In Flint, Michigan, Overpriced Water is Causing People’s Skin to Erupt in Rashes and Hair to Fall Out.
On a Saturday afternoon in early May, Gertrude Marshall stood on a sidewalk in front of Flint City Hall holding a hand-printed sign that declared, “We Need Affordable Water.

this is my city and it’s really this bad i gotta boil the tap water for my ice nigga, one time i didnt and my icecubes was yellow nigga!!!!!! pray for me
Dollars Over Decency: School Kids Without Money Have Lunch Taken Away And Thrown Out | Addicting Info

ATTLEBORO — As many as 25 students at Coelho Middle School were denied meals or told to throw their lunches away Tuesday because they could not pay or their pre-paid accounts did not contain enough money, school officials said today.

Parents said some of the children cried after they were not allowed to eat or had to toss out their lunches.

School officials said an on-site employee from Whitson’s, the school system’s school lunch provider, apparently gave the order not to extend meals to students who could not pay or whose credit was already overextended. SOURCE

Imagine, for a second, the mindset required to force hungry children to throw food in the garbage? It’s not like the food was given to a child that could pay, it was just wasted. It’s the ultimate in conservative thought: I will gain nothing from this but the satisfaction of knowing you did not get a free meal.

This is why privatizing government functions is a bad idea is almost every circumstance but particularly in those that provide a direct service. Once a profit motive is introduced, it ceases to be about fulfilling a public need, now it becomes about making a profit by any means necessary. The idea of providing children a nutritious meal so they can grow and learn and contribute to society becomes a narrow and selfish pursuit of the bottom line. If children are left to go hungry, well, that’s capitalism for you!

It’s not as if they couldn’t feed them, the district has a policy where a student that can’t pay for the regular meal will be provided with a cheese sandwich and milk. It’s not the most appealing of meals but it will certainly keep a child fed. But instead, this privately run company decided that over twenty kids simply shouldn’t eat if it was going to cost the company money:

Parents said they were told by their children that some pupils in the cafeteria line had already picked up their lunch and were told at the checkout they had to throw it away.

Victoria Greaves, 11, a fifth grader at Coelho, said a cashier told her to throw away her lunch because there was not enough money in her account. She said she threw her meal away and got nothing to eat.

We’re left to wonder what the cashier planned on doing if the child refused to comply. Would they physically take the food away? Was the couple of dollars really that important?

The larger question that isn’t being asked yet is how did we come to a point where anyone can even think that depriving children of food is a moral thing to do? In the richest nation on Earth, are we so blinded by greed and the pursuit of the Holy Dollar that we don’t even consider that going out of our way to let a child go hungry to be the act of a sociopath? Would we rather throw food in the garbage than let someone eat it for free? Who thinks that way?

House Republicans recently proposed cuts to nutrition assistance that will kick 280,000 low-income children off automatic enrollment in the Free School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Those same kids and 1.5 million other people will also lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamp benefits) that help them afford food at home.

Ah. Well, that explains that, doesn’t it?

Nestlé chairman denies that water is an essential human right
April 22, 2013

The current Chairman and former CEO of Nestlé, the largest producer of food products in the world, believes that the answer to global water issues is privatization. This statement is on record from the wonderful company that has peddled junk food in the Amazon, has invested money to thwart the labeling of GMO-filled products, has a disturbing health and ethics record for its infant formula, and has deployed a cyber army to monitor Internet criticism and shape discussions in social media.

This is apparently the company we should trust to manage our water, despite the record of large bottling companies like Nestlé having a track record of creating shortages:

Large multinational beverage companies are usually given water-well privileges (and even tax breaks) over citizens because they create jobs, which is apparently more important to the local governments than water rights to other taxpaying citizens. These companies such as Coca Cola and Nestlé (which bottles suburban Michigan well-water and calls it Poland Spring) suck up millions of gallons of water, leaving the public to suffer with any shortages. (source)

But Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, believes that “access to water is not a public right.” Nor is it a human right. So if privatization is the answer, is this the company in which the public should place its trust?

Here is just one example, among many, of his company’s concern for the public thus far:

In the small Pakistani community of Bhati Dilwan, a former village councilor says children are being sickened by filthy water. Who’s to blame? He says it’s bottled water-maker Nestlé, which dug a deep well that is depriving locals of potable water. “The water is not only very dirty, but the water level sank from 100 to 300 to 400 feet,” Dilwan says. (source)

Why? Because if the community had fresh water piped in, it would deprive Nestlé of its lucrative market in water bottled under the Pure Life brand.

