And it means fewer choices for children who will have to apply at schools all over the island and hope one accepts them. Unlike public schools, charter and voucher schools pick and choose whom to enroll.

 

Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with serving the needs of children. It is about selling off public property because it belongs to poor, brown people.

 

Something similar happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 

A district that served mostly black and poor children was swiped by private interests and turned almost exclusively into charter schools.

 

The results have been an abysmal academic record, the loss of black teachers, black neighborhoods, cultural heritage and in its place support for a status quo that just doesn’t care to provide the proper resources to students of color.

 

If the Governor and his wealthy backers have their way, Puerto Rico will be yet another ghettoized colony gobbled up by industry.

 

However, the people aren’t going to let this happen without a fight.

 

Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teacher’s union, released the following statement:

 

“Dear comrades in the diaspora, now more than ever we need your unconditional solidarity.

 

Governor Roselló just announced his plan to shut down 307 schools, implement charter schools and vouchers. Disaster capitalism at its best. Added to the announcement of the privatization of PREPA. [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority]

 

The way to victory is already paved, organized and militant resistance, concrete proposals to improve the public goods that we have, unity and organization. Be our voice in the states and let the world know that corporate reformers want to make PR the next New Orleans as they did after Katrina.

 

The hurricane has been the perfect storm and excuse for them to advance their plans. Today the so called “educational reform” will be sent to the legislature.

 

We will give the hardest fight of our lives, and we will triumph. Send letters and videos of support with our struggle. Teachers United, will never be defeated!

 

Lucha sí”

 

I don’t know about you, but I stand with these brave teachers, parents and their students.

 

I may live in Pennsylvania, my skin may be white, but I do not support the theft of Puerto Rico’s schools.

 

These children have just as much right as mine to a free and appropriate education. Their parents deserve the right to control their districts. They deserve transparency and self-rule.

 

They deserve the choice to guide their own destinies.

 

Teachers’ opposition to the move comes even though the Governor is proposing a $1,500 raise for all educators. Martinez says it could come to a general strike.

 

Their cause has hope on its side – especially in blocking the proposed school vouchers.

 

The Governor’s voucher proposal wouldn’t go into effect until the 2019-20 school year. However, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down a similar program in 1994 when the current governor’s father, Pedro Rossello – himself a former governor – tried to push it through. The court ruled the island’s constitution forbids public money being used to fund privately run schools.

 

From this day forward, let us always remember what they did to New Orleans. Let us remember what they are trying to do to Puerto Rico.

 

Corporate school reform is not about making better schools. If it was, you would see plans like this being proposed in Beverly Hills and rich white neighborhoods across the country.

 

But somehow that never happens.

 

These schemes only show up in poor communities populated predominantly by people of color.

 

While the rest of our public schools are celebrating Black History Month, the children of Puerto Rico are reliving the struggle for their civil rights.

 

They are still the victims of colonization and brutality.

 

But they are not alone.

 

I stand with the people of Puerto Rico.

 

Will you stand, too?

 

Will you speak out for Puerto Rico?


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Making Puerto Rico the New New Orleans – Steal the Schools and Give Them to Big Business to Run For Profit

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Charter school backers can’t help it.

 

They see a bunch of black or brown kids displaced by a natural disaster and they have to swoop in to help…

 

Help themselves, that is.

 

They did it in 2005 to New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina. Now they want to do it again in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

 

“This is a real opportunity to press the reset button,” said Puerto Rican Secretary of Education Julia Keleher.

 

“…this [is a] transformational opportunity for us to start to think fundamentally differently about what it is to be in school, and how one goes about getting an education.”

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A dozen years ago in Louisiana, that meant stealing almost the entire New Orleans public school system in the aftermath of Katrina. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.

 

In effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.

 

Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved (kinda), but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.

 

That is what Keleher and others want to repeat in Puerto Rico – wrest control away from the public and give it to big business all wrapped up in a bow.

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Why?

 

 

Public schools come with expensive perks like local control, transparent budgets and regulations to ensure all the money is being spent on students. It’s much cheaper to run these districts with unelected bureaucrats, closed-door budgets and the ability to grab as much of the cash as possible and stuff it into their own pockets.

 

It ’s not like anyone’s going to complain. These schools aren’t for rich white kids. They’re for poor brown ones.

 

It’s just colonialism, 2017 style!

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Jeanne Allen thinks that’s a great idea.

The founder and CEO of school privatization lobbying group, the Center For Education Reform, said that charterization is the best thing that could happen to Puerto Rican schools.

