The State Penalized My School Because We Tried to Integrate

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 3.05.22 PM

 

The original sin of American education is segregation.

 

Yet in Pennsylvania, taking steps to integrate can result in a penalty from the state legislature.

 

That’s what happened to my school this year.

 

After years of innovation and academic growth, my school added a new program to bring in struggling students from another institution – and the state rewarded us by putting us on a list of “failing” schools and forcing us into a voucher program.

 

I teach in a racially diverse, high poverty district in the western part of the state, just outside of Pittsburgh.

 

Charter schools have been leeching off us for years.

 

But today was the first day school vouchers sunk their teeth into us, too.

 

It’s called the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTCP) – a ridiculous bit of legislation that allows children in struggling public schools to use public tax dollars to pay for tuition at a private or parochial school.

 

I’d say they could use that money at a participating public school, too, but in Pennsylvania the public schools taking part in the program can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

 

And why does my school now qualify for this dubious distinction? Because of our standardized test scores.

 

Not our test scores from this year. They won’t be released until at least June – more likely August or September.

 

This is based on test scores from last year – 2016-17.

 

Moreover, it’s not district wide. It’s just the middle school and one elementary school.

 

In previous years, the middle school was the district powerhouse. We had the highest test scores and the most innovation. So what happened?

 

In short, we integrated.

 

From a state-wide standpoint, my district is hugely segregated.

 

About 60% of our students are poor and/or minorities. Yet if you go a few miles north, south, east or west, you’ll find schools serving every flavor of white privilege. Beautiful big buildings with the best of everything and a tax base to pay for it. My district, on the other hand, is made to do the best it can with what we’ve got, which isn’t much.

 

To make matters worse, the structure within our district, inherited from decades of unenlightened social planning, doubles down on that segregation.

 

Though we only have one middle school and one high school where all our students rub shoulders, we have two elementary schools – one for the middle class white kids and one for the poorer black ones.

 

This has dramatic academic consequences. Kids at the better-resourced white school flourish scholastically more than kids from the crumbling black school. So the racial and economic skills gap becomes entrenched by the time kids move to the middle school in 6th grade.

 

If only we could integrate the elementaries.

 

However, we can’t bus kids from one neighborhood to the other because we can’t afford it. We have a walking district. Moreover, parents would revolt at the idea of elementary kids having to trudge long distances or take a city bus to school.

 

The only long-term solution is to create a new, centrally located elementary center serving both populations. However, that takes money we don’t have.

 

So last year we tried a partial solution – move the 5th grade up to the middle school. That way, we can at least integrate our students a year earlier.

 

Of course, this means taking kids from the black school with terrible test scores up to the middle school. This means adding more struggling students from the school that already is on the state’s bottom 15% list and making them the middle school’s responsibility. It means a new program, new trials and challenges.

 

You’d think we’d get praise or at least understanding for tackling such a problem. But no.

 

Taking on the 5th grade tipped the middle school’s test scores over the edge.

 

Now we’re in the bottom 15%, too. Now we have to let our students go to a private or parochial school with public tax dollars.

 

Why? Because we tried to right a wrong. We tried to correct a social and academic injustice. And the result was a kick in the gut.

 

Thanks, Harrisburg legislators! Way to support students of color!

 

This is just another way that school vouchers support white supremacy. They make it harder to battle segregation.

 

Why would anyone integrate if doing so could mean losing funding and looking like a failure in the press?

 

Moreover, forget all the junk you hear from the state about growth.

 

This penalty is based on whether we hit testing benchmarks – what percentage of students we have earning proficient or advanced on the tests. It doesn’t matter how much they’ve improved. It doesn’t matter if they’ve gone from the lowest of the low to scratching at the ceiling of proficient.

 

My 8th graders last year (the year we’re being penalized for) experienced tremendous growth just like my students this year are doing. From where they came in to where they’re leaving, the difference is phenomenal!

 

But apparently that doesn’t count in Pennsylvania.