In the subtitled video below, from several years back, Brabeck discusses his views on water, as well as some interesting comments concerning his view of Nature — that it is “pitiless” — and, of course, the obligatory statement that organic food is bad and GM is great. In fact, according to Brabeck, you are essentially an extremist to hold views opposite to his own. His statements are important to review as we continue to see the world around us become reshaped into a more mechanized environment in order to stave off that pitiless Nature to which he refers.

The conclusion to this segment is perhaps the most revealing about Brabeck’s worldview, as he highlights a clip of one of his factory operations. Evidently, the saviour-like role of the Nestlé Group in ensuring the health of the global population should be graciously welcomed. Are you convinced?


Texas Sends Poor Teens To Adult Jail For Skipping School

(by Kendall Taggart and  Alex Campbell)

The 11th-grader in the courtroom wore braces, loved Harry Potter movies, and posted Katy Perry lyrics on Facebook. She also had a bad habit of cutting school, and now, a judge informed her, she owed $2,700 in truancy-related fines. But Serena Vela, who lived in a trailer with her unemployed mother, couldn’t afford to pay.

Serena was offered “jail credit” at a rate of $300 per day. She was patted down, touched “everywhere,” and dispatched to adult lockup, where she would stay for nine days, missing a week and a half of classes. The first school day after she was released, administrators kicked her out.

While in jail, students told BuzzFeed News, they witnessed adult inmates beating each other and soliciting sex. 

Odin: This is a perfect example of the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison-industrial-complex, but this is only one part of a much broader trend championed by “free-market” conservatives: outsourcing previously public functions to for-profit, private corporations. (Another example is giving public water utilities to private businesses or, in this case, dealing with truancy) As this story very clearly illustrates, such outsourcing tends to have more disparate impacts on those living in poverty who are unable to “pay up” new fees for what was once very affordable or free.  

More than a thousand Texas teenagers have been ordered to lockup on charges that stem from missing school, often because they have unpaid court fines. The costs to their education are high. Some, like Serena Vela, never go back.

Read the full BuzzFeed article here

As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”
That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.

Noam Chomsky, 


Privatization fail: WI public schools outperform private voucher schools.

This is all actually very simple; public schools don’t have to turn a profit. Many private scools do. For the record, cost + profit is greater than just cost. In order for a for-profit to compete with a nonprofit on a cost basis, the for-profit is going to have to cut corners – i.e., what conservatives spin as “efficiency.” Here we see the results of these efficiencies; a half-assed education program that’s the predictable outcome of taking money away from actual education to line the pockets of pointless middlemen and bean counters.

So the proper way to accept this news is, “Well duh, of course…” If you’re having a different reaction, maybe you didn’t go to public school.

[photo by Bart Everson]


Aramark prompts 1,000 Ohio inmates to dump their food over inhumane maggot infestation
August 9, 2014

Since Michigan turned over food services at its prisons to a private contractor in December, the state has seen a spate of maggot infestations in and around prison foodoutbreaks of food poisoning, and meal shortages. In Ohio this week, inmates facing the second maggott infestation this year at their facility dumped their lunch trays in the garbage en masse in protest.

The mother of one of the inmates at Ohio Reformatory for Women reported the protest to the local ABC affiliate, telling the news outlet, “People make mistakes, it doesn’t mean you have to be treated like a dog.”

In both states, the problems have come since they turned over their food services to private contractor Aramark. In the latest in a series of moves toward privatization of prison services, Michigan signed the three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark last year. The contract displaced some 370 prison workers, according to the Detroit Free Press, and the company pays workers about half as much as the state had been paying its employees for food service.

Aramark was fined $98,000 in March for violations related to food substitutions and workers getting too friendly with inmates. In video footage, several staff members were seen kissing and inappropriately touching inmates. More than 80 Aramark employees have been fired and banned from prison properties over these and other infractions. The firm has also been charged with lax security that has allowed knives and other contraband to enter the prison through the food service. And in Ohio, state officials say they’ve already fined the company more than $270,000.

