My opponent took majorities in nearly every community, nearly every ward or precinct. However, it was close in many of them. I even whipped him in a few places – mostly in White Oak and West Mifflin – my home town and his respectively.
But 41% to 58% just wasn’t enough to carry the day.
And if you’re wondering why that doesn’t equal 100%, there were about 1% write in voters, many of whom scribbled my opponent’s name so he could launch a Republican write-in challenge in the general election should he lose the primary.
That’s politics, I guess.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t worked so hard.
Or if I had seen him getting out there, too, and actively fighting for votes.
However, other than a single mailer, some signs and a few ads, he didn’t seem to do much more than he does on council – which is to say nothing.
I definitely outworked him.
I knocked on more than a thousand doors. During Covid. With a pre-existing health condition. I’d be surprised if he knocked on one.
I sent out several mailers, posted signs all over, made more than 1,600 texts, hundreds of phone calls. And I went to more events, rallies and Meet the Candidate Forums.
At the closest thing we had to a debate, the Take Action Mon-Valley Candidate’s Forum – one of only two events he even attended – I mopped the floor with him. I’m not bragging about it. Watch the video. It is an objective fact.
He couldn’t get his camera to work in the Zoom meeting, when he finally got his audio to work, he couldn’t finish his sentences and when he did, he invariably stuck his foot in his mouth.
He literally told an audience of black voters that all lives matter.
That on top of his whining about not having the power to do anything in office so please vote for him.
I actually felt embarrassed for him.
That anyone could watch that forum and choose him is stupefying.
But only a few hundred voters saw it just days before the election.
I offered hope and change. He offered what? A familiar name and incompetence?
When it was all over, he called me.
Actually he returned my call when I offered my concession.
He was still complaining about someone he heard was passing out my cards on election day who he thought should have been committed to him. As if I knew what all of my supporters were doing and ruled them with an iron fist.
They were just a loose confederation of people who wanted more from county government. I wasn’t telling them what to do. Actually it was just the opposite.
But I’ll give him this – he’s a friendly cuss, the kind of guy with whom you’d probably enjoy having a beer.
Just not a person who should be representing people’s interests on council.
And he’s not representing voters’ interests. Not really.
County Council is supposed to be the legislative arm of county government. It’s supposed to be a check and balance on the County Executive.
Seems to me there’s a conflict of interest when year-after-year County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is your biggest donor.
But that’s just how we roll here.
Bias and impropriety grease the wheels of government.
Speaking of which, wasn’t this supposed to be a Democratic Primary?
My opponent and I were both seeking the party’s nomination.
We have closed primaries, which means only party members get to vote on each ticket.
So why are there Donald Trump supporters on the county Democratic Committee?
Really! According to an expose by the Washington Post, Allegheny County’s Democratic Committee is full of countless members in good standing whose social media accounts are full of right wing Trump memes and slanders on prominent Democrats. This includes the chair of the committee, herself.
There are 2,400 elected members – more than my opponent’s 1,800 margin of victory.
Sure, our district was the only part of the county that went to Trump in the last two Presidential elections – though just slightly.
However, nearly every elected official is a Democrat. Has been for as long as I can recall.
That doesn’t make sense.
Democrats don’t fill every legislative seat in districts that lean Republican…
Unless they’re not really Democrats.
Do right wing Democrats thrive here and Progressives like me face an uphill battle because the Democratic Committee has been compromised?
I don’t know.
I really don’t.
But I guess most people don’t seem to mind it much.
If they did, they missed their chance to do something about it.
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If you’re like me, you don’t want these questions to come as a surprise on May 18 or before (if you’re casting a mail in ballot).
These queries can change the state for better or worse in dramatic ways, yet for some reason, they don’t write these things in the way everyday people talk.
This is lawyer speak. You have to wear a long black robe and put on a white haired wig (called a peruke) just to understand these things.
But don’t get your gavel in a tizzy.
As a public service, I’m going to translate each question and make a suggestion on how you should vote.
“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?”
Translation:Allow the legislature to second guess the governor and terminate an emergency disaster declaration without just cause
We have three branches of government for a reason – checks and balances. Robbing the executive to boost a dysfunctional legislature would make the declaration of emergencies and natural disasters a matter or politics not facts.
