All-in-all, it was a good night. Especially in an election cycle where Republicans had every advantage. The President’s party usually loses seats during the midterms, and just last week it seemed that Joe Biden would be no exception. However, now that the dust has cleared, the losses seem to be minimal to nonexistent.
The Critical Race Theory panic (A.K.A. – teaching actual history) will fade to just another wing nut conspiracy theory thrown to the Republican base to generate support instead of an actual policy proposal to restrict academic freedom.
However, we will have to monitor our representatives as if they were little kids sulking by the cookie jar. They will almost definitely try to sneak in some garbage legislation to hurt our students and enrich their corporate buddies.
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.
For most of my life, the United States has been neglecting its public school children – especially the black and brown ones.
Since the mid 1970s, instead of integrating our schools, we’ve been slowly resegregating them on the basis of race and social class.
Since the 1980s, instead of measuring academic success by the satisfaction of an individuals curiosity and authentic learning, we’ve been slowly redefining it to mean nothing but achievement on standardized tests.
And since the 1990s, instead of making sure our schools meet the needs of all students, we’ve been slowly allowing charter schools to infect our system of authentic public education so that business interests are education’s organizing principle.
But now, for the first time in at least 60 years, a mainstream political candidate running for President has had the courage to go another way.
It doesn’t take a deep dive into the mass media to find this out. You don’t have to parse disparate comments he made at this rally or in that interview. If you want to know what Bernie thinks about education policy, you can just go on his campaign Website and read all about it.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. He doesn’t go as far as he might in some areas – especially against high stakes testing. But his plan is so far advanced of anything anyone else has even considered, it deserves recognition and strong consideration.
Bernie proposes we increase funding to integrate schools, enforce desegregation orders and appoint federal judges who will support these measures. He wants to triple Title I funding for schools serving poor and minority children and increase funding for English as a Second Language programs. He even suggests racial sensitivity training for teachers and better review of civil rights complaints and discipline policies.
Moreover, charters increase segregation – 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority, compared to 4 percent of traditional public schools.
To reverse this trend, Bernie would ban for-profit charter schools and impose a moratorium on federal dollars for charter expansion until a national audit was conducted. That means no more federal funds for new charter schools.
I think we would find very few that could meet this standard – but those that did could – with financial help – be integrated into the community school system as a productive part of it and not – as too many are now – as parasites.
Could Bernie as President actually do all of this? Probably not considering that much of charter school law is controlled by the states. But holding the bully pulpit and (with the help of an ascendant Democratic legislature?) the federal purse strings, he could have a transformative impact on the industry. It would at least change the narrative and the direction these policies have been going. It would provide activists the impetus to make real change in their state legislatures supporting local politicians who likewise back the President’s agenda.
Once again, this isn’t something the President can do alone. He needs the support of Congress and state legislatures. But he could have tremendous influence from the Oval Office and even putting this issue on the map would be powerful. We can’t solve problems we don’t talk about – and no one else is really talking much about this. Imagine if the President was talking about it every day on the news.
4) He’d Provide More Funding for Special Education Students
Bernie wants to not only fulfill the age old promise of special education funding but to go beyond it. He proposes the federal government meet half the cost for each special needs student. That, alone, would go a long way to providing financial help to districts and ensuring these children get the extra help they need.
Bernie suggests working with states to ensure a minimum starting salary of $60,000 tied to cost of living, years of service, etc. He also wants to protect and expand collective bargaining and tenure, allow teachers to write off at least $500 of expenses for supplies they buy for their classrooms, and end gender and racial discrepancies in teacher salaries.
It’s an ambitious project. I criticized Kamala Harris for proposing a more modest teacher pay raise because it wasn’t connected to a broad progressive education platform like Sanders. In short, we’ve heard neoliberal candidates make good suggestions in the past that quickly morphed into faustian bargains like merit pay programs – an initiative that would be entirely out of place among Sanders initiatives.
In Harris’ case, the devil is in the details. In Sanders, it’s a matter of the totality of the proposal.
