New tax break for big-box stores could drain more money from public schools

An article published in Education Week examines how big-box stores are using “dark store theory” to reduce their property tax payments, and how that is threatening to drain more resources from our public schools. The trend – in which companies claim their stores should be assessed as if they were vacant – has become pronounced in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The article cites the case of Menards suing to significantly reduce its tax payments in the Howard-Suamico School District north of Green Bay, and the impact of lost tax revenue on the district:

In the short term, said Matt Spets, the assistant superintendent for operations, the district could manage the lower revenue amount. In future years, however, Spets said, the district would have to ask residents to pay higher taxes or cut its budget by a corresponding amount if more retailers succeed in lowering their taxes. But residents may not be inclined to raise their taxes for schools: Last April, voters rejected a referendum that would have helped fund building upgrades, student support services and personnel costs.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” said Spets who noted that rural school districts are the most vulnerable.

Read the entire Education Week story:

Tax Breaks for Big-Box Stores Can Drain Money From Schools

Paying attention to how much nearby corporate retailers pay in property taxes may not be a priority for most school district leaders, but some policymakers think that could change soon. Across the country, retailers-in particular big-box stores-are pushing back on how local governments assess the value of their properties with the goal of lowering their tax bills.

ALEC conference continues group’s focus on undermining public schools, Rep. Chris Taylor says

State Representative Chris Taylor

State Representative Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Madison, just got back from another American Legislative Exchange Council conference, and concluded: “The issue of the moment for ALEC is public education — that is, undermining it.”

It’s unusual for a Democrat to attend an ALEC conference, but Taylor has been doing so for years, “to see for myself how this right-wing group crafts model legislation to advance the interests of its corporate and ideological funders,” she writes in a Progressive Magazine column.

“ALEC members are foaming at the mouth for the now-endless opportunities to further privatize public schools, long a central goal,” she writes, noting that the keynote speaker was U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who focused her remarks on expanding school privatization efforts.

Taylor concludes:

“For ALEC, it is all about tearing down our public-school infrastructure so corporate privatization efforts can move in and make a buck.

“What you never hear at ALEC is any discussion about improving public education. There is never a mention of smaller class sizes, community schools, or recruiting and retaining a diverse pool of the best and brightest teachers.”

Read her entire column in The Progressive:

ALEC’s Attack on Public Education: A Report from the Frontlines

I arrived earlier this month to the forty-fourth annual conference of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Denver to the best possible greeting-scores of protesters marching around the host hotel. Yellow tape and police barricades blocked all visible entrances. I joined the protesters for a while before I ducked under some yellow tape and entered the hotel.

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Private charter schools contribute to segregation, researchers find

An American Enterprise Institute report advancing privately run charter schools is flawed and actually demonstrates that private charter schools may be destructive of the common good by contributing to segregation, a new report shows.

The National Education Policy Center reviewed the American Enterprise Institute report, Differences by Design? Student Composition in Charter Schools with Different Academic Models, which compared differences in approaches and demographics between charter school models and public schools. The academic review of the report finds that it fails to consider: (1) a large body of research on parent-decision-making; (2) research suggesting that charter schools are not as innovative as they claim; and (3) the purpose and aims of an equitable public education system.

“While the authors and AEI may have conceived this report as a rationale for advancing charter schools, their data demonstrates that charter schools may be destructive of the common good,” the report states.

The report used enrollment demographics at different charter school models (e.g., art focused, no-excuses, single-sex, etc.), to demonstrate that different demographic groups attend different types of charter schools. With regard to different categories of race and ethnicity, family income, and special education status, the report documents demographic sorting as an outcome of school choice.

The reviewers find that the report presents charter school de facto segregation as a benign byproduct of parental choice. In fact, the review finds that the original report actually acknowledged that this type of stratification was part and parcel of a “properly” functioning charter sector – one in which parents get to choose the type of school their children attend.

The review finds that the American Enterprise Institute report relies heavily on its own reports and other pro-charter advocacy groups. Only two sources from the report were from peer-reviewed journals.