 

A poor school serving mostly underprivileged minorities needs to meet the same benchmarks as schools with Cadillac resources serving kids who have everything money can buy. There’s certainly no need for the state or federal government to do anything about equitable resources (At least, not until the result of a lawsuit is handed down where local districts are suing the state over just such strategic disinvestment).

 

Instead, we’ve got to offer our student the “opportunity” to go to a private school on the public dime.

 

And what an opportunity it is!

 

The chance to send your child to a cooperating private or parochial school at public expense.

 

The opportunity to lose your duly-elected school board. The opportunity for decisions about how your money is spent being made behind closed doors with little to no input from you. The opportunity to send your child to a school with fewer resources and fewer certified teachers. The opportunity to send your child to (an often) religious school on the public dime.

 

Wow! I can’t imagine why so few parents take advantage of that opportunity! My district has had a few schools on the OSTCP list before, and families overwhelmingly opt to stay put.

 

Let’s not forget the justification for this “opportunity” is low test scores.

 

Wait a minute. These cooperating private and parochial schools don’t even take the same standardized tests, if they take any at all.

 

In our community, there is only one cooperating private school – a catholic school located right next door.

 

Students enrolled there don’t take the PSSA or Keystone Exams. I believe they take the Terra Nova test. And the school must do a great job because its Website is three years out of date about the results of those tests.

 

What a great way to improve test scores for our students – comparing apples-to-pears or, to be honest, actually making no comparison at all.

 

This OSTCP law is based on an unjustified assumption that private schools are always better than public ones. The reality is that if the resources both schools receive are similar, the public school usually greatly outperforms the private or parochial one.

 

I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve toured our next door Catholic institution. A few years ago, we relocated our students there temporarily during an emergency drill.

 

It’s a quaint school. Cobblestones and a shaded green campus.

 

But the buildings are crumbling – especially on the inside. Watermarks on the walls and dirt collecting in the corners.

 

It’s also much smaller than my school. They only have less than 300 students from K-8. We have about 1,500 from K-12.

 

I can see why parents who graduated from that school and have a history with it might want to send their kids there to continue that legacy. But anyone else would be giving up much better facilities, a much wider curriculum, much better trained and experienced teachers and even smaller classes!

 

The OSTCP bill has nothing to do with providing better opportunities for children and families.

 

It’s a public tax giveaway to private businesses.

 

The private/religious schools benefit and so do the businesses who “donate” their taxes to these programs.

 

In 17 states you can get substantial tax credits for contributing to this scam.

 

Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia, for example, all provide tax credits worth between $65 and $95 on every $100 donated. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina go even further by reimbursing 100% of the donation. You read that right. Donate $100, get $100 back.

 

Oh, but it gets much worse. Since these are considered donations, you can also claim them as charitable deductions and get an additional 35% off your taxes. So you donate $100 and get back $135! Yes. You actually make money off this deal!

 

In Pennsylvania, investors can even “triple dip” receiving a state tax credit, a reduction in their state taxable income, and a reduction in their federal taxable income. And, yes, that means they sometimes get back more in tax breaks than they provide in contributions.

 

Meanwhile all of these “savings” come from money stolen from local public schools like mine. Businesses and individual investors are profiting off the industrial testing complex.

 

In the Keystone state, we have the OSTCP and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).

 

This blatant swindle is championed on both sides of the political aisle.

 

We already waste $200 million in business taxes to these programs in the Commonwealth, yet both Democrats and Republicans keep trying to pass another bill to increase that sum by another $50 million.

 

In Allegheny County, where I teach, that includes Democratic State Reps. Dom Costa, Daniel J. Deasy, William C. Kortz II (who represents part of my school district) and Harry Readshaw.

 

Because of this bogus philanthropy, there will always be a bottom 15% of state schools – approximately 400 “failing schools” – that are ripe for the picking from private and parochial school vultures.

 

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t right.