 

After dealing with the immediate effects of the hurricane, reformers “should be thinking about how to recreate the public education system in Puerto Rico.” And she should know. Allen was also involved in the New Orleans fiasco turning that system over to big business.

 

She added that charter school operators across the nation, including cyber charter school managers (whose schools often have even more wretched academic results), should be thinking about how to get involved in Puerto Rico post-Maria.

 

Keleher has already begun laying the groundwork.

 

Even though many Puerto Rican schools are only operational because of the work of teachers who have cleaned them up and have opened them despite being told not to by Keleher’s administration, the Education Secretary has pledged to lay off massive amounts of teachers and permanently close more schools – even schools that are structurally sound.

 

“Consolidating schools makes sense,” Keleher said in October. “They can go out and protest in the streets, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t go back to life being the same as it was before the hurricane.”

 

Puerto Rican teachers aren’t letting the vultures swoop in without protest.

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Just this week twenty-one teachers in the capitol of San Juan were arrested during a rally at the Education Department headquarters. They were demanding all structurally sound schools be opened immediately.

 

“Our schools have served students well and although we recognize that it can be expensive to repair some schools, what we are asking is that schools that are ready be opened,” said social worker Alba Toro just before the arrests.

 

Administration officials are claiming the teachers were taken into custody because they physically attacked the civil servants, but witnesses say the protest was entirely peaceful.

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According to Education Safety Commissioner César González, the protesters assaulted at least three security employees and a public relations employee while inside the building.
However, protestors dispute this version of events. Eulalia Centeno, who was part of the group that went inside the building, but left before the arrests began, said that no violent acts were committed and that the protesters only demanded to see the secretary to request the opening of public schools.

 

Seven weeks after the hurricane, less than half of the island’s nearly 1,200 public schools are open in any capacity. Though many schools endured severe storm and flood damage, others were repaired and cleaned to shelter hurricane victims and are ready to take in students.

“Keleher is using the crisis as an opportunity to close hundreds of public schools, lay off senior teachers and privatize public education,” says Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teachers union.

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Martinez was one of the teachers arrested during the protest.

 

When she was taken out of the building in handcuffs, her son was photographed leaning over a railing and patting his mother on the shoulder.

 

This is what real heroes do.

 

They refuse to back down despite the forces of prejudice and commerce stacked against them.

 

Will we let the charter school vampires suck Puerto Rico dry?

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Please Help Puerto Rican Teachers and Their Communities Survive Hurricane Devastation

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Mercedes Martinez is looking for water.

The President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teachers union, has taken to the soggy streets to find bottled water for friends and family.

After Hurricane Maria, thousands of people including many local public school teachers have lost their homes.

Many of the 3.4 million residents of this U.S. territory don’t have access to water, power or roads. At least 13 people died during the storm and 70,000 more are at risk should a dam in the western part of the island break.

Martinez was luckier than most. Though her town is battered, the streets are flooded and many buildings damaged, her house remains standing.

But like many resilient islanders, she wasn’t satisfied just to scavenge for her immediate circle.

Even though she has no Internet at home, she gathered members of the union together and jury-rigged what signal she could to reach out for relief from the mainland.

“The union is collecting donations to help,” she said.

“The Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, which I preside, is receiving donations so we can help poor communities, teachers and students that lost everything.”

The union opened their offices for donations. They’re looking for canned foods, medicine, bottled water, clothes, insect repellent, bed sheets, etc.

You can send donations to:

 

The Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico

Urb El Caribe

1572 Ave Ponce de Leon
San Juan, PR, 00926.

 

The organization also has a gofundme Website at https://www.gofundme.com/solidaridad-victimas-huracan-maria

They’ve already received almost $7,000 in one day, but their goal is $40,000.

The Website includes this message:

“Thanks to all the compañeros and compañeras who have donated from various parts of the United States and other neighboring countries. The Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico (FMPR) is offering a network of support for those affected by the hurricane. Soon we will be informing the concrete steps. We encourage everyone to continue sharing the link for more partners to join in this effort. Together we will rise for Puerto Rico and help the poor and marginalized communities. Fight Yes!”

In the meantime, though schools have been closed across the island since the storm, teachers are supposed to report tomorrow.

“Right now communication on the internet is rough since a lot of towers were destroyed,” Martinez said.