Read the Review

WEAC partners with the Great Lakes Center to share and provide academically sound reviews of education-related studies. WEAC President Ron Martin sits on the Great Lakes Board of Directors and exposes a flawed report advancing privately run charter schools.

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‘Public schools are our hope for democracy’

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“In Wisconsin, we care about our communities and share responsibility for each other’s future,” says Appleton resident Carol Lenz, a member of Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education. “This is why we value our public schools, where all children are empowered to achieve their dreams. Our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy depend on strong public schools.”

In a letter published by USA Today Network-Wisconsin and the Appleton Post-Crescent, Lenz says her two adopted children from India received strong support and a great education in public schools.

“Public schools empower students to learn in a diverse environment, better preparing them to live in a diverse country and world,” Lenz writes. “Learning with others, regardless of color, class or creed, fosters meaningful relationships that bridges differences, creating sorely needed empathy for our fellow human beings. My faith teaches me that empathy will help heal our brokenness. This is what public schools do.”

However, she noted, the movement toward privatization threatens the future of our public schools.

“Shortchanging our investment in public education by diverting funds to privatization ‘reforms’ turns a public good into a private profit scheme,” she writes. “Privatization of education undermines democratically-elected school boards. It curtails local control and public oversight of public dollars. More importantly, it creates winners and losers. It destroys community schools while promoting segregation, contributing to social disunity and inequality. The result is more division and polarization, quite the opposite of ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ This is the last thing our already fragile democracy needs.”

Read the Carol Lenz’s entire letter in the Post-Crescent:

Public schools are our hope for democracy

In Wisconsin, we care about our communities and share responsibility for each other’s future. This is why we value our public schools, where all children are empowered to achieve their dreams. Our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy depend on strong public schools. Community public schools continue to be the front line in unifying a polarized society.

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NEA applauds MTEA for fighting for Milwaukee public schools and kids

In its latest newsletter, the NEA Center for Organizing applauds members and leaders of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association for the work they have done to improve students’ test scores and divert efforts by Republican legislators and private interests to take over schools. The newsletter says:

victory took place after nearly three years of fighting and resisting a state mandated and legislative takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools. Community members and educators stand proud as the first district in the country to successfully resist a state-mandated takeover. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) blended teacher quality and standards programs with political advocacy, internal growth and strength work, and led with partnerships and coalition building in the community. The state superintendent, Tony Evers, announced on October 12 that Milwaukee test scores have improved to such a degree that they no longer qualify for takeover under state statute.

Through the Great Public Schools “lighthouse” grants NEA helped establish a teaching and learning department to improve teaching standards in the district. The MTEA teaching and learning department annually has three times more participants in its professional development programs than the district where members are paid to attend. The Teaching and Learning department at MTEA has been crucial in two important ways: first, it helped to grow and improve student outcomes which is evident in the increase in scores on the school report cards, and second, it helped to define the union as a place where educators need to go if they want to excel in their field.

MTEA genuinely engaged members of the community, sought input, supported local issues; and garnered true community partnership in the resistance to privatization. By doing walk-ins, holding community forums, canvassing parents’ homes and engaging the community in the struggle, MTEA has created a model that other school districts that are under attack should replicate. If we don’t resist, we won’t win. Milwaukee has proven, even against all odds, that if you do resist, you can win.

Pro-voucher lobbying group spends over $1 million on Wisconsin legislative races

From One Wisconsin Now

FallingMoneyAtCapitol_250pxFueled by contributions from out-of-state billionaires and the state big business lobby, the pro-private school voucher lobbying group the American Federation for Children (AFC) has reported pouring over $1 million worth of independent expenditures into state legislative races. The group, whose Wisconsin operations are overseen by disgraced former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen has also larded the campaigns of candidates and the Republican Assembly and Senate legislative campaign committees with $34,000 in direct contributions between September 1 and October 24.

