At request of Janesville Education Association, school board votes to support Voucher Transparency Bill

At the request of the Janesville Education Association, the Janesville School Board this week voted, 9-0, to support the Wisconsin Taxpayer Voucher Transparency Bill. The bill, authored by state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), would require property tax bills to include information from the school district where the property is located regarding the amount of any net reduction in state aid to the district as a result of pupils enrolled in the statewide voucher program, the Racine voucher program, or the Milwaukee voucher program.

The resolution notes that, statewide, property taxes increased by over $25 million in 2016-17 due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher system. The statewide property tax impact is estimated to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19. The Janesville School District was required to levy $187,180 in taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the statewide voucher program for 2017-18, and local taxpayers are not provided with information about their tax dollars being spent on private and voucher schools.

School boards in Eau Claire, Holmen, Stevens Point, Wausau, South Milwaukee, Holmen, Baraboo and Merrill have passed similar resolutions.

Here is the entire resolution:

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Wisconsin educators get global view of education issues

By Mary Bell

WorldCongressWisconsin was well represented at the 7th World Congress of Education International held in Ottawa, Canada, in July. Among the delegates and official observers from NEA-USA were Wisconsin educators Mary Bell, Britt Hall, Glenn Schmidt, Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Bob Peterson, and Bob and Jeannie Lehmann.

Every four years the World Congress brings together teachers and other education employees from 170 countries. This year about 1,700 people made their way to Canada’s capital city for the weeklong event.

Opening Session

Besides being welcomed to Ottawa with the music and dancing of the First Peoples, delegates viewed a video memorial of the four years since the Capetown Congress.  This review of the educators lost was not just filled with celebration of the lives of leaders who died over those years, but sobering in its documentation of those targeted and killed because they were teachers, and who died defending the lives of their students.  Educators in tumultuous religious and cultural conflict are historically the targets for extremists, and our times are no different.

Fighting “Education Tumbleweeds”

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen from the Netherlands gave his report on EI’s progress on goals and initiatives approved at the last World Congress in 2011 in South Africa.  He provided a powerful account of the attacks on children and public school educators – reviewing EI’s efforts to intervene on behalf of imprisoned educators, teacher unions under direct threats and to fight the global privatization and advancement of standardized testing that undermine the profession of teaching.

He specifically addressed the commoditization of public education, referring to big box providers as “education tumbleweeds” who blow in and out of our schools with the winds of the moment, with no connection or concern for the enduring purpose and function of our classrooms.

Women’s Caucus Pre-conference

EI President Susan Hopgood began the day with reflections 20 years after the International Summit on the Status of Women in Beijing. Progress is testimony to the importance of goals, but in too many places women and girls remain targets for radical sectarian violence.  A panel of union leaders from around the globe reviewed the progress and challenges of women in education labor organizations as well as efforts to improve the lives of women in the profession.

The afternoon discussion focused on enlisting men in the cause of women’s rights in our unions, and the White Ribbon project in Quebec provided one example.  Begun after women were targeted in the Montreal Massacre (1989, 14 women killed, 14 wounded – attending engineering classes at the University. A note left by the assassin listed an additional 15 feminists he wanted to kill, including a vice president of the trade unions.)  The White Ribbon project takes a community discussion of gender roles and stereotypes to boys as young as 7 and provides alternative messages about identity to what may be provided by peer and cultural portrayals.  Table discussions with representatives from Ghana and Uganda were lively, as their leadership was, with only one exception, male.  In an environment where cultural messages about women’s worth and role can be damaging to both young boys and girls, we cannot cede the conversation to media and peer groups.  Our role as educators demands we pay attention to a full range of conversations and modeling that can positively impact our students’ expectations and achievement.