“But to anyone who can help, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

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The following items are most in need:

 

* Personal Hygiene *
Towels
Toothbrush / hair brush
Soap (preferably bar)
Toothpaste
Shampoo / Conditioner
Deodorant (Unisex)
Razor Blades
Sanitary Towels / tampons / cup
Slapjones
Sanitary paper
Splash / perfume / Nenuco (F / M)
Gel
Shoes
Stockings
Interiors (Underpants / panties)
Pants
Shirts
Baby Clothes (F / M)
Diapers
Desitil / Balmex / Avenoo / A+D

* FOOD *
Canned Goods (Chicken / Tuna)
Export Cookies
Cereal
Uht milk
Rice
Oil
Salt
Soups
Sausages
Jamonilla
Corned beef
Pan (slice)
Potatoes
Guinean
Bananas
Pumpkin
Onions
Yams
Yautía
Hot
Fruit
Coffee
Sugar
Salt
Water
Pasta (Spaghetti / Mac)

* miscellaneous *
Greca / boot
Pan / pot
Gas Estufitas
Batteries
Lanterns
Candles
Sleeping bags
Mattress inflables
Bed Linen
Clorox
Mosquito repellent
Cups / utensils / plastic dishes

* MEDICINE *
Drugs “over the counter”
Panadol/Advil/Tylenol
Imodium
Pepto Bismol
Hydrogen peroxide
Alcohol
Cotton
Band-AIDS
Triple antibiotic
Syrups (e.g. Robitussin)

* school effects *
Variety

No New Charter Schools – NAACP Draws Line in the Sand

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Specifically, the resolution states:

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Too many people have seen how they actually violate them.

Why Aren’t Public Schools Too Big To Fail?

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There’s a new fad sweeping the nation.

It’s called “Educational Accountability.” Here’s how it works.

If your neighborhood school can’t afford to pay its bills, just close it.

That’s right. Don’t help. Don’t look for ways to save money. Don’t look for new revenue. Just lock the doors.

It’s fun! And everyone in the federal and state government is doing it!
It’s the saggy pants of United States education policy. It’s the virtual pet of pedagogical economics. It’s the cinnamon challenge of learning-centered legislating.

Sorry, poor urban folks. We’re closing your kids’ school. What? Your little tots are entitled to an education!? Fine! Take them to some fly-by-night charter or else they can get stuffed into a larger class at a traditional school miles away. It’s really none of my business.

Meanwhile, as government functionaries pat themselves on the back and give high fives all around, academic outcomes for these children are plummeting.

Moving to another school rarely helps kids learn. They lose all their support systems, social networks, community identity, and self esteem while spreading resources even thinner at their new location often putting it on the chopping block for the next round of closings. Or worse they’re subject to the unregulated whims of a for-profit company devoted to cutting student services in the name of increasing shareholders profits until some charter CEO shutters the building, himself, and sneaks away like a thief in the night.

But what else can we do? If a school can’t pay its bills, it’s got to go. Right?

Wrong.

Is it really so surprising that poor schools can’t pay their bills? We force them to make ends meet by relying heavily on taxes from local residents – most of whom are dead broke!

How is someone who can’t feed himself going to support a robust school system? How is someone working three minimum wage jobs going to have enough left over at the end of the week to fund a broad liberal arts education? How is someone with the wrong skin color who can’t get a home loan or a well-paying job going to provide the capitol necessary for a 21st century learning experience?

But whatever. Close the poor schools and blame it on the poor.

Tee-Hee!

Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico – You have to admit, there’s a kind of glee about the whole prospect. It’s one of the few things that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

In fact, they love it so much they’ve found all kinds of excuses for shuttering schools that aren’t even so obviously based on their budgets.

Look at how we evaluate schools effectiveness.

Does your school serve a mostly poor, undernourished, minority population who start kindergarten already years behind grade level? Those kids need help. They need extra assistance, tutoring, counseling, health screenings, and a whole host of wraparound services. But instead of providing any of that, we demand one factor – the school – provide everything without providing them any resources.

That’s like judging a soup kitchen by weighing its customers before you give them any soup!

My God, Man! This poor fellow is malnourished!

Yes, he came in that way.

What are you putting in that soup!?

It doesn’t matter. He hasn’t had any yet. Besides. He needs more than just soup.

Enough of your excuses! I’m closing you down!

Moreover, we use the worst possible measurements of student achievement – standardized test scores – to tell if our schools are doing a good job. Never mind that these sorts of assessments repeatedly have been shown to demonstrate parental income more than academic achievement. And surprise! Surprise! They show our poor kids have poor scores!