Emergencies could be terminated at a moment’s notice without cause sending our first responders into chaos. Emergency managers could lose precious time and resources, communities could lose relief and recovery funding from the state and federal governments, all while our chuckleheaded legislature debates reality.
The Covid-19 pandemic may not be over yet. We’re working overtime to distribute vaccines and combat threats from emerging variants. The last thing we need is a political show prematurely eliminating masking, social distancing and other safety precautions so performative ideologues can win points on Fox News.
“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?”
Translation:Limit an emergency disaster declaration to 21 days regardless of the severity of the emergency
Suggestion: VOTE NO
Disasters do not come with time limits. But randomly limiting them all to 21 days again takes power away from the Governor and gives it to the legislature. The only way to extend emergency declarations would be passage of a resolution by the state House and Senate.
Do we really want our emergency responses tied to the endless back and forth of legislators who rarely even pass their annual budgets on time? This is unnecessary bureaucracy so politicians can grandstand while emergency personnel wait for the go ahead to save lives.
“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?”
Translation: Make it illegal to deny or cut short anyone’s rights because of race or ethnicity
Suggestion: VOTE YES
This should be a no brainer. No one should be able to deny a person’s civil rights because of race or ethnicity. Or any other reason!
However, we just lived through four years of a reality TV show President who packed the federal courts with dozens of questionable and unqualified judges who made their careers discriminating against people of color, people of different creeds, religions, etc.
So it makes sense to enshrine equal protection for all at the state level and protect Commonwealth residents from federally sanctioned prejudice especially focused around workers’ rights, criminal justice reform, housing and healthcare.
Moreover, as a part of the state Constitution, this amendment would stop even our own state legislature from passing any laws inconsistent with it.
“Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. §7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?”
Translation: Allow municipal fire departments and EMS companies to apply for state loans to modernize critical safety equipment
Suggestion: VOTE YES
Both municipal fire departments and EMS companies with paid employees and volunteer departments and companies would be able to apply for state loans.
This vital funding could be used to modernize or purchase necessary safety equipment for first responders. It would keep fire fighters up to date and able to serve residents – especially those in rural areas. It would make sure every fire department could have up to date equipment.
Question 5 (Allegheny County Only):
“Shall the Allegheny County Code, Chapter 205. Allegheny County Jail, be amended and supplemented to include a new Article III, as set forth below, which shall set forth standards governing conditions of confinement in the Allegheny County Jail?”
Translation: Should we prohibit solitary confinement at Allegheny County Jail except in extreme emergencies?
Suggestion: VOTE YES!
Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. A lawsuit filed in September by ACJ inmates alleges that solitary confinement was being used as a punishment against inmates seeking mental health care. Recent research from Cornell University demonstrates that even a short amount of time in solitary confinement can increase recidivism rates, as well as unemployment rates.
Question 6 (Pittsburgh residents only):
“Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended and supplemented by adding a new Article 10: Powers of the Pittsburgh Police, containing Section 1001, which shall bar employees of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police from executing warrants at any residence without knocking and announcing themselves?”
Translation: Should we eliminate no-knock warrants?
Suggestion: VOTE YES!
This would require all Pittsburgh Police to physically knock and announce themselves before gaining entry to execute a warrant.
No knock warrants are dangerous and often a component of racial discrimination in law enforcement.
Briana Taylor’s death in Louisville, KY, during the execution of a “no knock” warrant clearly shows how this practice recklessly endangers human life. Many municipalities now have banned no-knock warrants including Louisville, KY. Pittsburgh City Council also introduced legislation to ban the use of no-knock warrants by Pittsburgh Police officers.
So those are my suggestions for this race’s ballot initiatives.
NO. NO.YES. YES. YES.
And if you happen to be a Democrat living in Allegheny County’s District 9, please vote for me for County Council.
Together we can build a better world.
Do you live in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania? I’m running for County Council in District 9
It was a repudiation of Trump more than a celebration of Biden.
However, now that the dust has cleared and all the states but Georgia, Alaska and North Carolina have been called, I’m starting to have some thoughts about what a Biden administration might actually look like.
And it might not be too bad.
So here are what I see as the five main hurdles coming up for the Biden administration and why we might be cautiously optimistic about their outcomes:
1) Trump Will Fail to Successfully Challenge the Election Results
You don’t know Four Seasons Total Landscaping? It’s a landscape gardeners located between a crematorium and a dildo shop.
