March People’s Tribune On Line

Note the section on poetry and revolution,  education stories about Chicago and Milwaukee (see below),  the cover story about homelessness, and, as we get a glimpse of the health care bill before Congress, a physican’s view on why we need single payer.

March Cover, People's Tribune, a physician's view about the necessity of single-payer. Plus a poor people's march walks a different road to the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit.

By Todd Price

In the February edition of the People’s Tribune, I reported on the successful setback to the forces of privatization of education and disenfranchisement of the citizen voter. I described the scenario: a literal soap opera, where the Democrat Party and its officials have switched sides on the struggle to save public education. Literally, on the one hand is the lame duck, Governor Jim Doyle. Doyle as Wisconsin’s Attorney General several years past, had fought vouchers, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Plan to be specific, in court and largely won, only to turn around and raise the caps on these public, taxpayer-sponsored private schools and Charter schools to boot, as Governor.

On the other hand, there is the enigmatic State Representative Annette “Polly” Williams, who was for many years the literal darling of the free market loving, public education hating crowd. Williams was the key figure advancing the “School Choice” vouchers program in Milwaukee . . . and beyond, but now has largely disavowed herself from that history, opting to oppose Governor and Mayor who sought to take over the Milwaukee Public School District with a hostile and unpopular Mayoral Takeover.

So one needs to keep a scorecard, what with the Democrats shifting principles and loyalties like free agents switching teams in professional baseball. Governor Doyle gives the green light for Mayoral Takeover after meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and then opts to pull out of the Governor’s race entirely. The Mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett opts for Mayoral Takeover, only to affirm (not in so many words of course) that any such takeover would likely happen on someone else’s watch as he aims to be . . .the new governor!

But there is more.

Despite the Governor and Mayor’s efforts in securing the needed legislation for Mayoral Takeover, and despite the lobbying by a hedge fund-sponsored, Charter school advocate-organization, Education Reform Now, members of the Democratic Party, just like those taking up the proposed health care bill(s), are split from the beginning. Mayoral takeover is thus dead for now.

But the attack on public education, and the attack on Milwaukee Public Schools continues in the form of a threat from the highest education office in the state.

Since the defeat of the Mayoral Takeover initiative, the Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction has issued a statement threatening to withhold funding from the Milwaukee Public School District in order to force compliance to the No Child Left Behind Law.

In response, the city Superintendent fired back that “you do not specifically say why you have made the decision, nor do you state what it is that Milwaukee Public Schools should be doing differently to comply with its DIFI (District Identified for Improvement) plan. . .”

Furthermore, the City Superintendent, William G. Andrekopoulos, argues that the district is indeed meeting the goals. The Milwaukee School Board of Directors have also insisted that they have followed the letter of the law, and that the Department of Public Instruction has already acknowledged as such.

Given that the Governor and Mayor failed to get the desired Mayoral Takeover legislation even to the floor of the House and Senate (read: they didn’t have the votes), the victory of the community, the Coalition to Stop MPS Takeover, and the MPS school board against the Mayoral Takeover bid seems short lived.

A hearing and protest of the latest attack on the Milwaukee Public School District looms. But the game is the same; the Democrats as well as the Republicans take their marching orders from Wall Street. A rallying cry for many remains relevant to today’s corporate, privatizing, real politic: “Public education under attack, what do we do? Act up! Fight back!”

Protest of Chicago school closures.
PHOTO/Southwest Youth Collaborative
By Lew Rosenbaum

When Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) called the education summit to order on that frigid January 9 morning, the crowd at Malcolm X college responded with these demands: stop privatizing Chicago public schools; education is a right, not a privilege! More than 400 teachers, students, parents and other community activists greeted the opening panel with encouragement and enthusiasm. Also at this meeting, the Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE) introduced their slate of candidates running for office in the Chicago Teachers Union. CORE has been at the center of the teachers’ battle to prevent school closings, to fight discriminatory firing of minority teachers, and to stop the extension of charter schools into the CPS. Other organizations, part of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), gave concrete examples of the ways in which communities and teachers are fighting to overturn CPS efforts to dismantle Chicago public education. Last year CORE and Peabody School parents, with other GEM member organizations, stopped the CPS from closing their school. This fall, Altgeld Gardens parents have organized to open a school in their neighborhood, to guarantee children a safe place to be educated, in a quality school. And in perhaps the most spirited and pointed comments, the Chicago Youth Initiating Change spokesperson spoke to the audience about how students themselves were involved in creating their own curriculum.

Five breakout sessions followed the opening meeting. Participants discussed strategies to deal with the high stakes testing program; how to build a fighting teachers’ union; how to increase student voice in education; how to oppose school closures with positive plans; and to strengthen and empower elected Local School Councils.

The Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union have recognized that the organizations in GEM threaten their control. Last year the CTU president came to the summit meeting. This year she did not even make an appearance. More significantly, the school board was scheduled on Jan. 8 to release this year’s list of school closures. Instead, perhaps to prevent a coordinated response, they delayed the release until after the summit. Eleven days  later, on January 20, the Chicago Tribune reported, “Chicago Public Schools will close, consolidate or overhaul 14 schools this year because of low achievement, underenrollment or outdated facilities.” This Chicago model for school destruction is the prototype for the national education plan.

Since January 9, the school board has refused Altgeld parents’ demands for a safe, quality neighborhood school. Parents are going ahead, therefore, with a plan to develop a “freedom school.” CPS granted a charter school the right to open a school in Altgeld next September, but the parents want a public school there and rejected CPS offers of interim transfers to schools that will not offer their children safety or a quality education.

Privatization in education and whites moving to the suburbs have transformed CPS: more than 90 percent of students are African American and Latino. Busing now moves children from one underfunded, inadequate school to another. Also, parents are beginning to question the basis on which education is evaluated. They are seeing how “high stakes” testing limits their children’s success. “Teaching is a privilege and learning is a right,” Karen Lewis, CORE’s candidate for CTU president, said at the education summit, “and these guys [Mayor Daley and the Chicago Board of Education that he controls] are taking away our privileges and our rights.” (Substance News, Jan. 11).

Since Jan. 9, the school board has held hearings on the schools scheduled to be closed. In those hearings CORE and other organizations in GEM have taken the lead in the battle to stop the closings. Financial crises provide excuses to cut back education, but government bailouts and corporate bonuses show we have the resources to build top-notch schools or provide first rate education everywhere. Ending school closings is a battle for the privilege to teach and the right to learn in a world-class school in each neighborhood.

Editor’s note: See next month’s issue of the People’s Tribune for more on the struggle around the Chicago Public Schools.


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