6) He Wants to Expand Summer School and After School Programs
It’s no secret that while on summer break students forget some of what they’ve learned during the year and that summer programs can help reduce this learning loss. Moreover, after school programs provide a similar function throughout the year and help kids not just academically but socially. Children with a safe place to go before parents get home from work avoid risky behaviors and the temptations of the streets. Plus they tend to have better school attendance, better relationships with peers, better social and emotional skills, etc.
Under the guidance of Betsy Devos, the Trump administration has proposed cutting such programs by $2 billion. Bernie is suggesting to increase them by $5 billion. It’s as simple as that. Sanders wants to more than double our current investment in summer and after school programs. It’s emblematic of humane and rational treatment of children.
7) He Wants to Provide Free Meals for All Students Year-Round
One in six children go hungry in America today. Instead of shaming them with lunch debts and wondering why they have difficulty learning on an empty stomach, Bernie wants to feed them free breakfast, lunch and even snacks. In addition, he doesn’t want to shame them by having the needy be the only ones eligible for these free meals. This program would be open to every child, regardless of parental wealth.
It’s an initiative that already exists at many Title I schools like the one where I teach and the one where my daughter goes to school. I can say from experience that it is incredibly successful. This goes in the opposite direction of boot strapped conservatives like Paul Ryan who suggested a free meal gives kids an empty soul. Instead, it creates a community of children who know that their society cares about them and will ensure they don’t go hungry.
That may seem like a small thing to some, but to a hungry child it can make all the difference.
8) He Wants to Transform all Schools into Community Schools
This is a beautiful model of exactly what public education should be.
Schools shouldn’t be businesses run to make a profit for investors. They should be the beating heart of the communities they serve. Bernie thinks all schools should be made in this image and provide medical care, dental services, mental health resources, and substance abuse prevention. They should furnish programs for adults as well as students including job training, continuing education, art spaces, English language classes and places to get your GED.
Many schools already do this. Instead of eliminating funding for these types of schools as the Trump administration has suggested, Bernie proposes providing an additional $5 billion in annual funding for them.
There are a lot of issues that fall under this umbrella, but they are each essential to a 21st Century school. Solutions here are not easy, but it is telling that the Sanders campaign includes them as part of his platform.
So there you have it – a truly progressive series of policy proposals for our schools.
Not since Lyndon Johnson envisioned the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has there been a more far reaching and progressive set of education initiatives.
What About High Stakes Testing?
Unfortunately, that also highlights Sanders biggest weakness.
The glaring omission from Sanders plan is anything substantive to do with high stakes testing.
The Thurgood Marshall plan hardly mentions it at all. In fact, the only place you’ll find testing is in the introduction to illustrate how far American education has fallen behind other countries and in this somewhat vague condemnation:
“We must put an end to high-stakes testing and “teaching to the test” so that our students have a more fulfilling educational life and our teachers are afforded professional respect.”
However, it’s troubling that for once Bernie doesn’t tie a political position with a specific policy. If he wants to “end high-stakes testing,” what exactly is his plan to do so? Where does it fit within his education platform? And why wasn’t it a specific part of the overall plan?
Thankfully, it is addressed in more detail on FeelTheBern.org – a Website not officially affiliated with Sanders but created by volunteers to spread his policy positions.
After giving a fairly good explanation of the problems with high stakes testing, it references this quote from Sanders:
“I voted against No Child Left Behind in 2001, and continue to oppose the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions. In my view, No Child Left Behind ignores several important factors in a student’s academic performance, specifically the impact of poverty, access to adequate health care, mental health, nutrition, and a wide variety of supports that children in poverty should have access to. By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing, No Child Left Behind ignores many of the skills and qualities that are vitally important in our 21st century economy, like problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, in favor of test preparation that provides no benefit to students after they leave school.”
The site suggests that Bernie supports more flexibility in how we determine academic success. It references Sanders 2015 vote for the Every Child Achieves Act which allows for states to create their own accountability systems to assess student performance.