 

That money should be going to public schools not private or religious institutions many of which espouse fundamentalist or racist teachings.

 

There is a reason our founders legislated a separation of church and state. We’d do best to remember it.

 

We could be using our resources to help solve our problems, alleviate segregation and increase equity.

 

Instead our lawmakers are too interested in giveaways to business and corporations even if that means stealing the money from our children.

Go Ahead, SCOTUS. Rule Against Unions in Janus Case. You’ll Only Make Us Stronger

1060x600-8abcfe3a7759726bb00893d08cc17540

 

Bwa-hahahaha!

 

The corporate owned far right has been trying to destroy labor unions for decades.

 

But this time they may have finally overplayed their hand.

 

The upcoming Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case set for a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb 26 has been billed as the final nail in the coffin for public sector unions.

 

With the pitifully weak Democrats giving up President Obama’s pick for the bench in favor of Trump’s absurd choice, Neil Gorsuch, the court has a decidedly conservative bias.

 

So court watchers expect the latest challenge to collective bargaining rights to come out in favor of the corporations and billionaires who have spent truckloads of money to ensure the little guy has less of a say in the workplace.

 

BUT! They aren’t taking into account how stupid these far right shills truly are!

 

The case comes down to this: some people working in a union job don’t think they should have to pay union dues even though they benefit from the contract negotiated by their union. They affirm that being part of a union is political speech and thus they cannot be compelled to pay – yet somehow they should be able to keep all the benefits of being in a union, anyway.

Cartoon-JanusVAfscme-768x557

So the union gets me a raise and better healthcare, but – even though none of my dues go to pay for political campaigns (that money is donated separately and voluntarily) – just being in a union is a political act.

 

If the court rules in favor of this position, unions would no longer be able to compel members to pay dues.

 

Pay them, don’t pay them – there’s nothing the union could do.

 

Conservatives are betting that if dues become voluntary on a person-by-person basis, at least a few members will opt out and thus weaken union finances and ability to collectively bargain for everyone.

 

But what they don’t seem to understand is that a decision like this would overturn decades of established law.

 

It would overturn mountains of legal decisions that provide the foundation for how our government works.

 

In short, how many times are we compelled to pay for things we don’t necessarily believe in?

 

Answer: every freakin’ day!

 

How much of my tax dollars go to the military? What if I don’t want my taxes used to pay for a bloated war machine?

 

How much of my hard earned money is wasted on corporate subsidies? What if I don’t want to prop up huge multinational businesses already making record profits?

 

How much of my money go to privatized schools? What if I’m against charter and voucher schools and want my taxes instead to fund fully public schools with elected boards, transparency and who have to accept all students regardless of ability?

 

If the court rules against unions, then I guess I won’t have to pay my taxes anymore – or at very least, I will have to be given the option of where my tax dollars go.

 

Not just SOME of my tax dollars – every single penny on a line-by-line basis for every single tax payer in the United States!

 

An Illinois based engineering union wrote in detail about exactly how such a ruling would change the landscape. Operating Engineers Local 150, wrote on their blog titled, “Union Busters Set Themselves Up for Janus Backfire”:

 

 

“If not bargaining is protected free speech, then bargaining will conversely be protected free speech, giving union workers new protections that we’ve never enjoyed before.  For example:

  1. Governor Scott Walker’s now infamous Act 10, the law that destroyed public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin, will be declared an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech and association.

 

  1. Every state in America will now be subject to bargaining with their public sector employees, even if they didn’t previously.

 

 

  1. Local municipalities will be subject to numerous taxpayer lawsuits based upon forced contributions to lobbying groups.

 

  1. The municipal lobbying industry, currently an extremely large source of revenue for lobbyists, will be decimated as taxpayers now have a First Amendment right to demand their tax dollars are not used for lobbying or political advocacy.

 

 

  1. Public Sector pensions will be adversely affected as participants demand that their forced pension contributions are not used for corporate speech.

