When Cuomo Pretends He Cares

17353378_10100395925024913_884817314304257965_nLast night I attended Central Synagogues “action” to raise the age of criminal accountability in NY State, featuring several inspiring speakers, and the night’s big draw, Governor Cuomo.  Of course, no questions (and no boos) were allowed during the presentation even though Cuomo shamelessly used the pulpit to veer off topic and champion shutting down “sub-par” public schools.

He also weirdly equated quality of education with how many devices are used in a given classroom and talked about the poor, failing public schools in which first graders don’t have access to “any electronics.” (Definitely an issue adequate funding from HIS OFFICE might address. Also, I’d prefer my first graders use less electronics in schools, not more.)

Since I didn’t get to ask my question, here it is, ready for Cuomo when he decides to actually face his constituents and host a real town hall.

Thank you for appearing in this forum and providing the space to discuss the urgency of raising the age in NY State. Unfortunately, if we really want to address the tragedy of teens and young adults traumatized by the criminal justice system we must face the fact of the school to prison pipeline.

Yet, your record and your proposed executive budget will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline by  failing to allocate the recommended amount of foundation aid due to NYS state schools, thereby continuing to underfund schools in low-income communities, depriving those schools of the resources they need to support all of their students academically and emotionally.  Your budget also aims to do away with the foundation aid formula all together, meaning NYS public schools will never get the 3 billion dollars they are owed to meet the NYS constitutional requirement for equity in education as determined by the 2006 ruling. As a teacher, I know all to well that overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and support and a high needs population is a nearly impossible challenge even for the most qualified and experience educators. Funding matters. 

Your proposed budget also lifts the current cap on charter schools in NYC, despite evidence that many charters intentionally weed out students with disabilities and behavioral challenges through suspensions, expulsions and “counseling” at a much higher rate than their public school counterparts. Your proposal also ignores evidence that charter schools are more segregated than public schools and more likely to promote “no-excuses” disciplinary approaches that disproportionately result in expulsions and suspensions of students of color and students with disabilities. For these reasons, both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a “moratorium” on charter schools. 

Raising the age is essential and I ask that you support Senator Montgomery’s comprehensive plan to do so. But if you want to truly help NYC teenagers stay out of our already over crowded jails, you MUST fully fund public schools and keep the existing cap and funding rates for charter schools in NYC.  Will you commit to doing this? 

I called and left my question as a voicemail today. I encourage you to leave your own message. Tell him to be a real progressive and stand up for public schools. Meanwhile, I’ll keep that question in my pocket for his next appearance.

 

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Send this letter to Cuomo

Courtesy of Indivisible Nation BK ( indivisiblenationbk.org,) I wanted to share this open letter to Andrew Cuomo about his executive budget and public education. Spoiler alert: Budget is not great. Read on for more info and please share! The budget will be finalized in the next few weeks. If you want to take a stand for public schools, you need to get this message to Albany. 

(If you’d like to print and send your own, you can find it here)

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The Trump administration poses a grave threat to our communities, our democracy, the environment, and our public education system. Now, more than ever, we need you to take a stand for public schools in New York State. You cannot claim to be a progressive leader if you continue to underfund our public schools while promoting the unchecked expansion of the charter school industry at the expense of district schools, low-income communities, and students with special needs.

I am writing to you today to demand that you revise the 2017-2018 executive budget in order to meet the needs of public schools statewide.

First, I ask that you increase the amount of Foundation Aid allocated to New York State public schools by $2 billion over the next two years. As you know, In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals found that the state was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding low-income schools. Known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling, the decision required the state to commit $5.5 billion in Foundation Aid to public schools across the state by 2011. However, the full distribution of this Foundation Aid has been delayed again and again and NYS schools are still owed $4.3 billion.  Meanwhile, your budget proposal includes an increase of only $428 million in Foundation Aid for schools and eliminates the use of the Foundation Aid formula altogether, while freezing Foundation Aid to school districts at  2017-2018’s meager level. This is unacceptable. Given the likelihood of the federal DOE eliminating Title 1 funding, it is critically important that you take your responsibility seriously and ensure that New York’s public schools will receive the aid they are owed. You must revise the budget and commit to fully funding public schools in New York state.

Second, I ask that you remove the special education waiver proposal from the executive budget. This proposal would allow school districts, approved private schools, and boards of cooperative educational services to seek waivers that would exempt them from providing important protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, this waiver would allow districts and schools to ignore provisions regarding IEPs, functional behavior assessments, behavior intervention plans, class sizes, and finally, provisions requiring schools to notify families before changes in placement. This waiver would dramatically erode students’ rights and harm children with disabilities, particularly those from low-income families who lack the resources to navigate IEPs and state law. It must be removed.