That is not the work of people capable of running an effective challenge to a national election.
Yes, there are enough far right justices on the Supreme Court to pull off this Coup d’état. But I don’t think even they would have the guts to do it in light of the world’s acceptance of Biden, the acceptance of many in the GOP and the blatant incompetence of the Trump administration.
I admit that I could be wrong. And I certainly don’t think we should underestimate these neofacists.
Trump is a cornered rat, and that is when rats are at their most dangerous.
Had Medicare For All or the Green New Deal been on the ballot, things might have gone differently – or more emphatically – our way.
But, instead, it was all about getting rid of Trump.
Thankfully, that was enough. But had the party actually offered voters something more – things that are overwhelmingly popular with everyday people but unpopular with party elites and their wealthy backers – the results could have been a landslide in Biden’s favor.
She said that every candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district was reelected. Even Mike Levin, who many thought had committed political suicide by co-sponsoring the Green New Deal, kept his seat.
Supporting progressive policies did not sink anyone’s campaigns. In fact, that’s how insurgent Democrats have been unseating centrists across the nation.
“I’ve been unseating Democrats for two years,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I have been defeating D.C.C.C.-run campaigns for two years. That’s how I got to Congress. That’s how we elected Ayanna Pressley. That’s how Jamaal Bowman won. That’s how Cori Bush won. And so we know about extreme vulnerabilities in how Democrats run campaigns.”
This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic party.
We cannot continue to move to the right and expect the base – which are much further left – to continue to vote for increasingly conservative candidates.
There is already a party for that – it’s the Republicans.
“I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy,” she said. “And that their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare For All is not the enemy. This isn’t even just about winning an argument. It’s that if they keep going after the wrong thing, I mean, they’re just setting up their own obsolescence.”
We will see if the Biden administration learns these lessons or not.
I think there is good reason to be cautiously optimistic here. It is in the party’s own self interest.
But only the future will tell.
4) Biden will Take Steps to Control the Coronavirus
Unlike his predecessor, Biden has been a consistent voice of sanity on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control.”
And true to his word, this appears to be the first thing on his agenda.
Specifically, Biden’s plan calls for empowering scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help set national guidance based on evidence to stop outbreaks, work on a vaccine, testing, contact tracing and other services.
His administration would use the CDC to provide specific guidance — based on the degree of viral spread in a community — for how to open schools and businesses, when to impose restrictions on gathering sizes or when stay-at-home orders may be necessary.
He would create a national “pandemic dashboard” to share this information with the public.
He would make sure that everyone has access to regular, reliable, free testing.
He would hire 100,000 additional public health workers to coordinate with local organizations around the country to perform contact tracing and other health services. These people would help with everything from food insecurity and affordable housing to training school officials about when and how to make it safe to reopen buildings.
He proposes the federal government cover 100% of the cost of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage for the duration of the crisis for people who get sick from the virus. If someone loses employer-based health insurance, they would still have health insurance through this plan.
He also will push to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, expanding coverage by making more people eligible.
He’d use the Defense Production Act to increase production of masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment so that supply exceeds demand.
I don’t know about you, but to me this seems a breath of fresh air. It is what the federal government should do and what it hasn’t been doing under Trump.
And I see no reason why the Biden administration can’t get it done.
5) Biden Can’t Afford to Re-up Betsy DeVos’ Education Policies
They all supported charter schools, high stakes testing, increased segregation, the school-to-prison pipeline, evaluating teachers on student test scores, targeted disinvestment to schools in poor neighborhoods serving mostly students of color, and more.
Duncan and King were competent at destroying public education while hiding behind neoliberal rhetoric. DeVos was incompetent in every conceivable way and could barely hide her glee at the prospect of destroying public education.
Since Biden’s wife, Jill, was an actual teacher, he has more to lose than previous chief executives if he gets this wrong. He can’t take schools for granted and he can’t appear to be doubling down on the same policies of Trump and DeVos – which to be honest were mostly the same as those of Obama and Bush but on steroids.
Biden promised a public school teacher would be his next education secretary and Politico is already making predictions. The media outlet suggests ex-National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten or Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond.
Frankly, we could do much worse than any of these people. Hammond, in particular, was Obama’s education policy advisor UNTIL he was elected and changed courses to the neoliberal set.
Of all the hurdles coming his way, I have the least hope Biden will overcome this one.