“The private school voucher cartel’s front group, the American Federation for Children, is back and looking to do business in Wisconsin,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Fueled by huge contributions from out-of-state billionaires and the big business lobby, AFC is looking to elect legislators who’ll keep our tax dollars flowing to their friends in the less accountable private school industry instead of our public schools.”

According to filings with the State Elections Commission the American Federation for Children will have spent in excess of $1 million on direct mail and television, radio and digital advertising both attacking Democratic candidates and praising Republicans. Since 2010, the American Federation for Children has spent at least $4.5 million in Wisconsin campaigns.

Races in which AFC has been active include spending over $259,000 attacking Democrat Jeff Wright and promoting Republican Todd Novak in Assembly District 51; over $241,000 attacking Democrat Mandy Wright and promoting Republican Pat Snyder in Assembly District 85; over $54,000 attacking Democrat Dennis Hunt and promoting Republican Rob Summerfield in Assembly District 67; over $45,000 attacking Democrat David Gorski and promoting Republican Scott Krug in Assembly District 72; over $349,000 attacking Democrat Bryan Van Stippen in his race against Republican Tom Tiffany in Senate District 12; and over $62,000 attacking Democrat Mark Harris in his race against Republican Dan Feyen in Senate District 18.

In addition, candidate and the Republican legislative campaign committee filings indicate the AFC has been active in doling out campaign contributions directly to sitting Republican legislators, candidates and the legislative campaign committees controlled by the Senate and Assembly Republican leaders.

The largesse of AFC in supporting the campaigns of Assembly Republicans has been amply repaid in recent years. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has reported the private school voucher program, with lower accountability standards than public schools, will snag $800 million in state tax dollars over the decade. In addition to sending massive sums of public tax dollars to private schools, the Republican-controlled legislature also enacted a special tax break that allows millionaires and others sending their kids to private schools and academies to get a deduction for tuition at an estimated annual cost of $30 million.

Ross noted that the private school voucher cartel appears poised to demand more taxpayer subsidies in the 2017 legislative session. According to news reports, the next objective in their crosshairs is creating taxpayer funded accounts that could be used to pay for tuition at private schools and other related expenses.

Ross concluded, “They won’t say it publicly in their misleading campaign ads, but make no mistake, the AFC intends to keep the gravy train flowing for their friends and keep taking money from our public schools to support less accountable private schools. And they’re spending big money to make sure they have legislators in their pocket who will do their dirty work for them.”

One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.

NAACP calls for moratorium on charter expansion

naacp_brock_quote_300pxThe NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization, has adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools until concerns identified in its resolution are addressed. The moratorium call extends to “at least such time as:

  1. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools;
  2. Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system;
  3. Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and
  4. Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

Taxpayer-funded and privately managed, charter schools presently are treated in public policy as private for some purposes and public for others. They often are not subject to accountability and transparency provisions, such as open governing board meetings and records, financial conflict of interest, and financial audit requirements, that apply to other taxpayer-funded schools. Black students are disproportionately impacted by charter school disciplinary actions and high charter school failure rates which lead to closures. The NAACP historically has fought movements toward privatization that divert public funds to support nonpublic school choices.

“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock said in the statement announcing the resolution. “Our decision today is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García applauded the resolution, stating, “The NAACP vote is an important wake-up call that some charters are not serving the needs of communities and that much greater oversight and accountability is needed… . We strongly support more inclusive and otherwise positive alternatives to charter schools. We should invest in proven strategies – strategies such as smaller class sizes, parental involvement, magnet and community schools – that we know help to improve the success of all of our students.”

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Education Savings Accounts being considered by Legislature are another ‘back-door scheme’ to rob money from public schools, Martin says

So-called Education Savings Accounts, reportedly under consideration by Republican legislators, are just another “back-door scheme” to take money away from neighborhood public schools, WEAC President Ron Martin said Thursday.

“Education savings accounts literally take money out of our neighborhood public schools and hand it over to subsidize private tuition, with zero accountability,” Martin said. “Wisconsin students don’t need any more back-door schemes to take funding from our public schools. Public school students already receive less funding than those in private schools. Politicians who turn their backs on the public schools that provide all children with opportunity in return for campaign contributions from voucher lobbyists had better be ready to look parents in their communities in the eye in the next election and explain why local public schools are cutting teachers and programs, while tax dollars go unaccounted for through private subsidies.”