Finally, I ask that you not increase the number of new charter schools that can open in New York City and maintain the current “cap” which allows up to 30 new charter schools to open in NYC. The NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools in light of research demonstrating that 1) unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts and 2) charter schools suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile, charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption. Some prominent growing charter chains, like Success Academy, have even been accused of abusive instructional and employment practices.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6%-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling high-need children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  In New York State, some charter schools have been accused of intentionally weeding out lower-performing students and then leaving seats empty to maintain the illusion of high achievement.

Moreover, although there are certainly some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources and ultimately shut down.

This is not what we want for our children. We demand that you fully fund our public schools, remove the special education waiver and keep the current reasonable limits on charter school expansion in New York City.

 

Sincerely,

Indivisible Nation BK and Yours Truly (of PedagogyoftheReformed fame)

 

This is What Corruption Looks Like

Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday despite unprecedented national and even bipartisan opposition, despite Senators from both parties across the country being flooded with calls like never before, despite weeks of nationwide protests and vigils.

Why?

Because instead of listening to their constituents, Republican Senators turned off their phones, dismissed callers as “paid protesters” and voted with their wallets. Because Betsy DeVos bought this appointment. This is what corruption looks like. And it is precisely this kind of monied self interest that has been steering school privatization for years, against the wishes of parents, educators and communities.

If we are going to save public schools in this country- if we are going to save democracy, we’ve got to get corporate money out of politics and out of education. And every stakeholder in public education needs to make it their mission to do so.

The nationwide movement against DeVos proved that the “choice” parents want for their children is a quality, well funded community public school. Deciding between a for-profit prison to pipeline charter school, an “online virtual school” or private Christian school is not the choice most parents are looking for. And I certainly hope to avoid “teaching” in an online school where I’m barred from mentioning climate change, civil rights or evolution.

It’s time for all parents, all kids, all educators, all progressive politicians to stand up and get organized for public schools. Being a teacher, now more than ever, is a political act. Going to work and keeping your head down is no longer an option.

And to all the Trump supporting teachers out there, (Yes, I know about you) when thousands of schools lose their Title One funding, would you mind just quitting? Just step down okay? Because you know, budgets will be tight and people are going to lose their jobs. And you did this. I’m sure you can find work at the one of the fancy, new for-profit, online Christian schools for grizzly bear defense that will be popping up across the country.

To the Trump Supporter Who Yelled at Me About My Unborn Children at the Women’s March

While I walked to the rally for the Women’s March on Washington, carrying a sign that read “Liberty and Justice for ALL” you, an older white man,  yelled something incoherent about my unborn children. At first I kept walking and ignored you, and then what I shouted back was “I wish you were unborn.”

You might be wondering why I said that. So, I thought I would offer a more thorough explanation. Please respond at your convenience and feel free to share this letter with your old men friends who are similarly motivated by a concern for my unborn children.

Dear Champion for the Unborn,

You seem to think that concerns about my unborn children should preclude my protesting the presidency of Donald Trump. You are mistaken.

Here’s why.

1. I am a 30 year old woman. I have been fortunate enough to never get pregnant unintentionally.  If I do, I might choose to have an abortion. This decision would be based on my understanding of fetal development and scientific consensus about when life begins. I truly respect your right to make your own decision about the morality of abortion based on your religion. Thankfully, no one is going to force you to have an abortion. In fact, you can’t even get pregnant. Because you are an old man! So stop worrying so much! I promise I won’t force your sexual partners to get abortions either, if you do in fact manage to attract any sexual partners.

2.  I’m going to be honest with you.  Part of the reason that I joined the Women’s March is that I too am concerned about my unborn children. In fact, as a 30 year old woman in a stable relationship, I think about my unborn children quite often.  And here’s the kicker:  I’m pretty sure that Donald Trump poses the biggest threat to my unborn children of any US president. I assume you must have not noticed this, hence the incomprehensible shouting at me yesterday,  so let me lay it out for you.

Trump aims to dismantle and defund public education- very bad for my unborn children. Trump promotes rape culture- terrible for my unborn children. Trump wants to slash environmental regulations that keep our air and water clean- disastrous for my unborn children. Trump has already begun the process of denying millions of Americans, including pregnant mothers,  access to healthcare- also harmful to my unborn children. Trump chooses to deny the urgent threat of climate change, with rising seas, food and water insecurity and imminent displacement of millions of people around the world- horrific for my unborn children.   Are you seeing the pattern here?

