Tag: public education

One of the most right-wing newspapers in the entire country couldn’t find a single Betsy DeVos supporter in the education community

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post was originally written on Medium by the administrator of this blog and has been republished in full.


Above the fold on the front page of today’s issue of The News-Gazette, a Champaign, Illinois-based newspaper that covers the east-central part of Illinois and has a very right-wing reputation, was this story about how many in the public education community are opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the office of U.S. Secretary of Education.

In The News-Gazette’s attempt to find a DeVos supporter, they couldn’t find a single one in the educational community in East Central Illinois.

The strongest opposition to DeVos came obviously from teachers’ union leaders, although many in management (i.e., public school administrators) strongly opposed DeVos as well. Sheila Greenwood, the superintendent of schools in the Bement, Illinois public school system (covering southern portions of Piatt County, Illinois), said this about DeVos:

Bement Superintendent Sheila Greenwood was so appalled by how DeVos answered senators’ questions last month that she contacted her legislators, “begging them to put a stop to this insanity.”

“She couldn’t answer basic questions about schools, funding or assessment. She is uber-wealthy and has no experiences with public education because she lives like the 1 percent and knows nothing,” Greenwood said. “I think Trump will have his puppet and others will run the department.

Jeremy Darnell, the superintendent of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley public school system in Illinois (map of district here), said this about DeVos:

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Superintendent Jeremy Darnell was unimpressed with her hearing, as well, saying it was “very evident” she lacks understanding of current education issues.

[…]

“Votes should be cast on merit, preparation and the ability to effectively fill an essential role in our national government, not party line politics,” Darnell said. “All appointments should be considered for their ability to effectively advise our elected leadership. No leader can be a master at all so the essential need to surround yourself with experts in their field is more important today than ever.

The Bement and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school districts are located in some of the most Republican areas in all of Illinois, and voters in both school districts voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The closest person that The News-Gazette could find to a DeVos supporter was Mr. Seth Miller, the superintendent of the public school system that I attended, the Westville Community Unit School District in Illinois. I’m paraphrasing, but Mr. Miller’s thoughts about DeVos were basically of the “give DeVos a chance if she’s confirmed” mentality without offering any explicit support of DeVos:

“We have the best educational system in the world. A leader who is committed to children, who need access to public education, would receive my support,” Miller said. “… Spirited debate with informed constituents helps make us a strong country — big enough and brave enough for diverse opinions. It is my hope that whoever is confirmed as the next secretary of education will help perpetuate this democratic ideal in our public school system.”

Having seen video clips of the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, it is clear to me that, if confirmed, DeVos would be a downright horrible Education Secretary.

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Bruce Rauner’s education funding hypocrisy

In yesterday’s State of the State of Illinois address, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner publicly criticized funding cuts to education and called for fully funding public education in Illinois.

There’s one problem with that…the guy who cut funding to public education in Illinois is…you guessed it, Bruce Rauner. In fact, a few months ago, Rauner gave away corporate welfare to food producing conglomerate ConAgra Foods while public education was being starved of funding:

As fate would have it, Governor Bruce Rauner revealed his plan to fork over as much as $1.26 million a year in tax credits to ConAgra Foods at roughly the same time parents were packing a Board of Education hearing room to protest the latest CPS cuts in special education.

So our dead-broke state has millions for Fortune 500 corporations but not enough money to educate our poorest, most vulnerable children. 

It’s something to keep in mind the next time the governor tells you it’s all about the kids.

Not only is Bruce Rauner dropping g’s, he’s dropping the ball when it comes to funding public education here in Illinois.

An open letter to America about Scott Walker from an Illinoisan who has blogged about Walker

My fellow Americans,

Sometime tomorrow, Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker will formally launch his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

As someone who has blogged about Walker on a regular basis for the past few years, I’ve come to know Walker as a horrible politician who, with the help of his political allies in the Wisconsin State Legislature, has destroyed Wisconsin’s economy, reputation, and quality of life. In a sane world, Walker’s record as Governor of Wisconsin would be an immediate disqualifier for any future campaign for public office. To give you a description of Walker’s style of politics, if one combined the worst elements of Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Herbert Hoover, Jerry Falwell, and Grover Norquist, you’d get Walker.