Your kids have to get themselves to school. They have to get themselves home. And helping with homework, talking about their days, even setting a good example are all luxuries you have to pay dearly for with an ever-shrinking amount of time.
Parents and kids schedules aren’t aligned? Well, align them then. Have kids in class from 9 to 5 just like their parents.
Not only will that make it easier for adults to take them to-and-from school, but it will prepare kids for the rigors of the adult world.
The neoliberal Center for American Progress, for instance, suggests that synching the school and workday would better allow parents to meet their obligations to their children.
This is especially true, they say, for kids in low-income communities where competitive grant programs could fund the initiative while also holding the money hostage unless their schools engage in more test prep as part of their curriculums.
It’s a terrible idea proposed by terrible individuals working for billionaire philanthrocapitalists.
The think tank is run by John Podesta who was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and manager of President Barack Obama’s transition team – which tells you a lot about Democratic politics of the last several decades.
However, it does hold a kernel of truth.
The school and workday ARE out of step with each other.
This DOES cause problems.
Something SHOULD be done.
But the solution isn’t to lengthen the time kids are required to spend in the classroom. It is solved by reducing the amount of time their parents have to stay at work.
Think about it.
A LONGER SCHOOL DAY WOULD BE HARMFUL TO STUDENTS
Currently, most children attend school for six to seven hours a day.
Students in rural areas or those who live the farthest from school would be the most impacted. Many kids get to school early for breakfast. So if classes began at 9 am, many kids would need to get to school by 8:30 am at the latest – that could mean leaving home by 7:30 am. If the school day ended at 5 pm, these same kids wouldn’t get home until 6 to 7 pm or later.
This would not lead to better academic performance or well adjusted kids. It would result in exhausted and burned out students. Some – perhaps many – would probably cut out after-school activities which would hurt their social, emotional and physical development.
Moreover, kids need time – free time – to discover who they are. They need time to spend with friends, build relationships and enjoy themselves.
They shouldn’t be forced to be adults before they are developmentally ready to do so.
“Many of our children are already stretched to unhealthy breaking points, loaded down with excessive homework, extracurricular activities and outside tutoring because they’re led to believe high test scores, a slew of Advanced Placement classes and a packed résumé are their ticket to college and success. This has led to an epidemic of anxious, unhealthy, sleep-deprived, burned-out, disengaged, unprepared children — and overwhelmed and discouraged teachers. The key is creating a healthier, more balanced, more engaging and effective school day, not a longer one.”
Moreover, this is not what other high achieving nations do to succeed. Countries like Finland, Singapore, and China have SHORTER school days – not longer ones. They just try to make the most of the class time they have.
Maybe instead of listening to think tank fools like Podesta, we should pay attention to educators around the world.
And this is to say nothing of cost.
Nine years ago, it took $10 million to lengthen the day at 50 Chicago schools. Each school got $150,000 just to pay for additional salary to compensate teachers for the extra time. The district projected that it would have cost $84 million to increase the program to all its schools.
But that doesn’t include the cost for additional electricity, maintenance and other utilities which is more difficult to estimate.
This is the definition of doing more with less. More time, less quality.
SHORTENING THE ADULT WORK WEEK
It would make far more sense to cut parents’ time at work than to increase children’s time at school.
Adults already work too many hours as it is.
In fact, doing so actually makes adults better at their jobs.
That’s not just conjecture or wish fulfillment. It’s been tried and proven correct.
In 2019, Microsoft conducted an experiment at its offices in Japan where employees had to take every Friday off as a paid vacation day. The result was a boost in productivity of 40 percent.
In 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trustee services firm, did almost the same thing on a trial basis. It had employees work four eight-hour days a week but paid them for five. Once again this resulted in an increase in productivity, but also lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction.
The idea of a 32-hour workweek (instead of the traditional 40) is gaining support. After all, much of our time on the job is wasted.
The average number of truly productive hours in an eight-hour day is two hours and 53 minutes, according to a survey of U.K. office workers. Human beings aren’t robots. We can’t just sit at our desks and work. We have all these pointless meetings, frivolous emails and phone calls, co-worker discussions, disruptions and distractions. Imagine if we didn’t have to waste so much time and could focus on other endeavors after putting in a few effective hours at the office. We could get things done and still have time to live our lives.