3. Here’s another question for you. Did you know that some children have already been born? And their lives are not all perfect? I know this may come as a shock. Maybe you didn’t realize that fetuses grow into babies. And come out of women, who need jobs and equal pay to take care of their former fetuses, aka children. Maybe you don’t know that babies need things like food, housing and healthcare to survive. Is that what’s going on here?  I’m wondering, because it seems your aggressive concern for my unborn children has clouded your judgement a bit. I just have this nagging thought that it makes no sense to support policies that keep fetal cells alive, but hurt babies and children after they’re born.

4.That’s the other reason  I marched yesterday.  For the kids who already have been born. For the hundreds of already living children I have had the privilege to work with over the years. Because  I am a public school teacher.  In fact, I work about 50 hours a week to help children learn and grow. Given your tremendous concern for the unborn, I can only expect you similarly have dedicated your life to helping real live, already born children. As a teacher with years of experience and a basic understanding of how science works, I have some news for you.

By ignoring climate change and devoting all of your energy to hassling marchers about their wombs, you are ensuring that all children- born and unborn,  have no future. By sanctioning DeVos style defunding of public schools and attacks on children with disabilities, title 1 funding and teachers, you are hurting all children. By promoting white supremacy and a president who wants to deport millions of people, you are hurting children. By promoting the interests of a corporate oligarchy at the expense of unions, the free press, kids, patients, workers, women,minorities not to mention our national security(RUSSIA) you are hurting children. By supporting a Republican leadership that has poisoned thousands of kids in Flint, Michigan, that fights environmental regulations designed to eradicate childhood asthma nationwide, and that wants to deprive mothers of pre-natal care, you are hurting children.

Let me say that again. YOU ARE HURTING CHILDREN. Actively. Daily. And not just the unborn ones- the millions who have already been born and need grownups like you to fight for them, not against them.

If I could have fit all that on my sign yesterday I would have. But now you know the whole story, the reason why protesting the Trump presidency is the best thing I could do for my unborn children.

I assume, as a champion of the unborn, now that I have informed you of Trump and the GOP’s true impact on present and future generations, you will write me a letter of apology and join the next Women’s March on Washington. Or better yet, the Climate March scheduled for this spring.

If, however, through some incredible feat of cognitive dissonance, you continue to support the GOP and Donald Trump despite your supposed love of children,  I  assure you that when  I have children of my own, they will grow up proud of their mom- for yelling back at you, and for gearing up to fight your ass for the next four years.

Sincerely,

1 of the 3.5 million people who marched yesterday (The one you yelled at!)

 

Step It Up, UFT

Today was Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing. But for some reason, today was a day like any other day at school. There was a science experiment. There were math stations. Everyone smiled. No one talked about the hearing. No one marched out of the building. No email from the UFT came to my inbox.

Meanwhile, I haven’t had time to write for weeks because I have been too consumed with calling my Senators and getting every human I interact with to call their Senators every single day to vote against the supremely unqualified billionaire Betsy DeVos.

With DeVos in power, we are looking at a future where not all children can even go to school. Where private schools are funded by taxpayers and can then exclude minorities and students with disabilities with impunity. Where more and more children go to schools that are not evaluated, non-accredited, that indoctrinate students in intolerance, that don’t teach science, that exploit children for the sake of a profit.Where public schools are shuttered after being deliberately underfunded  again and again. Where for-profit schools funnel our taxpayer dollars into private pockets with no oversight. Where the few high- quality independent charters are pushed out by for-profit corporations that spend money on advertising and recruiting students. Apparently, even where people are free to bring their guns. (If you missed it, Betsy DeVos doesn’t think schools need to be “gun free zones.”)  Public schools have been privatized elsewhere and it always, always fails. We know what a DeVos future holds, and it is millions of children left behind.

DeVos has all but destroyed public education in Michigan, and she has less experience in public education than my 4 year old pre-school students.  This is no joke. This is life or death- not just for  education but for a democratic future.  Without public schools that accept and strive to educate all students, that meet standards, are evaluated regularly and cultivate research based pedagogy, we will lose the only remaining tool we have to “level the playing field.”  Hello oligarchy.

And what I’m wondering is… where the hell is the UFT? Why have I not been called to action? Why aren’t NYC teachers walking out in droves? Why aren’t we in the streets? Why isn’t the UFT holding press conferences, staging protests, mass mailing letters? Why aren’t they raising money for a strike fund? Why is it that all I heard about was a “twitter storm?”

