Bill Phillis: Charter Schools Are Bought and Sold; Not Public Schools

Bill Phillis, founder of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy and former deputy commissioner of education in Ohio, laments the commercializations that charter schools have introduced into K-12 schooling, while claiming to be “public schools”:

He writes:

“For sale: A school–The practice of buying and selling charter schools signals the complete disconnect between school and community

“The greatest human-inspired public institution-the common school-was created as a school for all children. The nexus between the community and the common school is powerful in the lives of school children; charter schools are not community-based entities.

“Parents in a school district would be shocked if they opened the morning paper and read the headline: School district for sale. That happens in the charter world.

“Charter school organizations are bought and sold. Ron Packard, former CEO of K12-Inc. (in Ohio, K-12 Inc. operates the Ohio Virtual Academy) left K-12, Inc. and started a company that has purchased several charter schools in Ohio. This practice of buying and selling charter schools demonstrates the complete disconnect between school and community. Charter schools are not public.

“The common school is not a for-profit business enterprise. It is a community institution of the community, by the community and for the kids of the community.”

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What It’s Like to Be Black or Brown in Trump’s Rural America

We all know that rural areas in this country are predominately populated by white people and that they voted for Donald Trump overwhelmingly. Both before and after the election, there were countless articles in the media in which these voters were interviewed, along with calls for the so-called “coastal elites” to show some empathy for their situation. My only issue with that was that there weren’t many calls for mutual empathy and it left the impression that white rural voters mattered more than anyone else.

That’s why I appreciated that Becca Andrews has done something to balance things out a bit. She traveled back to the rural community in which she grew up, Crockett County in West Tennessee. The demographics and culture she describes sound pretty familiar.

The county is 83 percent white—I am also white—14 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic. (For comparison, according to 2016 Census data, Tennessee’s population is only 17 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.) The median household income is $35,000, and 19 percent of the county’s 14,411 residents live below the poverty line. Most of the people I went to school with are still there. The area is deeply rural—the main highway that winds through the county is framed by cotton fields and pastures where cows keep a lazy watch over passing cars. Friday night football reigns supreme; game attendance is only second in importance to church. Many families have been here for generations, passing down their farmland and businesses to their children and grandchildren.

But instead of talking to white people about why they supported Donald Trump, Andrews interviewed African-American and Hispanic people in her hometown about what it’s like to live there following the election of Trump. The stories point to the fact that, whether or not economic anxiety explains part of the reason these communities voted the way they did, the result is that racism has come out of the closet.

Here is Andrews describing the experience of an African-American friend of hers.

Turner tells me in the past year, life for her family has changed. She hints that her parents have been in West Tennessee long enough to know which families fought against civil rights “back in the day.” Since Trump’s election, they’ve warned her to steer clear of a list of people that is too long for comfort.

The day after the November presidential election, Turner went with her mother to the store, and they both kept their heads down. “We just feel like we don’t belong here anymore,” she says.

Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”

She called her daughter in tears. Turner immediately got in her car and picked her mother up to bring her home.

For Hispanics in the county, the threat of deportation seemed to be the theme. Here is the experience of one family who has lived in the county for generations and are business owners as well as citizens.

When José came to America, he worked on a farm with his father, picking strawberries and squash. They lived on the farm—José, his parents, and his brothers—and were told by their employers that they were not allowed to go into town, and they were specifically not allowed to speak to anyone outside the farm who was not Hispanic. During the off-seasons, they migrated back to Mexico, but when the drug wars escalated in Michoacán, they stayed in the States for good, opening several taquerias like this one.

The businesses have been successful, but now, Guadalupe tells me they are seeing less frequent visits from the Hispanic customer base. People are afraid to leave their homes, just as they are in Romero’s congregation. Her brother told her he saw an ICE truck out in the county recently as he was returning home from work at night.

Guadalupe and her siblings are the first in the Tomas family to be able to attend school. José says that his father’s generation and then his generation of the family were never allowed to leave their agricultural work to get an education. Their story is about as “American Dream” as it gets, but for some folks, American only equals “white.” And changing their minds, even while living among them, is a tall order.