The five-day, 40-hour workweek is a relatively new invention. A century ago, it was not uncommon for people to work six ten-hour days with only Sundays off for religious worship. Then Henry Ford started giving his autoworkers more time off to create leisure time – so they might have reason to actually buy the cars they were making. It became common practice throughout the country in 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law was meant to improve conditions and pay for manufacturing workers – and it did that. However, that doesn’t mean it was the be all, end all. We should continue the trend to shorten the workweek even further.
In fact, this is what people expected would happen – that work hours would continue to shrink over time.
However, the trend changed in the 1970s as Americans started spending more – not less – time at their jobs. This also coincided with the weakening of labor unions, corporate downsizing and demanding more from employees for decreasing wages and benefits.
Now the US and Korea lead the developed world in long workdays. Americans average 1,786 work hours a year, which is 423 more hours than workers in Germany and over 100 hours more than workers in Japan, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
These long hours take a toll on our health and well-being.
It’s telling that instead of realizing that adults need fewer hours on the job, policy wonks try to convince us to make our children shoulder the same burden.
It reminds me of Max Weber’s thesis in his seminal “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” In the book, the sociologist and economist argues that underneath our economic values lies an abiding belief in a Puritan work ethic. The value of work is given a religious and ethical fervor far beyond what it gains us monetarily.
Perhaps we need to take a step back from these unconscious and toxic values to see what is really in the best interests of individuals and families.
Most notably, UNITE was part of the effort that ousted Allegheny County Council President John DeFazio in favor of another Democratic insurgent, Bethany Hallam. Once again DeFazio’s pro-fracking and fossil fuel platform went down in flames to Hallam’s environmentally friendly policies by a margin of 54%-46%.
Roland has already raised $77,635 mostly from local unions. Steamfitters Local 449 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America have both given him $20,000 while the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Plumbers locals each gave $10,000.
To combat this, Lee has raised $55,789.
Some pundits theorize that the move to stop Lee is doomed from the start because of her incredible popularity in her district. The real motivation is to weaken UNITE’s ability to fundraise against other pro-fracking Democrats.
It’s tragic that the labor movement has come to such a low point with leaders like PA AFL-CIO President Darrin Kelly willing to trade the health and safety of the people living here for the promise of a paycheck.
Kelly has been a vocal opponent of the Green New Deal fearing what it would do to fossil fuel employment in the area.
“When you have a situation where you are taking away from someone’s ability to feed their family, that is not going to be looked at favorably. I am going to be against it; I’m going to be vocal against it and not welcome it in Western Pennsylvania.”
He seems to forget that dead people don’t need a paycheck.
Trading the environment and the health and welfare of our friends and neighbors for a living wage is a bad deal.
Moreover, labor leaders opposing environmentalists like Lee ignore key aspects of her proposals.
These would be high quality union jobs with good salaries, benefits, safe working conditions, training opportunities, etc.
This opens a once in a generation opportunity for new jobs to upgrade and expand the Commonwealth’s crumbling roads, bridges, energy grid, and water systems. Not only would we repair what exists, we’d build a cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient infrastructure that would be there for our posterity.
We need to expand access to light rail and low-emissions public transit, replace lead pipes, build a smart grid for increased wind and solar power, replace storm water systems to prevent flooding and toxic runoff, and restore wetlands and other natural buffers to protect our communities.
Allen was furious. How dare they leave out charter school flunkies!?
It wasn’t so long ago that Democrats like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were staunch supporters of school privatization. But many in this new batch of progressives typified by Sanders and Warren are demanding real reform.
According to reports by the Network for Public Education “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” more than $1 billion in federal funds were wasted on charters that either never opened or closed not long after opening. And now Congress has appropriated $440 million more dollars for the federal Charter School Program, a slush fund to open even more charter schools across the country even in states like New Hampshire that don’t want them.
Isn’t it fair to demand a few receipts?
Thank goodness there’s Republicans like Betsy DeVos who make no such demands. Allen has the entire Trump administration willing to listen to her anytime she wants. But ironically for someone who champions schools be run like businesses, she wants to corner the market and eliminate any political choice or competition.
In yesterday’s press release, Allen demanded the seven leading Democratic candidates at last night’s Los Angeles debate sit down and listen to her particular special interest group.
And – make no mistake – it is a special interest group.
Charter schools are the very definition of special interest.