Since taking office as Wisconsin’s chief executive four and a half years ago, Scott Walker has, among other things:

  • Stripped collective bargaining rights from public employee unions
  • Enacted wage theft laws allowing non-union workers at unionized workplaces to refuse to join a labor union and/or pay union dues despite receiving union-negotiated wages and benefits
  • Drastically cut the pay of public employees
  • Made it harder for Wisconsin women to seek legal recourse if they’ve been denied equal pay for the same work as their male counterparts
  • Established a corporate welfare agency in Wisconsin that is rife with corruption, cronyism, and mismanagement
  • Cut funding from public elementary, secondary, and higher education
  • Expanded Wisconsin’s school voucher programs that funnel taxpayer money to religious schools
  • Made it harder for Wisconsin women to get the reproductive health care they want
  • Given out tax breaks to big businesses and the wealthy
  • Weakened environmental protections
  • Arrested people for singing
  • Enacted discriminatory voter ID laws designed to keep Wisconsinites from voting
  • Stripped local control from counties and communities in Wisconsin that usually vote for Democratic candidates
  • Openly compared the people of Wisconsin to terrorists
  • Blatantly violated campaign finance laws
  • Given wealthy right-wingers and big business interests virtually complete control of Wisconsin’s state government

Walker’s policies and actions have, among other things:

  • Driven down the wages of Wisconsinites
  • Stifled economic growth in Wisconsin
  • Has made Wisconsin one of the most corrupt states in the entire country
  • Lowered the percentage of middle-class Wisconsin households
  • Left Wisconsin with severe budget problems
  • Made Wisconsin the laughingstock of America

However, we don’t live in a sane world. Walker has been elected Governor of Wisconsin three times in a four-year period against weak, uninspiring corporate Democrats. I believe that, if Democrats do not nominate Bernie Sanders for president, Scott Walker will become the next President of the United States, and, given how he’s wrecked Wisconsin over the past four and a half years, that is a truly scary thought. If Walker is elected president, what little remains of the American middle class and American sovereignty will be completely destroyed, big business interests will completely take over the federal government at every level, America’s federal budget deficit and national debt will grow massively, social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare will be privatized or outright eliminated, America’s economy will crash again, and corruption will run amok in the federal government.

You can read about Scott Walker’s horrible track record here, here, here, here, and here, among many other places. Furthermore, if you ever get in touch with these people either in person or by other means, you can ask people like Lori Compas, Wendi Kent, Karen Vieth, Kati Walsh, Chris “Capper” Liebenthal, Zach Wisniewski, Kelda Roys, Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent, Kathleen Vinehout, Rebecca Kemble, Fred Risser, Kelly Westlund, Barbara With, Randy Bryce, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Heather DuBois Bourenane, Ingrid Laas, Sachi Komai, Laura Komai, Jenni Dye, JoCasta Zamarripa, Laura Manriquez, Mandela Barnes, LaTonya Johnson, Angela Walker, Christine Sinicki, Lisa Mux, and Mike McCabe, just to name a few, about what they think about Scott Walker…they’re all Wisconsinites, and they know how horrible Scott Walker’s policies and actions have been for Wisconsin.

As a lifelong Illinoisan and proud progressive, I would walk through fire to vote for the Democratic opponent to Scott Walker if he were to be nominated by the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States if that’s what it took for me to get to the polls.

Sincerely,
Aaron Camp
Westville, Illinois

Wisconsin Republicans pass awful state budget, and how legislators should handle criticism of their legislative proposals

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly passed the most awful state budget in American political history in a 52-46 vote, and the budget is currently on Republican Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker’s desk.