Even. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ® told reporters in July that the maggot infestations were “unacceptable” and that he would consider incidents like this when mulling whether to terminate Aramark’s 3-year contract with the state Department of Corrections.

According to MLive columnist Steve Miller, “the state almost shelved the idea of privatizing food service for the state’s prisons when it determined that its savings would not be enough to justify it. At the last minute, though, several Republican lawmakers insisted that the deal be made.”

In 2009, Aramark terminated its relationship with Florida’s prisons after six years of disputes and fines by the state.

Prison Industries: "Don't Let Society Improve or We Lose Business"

There are two very large and influential prison companies in the United States who are manipulating the system to make sure they have plenty of business: The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In the first part of this two-part series, I will explore The GEO Group’s influence peddling; next week, I will look at CCA.

If you have any doubt in your mind that improving society and lowering the number of prisoners in our country (normally considered a worthy social goal) is a threat to the prison industry business, all you need to do is to read about that concern in The GEO Group’s 2011 annual report:

In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities and services and BI’s [a prison industry company Geo acquired in 2011] services could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

This is an industry that needs misery, long sentences, rounded-up undocumented immigrants and increasing crime to flourish. In order to keep the prison beds filled, The GEO Group and others have paid out millions of dollars to lobbyists, federal and state legislators, and governors to allow our immigration problem to go unsolved, to make sure that no drugs are decriminalized and that an ineffective War on Drugs continues, and to make certain that long term prison sentences, like California’s three-strikes-and-you’re-imprisoned-for-life laws, keep a steady flow of revenue and profits flowing to their shareholders. They are also hoping that our national drop in crime is just a temporary trend.

Five ways privatization is poisoning America
March 11, 2013

1. The Taking of Public Land

Attempts to privatize federal land were made by the Reagan administration in the 1980s and the Republican-controlled Congress in the 1990s. In 2006, President Bush proposed auctioning off 300,000 acres of national forest in 41 states.

The assault on our common areas continues with even greater ferocity today, as the euphemistic Path to Prosperity has proposed to sell millions of acres of “unneeded federal land,” and libertarian groups like the Cato Institute demand that our property be “allocated to the highest-value use.” Mitt Romney admitted that he didn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands.

Examples of the takeaway are shocking. Peabody Coal is strip-mining public lands in Wyoming and Montana and making a 10,000% profit on the meager amounts they pay for the privilege. Sealaska is snatching up timberland in Alaska. The Central Rockies Land Exchange would allow Bill Koch to pick up choice Colorado properties from the Bureau of Land Management, while neighboring Utah Governor Gary Herbert sees land privatization as a way to reduce the deficit. Representative Cliff Stearns recommended that we “sell off some of our national parks.” One gold mining company even invoked an 1872 law to grab mineral-rich Nevada land for which it stands to make a million-percent profit.

The National Resources Defense Council just reported that oil and gas companies hold drilling and fracking rights on U.S. land equivalent to the size of California and Florida combined. Much of this land is “split estate,” which means the company can drill under an American citizen’s property without consent. Unrestrained by government regulations, TransCanada was able to use eminent domain in Texas to lay its pipeline on private property and then have the owner arrested for trespassing on her own land, and Chesapeake Energy Corporation overturned a 93-year-old law to frack a Texas residence without paying a penny to the homeowners. Most recently, the oil frenzy in North Dakota has cheated Native Americans out of a billion dollars worth of revenue from drilling leases.

Away from the mountains and the plains, back in the cities of Chicago and Indianapolis and L.A. and San Diego, our streets and parking spaces have been surrendered to corporations until the time of our great-grandchildren, with some of the highest profit margins in the corporate world.

2. Water for Sale

The corporate invasion of the water market is well underway. In May 2000 Fortune Magazine called water “one of the world’s great business opportunities..[It] promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th.” Citigroup is on board, viewing water as a prime investment, and perhaps the “single most important physical-commodity based asset class.”

The vital human resource of water is being privatized and marketed all over the country. In Pennsylvania and California, the American Water Company took over towns and raised rates by 70% or more. In Atlanta, United Water Services demanded more money from the city while prompting federal complaints about water quality. Shell owns groundwater rights in Colorado, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is buying up the water in drought-stricken Texas, and water in Alaska is being pumped into tankers and sold in the Middle East.