In addition, the site notes the problems with Common Core and while citing Sanders reticence with certain aspects of the project admits that he voted in early 2015 against an anti-Common Core amendment thereby indicating opposition to its repeal.
I’ll admit this is disappointing. And perplexing in light of the rest of his education platform.
It’s like watching a vegan buy all of his veggies at Whole Foods and then start crunching on a slice of bacon, or like a gay rights activist who takes a lunch break at Chick-fil-a.
My guess is that Sanders hasn’t quite got up to speed on the issue of standardized testing yet. However, I can’t imagine him supporting it because, frankly, it doesn’t fit in with his platform at all.
One wonders what the purpose of high stakes testing could possibly be in a world where all of his other education goals were fulfilled.
For me, the omission of high stakes testing from Sanders platform is acceptable only because of the degree of detail he has already provided in nearly every other aspect. There are few areas of uncertainty here. Unlike any other candidate, we know pretty well where Sanders is going.
It is way more likely that advocates could get Sanders to take a more progressive and substantial policy stand on this issue than that he would suddenly become a standardized testing champion while opposing everything else in the school privatization handbook.
So there it is.
Bernie Sanders has put forth the most progressive education plan in more than half a century.
It’s not perfect, but it’s orders of magnitude better than the plans of even his closest rival.
This isn’t to say that other candidates might not improve their education projects before the primary election. I hope that happens. Sanders has a knack for moving the conversation further left.
However, he is so far ahead, I seriously doubt that anyone else will be able to catch him here.
Who knows what the future will bring, but education advocates have a clear first choice in this race – Bernie Sanders.
He is the only one offering us a real future we can believe in.
In it, the author attempts to explain why the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) – though flawed – is a more unbiased way to select which students deserve college admissions than indicators like K-12 classroom grades.
It’s all convoluted poppycock made worse by a baroque series of far left think tank connections, intellectual bias and mental illness.
In short, DeBoer argues that our schools are unfair, so we should embrace unfair high stakes tests.
I know. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Let me slow it down a bit, premise by premise so you can see his point – or lack thereof.
And this idea was the foundation of their application of standardized testing, as Yerkes noted a year later:
“The contrasting intellectual status of the white versus the negro constituents of the draft appear from table 3. Few residents of the United States probably would have anticipated so great a difference. That the negro is 90 per cent. [sic] illiterate only in part accounts for his inferior intellectual status.”
Brigham was basing his ideas on another test created by Yerkes, the Army Alpha and Beta tests.
People’s Policy Project (3P) is a left-leaning think tank created by another frequent Jacobin contributor, lawyer and policy analyst, Matt Bruenig.
You may recall Bruenig. In 2015, he criticized schools that provide more resources to impoverished children by dubbing them “welfare schools.” He saw the inclusion of free healthcare, free meals, free pre-K, and other wraparound services as increasing the welfare state and making children and families dependent on the government for survival.
And, yes, like DeBoer, this is a guy who claims to be a far left Democrat.
Almost a million people signed a petition for Ellison. He won the backing of key unions – including the Teamsters, steelworkers, Communications Workers of America, and UNITE HERE. He won the backing of key activist groups including Democracy for America, 350.Org, the Center for Popular Democracy, MoveOn.Org, the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and others. He was supported by notable progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Zephyr Teachout, Gloria Steinem, Walter Mondale, and Dolores Huerta ( co-founder of the United Farm Workers). He won over left-leaning publications like The Nation, whose editorial board wrote, “It is Ellison who combines the ideals, skills, and movement connections that will revitalize the party.”
When it came down to the 447 party insiders actually eligible to vote, Perez won by 235 to 200 (not counting abstentions).
If the DNC were a child, I would praise them for making progress. But it’s not a child. It’s supposed to be a national political party that can put up a robust challenge to the neo-facist in the White House!
This is completely unacceptable. And party leaders know it.
That’s why Perez immediately made Ellison his co-chair.
Were you one of millions of Americans who thought the party’s use of superdelegates during the primary was undemocratic? Well this is the commission that can eliminate them.