 

  1. Municipal advertising, tax increment financing, and all other types of tax breaks (think Foxxcon in Wisconsin) will be subject to litigation based upon taxpayers’ First Amendment rights to opt-out of this type of speech. The same burdensome calculations that are currently leveled only upon unions would become widespread.”

 

Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers, agrees.

 

In an article for In These Times called “How A Supreme Court Decision to Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire,” he writes:

 

 

“The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy…”

 

 

Frankly, this is kind of exciting.

 

In trying to stifle workers’ free speech, conservatives may unravel the statutes that have muzzled us for years.

 

A decision against unions by the Supreme Court would open the way for thousands of cases throughout the court system – challenge after challenge. Certainly conservative justices would try to staunch the tide, but they simply couldn’t stop every case – especially after such a dangerous precedent has been set!

 

The SCOTUS would be unleashing chaos on the justice system, and I, for one, hope that every workers union takes advantage of it.

 

Every individual across the political spectrum should file suit against whichever political peccadillo they want. Evangelicals can file against public schools using their tax dollars to teach evolution. Libertarians could file against having a standing army. Liberals could file against oil pipelines.

 

And on and on and on.

 

Meanwhile, those workers unions that conservatives are hoping will be destroyed will be just fine.

 

You think workers won’t pay their union dues? Some might try, but doing so will have immense personal ramifications. At very least, it will make those individuals social pariahs. Who wants to associate with someone who thinks they should get all the benefits without paying like everyone else?

 

Moreover, I don’t advocate violence against anyone, but stiffing your co-workers on your union dues is a sure fire way to get slashed tires. Do you put your lunch in a communal fridge? I wouldn’t eat that after word gets out you’re a free rider. Not unless you like to share your co-worker’s saliva.

 

Again, I’m not advocating for any of that, but it’s just the way humans behave. We don’t like paying for any other able-bodied person whose “political” decision puts our lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.

 

The end result of a ruling against unions would forever put collective bargaining rights firmly under the protection of the First Amendment.

 

It would protect all speech – including union rights.

 

So I say, go ahead, SCOTUS, make our day!

“We Want Our Money Back!” – The Rallying Cry of the 99% After GOP Tax Scam Passes Senate

resist_1

We want our money back!

Every penny!

With interest!

Do you hear us, Republican Senators?

Early this morning while most of us slept, you passed a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest people in America!

And you did it 51-49 with only one Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, joining all Democrats against it.

This was a 500 page piece of lobbyist-written legislation hastily put together – in some cases scribbled in pen across type written pages – that no one had a chance to read before voting.

I am no fan of the corporate Democrats who have taken over what used to be a progressive party. But we can’t blame them for this one.

This scandal belongs entirely on the shoulders of Republicans.

The Dems even offered a resolution to delay the vote so that legislators had a chance to read it. All 52 Republicans voted against it!

This is what happens when the people lose control of their government.

This is what happens when the rich control lawmakers with their money.

There is no longer any doubt that we no longer live in a Republic. We no longer have any form of representative Democracy. We live in a pure plutocracy.

The rich pay the representatives and the representatives do what the rich want.

The wealthy are their real constituents. We are merely patsies told polite falsehoods to keep us in line.

You have no political power.

None.

Governments get their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

You did not give your consent to give away more than a trillion dollars to rich douchebags who don’t need it. But Republicans gave it to them anyway.

Therefore, our government has no legitimacy.

We are an occupied people.

We are the victims of a palace coup.

The question remains if there is even a semblance of democratic principles left to allow us to regain what has been stolen.

The present plutocracy is weak. It has not had time enough to consolidate its power.

The old plan of gradually stealing control under cover of neoliberal policies has been abandoned. This is a naked power grab.

Perhaps it will be the jolt we need to snap us all awake.

Perhaps it will be enough to move the 99% to grab what little remains of the system set up by Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and the other founders.

We must rise up and demand these crooks pay us back.

“We want our money back!” should be our rallying cry.