If the UFT won’t step it up and fight hard for NYC public schools, who will?

Guys, this is no time for twitter storms. This is a real life, serious, all out, long term fight. We need to be in the streets. NYC teachers and the UFT- we need to be ready. The vote is next Tuesday. What’s the plan? 

Read This if DeVos Doesn’t Scare You-Yet

 

 

Cabinet of Horrors: A Guide To Calling Your Senators

The appointments just get scarier and scarier- from climate deniers to DeVos’ agenda to destroy public schools, life under Prez. T is looking dark for us normal, non- old white billionaires. So, thinking of calling your Senator? In the doc below,  are scripts you can use for 9 of the worst Cabinet appointments.

Scripts for Sessions, Pruitt, Tillerson, Devos and phone numbers for Schumer and Gillibrand included! If you’re one of the lucky constituents of any of the key Senate Committee chairs- Chuck Grassley, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker or Lisa Murkowski, specifically, those numbers are included as well.

Click, call and share.

Cabinet of Horrors: A Guide

Calling your Senator every day is a good start. So anyway, make some calls. Share the guideContact Your Senator

For more information- a rundown of all the appointments here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/politics/donald-trump-administration.html

And one more thing… Unfortunately, two of T’s non-cabinet appointments, white supremacist Steve Bannon and conspiracy theorist Islamaphobe Michael Flynn, do not need to be confirmed by the Senate. All the more reason to stay vocal- neither should be in a position of power.

Here’s a script for Bannon.

I’m a constituent from… and calling to ask that the Senator issue a public statement expressing his/ her intent to refuse to work with the Trump administration in any way until Steven Bannon is dismissed.  Bannon is a white supremacist, sexist, anti-semite who shouldn’t be allowed near the white house. 

Here’s one for Flynn.

I’m a constituent from… and calling to ask that the Senator issue a public statement expressing his/ her intent to refuse to work with the Trump administration in any way until Michael Flynn is dismissed. Flynn is a conspiracy theorist who spreads fake news and a danger to our national Security. 

Unprez Trump’s cabinet of horrors must be shut down. Luckily, all of his cabinet appointments, including DeVos, do require Senate confirmation. So, have you called yet?

This is Not Normal- And the Kids Know it

This is not normal. Deep down, we all know it’s not normal- down to my 4 year old pre-k students. So please stop telling me it will be okay. Stop telling me to calm down.

A destructive, vengeful, unqualified sociopath is about to become the most powerful man in the world and his every act confirms his intent to destroy the institutions that safeguard our democracy- from a free press, to a just judiciary, to our electoral process, to civil rights, to public schools, to national security, to our health and to the safety of our planet. Armed vigilantes are raiding pizza stores, hate crimes are spreading like wildfire, (not to mention the wildfires that are spreading due to drought) white supremacists and conspiracy theorists are primed to have the presidents’ ear, and the man himself refuses to attend national security briefings and instead is intent on getting rich off public office, rewarding corrupt cronies and gas-lighting a nation via twitter.  This is the guy who’s getting nuclear weapons and unprecedented executive power.  This is not normal and it will only be okay if we all fight like hell to make it ok.

90% of 10,000 teachers say the tone has changed in their classrooms since the election- with new fears, cruelties and tension permeating classroom culture. I feel it too. There is more anxiety, more distraction. My students talk about Trump every day. Every day. On a field trip to a museum in Manhattan yesterday one 6 year old said, “Oh I hope we’re not going near Trump tower, are we going to be near Trump tower? I hope not, that’s bad luck.” Kid is 6 and riding a bus over the Queensborough bridge freaks him out because of the proximity to Trump Tower.  Not normal.

Election results should not make roomfuls of 9 year olds cry, but this year’s did. Presidents shouldn’t terrify children, but this one does. Cabinet appointments shouldn’t worry elementary schoolers, but these do.  I’m talking about 10 year olds actually discussing cabinet appointments in worried tones during lunch.

The kids know. They know something is at stake beyond the grown-up world of politics- something essential to their safety and future. They know this is the life or death of our institutions- our schools, our social services, our constitutional rights and the urgent movement for our planet. The kids know that this is not normal. They know that we should all be terrified and that pretending will not make it okay. That nothing will make it okay unless every progressive, every moderate, every apolitical go about my business type, every worker, every leader, every thinking conservative and for God’s sake already- every Democrat official, stands up and fights back.  Kid’s know how urgent this is. And they are counting on us, the grown ups, to make this right.