Sanders and Clinton delegates at the DNC convention in Philadelphia this summer clashed over these issues until Clinton agreed to let the matter be decided later by creating this group. It was a way to avoid a floor debate at that time and unify the party.
Clinton’s team gets to name nine members of the commission, and Sanders’ team gets seven. Now, Perez, as DNC chair, will control three additional votes. For those of you counting at home, that’s a 12-7 majority on the commission for the corporate Democrats. So superdelegates won’t be going anywhere. So if you want a Democratic party that is more democratic and more responsive to rank-and-file Democrats, well you can just stuff it.
Of course, all that’s in the future. How can we know now that Perez and other Democratic leaders won’t commit themselves to reform anyway?
Because of how else they voted at yesterday’s convention in Atlanta.
Before voting for Perez, they actually decided to vote down a resolution that would have reinstated former President Barack Obama’s ban on corporate political action committee donations to the party.
Resolution 33 also would have forbidden “registered, federal corporate lobbyists” from serving as “DNC chair-appointed, at-large members.”
And the DNC said, “Nah. We want that corporate money.”
Just what we need. More corporate donors, more support from big business and the rich – less impact from the working class people the Democrats actually need to vote for them to take back the country!
The Democrats need new blood. The party needs a top-to-bottom reorganization. It needs young people, working class people and minorities. It needs to rebuild county organizations and follow Sander’s $27 average donations.
Consolidating power among corporate donors and refusing to make any real structural reforms is not going to accomplish any of it.
Why did Ellison lose? Short answer: Israel.
Ellison is an African American Muslim who has been a vocal critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and continued expansion into disputed territories. His position is well within the party mainstream – even for many Jewish members. More than 60 percent of Democrats agree Israel should stop expanding in the West Bank or else face sanctions. Sanders – a Jew, himself – holds similar views.
However, prominent Clinton supporters spearheaded a smear campaign to deflate Ellison’s candidacy. His most vocal critics were the Anti-Defamation League, mega-donor Haim Saban, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
So instead the DNC has picked Perez, Obama’s former Labor Secretary who did next to nothing to help labor.
“Emmy and the team have a good plan to attract all minority voters. When we do well there [Nevada], then the narrative changes from Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals—that is a different story and a perfect lead in to South Carolina, where once again, we can work to attract young voters of color. So I think Nevada is a real opportunity, and I would strongly urge HRC to get out there within a couple days of [New Hampshire].”
Like others Clinton staffers, he described Nevada as her “firewall” and was unconcerned about how minorities would feel if they were described in such exploitative terms.
The Nevada caucus was the only decisive victory for Clinton with African Americans, according to entrance polls. However, more Latinos voted for Sanders so the state did not make it abundantly clear that Sanders was incapable of attracting support from people of color.
Despite smears by the Clinton campaign, there was never evidence Sanders supporters were motivated by white male angst. In fact, American National Elections Studies found white identity was more important to Clinton supporters than Sanders supporters.
But Perez’s loyalty to Clinton and other corporate Democrats has paid off.
Repeating the same failing strategy over-and-over is not the definition of political success. It is the definition of insanity.
Perhaps one day the Democrats will realize that and run actual progressives for leadership roles and higher office. But by then, it will be far too late.
Every day Trump further erodes our freedoms and social services. Every day he endangers our lives with his incompetence and undiplomatic relations with foreign governments. Every day he breaks our laws, spouts blatant lies and fosters hate and discord.
We simply don’t have the time for the Democrats to get their act together.
It is becoming even more clear that we need a completely new political party organized from the grassroots up and dedicated to progressivism. Whether this can be accomplished in the two years we have before the midterm elections seems doubtful. Whether it can be done in time to stop Trump’s re-election is unknown.
But waiting for the Democrats to get their collective heads out of their asses is an exercise in futility.
The cavalry is not coming. We must all learn to ride.
That’s why state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has long called it the “worst charter school law” in the country. But his call for sweeping reforms from the legislature has fallen on mostly deaf ears.