The people Andrews interviewed aren’t living with the kind of armed revolt we witnessed last weekend in Charlottesville. Instead, they are experiencing the racism Trump unleashed on an every day basis. Here’s how one of them described the change:

When Trump began to gain popularity, Garcia felt betrayed by people she thought she knew, people we both grew up with. Late last year, Garcia began to see a pattern on her Facebook feed. One post said, “I can’t wait for Trump to take over, so we can start building this wall.” A commenter added, “Yeah, and the Mexicans are going to pay for it and work for it.”

She stared at her screen in disbelief. “Some of them I even thought were my friends at one point.”

Before Trump started to gain traction in the rural Southeast, she didn’t see or hear comments like that. Before, she says, the racism “was in the darkness, the shadows.” She felt like she was part of the community, and she earned her place here.

That captures what it’s like to be black or brown in Trump’s rural America. Can we muster up some empathy for them too?

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Quick Takes: Who Still Stands With Trump?

* The Republican coalition has traditionally been made up of corporate CEO’s, military hawks and white evangelicals. Since Trump’s election, the relationship with the first two has been challenged a bit. With the president’s remarks yesterday about the events in Charlottesville, things are coming unglued. Here’s what happened with some prominent CEO’s:

Two of President Donald Trump’s councils of top business leaders are disbanding following Tuesday’s controversial remarks by the president about the weekend’s violence in Virginia.

Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was ending the White House council on manufacturing and the Strategic and Policy Forum.

One of the councils had planned to disband after a conference call of its executives on Wednesday morning, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Trump’s tweet came after reports that council was disbanding.

* Here’s what happened with military leaders:

One by one, the U.S. military’s most senior leaders have publicly — and bluntly — repudiated the racist violence that plunged Charlottesville into chaos Saturday, declaring the nation’s armed forces as being unequivocally against hatred.

By midmorning Wednesday, the military’s four service chiefs had issued firm, forceful statements that stand apart from remarks made by President Trump, who faces deepening criticism for his repeated attempts to evenly distribute blame for clashes between white nationalists and the anti-fascist protesters who showed up to oppose them.

* The one group that seems to be standing firm with the president is white evangelical leaders.

Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville tragedy.So proud of @realdonaldtrump

— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) August 16, 2017

* Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, weighed in as well.

Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and a top evangelical ally to President Trump, appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “Faith Nation” program this morning to defend Trump’s unhinged press conference yesterday afternoon in which the president blamed “both sides” for the violence that occurred at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently.

Jeffress began by denouncing white supremacists and neo-Nazis before insisting that Trump was correct to spread the blame around because “if we’re going to denounce some racism, we ought to denounce all racism.”

By connecting “both sides” to “all racism,” Jeffress is suggesting that those who were protesting against white supremacy are racist too.

* Matthew Dowd summed things up in regards to this group of Trump supporters.

Not one member of Trump’s Evangelical Council has resigned. Corporate America has. So allegiance to profits, not prophets drives morality?

— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) August 16, 2017

* Earlier this week I explored the question of why racial hatred is in the process of exploding. Dan Santat put part of the answer into graphic form.

HISTORY OF US PRESIDENTS: http://pic.twitter.com/6mc0JCwdf6

— Dan Santat (@dsantat) August 15, 2017

* Alexandra Guisinger writes that “Americans’ views of trade aren’t just about economics. They’re also about race.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that voters support trade protection when they think it is in their economic interest. Many news outlets have provided helpful lists of which U.S. jobs would be helped or hurt by limits on imports.

But this conventional wisdom misses a key fact: Most Americans — over 70 percent in my surveys — either say that trade doesn’t affect their employment or that they don’t know whether it does…

Many Americans support trade protection because of a pervasive belief that trade harms others in the country. More than 60 percent of respondents in my surveys say that trade hurts employment for other Americans. The whiteness of those “others” who might benefit from trade protection matters for white Americans’ support of more restrictive trade policy.