Facts:

  • The state provides more money per-pupil to private school students than it provides per-pupil to public school students. (See table below: Per-pupil support in the table is based on state aid – what the legislature provides, not local taxes.)
  • A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo shows an $800 million price tag for the statewide voucher program through time, funding that will deplete public school aid. In short, the legislature is eroding the foundation of support for public education in Wisconsin.
  • “Education Savings Accounts” are another scheme in a wide array of programs harmful to public schools that were enacted over the last five years. These schemes also include tax breaks for private school participants, a statewide voucher system, special education vouchers, takeover policies that allow unelected czars to control public schools, and an expansion of private charters.

Today, more state aid goes to support private students per-pupil than goes to support public school students per-pupil:

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WEAC: New style of vouchers ‘back-door scheme’ to defund public schools

The state’s largest teachers union came out swinging Thursday after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Assembly Republicans are looking at bringing new style of school voucher to Wisconsin. Assembly Republicans are considering a program that would allow Wisconsin parents to pay for K-12 school expenses – including private school tuition, textbooks and tutoring — with a taxpayer-funded stream of money known in other states as Education Savings Accounts.

Assembly Republicans float exploring new school choice option

Wisconsin parents could pay for K-12 school expenses – including tuition at private schools – with a taxpayer-funded savings account under a program Assembly Republicans are considering.

 

Bradley Foundation has spent over $108 million to support education privatization

In recent years, the unaccountable private school voucher program dramatically expanded in Wisconsin while state public schools suffered the 4th largest budget cuts in the nation. What’s the explanation for the shift in priorities when, according to independent studies, vouchers fail to produce any significant increase in student achievement? Updated research from One Wisconsin Institute exposing the right-wing Bradley Foundation’s spending over $108 million in support of education privatization from 2005 to 2014 provides some answers.

From One Wisconsin Now

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“The Bradley Foundation supports the radical privatization of public schools in Wisconsin and across the nation,” said One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross. “And it seems there’s no limit to how much they will pay to try to get their way, spending over $108 million between 2005 and 2014 to buy the help of over 130 organizations.”

Key findings of the updated “P Is For Payoff” report include:

  • Bradley Foundation head Michael Grebe, a political insider who chaired Gov. Walker’s presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, continues to orchestrate a massive propaganda campaign to advance the privatization of public education.
  • An analysis of IRS Form 990 records and Bradley Foundation reports reveals over 130 organizations supportive of their education privatization agenda and working to advance their cause have received over $108 million from 2005 through 2014.
  • Bradley’s tactics have continued to evolve, now featuring litigation to advance their privatization agenda and intimidate opponents. Leading the effort is the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which since its inception in 2011 has been larded with over $2 million from Bradley.
  • According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the voucher program will cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion from 2011 through the end of the 2015-17 budget cycle. Meanwhile, a new report found that Wisconsin schools have suffered the 4th biggest cuts in in the nation through 2014.

Original research by One Wisconsin Institute in 2013 first exposed the Bradley Foundation as a leading player in the campaign to gut public education and promote the unaccountable, radical privatization of K-12 education. The Milwaukee-based group spent millions to support organizations, think tanks, journalists and right-wing academics. They engaged in a campaign that manufactured a crisis, singled out their enemies, generated a cure, justified their scheme with pseudo-science, broadcast their message through the media, helped elect politicians to advance their agenda and kept them in line with high-powered lobbyists and well-funded pressure campaigns.

Ross concluded, “Wisconsin families and public schools are left paying the price as billions of dollars that could have been used for public education are siphoned off for the Bradley Foundation’s ideologically driven experiment. Until a majority of policy makers are willing to stand up to the Bradley Foundation’s millions, Wisconsin’s tradition of great public schools will remain under assault.”

 

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.