Specifically it would require these types of schools, which are ostensibly public but privately managed, to be transparent, fiscally solvent and responsible to taxpayers.
“It has become abundantly clear that systemic changes are needed in how brick and mortar and cyber charters operate in Pennsylvania,” Brewster says. “There is a growing frustration that charters are unaccountable.”
The bill doesn’t have a Senate number yet, nor has its specific language been made available. However, the State Senator from McKeesport announced plans to formally propose it in Harrisburg within the next several weeks.
Brewster’s bill would:
Require local school boards to sign off on any new charter construction project costing more than $1 million. The project would have to be backed by a financing arrangement with a local industrial development authority or other government entity. This way charters would have to prove that new construction projects are fiscally sound and won’t be abandoned after wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.
Compel charter schools to prove they have the funds to keep running for the entire school year. They would have to post a bond, other type of surety, or agree to a payment escrow arrangement. This would ensure charters don’t close suddenly leaving students and parents in the lurch.
Limit the scope of the state Charter School Appeal Board to solely determining whether the local school board acted appropriately in reviewing charter school applications. The state should not be approving new charter schools. That power should remain at the local district level, though the state can determine if local school boards are acting within the bounds of the law.
Require officials from the state Department of Education (PDE) to visit the proposed site of a charter school to ascertain the condition of its physical building. Their report will then be made a part of the charter application. This way charters can’t get away with paying themselves for properties they already own and they won’t be able to open with substandard buildings.
Mandate that a charter school applicant obtain approval from multiple school districts if the charter school draws more than 25 students from a specific district. Every district impacted by the opening of a new charter should have a say whether it can open.
Upgrade accountability by requiring a quarterly report on the operations of the charter school to the local school board – with the report delivered in person by a charter school official. While traditional public schools report on operations monthly, reporting four times annually would greatly increase charter school transparency. At present charters don’t have to provide such reports sometimes for years after opening. Moreover, having a flesh and blood representative of the charter school at these meetings would allow for the public to ask questions about how their money is being spent.
Make a structured financial impact statement part of the charter school application. This would include an estimation of enrollment multiplied by tuition payments. The impact statement may serve as the justification for denial of a charter application. This would be huge. Traditional public schools can be sucked dry of funding from fly-by-night charters without their record of proven success. Necessitating an impact statement of this kind would truly make the local district and the charter school educational partners and not competing foes.
Increase the percentage of certified teachers at charters from 75 percent to 90 percent of faculty, though current faculty would be grandfathered in. Except under extreme circumstances, all teachers at traditional public schools are certified. Making charters raise the bar close to that of traditional public schools is an improvement – though Brewster has in the past proposed legislation to require 100 percent of charter teachers to be certified. It’s unclear why he’s settled on 90 percent here.
Prohibit charter board members from receiving payments for school lease arrangements. This issue was highlighted in August in the auditor general’s report where he found $2.5 million tax dollars being defrauded in this way. Charter operators have complained that nothing they did was illegal. This measure would ensure that in the future such moves would be explicit violations of the law.
Impose a moratorium on the approval of new cyber-charter schools since their academic performance has been so consistently below that of traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters. In fact, A recent nationwide study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction and 72 days less of reading than traditional public schools. (By the way, there are only 180 days in an average school year.)
Brewster said these reforms offer a place to begin real robust regulation of the charter industry. However, he is open to adding others.
“The auditor general has made a number of worthwhile recommendations and I’ve combined some of these ideas with other features to produce what I believe is an excellent starting point for comprehensive reform,” he says.
“We need to dig deep and look critically at the charter law to make sweeping changes. In this year alone, the auditor general has pointed out that the reimbursement process is flawed, that there were too many reimbursement appeals and that the cyber charter law reeked with ethical issues, poor oversight and a lack of transparency.
“It is clear that the charter law is not helping schools, charters themselves or the taxpayers.”
There are more than 150 charter schools statewide enrolling more than 128,000 students, according to state data. Nearly half of these schools are in the Philadelphia area.