* Finally, if you haven’t already watched the VICE News report on events in Charlottesville over the weekend, please take a few moments to do so. This is the definition of must-see TV.

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Texas: Special Session Ended, No Vouchers!

The governor of Texas called a special session of the legislature, with two goals:

1. To enact a voucher program, despite recent studies agreeing that state voucher programs have negative results.

2. To pass a bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with the gender on their birth certificate, which was overwhelmingly condemned by major businesses and is unenforceable (a monitor at every bathroom checking birth certificates?)

The voucher bill was defeated by public opposition, by parents and educators saying that public schools needed funding, not loss of public dollars for religious schools.

The legislature did not pass a plan for equitable funding (the schools have never recovered from the $5 billion cut in 2011). But the legislature did appropriate $60 million in construction funds for the politically connected and academically inferior charter industr.

Here is a comment by Pastors for Texas Children, which helped to defeat Lt.Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill:

“As the special legislative session closes, we express our deep gratitude for the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Joe Straus, Chairman Dan Huberty, and the House of Representatives to advance fair and just policy for our 5.5 million schoolchildren.

“Because of the intransigence of the Texas Senate toward public education, the House was not able to secure significant additional funding our neighborhood schools critically need. But, they did successfully and steadfastly hold the line against private school vouchers – the unjust policy of underwriting private education with public tax dollars.

“The failed leadership we presently have in the Texas Senate with regard to our children’s constitutionally protected public education is unacceptable.

“This special session has been a circus of stubborn wrangling and procedural manipulation. What we have just been through for the past 30 days is beneath the dignity of every respectable Texan. For our elected officials to treat teachers as threats rather than heroes is an astonishing affront to our civil society.

“Teachers are now awake to the concerted attack on their profession and our neighborhood schools. Pastors and community leaders are joining them in defending public education as the foundation of our social order.

“Our only recourse now is to focus our efforts in laser fashion toward electing a legislature in 2018 that believes in public education for all Texas children– a legislature our children deserve.

“We will get through this strange and difficult season and, by God’s grace, find “the better angels of our nature,” as President Lincoln so memorably put it.

“Thank you all for your tremendous advocacy on behalf of our children. We honor you, appreciate you, and hold you, our governor, lieutenant governor and all 181 legislators in our ongoing prayers.”

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A Mother in Douglas County, CO: The Damage Done by “Reformers” to Our Public Schools

The following comment was posted on the blog in response to this post about the coming school board elections in Douglas County, Colorado. There, in the most affluent county in the state, corporate reformers swamped the previous school board elections with money and propaganda and elected a majority committed to privatization. Many of the district’s best teachers left. The future of the district lies in the hands of its parents. If they want public schools, they will have to fight for them, go door-to-door to explain the issues, and mobilize other parents and civic-minded members of the public to vote in the school board election. Only they can save their schools.

The reader from Douglas County wrote:

“Thank you for shining light on our CO school district. I’m a mom, and local resident, with kids in our public schools. We had amazing schools and outstanding teachers in this district, as our student and school performances (in the past) showed. Over the last 7 years, outside interests and forces (which most residents and/or parents haven’t really understood), have been decimating our schools, and causing the loss of our best teachers. I never realized that high functioning, successful public school districts in wealthy suburban areas were such attractive targets for private “for-profit” national education corporations. I’m realizing that our local tax dollars, collected for “public” purposes, are the focus of BIG corporate cash-grabs. Vouchers and charters are strangling our once thriving schools. Please help us shed light on this destructive trend, and help us stand up to it, as a community. Our own elected school board members (the “reformers”) have been selling out our district, and hiring their own friends and colleagues, spending obscene amounts of money, with little accountability, or transparency. I wish we could personally sue each one of them for negligence, collusion, and damages to the community, and our kids.”

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Robert Mueller Should Zero in On Obstruction of Justice and Issue a Report

According to what we know at this point, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are investigating three things:

  1. How Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election
  2. Whether or not members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia
  3. Whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice

The investigations into the finances of Trump and his associates is tied to exploring evidence of #2, but might lead to further criminal investigations.

