Sunday, April 28, 2013

Building a Continent of Support for Public Schools

Bad news and good news for you to start the week.  Bad news first.

Funding Structural and Annual Level - The Budgets
Budgets passed by the House and Sensate are terrible.  They have minor differences, but they both have:
  • Funding cuts (from $2 to $52 per pupil less in the House budget, and from $34 to $43 per pupil less in the Senate budget).
  • "Vouchers for vendors" found in Section 21f. We've written about this extensively.
  • $8 million slush fund for the EAA on top of its per pupil allowance.
Michigan Parents for Schools has a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the legislative budgets along with Gov. Snyder's proposal (which isn't any better).  School Aid budgets: no good news. Michigan Parents for Schools. April 28, 2013.

Organizing - Parent Power in Texas, Tennessee ... and Michigan
The good news is, parents are fighting for public schools all over the country - and we are winning.

One parent on the list forwarded this story about parents standing up to well-financed corporate interests in Tennessee:
In December 2012, we–a small group of active public school parents–sat around a dining room table to discuss how we could combat the education reform bills we anticipated during the upcoming Tennessee state legislative session. We were very aware that we faced an uphill battle because Tennessee has become Ground Zero for education reform over the past few years. The Republican super-majority in both the state House and Senate appeared poised to pass a variety of corporate school reform bills. The fervor for this reform was fueled by our Governor, State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman (Michelle’ Rhee’s ex-husband), Speaker of the House, Mayor of Nashville, and “part-time” Tennessee resident, Michelle Rhee. ... A total of 2 million dollars was spent on pushing the agenda of these outside reform groups.
This December meeting hatched a new statewide, nonpartisan organization called Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools. The founding members brought various talents and political views to the effort. We used our individual talents and viewpoints to formulate and disseminate a message that had broad appeal–” Less government, local control, fiscal restraint, help ALL TN children.” ...
... Although legislators had long heard from teachers, teacher unions, and school districts, meetings with active, well-informed parents came as a total surprise to many at the Capitol. Legislators often dismiss concerns voiced by teachers, administrators, and school districts as self-serving and, ironically, not in the best interest of children. However, parents, upon whom legislators could pin no possible ill motives, were an entirely different matter. How could they refuse to listen to parents? We were key stakeholders in the education conversation and they did listen to what we had to say.
... Vouchers were killed as a result of Republican party infighting and the statewide charter authorizer died on the final day of the legislature due to a disagreement between the Senate and the House. Bottom line: Even though other factors outside of our control ultimately killed the bills, we feel very strongly that our efforts made enough legislators question them so they did not roll through without questions and opposition. We plan to continue educating Tennesseans and legislators about the realities of these bills. And we will be at the Capitol in 2014 when they come up again. We aren’t finished yet… Grassroots Report: How Tennessee Parents Stopped Vouchers, The Network for Public Education, April 25, 2013.
Before I got a chance to blog about the Tennessee parents, I came across this story about parents fighting high-stakes testing in Texas:
They were dismissed as moms, overprotective and easily manipulated moms.
But those women, determined to protect their children from state testing mandates that they say had gone too far, have overwhelmed the powerful business and political forces that made Texas the capital of high-stakes testing.
It started small, with just eight women from Austin and suburban Houston at the center. But the movement spread fast and wide, and now Texas is on the verge of a dramatic testing turnaround. ...
... “They did their homework, they understood how the system worked, and they clearly were underestimated by Bill Hammond,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who spoke in January 2012 at a meeting that helped bring the group together. ...
... Majcher and Schultz had also discovered that they were not alone. Pockets of parent resistance had popped up elsewhere in the state and some of them came to Austin in January 2012 for a committee hearing on testing. They all talked, shared some ideas and joined forces.
“You tend to think you’re just an island on an issue until you meet up with another island and before you know it, you’re a continent,” said Susan Kellner, a former school board president in Spring Branch near Houston who has become a leader of the parent group. ... Moms’ group shakes up status quo on Texas’ testing regimen,, April 27, 2013.
And there was this excellent column in the Detroit Free Press today:
There’s a fight brewing over the heart and soul of public education.
In one corner, we have Gov. Rick Snyder, who says he believes that the point of an education is to connect the student with a job. It’s not a crazy notion — it worked for Snyder, after all; the governor amassed a slew of degrees at an astonishingly young age, and rode his academic success to the top of three fields.
And in the other, we have the traditional education system, fighting to hold on to a place for the humanities, for art, music, literature and philosophy, subjects whose value isn’t always measurable in dollars or job titles. ...
... So these two viewpoints came to a head last week at the governor’s annual education summit.
Flanagan waded into the fray with remarks he says were meant to ease the tension between business community members and educators present at the summit. Education for education’s sake is silly, said Flanagan, according to other event attendees — an outrageous statement from a man charged with overseeing the state’s K-12 system. Flanagan contends that his remark was intended to address, and ease, the tension between Snyder and educators — the superintendent says it’s essential that education both prepare students for work and imbue the intangible advantage an education conveys.
That’s true. But here’s something else that’s true: The idea that the value of education can be measured in material success is kind of missing the point.  Nancy Kaffer: School reform dangerous if you don't understand value of education, Detroit Free Press, April 29, 2013.
The movement in Okemos hasn't been around that long, but it's growing quickly.  Many of us are still learning about the radical changes being pushed in Lansing, but our numbers have climbed over the last month and we are already connecting with folks from across the state.  If you want to connect with other groups directly, you can find them on Facebook:
Keep reading the blog.  Keep sending us the education stories that interest you.  Let us know if you want to do more.  Feel free to share the emails or blog.

People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. - Vince Lombardi

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