Two years ago, DePasquale released a set of specific recommendations to improve the charter law, which Brewster drew upon when writing his proposed legislation. DePasquale’s suggestions called for an independent board to oversee charter school processes and functions — including lease reimbursements and student enrollment. He also suggested public hearings involving charter changes, limits on fund balances and guidelines on calculating teacher certification benchmarks.
Brewster said he is not unduly singling out the charter school industry. He says he is confident making these changes will help charter schools by ensuring only high quality institutions are allowed in the Commonwealth.
The Democrat Representing the 45th legislative District says he realizes that October is late in the year to be proposing such sweeping changes. He is doing so now to raise awareness of the issue, though he doesn’t expect it to come to a vote until the next legislative session at the earliest.
He hopes to bring up many of these issues tomorrow (Oct. 13) at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing at the Monroeville Municipal Building in Monroeville in his district.
Government watchers cautioned that this charter Trojan Horse bill might rear its ugly head again in Harrisburg. Here’s hoping that Brewster’s bill has more success and isn’t likewise bastardized into a piece of legislation that gives away the store.
If there’s one thing most people agree about in the Keystone state, it’s that we need charter school reform. Brewster’s Bill may be the answer to our prayers.
The Pittsburgh School Board Director isn’t related to the 7-year-old student. She is barely an acquaintance. She doesn’t even represent the ward in which he and his family live. But when she read a Facebook request asking for donors, she says it was a “no-brainer.”
“I thought if it were my kid, I’d want to know someone was out there trying,” Kaleida says.
“It really doesn’t affect my everyday life beyond the couple of weeks of recovery. But for him, it’s something that changes his life drastically.”
The child, Laith Dougherty, had already undergone two heart transplants, one when he was 3 months old and another when he was 3 years old. But in 2012, a test showed his kidneys were working at only 35 percent capacity. After a series of illnesses in the fall, they were down to 6 percent and he was on dialysis.
None of his immediate family was a match and his B blood type made finding one difficult. He was looking at a wait of between 6 months and two years before a donor could be found.
That’s when the family reached out to Facebook. Kaleida saw it, privately investigated to see if she was a match and when she was, she contacted Ghadah Makoshi, the child’s mother.
“It’s shocking to me because I had only met her once or twice,” Makoshi says. “It’s sacrifice to say, ‘I’m going to go through surgery and pain to make sure your kid survives.’ Most people wouldn’t do that.”
The surgery was done in June and the kidney began working immediately. Laith is expected to make a full recovery.
“We’re moving forward on the right side of law and history,” she said at the time.
She’s also an advocate for community schools and the restorative justice discipline policies currently being enacted district-wide. She supports the idea that Pittsburgh schools should be at the center of the community providing medical care, wraparound services, before- and after-school programs, etc. to help keep children in the classroom. She favors a discipline policy not focused on punishing students but ensuring they make things right for their misbehavior.
She may be one of the most progressive members of a very high-minded board.
Though city schools struggle to keep afloat because of underfunding from the state and federal government plus an increasingly impoverished local tax base, the district has one of the best boards in the state.
If a Political Action Committee (PAC) has its way, the same thing will happen here. Deep-pocketed investors are gathering funds to unseat as many Pittsburgh School Directors as possible and – if possible – push for the district to be run by government appointees, not duly elected representatives.
Kaleida’s story shows exactly why this would be a mistake.
Corporate cronies would never look out for the needs of the community the way actual residents do. People who live in the community, know the community and relate to the families and children living there are far superior to anyone making decisions based on a spreadsheet.
Kaleida dedicates herself to raising her children and volunteering for various organizations. She has given time to the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN); NurturePA, which supports new mothers; and various neighborhood efforts. She also tries to find more funding for the district’s Pre-K initiative so it can provide services to even more children.
She represent District 6 neighborhoods including all or parts of Brookline, Beechview, Banksville, Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights.
Laith is lucky his school is represented by a woman like Kaleida. So are all the parents and children of Pittsburgh.
We need more school directors like her and her colleagues. And more than anything we need more local control of public education.