“A group of people or an organization seeking or receiving special advantages, typically through political lobbying.”
That’s exactly what Allen is trying to do.
She is challenging the request that charter schools meet the same accountability standards as authentic public schools.
She wants charter schools to be held to a lower standard – that they can enroll just the students they choose instead of having to accept everyone in their coverage areas like authentic public schools are required to do. She wants charter schools to be able to narrow the curriculum and get rid of extraneous classes and student services so that the business folks running the place can take the money that had funded these things home as a bonus. She wants to ensure charter schools can continue to operate with appointed bureaucrats and not be required to be managed by elected school boards drawn from everyday citizens in the community.
Authentic public schools aren’t allowed to skirt these rules. Why should charter schools? If they’re public schools, shouldn’t they have to abide by the same safeguards?
Allen claims she’s just looking out for children of color.
“BAEO congratulates Betsy DeVos on becoming our next Secretary of Education. She is a very gifted and well-respected education leader with a proven track record of advancing excellence and equity for students. She has been a strong advocate of parental choice, ensuring that all children regardless of race or economic status have access to excellent schools.
“DeVos has spent much of her life working on behalf of low-income and working class Black families who just want access to better educational options for their children. She will be a strong supporter of parental choice policies and education reform initiatives that we believe will help close the academic achievement gap.”
However, after DeVos championed cutting civil rights guidelines for students, slashing funding for everything other than school vouchers and advised teachers to report their undocumented students to ICE, the civil rights community revolted.
The fact that it happened at all is almost miraculous.
Who would have thought Presidential hopefuls would care enough about public schools to address education issues and answer our questions?
Who would have thought it would be broadcast live on TV and the Internet?
And – come to think of it – who would have EVER thought it would happen in my hometown of Pittsburgh!?
But it did.
I was there – along with about 1,500 other education activists, stakeholders and public school warriors from around the country.
It was an amazing day which I will never forget.
Perhaps the best part was getting to see so many amazing people in one place – and I’m not talking about the candidates.
There were members of the Badass Teachers Association, the Network for Public Education, Journey for Justice, One Pennsylvania, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and so many more!
I wish I could bottle up that feeling of commitment to our children and hope in the future.
Perhaps that’s kind of the point behind this article.
So much happened and there is so much worth noting, let me put my impressions down as a series of takeaways or lessons for us to savor between now and the primary election – maybe even until the general.
But I suppose that doesn’t matter so much because few people know who Michael Bennet is anyway.
3) Pete Buttigeig is Too Smart Not to Understand Education – Unless He’s Paid Not to Understand
Mayor Pete came off as a very well spoken and intelligent guy. But he also seemed about as credible as wet tissue. He said a bunch of wrongheaded things. For instance, he said that “separate has never, ever been equal,” but he supports charter schools. Separate but equal is their business model.
I used a gender neutral bathroom for the first time at the forum. I figured I just had to pee so it didn’t matter. Inside were nothing but bathroom stalls – no standing urinals. People of all genders were in there using the facilities and it didn’t matter at all. In fact, it just made sense. It only seems strange because of what we’ve grown to expect. Gender neutral is just logical – no one uses the bathroom for anything but… using the bathroom. Try it and you’ll see – it’s the most logical and natural thing in the world.
5) Elizabeth Warren is a Star!
Warren simply electrified the room as soon as she entered it. She was at least as smart and well-spoken as Mayor Pete, but she was credible, too. She said all charter schools should have to meet the same requirements as authentic public schools. She said public school money should stay in public schools. She had detailed plans for how to fix what ails or school systemincluding a two cent wealth tax (three cents if you’re a billionaire) to pay for universal child care, universal pre-kindergarten, better pay for childcare workers, broader pell grants, and SO much more.
I was even more impressed with her in person and she got a standing ovation from the crowd. She would make a great President.
6) Bernie Sanders is a Superstar!
If Warren electrified the audience, Bernie was like a nuclear explosion. I don’t think anyone stayed in their seat when he entered. Fists pumping in the air, applause, chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” It was clear who the audience appreciated most.
And he was amazing. He said we need to break our dependence on property taxes to fund our schools. He said the problem with testing is we spend too much time teaching to the test. There are better ways to assess learning. He said we need a revolution in how we feel about education and learning. We’ve got to respect the educators who provide that education. He talked about criminal justice and unions and a broader range of issues and in more depth than any other candidate.