Elections at EI

Although from an outside perspective elections at EI seem calm and noncompetitive, just the opposite is true.  The EI board is constructed in such a way that regional representation is guaranteed, even though all delegate unions vote on all representatives and the competition within those regions is conducted through diplomatic wrangling and relationships that reflect the priorities of the region.  We elected 26 representatives, from President Susan Hopgood (Australia, Asia-Pacific  Region) and General Secretary Fred vanLeewen (EI staff) to Regional Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia (NEA, USA, North American Region) and Board members at large from all regions including Randi Weingarten (AFT, USA, North American Region)

Resolutions

At EI, new business items are known as Resolutions, and come in before the Congress so that multiple translations can be made and so that all members can evaluate and submit amendments for translation. Speakers are expected to address the group in one of four official languages: English, French, German or Spanish. Delegates find themselves putting on headphones and taking them off frequently depending on whether they need translation.  Because of the language complications, all resolutions must be submitted in advance and cannot be amended.

There is provision for Emergency resolutions, and in Ottawa we deliberated on 9 such resolutions, from such countries as Iran, Colombia and South Korea. All voting on resolutions at EI is done in blocks by member unions, and weighted by the membership of that union.

On behalf of the Education International (EI) Executive Board, President Susan Hopgood proposed the Enabling Resolution on the Privatisation of Education Services. “Increasing privatisation is the greatest threat to education as a public good and to the equality and quality of the education system,” she said. The destructive nature of privatization and austerity measures were a common thread running through the presentations of many speakers.

Former Milwaukee Teachers Education Association President Bob Peterson provided questions and commentary both in sessions and at the NEA booth regarding the Wisconsin experience.

The impact of standardized testing in the privatization of education were common topics within resolutions, as was Pearson, the most aggressive worldwide company promoting it.  The funding of education and the diversion of funding through shell organizations promoting privatization was alarming.

Global Teachers’ Union Leaders Speak for Themselves

Although austerity and the destructive privatization and underfunding of education were the main threads running through the Education International World Congress, there were many other issues that needed to be addressed.

One Executive Board member prefaced her remarks by citing three problem areas around the world: torture in Bahrain, child labor in Africa, and loss of union rights in Wisconsin.

Below are statements, quotations, and summaries of a variety of topics for the 2015 EI World Congress. They are arranged in no particular order based on the nationality of the speaker.

Fiji

Few people know that Fiji has been under a dictatorship for the past eight years. A 2014 election only gave it a veneer of legitimacy. Teachers have asked the International Labor Organization for help in maintaining some rights as unions are being managed by the government.

Liberia

Ebola has produced a “reign of terror.” Many teachers’ lives have been lost, leaving a heavier classload for everyone else.

Burundi

Their teacher leadership team is living in exile in Uganda.

Uganda

Although it’s often unreported, school-related, gender-based violence is a major problem.

Tunisia

A delegate spoke on behalf of the Palestinian delegates who were unable to attend the World Congress because the Conservative government of Canada refused visas for them. Altogether, 34 visa applications from EI delegates were rejected by Canada.

Zimbabwe

Companies were forced to stop their practice of employing children. Because schools are nonexistent in many areas, kids are in the streets with nothing to do.

Great Britain

Teachers are worried there’s not even a consensus for free public education anymore. There is a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

Turkey

“The main victims of migration are children.” Millions have left Syria, Iraq and other conflict-laden countries, with many of them ending up in Turkey.

Canada

A “narrative of failure” is being used to privatize education amid chronic underfunding.

Central African Republic

“Private schools are developing everywhere.” A large level of corruption accompanies the process.

Honduras

Sixty teachers have been murdered in this violence-ridden country. The government routinely suspends teachers and violates their rights.

Chile

Education is given over to market forces. It is not even monitored by the government.

South Korea

The Korean government decertified the teachers’ union, essentially banning it.

Greece

The head of the teachers’ union in Greece reported that because of austerity, 2,000 schools were closed, 28% of teachers were dismissed, and workers took a 48% pay cut.

Colombia

Colombia reported that three striking teachers had been killed just in the past week.

Iran

Iran put a delegate, Ismael Abdi, in jail rather than let him go to the meeting in Canada. Then they told him he must resign from the union.

Paraguay

Paraguay reported that leaders were being imprisoned, companies don’t pay their taxes and strikes were illegal.

United States

Many U.S. states are providing “tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for everyone else.” An AFT delegate specifically referenced Scott Walker and Wisconsin, where public employee strikes are just as illegal as they are in Paraguay.