As we’ve heard from lawyers, especially when it comes to numbers 1 and 2 above, the investigation could go on for another one to two years. Given how Trump is escalating (see threats to North Korea and Venezuela, as well as his response to the events in Charlottesville), we might not have that long before a real disaster occurs.

When it comes to the possibility of removing Trump from the White House via impeachment, it is not likely that Congress will move on anything unless/until they receive a report from Mueller outlining potential “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It seems to me that the fastest and clearest path to that would be charges that he attempted to obstruct justice. For example, we already know that Trump:

  1. Asked for loyalty from Comey in exchange for keeping his job,
  2. Asked Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, and
  3. Admitted publicly that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

While Trump might be more concerned about what Mueller’s team will find when they investigate his finances, it seems clear that the intricacies of untangling all of that is what will take time, whereas the president himself has practically admitted to obstructing justice.

I just looked at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s letter announcing the appointment of Mueller as special counsel and a summary of his charge. Unless there is something embedded in law that isn’t included there, I see nothing that would preclude Mueller from issuing a report to Congress on the one area of obstructing justice. Doing so could force their hands to open impeachment proceedings in the House. It is very possible that Mueller could continue his probe into other areas while that is underway.

Perhaps the lawyers among us can explain why that is not a realistic option at this point. But, while many have pointed out that impeachment is a political process, I don’t see anything happening on that front based on charges that the current president is being inflammatory with our adversaries or is a white supremacist. I’d like Mueller to provide them with something. The sooner…the better.

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A Letter from the President of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville

A friend forwarded this report to me.

<emFriends,

We are posting this poignant letter written by Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA. Besides those of us in our congregation who feel a kinship with Charlottesville having studied or had children that studied at the University of Virginia or worshipped at Beth Israel, all of us as Jews feel the horror of the events of this past weekend.

Daryl Messinger, chairperson of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote: “Our hearts, prayers and unwavering support goes out to Alan, his Rabbis Gutherz and Schmelkin and the entire congregation. Their courage and leadership are incredible. And I know we will all continue to act to stop this hate, racism and antisemitism.”

Letter from the President of the Charlottesville, VA Reform Congregation

At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people injured in the attack who are still recovering.

The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger.

On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.

This is 2017 in the United States of America.

Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene.

Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.

Again: This is in America in 2017.

At the end of the day, we felt we had no choice but to cancel a Havdalah service at a congregant’s home. It had been announced on a public Facebook page, and we were fearful that Nazi elements might be aware of the event. Again, we sought police protection – not a battalion of police, just a single officer – but we were told simply to cancel the event.

Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of understanding from officials about our concerns – and despite the fact that the mayor himself is Jewish – we were left to our own devices. The fact that a calamity did not befall the Jewish community of Charlottesville on Saturday was not thanks to our politicians, our police, or even our own efforts, but to the grace of God.

And yet, in the midst of all that, other moments stand out for me, as well.

John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, took it upon himself to stand watch over the synagogue through services Friday evening and Saturday, along with our armed guard. He just felt he should.

We experienced wonderful turnout for services both Friday night and Saturday morning to observe Shabbat, including several non-Jews who said they came to show solidarity (though a number of congregants, particularly elderly ones, told me they were afraid to come to synagogue).

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

And our wonderful rabbis stood on the front lines with other Charlottesville clergy, opposing hate.

Most attention now is, and for the foreseeable future will be, focused on the deaths and injuries that occurred, and that is as it should be. But for most people, before the week is out, Saturday’s events will degenerate into the all-to-familiar bickering that is part of the larger, ongoing political narrative. The media will move on — and all it will take is some new outrageous Trump tweet to change the subject.

We will get back to normal, also. We have two b’nai mitzvah coming up, and soon, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be upon us, too.

After the nation moves on, we will be left to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, this is a very strong and capable Jewish community, blessed to be led by incredible rabbis. We have committed lay leadership, and a congregation committed to Jewish values and our synagogue. In some ways, we will come out of it stronger – just as tempering metals make them tougher and harder.

Alan Zimmerman is the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA.

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