If there are any lawmakers left in the halls of power that want to represent us, they should take a page from the GOP handbook.

How many times did Republicans propose overturning Obamacare regardless of whether they had the votes or the power to do so?

We must do the same with this tax scam bill.

At every turn, we should propose repealing the bill and forcing the wealthy to pay back every red cent they stole! With interest!

It doesn’t matter if it won’t pass. Do it.

Clog the wheels of power with our cries. Don’t let them do a single thing more to make the lives of the majority of the population worse.

Democrats, now is your last chance to show us where you really stand.

You and I both know that if the Republicans had offered even the slightest concessions, many Dems would have voted for almost the same tax scam bill. It would have been a terrible piece of legislation that stole banks full of money from you and me. But it wouldn’t have been quite as terrible.

Frankly, that’s not enough, Democrats.

You aren’t to blame for what just happened, but you haven’t proven yourselves to be part of the solution.

If you want our continued support, you need to move to the left. HARD!

The masses have been stoked and stirred by this scandal. The political landscape has never been more primed for a landslide against the ruling class.

Democrats could take advantage of this and earn a blue wave next year.

But this will only happen if you run candidates that are willing to fight on our side in the class war that has already begun.

Bernie Sanders is great, but let’s be honest. He’s kinda elderly, and he’s a moderate.

That’s right. “Crazy” Bernie with his “kooky” socialist ideas is in the middle of any sane political spectrum. He only seems like a radical because of how far to the right the spectrum has shifted in this country.

We need real progressives who aren’t afraid to take on the establishment and fight inequality, police brutality, white supremacy, school privatization and a host of ills that – frankly – Democrats have historically championed almost as much as Republicans.

The pieces are all lined up. The board is ready to play.

We will support anyone who supports us.

We are coming for Republicans.

They will be repealed and replaced.

We will get back every penny they just stole last night. And we will grab every Richy Rich plutocrat by the heels, turn them upside down and shake until we get back every penny they took – with interest.

We will wring every last drop of Democracy we can from this government.

And if we find that there is not enough left…

History has an answer for what comes next.

Americans don’t take kindly to taxation without representation.

And that’s exactly what Republicans gave us this morning.


 

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. Check it out!

book-3

Tax Cuts Are Theft.

TAX

 

Ben Franklin famously said that nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes.

 

But in our modern age, that might have to be amended to read, “death and tax cuts.”

 

These days, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can’t figure out how to govern without continually cutting taxes – and invariably the beneficiaries of such largess are the rich.

 

No one likes paying taxes.

 

You do a job, earn money and have to give a portion of it to the government.

 

But no one likes going to the dentist, either. Yet it’s something most adults do because we understand its necessity. We know that ignoring basic dental hygiene and avoiding regular dental check-ups will most likely result in halitosis, mouth pain and the eventual decay of our teeth.

 

There are similar societal problems with tax avoidance, but we’ve been tricked into willful ignorance.

 

The rich have paid for an army of economists, libertarians and other would-be thinkers to come up with justifications for avoiding taxation as much as possible.

 

It’s completely disingenuous. This is prostitution as philosophy. It’s whoring out one’s mental faculties to come up with a smoke screen behind which the wealthy can get away without paying their fair share.

 

The idea basically comes down to this: taxation is theft.

 

The government has no right to tax its citizens because it only gets rights from the consent of the governed. People can only give the government rights they already posses. Since they don’t already have the right to tax each other, they can’t give that right to the government.

 

It’s pure sophistry.

 

It imagines a mythical world without government and then tells a story about how that government got its power. But few of us have ever lived in a world without government. Neither did our parents or grandparents back through the mists of prehistory. In fact, it is hard to conceive of a time when people existed with no social structure at all from which individuals could then cede rights to a collective group.

 

And once government exists, each individual citizen owes it a debt. We owe it for all the public institutions from which we benefit. If we went to public school, for instance, we owe it for our education. Even if we were educated privately, we owe it for being able to live in a society where most people are educated since the great majority of those people received that education from public school.