When I say that the Wisconsin budget that the Republicans passed is the most awful state budget in American political history, it’s not hyperbole, it’s the cold hard truth. The Wisconsin budget, among many other things, demonizes the working poor in Wisconsin by replacing the words “living wage” with the words “minimum wage” in state statutes, fast-tracks an expansion of a tar sands oil pipeline in Wisconsin and Illinois that will be even bigger than the Keystone XL pipeline would be, cuts funding to public K-12 and higher education in Wisconsin, effectively prohibits Wisconsin wineries from hosting weddings, and gives Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele even more unchecked power to sell off public property in Wisconsin’s largest county to his political cronies. This budget does a lot to pander to far-right voters that Scott Walker is trying to win over in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and does virtually nothing to benefit the people of Wisconsin in any way. You can read press releases from Democratic Wisconsin State Representatives Melissa Sargent of Madison, Dianne Hesselbein of Middleton, Amanda Stuck of Appleton, LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee, and Andy Jorgensen of Milton, as well as from Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha, at the links in this sentence.

However, prior to the Republicans in the Assembly passing the state budget, Katrina Shankland, the Assistant Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Stevens Point, tried to amend the state budget to require that future proposals of non-fiscal policy measures in future state budgets get their own separate public hearing before a standing legislative committee (the Republicans rejected Shankland’s amendment). I criticized Shankland’s proposal, because it would not outright prohibit Walker or whoever else is Wisconsin Governor once Walker leaves office from proposing public policy in state budgets. Shankland responded to my criticism of her proposal via Twitter:

Anyone who holds political office, is running for public office, or is thinking about running for public office should take note of Shankland’s response to my criticism of her. She didn’t talk down to me, she didn’t belittle me, she didn’t attack me, and she didn’t try to change the subject. Instead, she directly addressed my criticism of her proposal by saying that she thinks that policy measures don’t belong in state budgets, and she defended her proposal by saying that the Republicans voted against allowing public hearings on policy proposals.

Katrina Shankland has been very respectful to me, even when I’ve disagreed with her, which isn’t often.

How the Republican agenda hurts rural Wisconsinites

I’m going to share something that Wisconsin State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), wrote for the Madison, Wisconsin-based newspaper The Cap Times a week and a half or so ago. In her op-ed, Hesselbein talked about how the Republicans’ state budget in Wisconsin hurts rural Wisconsinites especially hard:

  • On public schools, the Republican budget cuts $150/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts in the 2015-2016 school year and $135/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts over the biennium (the two-year period of the budget). Additionally, Republican Governor Scott Walker wants more charter schools, which get public funds that would otherwise go to public schools, in Wisconsin. Furthermore, the Republican budget cuts funding used to create homeschooling lessons and online educational materials, which are produced by Wisconsin MediaLab. These cuts could force some rural school districts in Wisconsin to consolidate, costing small towns jobs they need to survive.
  • On rural sanitation, Walker proposed, in the original state budget proposal, to eliminate a fund that helps low-income Wisconsinites replace failing septic systems, but it had its funds restored by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural roads, Walker proposed eliminating funding for removal of deer carcasses from rural roads in Wisconsin, which would have caused an even greater hazard to people driving in rural areas of Wisconsin. This also had its funding restored by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural health, the Republican budget eliminates both Wisconsin’s Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program and a loan forgiveness program designed to encourage medics to work in rural areas of Wisconsin. The program also cuts $25 million in Medicaid funding to most of Wisconsin’s community health centers.
  • On local government property insurance, Walker proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Local Government Property Insurance Fund, which insures street sweepers, salt sheds, and other things that local governments in Wisconsin own and use to carry out street maintenance and other duties of local governments in Wisconsin. The City of Middleton, the Village of Waunakee, and the Village of Cross Plains, three incorporated municipalities in Hesselbein’s state assembly district, currently pay a combined total of $120,419 ($51,342 for Middleton, $49,214 for Waunakee, and $19,863 for Cross Plains) in premiums for insurance provided by the state’s local government insurance fund. If this fund is eliminated, local governments all across Wisconsin would have to pay more for local government property insurance from the private sector, if that kind of insurance is obtainable from the private sector. In its review of Walker’s budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Legislature delayed the demise of the program by two years.
  • On higher education, the University of Wisconsin Extension (UW-Extension) maintains a presence in all 72 Wisconsin counties, providing assistance to Wisconsinites in areas such as agriculture, 4-H youth development programs, and family living. Walker’s proposed funding cuts to the entire University of Wisconsin System (UW-System), which includes the UW-Extension, could result in the loss of 65 to 80 county-level Cooperative Extension positions, making it harder for Wisconsin’s farmers to get help they need from the UW-Extension.