Steyer is a billionaire self-funding his campaign in a time when voters are sick to death of the rich controlling our politics. He’s like a fox warning us all about foxes. It doesn’t make me want to vote for him. It makes me wonder if he thinks I’m lunch.
9) Amy Klobuchar is a Better Candidate Than I Expected
And the winner of most improved image is Klobuchar – by a mile. She came off so authentic and honest. She started with an emotional story about her mother – a teacher – which naturally lead into some really smart policy suggestions. And saying that she’d fire Betsy DeVos in seconds after becoming President and replace her with an educator was nice, too. I’m not saying I think she can or should win the nomination, but I’m glad she’s in the race and I hope we see more of her.
10) Joe Biden is Not Going to Beat Donald Trump
Biden came tottering onto the stage late like a friendly but lost old man. He flashed the charm and told us what his policies were but he couldn’t explain why he supported a single one of them.
He was the worst public speaker all day. His words rambled this way and that. At one point he told the audience to stop clapping so he could explain why he wanted to fully fund special education, but then he went off on a digression and got lost. At one point he rhapsodized about all the terrible teachers out there and said teachers touch students’ lives – “metaphorically speaking.”
Dr. Denisha Jones – an amazing activist and friend – asked him a pointed question about standardized testing and whether he was against it? He told her she was “preaching to the choir” but then rambled on for moments more about … something. I don’t know what.
Biden seems more like someone with Alzheimer’s Disease than aspirations to the chief executive. If he won, his wife or someone else would really be making the decisions. He isn’t well. And all you have to do is hear him speak for a few minutes to see it.
Bottom line: I don’t think he could beat Trump.
As terrible as Trump is, he can speak more coherently than Biden. That’s a horrible thing to admit, but it’s true.
So there you have it – my top 10 takeaways from the education forum.
It was a great way to spend a Saturday.
The candidates left knowing exactly where the education community stands. They know what they need to do to get our votes – and many of them are actively trying to do that.
We have several candidates that would make good Presidents – and several who stand a good chance against Trump.
Here’s hoping that we all learn our lessons and use them to win back our government in 2020.
If you missed the event, you can still watch it here:
The candidates who are expected to attend Saturday’s forum include: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; billionaire businessman Tom Steyer; and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
All the presidential candidates who either qualified for the October debate or hold statewide office were invited to attend, according to organizers.
Along with Sen. Sanders, you have one of the most progressive and comprehensive education plans of any candidate running in 2020. In fact, it’s one of the best of any candidate who has ever sought the Democratic nomination. However, you seem to equivocate on standardized testing and national academic standards. On the one hand, you say that you’re against high stakes testing, but on the other you speak about putting an emphasis on student careers, and aligning high school graduation requirements with that of colleges. You even say you’d direct “the Department of Education to issue guidance on how schools can leverage existing federal programs to facilitate education-to-workforce preparedness.” This sounds a lot like Barack Obama’s Race to the Top which held school funding hostage to regressive reforms and Common Core which used standardized tests to determine what would be taught in schools. My question is this: please explain exactly if and exactly how high stakes standardized testing and Common Core fit in with your education policies?
If anyone has any other suggestions, please post them in the comments. And if someone else this weekend or later in the campaign season happens to get a chance to query one of the candidates, feel free to use one or all of what I have compiled here.
My hope is that this interest in education isn’t just a political stunt but will translate to better school policies no matter who wins the election in 2020.
“Frankly suggesting that stronger transparency standards for publicly-funded charter schools would ‘limit parental choice’ is an incoherent talking point that really should not be taken seriously. Increased transparency only ‘limits choice’ if the charter schools themselves refuse to accept higher transparency standards.”
Intercept journalist Ryan Grim, who was present at the rally, noted that the group of protestors was funded by the Waltons.
The group was from Memphis Lift Parent Institute which bused in people from around the country. It was supported by a GoFundMe page showing numerous $1,000 donations from anonymous sources.
While it’s true that you’ll find polls showing strong support for charters among people of color, the overwhelming majority of these polls are conducted by pro-charter groups. They’re like the American Apple Foundation finding high support for U.S. apples – little more than paid advertising.
Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, describes the Walton foundation as hiding behind black faces to obscure who’s really in charge – they’re exploiting black people for a “white agenda.”