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abusesor failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Of course, water monopolization is a global concern, and a life-threatening issue in undeveloped countries, where 884 million people are without safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people lack the means for basic sanitation. Whether in the U.S. or in the world’s poorest nation, the folly of privatizing water is made clear by the profit-seeking motives of business:

(1) Water corporations are primarily accountable to their stockholders, not to the people they serve.
(2) They will avoid serving low-income communities where bill collection might be an issue.
(3) Because of the risk to profits, there is less incentive to maintain infrastructure.

3. Owning Human Life

Monsanto and their agro-chemical partners call themselves the “life industry.”

In 1980 a General Electric geneticist engineered an oil-eating bacterium, effective against oil spills, and in the first case of its kind the Supreme Court ruled that “a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter.” Fifteen years later a World Trade Organization decision allowed plants, genes, and microorganisms to be owned as intellectual property.

The results, not surprisingly, have been disastrous. One-fifth of the human genome is privately owned through patents. Strains of influenza and hepatitis have been claimed by corporate and university labs, and because of this researchers can’t use the patented life forms to perform cancer research. Thus the cost of life-preserving tests often depends on the whim (and the market analysis) of the organization claiming ownership of the biological entity.

The results have also been otherworldly. In 1996 the U.S. National Institutes of Health attempted to patent the blood cells of the primitive Hagahai tribesman of New Guinea. U.S. companies AgriDyne and W.R. Grace tried to gain ownership of the neem plant, used for centuries in India for the making of medicines and natural pesticides. Other examples of ‘biopiracy’: The University of Cincinnati holds a patent on Brazil’s guarana seed; the University of Mississippi holds a patent on the Asian spice turmeric.

Most tragically, tens of thousands of Indian farmers, charged for seeds that they used to develop on their own, and forced to repurchase them every year, have been driven to suicide after experiencing crop failures and ruinous debt.

Monsanto is at the forefront of GMO seeds and litigation against vulnerable farmers. To date the company has won over half of its patent infringement lawsuits. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the arguments in Bowman vs. Monsanto, which asks if a company can have a claim on a farmer whose crops were derived from a seed already paid for. More significantly, the question is whether a company can claim the rights to a form of life that has been nurtured by communities of farmers for centuries.

4. Owning the Air

In polluted Beijing, wealthy entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao is selling “fresh air” in a soft drink can for about 80 cents.

While Americans are not yet dependent on (real or imagined) breathing supplements, we have relinquished public access to the air in another important way: the 1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to a giveaway of the transmission airwaves to the broadcast media. Through an effective lobbying campaign the communications industry gained all the benefits of a lucrative public space without even a licensing fee. Objected former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, “The airwaves are a natural resource. They do not belong to the broadcasters, phone companies or any other industry. They belong to the American people.”

Closely related is our right to freedom of expression on the Internet, which has been repeatedly threatened, despite the presence of existing copyright laws, by aggressive proposals like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Privacy is at risk with the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), passed in the House despite objections by Ron Paul and others who recognize the “Big Brother” implications of government monitoring of Google and Facebook accounts. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has facilitated the monitoring of foreign communications in the name of anti-terrorism.

A 2011 UNESCO report offered this worrisome insight: “..the control of information on the Internet and Web is certainly feasible, and technological advances do not therefore guarantee greater freedom of speech.”

5. Children as Products

Leading capitalists like Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who together have a few months teaching experience, have decided that the business model can pump out improved assembly line versions of our children.

Charter schools simply don’t work as well as the profitseekers would have us believe. The recently updated CREDO study at Stanford concluded again that “CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning.” Approximately the same percentages of charters and non-charters are showing improvement (or lack of improvement) in reading and math. In addition, poorly performing charters tend not to improve over time.

Nevertheless, charters remain appealing to poorly informed parents. The schools like to represent themselves as equal opportunity educational options, but the facts state the opposite, as many of them have strict application standards that ensure access to the most qualified students. Funding for such schools drains money out of the public system.

Children are viewed as products in another way – on the school-to-prison pipeline. Many school districts employ “school resource officers” to patrol their hallways, and to ticket or arrest kids who disrupt the academic routine, no matter the age of the offender or the nature of the “offense”:

– A twelve-year-old was arrested for wearing too much perfume.
– A five-year-old was handcuffed for committing “battery” on a police officer.
– A six-year-old was called a “terrorist threat” for talking about shooting bubbles at a classmate.