Pointing out how Republican policies hurt people who live in small communities and rural areas is something I wish Democrats in Wisconsin and other states did much more often. However, unlike some other states, reaching out to rural voters is a necessity for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin for two reasons: Hard-partisan voters and the urban Democratic strongholds of the state don’t provide Democrats with enough votes to win statewide in Wisconsin, and suburban areas, outside of the heavily-Democratic suburbs around Madison, are some of the most Republican areas in the entire country. This is something that isn’t a necessity in, for example, my home state of Illinois, since the Chicago suburbs aren’t as staunchly Republican as the Milwaukee suburbs in Wisconsin are, so Illinois Democrats can win statewide with either an urban-suburban coalition or an urban-rural coalition, with most Illinois Democrats preferring the former, which, sadly, leaves rural voters in Illinois mostly ignored by Democrats. However, the urban-suburban coalition can’t be formed in Wisconsin, because the Milwaukee suburbs are the strongest of the GOP strongholds in Wisconsin, so it would take an urban-rural coalition for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin.

In short, Scott Walker proposed a budget that either would or would have cut funding to rural school districts, septic tank replacement programs, rural road maintenance, rural health care, local government property insurance, and university extension programs in Wisconsin. This would result, or would have resulted, in a lower quality of education for rural children, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time paying for septic system replacement, lower-quality rural roads, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time getting the health care they need, taxpayers having to pay more for insurance of local government property, and Wisconsin farmers having a harder time getting help from the UW-Extension. While Rob Brooks, a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Saukville, has outright admitted that Walker proposed a “crap budget”, the Republicans who run the Wisconsin State Legislature intend to keep some of Walker’s budget cuts that will make life for rural Wisconsinites harder.

Bruce Rauner crony Bill Daley wants his kind of Democrat in the Illinois U.S. Senate race

The conservative publication National Journal is reporting that Bill Daley, a member of Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s transition team prior to Rauner being sworn into office, is behind an effort to convince Andrea Zopp, an appointed member of the Chicago School Board who voted for a Rahm Emanuel-backed proposal to close dozens of Chicago Public Schools, to run for the Democratic nomination in next year’s U.S. Senate race here in Illinois:

Zopp is being recruited by African-American political leaders, as well as former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, to forge an uphill bid against (U.S. Representative Tammy) Duckworth, who already has raised more than $1.5 million for her campaign.

“My consideration isn’t about the turnout,” she said. “My consideration is that as an African-American woman I think I bring perspective that the African-American community and also other communities of color will respond to, and I think that perspective is not represented in the race.”

Duckworth, the only declared candidate in the race so far, was born in Thailand to an American father and Thai mother, and has some Chinese ancestry. Daley, who has been urging Zopp into the race, said Democrats would be “idiots” to not worry about a potential drop-off in black voters if there were no African-American candidate on the ballot in either of the top two slots.

The other two candidates who are considering bids that I’m aware of are U.S. Representative Robin Kelly and State Senator Napoleon Harris. Duckworth, Zopp, Kelly, and Harris are all ethnic minorities: the latter three are black and Duckworth has Thai and Chinese ancestry.