“It’s a sad thing that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities,” Perry said.
The Walton Foundation gave $9 million to the United Negro College Fund for a scholarship to the organization’s fellowship program for students interested in education reform. They are literally paying to indoctrinate black people to the ideology that school privatization is in their best interests.
This also includes $530,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to sponsor an affiliated education policy advocacy and campaign training workshop and an additional $170,000 to sponsor events.
Walton money has also gone to two other pro-charter groups – nearly $2 million to the 100 Black Men of America campaign and $7.3 million to the National Urban League.
Before we gripe and pick at loose ends in both platforms, we should pause and acknowledge this.
Both Sanders AND Warren are excellent choices for President. And Biden might even do in a pinch.
So in honor of my precocious political princess backing Elizabeth Warren – I THINK she knows she doesn’t actually get to vote, herself, yet! – I give you eight things I love and one I don’t in Warren’s education plan.
Things I like:
1) IT INVESTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
WARREN’S PROPOSAL: Quadrupling Title I funding — an additional $450 billion over the next 10 years for the neediest children and their schools. Finally have the federal government pay 40% of all special education costs – a promise lawmakers made years ago but never kept. Invest an additional $100 billion over ten years in “Excellence Grants” to any public school. That’s roughly $1 million for every public school in the country to buy state-of-the art labs, restore afterschool arts programs, implement school-based student mentoring programs, etc. By 2030, she’ll help 25,000 public schools become community schools. Invest at least an additional $50 billion in school infrastructure — targeted at the schools most in need.
WARREN’S PROPOSAL: Spend billions of dollars annually that states can use to promote residential and public school integration. This includes infrastructure like magnet schools but also integrating communities. Support strengthening and robust enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in any program receiving federal funding.
“The push toward high-stakes standardized testing has hurt both students and teachers. Schools have eliminated critical courses that are not subject to federally mandated testing, like social studies and the arts. They can exclude students who don’t perform well on tests. Teachers feel pressured to teach to the test, rather than ensuring that students have a rich learning experience. I oppose high-stakes testing, and I co-sponsored successful legislation in Congress to eliminate unnecessary and low-quality standardized tests. As president, I’ll push to prohibit the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor in closing a school, firing a teacher, or making any other high-stakes decisions, and encourage schools to use authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways.”
WARREN PROPOSES: Providing funding for schools to increase pay and support for all public school educators, strengthen the ability of teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff to organize and bargain. In particular:
“I pledged to enact the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which ensures that public employees like teachers can organize and bargain collectively in each state, and authorizes voluntary deduction of fees to support a union.”
7) IT FIGHTS THE CORRUPT SCHOOL PRIVATIZATION INDUSTRY.
WARREN PROPOSES: Ensuring charter schools are subject to at least the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools. In particular:
“…I support the NAACP’s recommendations to only allow school districts to serve as charter authorizers, and to empower school districts to reject applications that do not meet transparency and accountability standards, consider the fiscal impact and strain on district resources, and establish policies for aggressive oversight of charter schools.”
Ending federal funding for the expansion of charter schools. Banning for-profit charter schools including non-profit charter schools that outsource their operations to for-profit companies. Directing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate “so-called nonprofit schools that are violating the statutory requirements for nonprofits.”
8) IT PROTECTS STUDENT DATA FROM ED TECH COMPANIES AND BEYOND.
WARREN PROPOSES: Banning the sharing, storing, and sale of student data. In particular:
“My plan would extend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students. Violations should be punishable by civil and criminal penalties.”
And this just scratches the surface. These are just the points that jumped out at me on a first read.
I’m sure there is more policy gold in here we’ll find as the election season progresses.
However, there was one thing that jumped out at me in a less positive light.
One thing I did not like:
1) WARREN’S EMPHASIS ON “CAREER AND COLLEGE READINESS” SOUNDS TOO MUCH LIKE THE WORST OF BARACK OBAMA’S EDUCATION POLICY.
On the one hand, Warren says unequivocally that she’s against high stakes testing. Then on the other she writes:
“We must also ensure that students are able to take advantage of those opportunities and that high schools are funded and designed to prepare students for careers, college, and life…
…I’ll work with states to align high school graduation requirements with their public college admission requirements. And I’ll also direct the Department of Education to issue guidance on how schools can leverage existing federal programs to facilitate education-to-workforce preparedness.”