And just in case a few kids somehow manage to overcome the odds, we sabotage the learning they might otherwise get from their schools with top down policies like Common Core State Standards.

How does this cripple educational outcomes? By hobbling the one group most in a position to actually make a difference – teachers.

Instructional autonomy? Bye! Bye! After all, who wants to hear from the people on the ground who can empirically judge the situation, determine what needs to be done and how best to do it? Instead, we give the power to think tanks and the testing industry to decide what is taught, when and how.

Common Core has never been proven to help kids learn. In fact, most teachers despise it, saying the standards are developmentally inappropriate, ill-conceived and unwieldy. Even under the best of circumstances, why would you take someone who barely has the resources to get by and then make things MORE difficult? That’s like taking an 80-pound starving child and forcing him to lift a 200 pound barbell over his head in order to qualify for his dinner.

Put your back into it, youngster!

I’m trying, Sir, but I’m so hungry.

Just use your grit!

Grits! Yes, please. I’m famished.

So what do we do? We close their schools! That’ll show ‘em!

And somehow we call this accountability.

Would you solve a measles outbreak by closing the hospital? Would you solve a burning building by closing the fire department? Would you solve an asteroid hurtling toward Earth by closing NASA!?

NO! OF COURSE YOU WOULDN’T!

In fact, when the wealthy are at a disadvantage, we do just the opposite.
Take the banking industry.

When Wall Street crashed the economy with risky speculation and absurdly short-sighted practices, did we close the banks?

No way! We bailed them out.

Why? They were too big to fail.

If we had let them spiral into insolvency – which everyone agrees they deserved to do – it would have had too large an impact on the country. Middle class folks would have lost their savings. Retirees would have lost their pensions. Businesses throughout the nation would have closed. The economy would have come to a grinding halt.

So the federal government saved the banks.

Now clearly there should have been strings attached to this bail out. Those responsible for the crash should have been prosecuted and forced out. At very least, the banks should have had to make concessions such as more regulation and stopping the risky practices that crashed the economy in the first place. (SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen.)

However, the idea was sound.

But why does it only apply to the big banks? Aren’t there other areas of public life that are too big to fail? And isn’t public education one of them – perhaps the biggest one?

Heck! Unlike the banks, our schools did nothing to deserve these wholesale closures. In fact, they’ve done an amazing job with the few crumbs we force them to subsist on.

Moreover, the result of letting them shut down would be just as catastrophic for our nation as a banking collapse. Maybe more so.

If our schools fail, we won’t have educated citizens. Future generations won’t be qualified for any but the most menial of jobs. They won’t be able to navigate the media, commerce, politics, science or any domain of civic responsibility.

Without our schools, we’ll calcify the economic structure. The rich will stay rich, the poor will stay poor and there will be next to no social mobility. Our country will exist as a neo-feudal state and most of us will be relegated to little more than serfs.

Is it too cynical to suggest that this is exactly why we haven’t bailed out our schools? The overwhelming majority of our nation’s wealth is held by only 1% of the population. Disinvesting in public education is exactly the kind of thing that would ensure the status quo is maintained or perhaps even tilted further in the favor of the super rich.

Any sane society, wouldn’t let this happen. If we don’t want this nightmare scenario, it’s time to bail out our schools.

Seriously. The federal government should step in.

Provide a huge influx of cash to the poorest schools so every institution of learning can count on adequate, equitable, sustainable funding. Stop judging them based on high stakes test scores. Stop sabotaging them with social schemes like Common Core. Let the experts – the teachers – actually run their own buildings.

This is what almost every other major country in the world does. Funding is federal. Policy is local. Get with the times, America!

And you can pay for it by enacting a fair tax plan. Worldwide, American companies keep 60 percent of their cash overseas and untaxed. That’s about $1.7 trillion annually. Imagine what that kind of revenue could do for our public schools!

Imagine if we taxed risky Wall Street speculation. Imagine if we made the super rich pay their fair share with tax rates similar to those we had when our national economy was at its best – the 1950s and ‘60s.

You want to make America great again? This would do it? You champion personal responsibility? This is what responsible government would do.

After all, what’s the purpose of government if not to create a level playing field for the next generation?

Call it a bail out, if you want. Or more accurately call it being answerable to the future, taking charge, rising to meet our duties, true accountability.

Stop closing public schools. Save them.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive.

 

 

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

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

The predawn chill was still in the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big corporations are taking advantage of the situation, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MORE ON PUERTO RICO:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

“Our children should come first.”

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


 

MORE ON PUERTO RICO:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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