I’ll emphasize the last sentence that I quoted above, as it’s clear to me that Bill Daley is trying to recruit a candidate for public office primarily on the basis of the potential candidate’s skin color. Personally, I think that’s downright racist and no different than Republicans like Mark Kirk making racist remarks about black people. Also, Daley’s claim that black voters won’t turn out without a black candidate running in either the presidential or statewide races is absolutely absurd for multiple reasons. First, there hasn’t been a scenario in which there was no black candidate running on the Democratic ticket for president, vice president, or statewide office in Illinois since 2000, and Democrats won Illinois’s electoral votes for president and vice president, which was the only presidential or statewide contest that was on the ballot, that year. Second, Republicans have won statewide races in Illinois with black Democrats running in other statewide contests. Third, black voters here in Illinois will turn out to vote for any Democratic candidate who will fight to improve the lives of all Illinoisans, especially a candidate that makes a concerted effort to reach out to black voters in an attempt to earn their support. Most Illinois voters don’t care about the race or skin color of candidates, they’re more interested about what candidates stand for.

Remarks similar to what Bill Daley made have backfired on black Democrats in a neighboring state in the past. In a 2012 Milwaukee-area Wisconsin State Senate race, Elizabeth Coggs, a black Democrat who was running in a multi-way primary, told a mostly-black audience at a community conference of some kind to “vote for someone who looks like you”, an apparent reference to Millie Coby, a black Democrat who was running for the Wisconsin State Assembly seat that Coggs gave up to run for state senate against Sandy Pasch, a white Democrat. As a result of Coggs’s remarks, Coggs herself lost to another black Democrat, and Coby lost her race to Pasch.

Bill Daley owes the people of Illinois an apology for his racist remarks as part of his effort to divide Illinois Democrats and progressives against each other in order to promote his Bruce Rauner-style corporate agenda. More importantly, Illinois does not need a corporate hack like Andrea Zopp holding statewide elected office. If Robin Kelly runs for U.S. Senate, I will endorse her campaign. If Kelly does not run, I will endorse Tammy Duckworth.

Bruce Rauner thinks Illinois children are lab rats, threatens to veto opt-out bill

Later today, the Democratic-controlled Illinois House of Representatives is set to vote on legislation that would make it easier for Illinois parents to opt their school-age children out of state-mandated standardized testing.

However, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has publicly threatened to veto the legislation if it hits his desk, claiming that Illinois would risk losing over a billion dollars in federal education funding if such a law were to be enacted. As Jim Vail, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher and the author of the progressive education blog Second City Teachers, pointed out, Rauner’s claim is absolutely false for several reasons:

  • Seven states, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin, already have laws on the books explicitly allowing for parents to opt-out their children from standardized testing, and efforts are underway in an eighth state, New Jersey, to enact a opt-out bill there.
  • The federal government has never withheld a state’s Title I education funding for low participation rates in standardized testing or for any other reason.
  • Illinois is currently operating under a federal waiver from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The waiver exempts Illinois from the risk of facing federal penalties for low participation rates in standardized testing.
  • Congress is currently working on legislation that would completely eliminate the threat of states and school districts losing federal funding for having less than 95% of students participating in standardized testing.

It’s 100% clear to me that Rauner thinks that our state’s schoolchildren are laboratory rats who should be subjected to standardized testing and other neoliberal education policies that make education less interesting for our schoolchildren, shame teachers and students, and make a total mockery of K-12 education in this country. It’s time to end the plantation mentality in our education system by eliminating mandatory standardized testing altogether, ending the overemphasis on career preparation, and crafting strong education standards where teachers teach to the standards, not to standardized tests.

ENDORSEMENT: Nicholas J. Stamates (write-in) for 20th Senate District of Wisconsin

While there’s only one candidate, far-right Republican Duey Stroebel, who has his name on the ballot in the upcoming special election in the 20th Senate District of Wisconsin, which includes the northern part of the Milwaukee suburbs and rural areas east of Fond du Lac, there is a Democrat who is running a write-in campaign against Stroebel: Nicholas J. Stamates.