 

It only takes a moment of reflection to see the complex web of benefits every person receives from society that come from some public services. Think of the inventions funded at least in part by government investment. Think of the safety we enjoy due to law enforcement and the military. Think of the roads and infrastructure that allow us to live at a high standard.

 

These are all provided by government, and no matter how rich or poor you are, you have benefited tremendously from being a part of it.

 

As such, you owe that society a certain portion of your income to help support this system.

 

It’s not exactly complicated. But certain economists make it complicated in a cynical shell game while their masters getaway without paying their debts.

 

And when they do, who has to make up the difference? You do!

 

It’s not taxation that’s theft. It’s tax avoidance and – often – tax cuts.

 

No one gets rich because they’re inherently better than others.

 

A person worth $500 million is not 500 million times better than a person worth $1. They are both people and equally as valuable. Nor does income equate to how hard someone works. Many billionaires spend their days lounging around the pool drinking piña coladas. Many poor people spend their days scrubbing floors and toilets. The biggest difference between the two is luck.

 

The wealthy most often are rich merely because they won the lottery of birth or their business ventures succeeded due to pure chance. And even in the rare instances when people made a lot of money because of their intelligence or savvy, that doesn’t justify them being so unequally rewarded by our society compared to those of us without such talents.

 

If you judge a person solely on his/her bank account, you misjudge the majority of the population.

 

Some policymakers will acknowledge these points but still insist on tax cuts based on misconceptions and/or lies about how economies work.

 

They’ll say the United States already has some of the highest taxes in the world. We need to cut taxes to be competitive.

 

However, this is not true.

 

In 2014, total US tax revenue equaled 26 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – well below the 34 percent average for developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 10.08.40 AM

 

Of all OECD countries, only Korea, Chile and Mexico collected less than the United States as a percentage of GDP. In many European countries, taxes exceeded 40 percent of GDP. But those countries generally provide more extensive government services than the United States.

 

Some will argue that tax cuts are necessary to boost the economy. However, we have countless counterexamples to this popular fabrication. For instance, when President George W. Bush cut taxes from 2001 – 2007, the average annual growth rate was far below the average growth rate for any other period after World War II. In fact, only corporate profits experienced rapid growth. Over all, this expansion was among the weakest since World War II.

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 4.11.54 PM

 

In short, the US is doing a terrible job providing every citizen with the benefits of our society. We are disproportionately rewarding the rich while forcing the rest of us to pay for the services from which we all gain. Moreover, other countries provide even more bang for that buck.

 

Now this doesn’t mean that the government should tax us all into the ground.

Nor does it mean that the government should spend our tax dollars willy-nilly.

 

Taxation needs to be fair and spending needs to be regulated.

 

But constantly cutting rich people’s taxes is immoral. It is unfair to the majority of people making up the difference and struggling to survive when government services lag behind need.

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 10.34.01 AM

 

Our public schools are suffering under strategic disinvestment. Especially in poor neighborhoods that often disproportionately serve people of color, public schools cannot keep up with children’s needs. They aren’t providing an equitable level of service with those schools in richer, whiter neighborhoods.

 

Our policymakers try to solve the problem with charter schools, vouchers, standardized tests and Common Core. And the results have only been a worsening situation.

 

The real solution is simple – increased funding through fair increases in taxes on the wealthy.

 

Tax cuts are popular, but every time we let the rich get away with paying less, we have to either take more from the poor or take the knife to public services.

 

This affects the poor immediately in the form of reduced services, but it affects the rich, too. They have to live in a world where the majority has less – this means increased crime, increased drug abuse, increased ignorance, etc.

 

As a society, we must get beyond the selfish urge to look out only for what seems best for ourselves and our immediate friends and families. We must look out for our entire society. We must look out for the needs of everyone in it.

 

Otherwise, when we fall for these economic fallacies, we’re only stealing from ourselves.