Along with these bizarre instances is the frightening precedent set by a private prison, Corrections Corporation of America, which despite having no law enforcement authority was allowed to participate in a drug sweep at a high school in Arizona.


I’d add the private prison industry to this list: Between 1990 and 2009, the inmate population of private prisons grew by 1,664% (source). Today approximately 130,000 people are incarcerated by for-profit companies. In 2010, annual revenues for two largest companies — Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group — were nearly $3 billion.

It disproportionately locks up blacks & Latinos as well as the poor, as does the entire prison industrial complex. Private prisons also profit from harsh immigration laws & has now entered the school-to-prison pipeline, which arrests/detains more than 70 percent black & Latino students.

Chicago students march on City Hall, call school closings racist & dangerous
March 26, 2013

Calling school closings “racist” and saying they could lead to “children dying,” dozens of students held a march Downtown Monday to protest last week’s announcement that 54 schools would close.

Declaring themselves the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, they marched from Chicago Public Schools headquarters to City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanding a moratorium on school closings and a publicly elected Board of Education.

“We represent the thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools that will be directly affected by school closings,” the letter stated.

Closings would lead to “more violence and more children dying,” as students walk to school across gang boundaries, the letter said. It said low-income African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods were unfairly targeted by the “racist decision” to close schools.

Although most of the two dozen students were high-schoolers, and no high schools are slated to be closed, they said they were speaking for younger students without an established voice.

“We are united and we are fighting for public schools,” said Israel Munoz, a senior at Kelly High School.

“It is our responsibility to stick up for them,” added Malachi Hoye, a senior at North Grand High School.

“As a student from Englewood, I can speak firsthand to the danger that lies ahead if these schools are closed,” said Brian Stirgus, a senior at Robeson High School. He said his elementary alma mater, Banneker, was being closed to merge with Mays Elementary Academy. The two schools, he said, are on opposite sides of Halsted Street, a gang boundary in that area. “Why potentially put kids in more danger?”

Isis Hernandez, an eighth-grader at Stowe Elementary, said her school had avoided the closure list, but “it’s not just about my school. It’s about saving all our schools.”

She said the closings would have a dramatic impact on neighborhoods. “This means more abandoned houses and more families moving away,” Hernandez said, adding, “We have the same right to a decent education as a rich kid.”

The letter was accepted by a representative of the mayor, but otherwise the Emanuel administration did not respond.

Munoz emphasized it was the group’s first action and that it is intended to grow and to give students a united voice.

“I think a student voice is something that really needs to be addressed right now,” he added. “It’s something that CPS and the Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have not really attended to.”

“This is out first action, but it won’t be our last,” the letter concluded. The group announced their plans to take part in Wednesday’s protest organized by the Chicago Teachers Union at 4 p.m. in Daley Plaza.


A fight against school closures is also happening in Philadelphia, where the School Reform Commission recently voted to close 23 schools, disproportionately affecting black & Latino students. 

AlterNet [1] / By Jake Blumgart [2]

The 5 Biggest Stories from the Fight for the Survival of Public Education

June 27, 2013  |  

The 2012-2013 school year saw the fight over public education reach a new pitch, ending with mass layoffs in Philadelphia, and other large school districts, and a cadre of parents and workers who began a hunger strike in protest. This final incident marks the end of a 10-month stretch that has seen an increasingly diverse chorus of voices speaking against American education policy’s relentless focus on high-stakes testing, massive expansions of charter schools and mass teacher and staff layoffs. But there have also been some serious advancements in that agenda, especially in large urban districts.

The Philadelphia School District decision to lay off 3,800 teachers and staff (about one-fifth of the workforce), includes 1,202 safety staff among the casualties. Only 12 will remain next school year to watch over the district’s 149,535 students while they are not in class, in the hallways and cafeteria where violence is most likely.

“I just can’t [see] school district of Philadelphia…without student safety staff. It will be a disaster,” says Patricia Norris, a cafeteria worker at Cayuga Elementary in North Philadelphia.

On Monday June 17, Norris, two parents and another school district employee began a hunger strike to protest the layoffs and the general deterioration of public education in Philadelphia. When interviewed that afternoon, she’d been drinking nothing but water all day. She was red-eyed and exhausted, but spoke animatedly from the tent on Broad Street where she was camped outside Corbett’s Philadelphia offices.  “I just want the governor and people in Harrisburg to put their children in our children’s shoes. All I know is I’m fighting. And fasting.” She paused and sunk back in her metal chair. “I just want someone to listen.”  