Stamates isn’t interested in campaign donations, he’s interested in votes. Stamates supports legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing marijuana sales in order to help fill a large state budget deficit that Wisconsin faces. Additionally, Stamates opposes Common Core State Standards, which is a set of corporate, neoliberal education standards that are supported by Republicans like Jeb Bush and billionaires like Bill Gates, as well involve large amounts of standardized testing that make it more difficult for teachers and administrators to be creative with teaching curriculum and inspire their students to learn.

You can view Stamates’s website and campaign platform online. If a write-in line is available on the 20th Senate District of Wisconsin special election ballot, I encourage residents of the 20th Senate District to write-in Nicholas J. Stamates.

The Progressive Response to the Illinois State Budget Address

In his budget address today, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a draconian budget that, among other things, includes deep cuts to Medicaid, higher education, and other important government services that many Illinoisans rely on and help make our economy strong. While our state’s current fiscal situation is unsustainable, Rauner’s budget proposal would actually make Illinois even worse off than it is now.

In his budget, Rauner proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, which thousands of Illinoisans who are not well off rely on in order to make health care more affordable for them. While any actual waste in the Medicaid program (Medicaid payouts to deceased people, etc.) should be eliminated, taking away health care benefits from people who rely on them would bankrupt thousands of Illinois families. Additionally, Rauner proposed taking money from higher education and giving it to K-12 schools in our state. While our state’s K-12 system needs more funding, to cut funding from our state’s public universities and community colleges in order to do so is the wrong way to do so. Additionally, Rauner proposed freezing property taxes and cutting state funding to local governments around the state. This would force many municipalities to cut police departments, street maintenance crews, and other important services, if not outright eliminate local government altogether.

In his budget speech, Rauner proposed gutting pensions, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, as well as making it harder for Illinoisans to sue those who have wronged them in a significant way and make the Illinois tax code even more tilted toward the wealthiest people in our state than it currently is. To put that another way, Rauner wants to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it, as well as make it easier for businesses and other people and groups to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it.

Additionally, Rauner used his budget speech to advocate for items that do not belong in a state budget or budget speech, such as a proposed state constitutional amendment to enact term limits for many of our state’s elected officials. If it’s not a fiscal item, it doesn’t belong in a state budget or budget speech, and bringing up non-fiscal items in a budget speech is purely political grandstanding.

In his speech, Rauner compared himself to Abraham Lincoln and claimed that his budget would make Illinois a more prosperous state. First off, Rauner is no Lincoln. Lincoln believed that “labor is the superior of capital”. Rauner believes that capital is the superior of labor. It’s clear to me that Rauner has a completely different political philosophy than that of Lincoln. Also, while the bottom line of Rauner’s budget proposal may look good, what is inside Rauner’s budget is what really matters, and Rauner’s budget would make millions of Illinoisans far worse off than they currently are and lead to even worse fiscal crises in the future.

What if Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today?

I don’t usually write “what if” posts, but, since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’ll share my thoughts about what I think MLK would be doing nowadays if he were alive today.

MLK would probably be a very vocal critic of voter suppression and, especially in the wake of the recent shootings of unarmed black males at the hands of white police officers, police brutality and police militarization if he were alive today. To a lesser extent, MLK would have been a vocal supporter of worker’s rights and a vocal opponent of public school privatization, as he saw so-called “right-to-work” laws and he probably would have seen the “school choice” agenda as a way of resegregating public schools. Issues where MLK would have probably not been vocal about are women’s rights and LGBT rights issues like abortion and marriage equality.

MLK was not the kind of person to leave the spotlight graciously and was a fearless advocate for the ideals that he believed in, so he probably would still be a very vocal civil rights leader if he were alive today.