Similar layoffs are being seen in Chicago, where 50 public schools [3] will be shuttered next year, one of the largest number of closures in America history (Philadelphia will be closing 23 public schools [4] next year). These austerity measures put a grim cap on the 2012-2013 school year.

“The mantra of the Republicans was always choice, competition, testing and accountability, says Diane Ravitch, who served as a Assistant Secretary of Education for the first President George Bush. “Now that’s the mantra of the Democratic Party… All over the country, in most states, there is legislation to roll back any kind of rights for teachers, any tenure, any academic freedom, cut their pensions, cut their benefits, make it easier to fire them. Everywhere there is a fight going on for the survival of public education. The country is filled with ground zeroes.”

Below are five of the last school year’s most significant developments in the education wars.

1. Chicago Teachers Strike

The year opened with a bang, as 30,000 teachers and other district staff affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took to the streets in protest of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda. Beginning on September 10 [5] until September 18, when teachers and students returned to classrooms, the strike highlighted the deep divisions between the Democratic Party’s establishment, including President Barack Obama and the key elements of the party’s base in organized labor and working-class communities in the nation’s large, multi-racial cities.

The strike drew the battle lines for the year, along an ideological, not partisan, basis. On the one side Emanuel’s by-the-book formula for education reform: “High-stakes standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, school closures, privatization and union-busting through charter school expansion, blaming teachers,” as Micah Uetricht wrote in Jacobin [6].  

The CTU not only denounced these austerity measures, but proposed its own solutions in a white paper [7] describing the real reasons for the school district’s plight—systemic underfunding, an unregulated expansion of charter schools at the expense of public schools—and what could be done to raise revenue and create better staffed public schools with stronger curriculum that doesn’t hinge on constantly taking multiple choice tests. (A tactic that would be taken up [8] later in the school year by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, a community-labor alliance combating similar forces.)

The CTU claimed victory in the clash. As In These Times’ David Moberg wrote [9] after the strike’s conclusion, they managed to secure the hiring of 600 music and art teachers, additional counselors, recall of laid-off veteran teachers when positions open again, and new textbooks for students. CTU couldn’t dismantle the requirement that teachers be partially evaluated on student test scores—the Obama’s Department of Education requires such policies if school districts are to receive state aid—but they did force Mayor Emanuel to scale back to the absolute minimum amount that teacher evaluations can be based on the measurement (30 percent of the evaluation).  

“It signified that finally teachers were standing up to this whole corporate agenda, not just in Chicago but nationally,” says Pauline Lipman, professor of eucational policy studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “The strike was a tremendous victory on that count alone, in that it really changed the education landscape, and coming out of the strike we have a much stronger multi-racial, city-wide alliance of parents and unions against high stakes testing and against budget cuts. That’s something we’ve never really seen before.”

2. Michigan Laws

Everyone knows that Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 midterms, conquering state houses across the nation and using their newfound power to pass powerfully anti-union legislation in Midwestern states once considered some of the strongest redoubts of the labor movement. Many of these policy coups took place in the early months after the midterms, but in Michigan two of the harshest laws weren’t passed until the lame duck session after November 2012.

Michigan’s new “right-to-work” law further pushes the much-reviled policy beyond its historical home in the South and (most of) the Western big box states. These laws give workers the option of taking advantage of a union’s protections without having to pay dues, forcing the union to expend time and money bargaining for the entire workforce in a bargaining unit (which they are legally required to do) even if some of the employees aren’t paying for that representation. Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state, and the second to expand beyond the policy’s historical confines, in mid-December. The law affects both private and public sector workers, although several teachers unions quickly signed new (concessionary) contracts [10] before the law took effect in March.   

A few days later, Michigan Republicans pulled another lame duck coup, this one even more audacious (if less well known outside the state). When Gov. Rick Snyder and the Tea Party wave rolled into office in 2011 they passed Public Act 4, bulking up Michigan’s emergency manager (EM) laws which allow the state to take over fiscally stressed municipalities and school districts from their democratically appointed leaders. As Ned Resnikoff details on [11], the cuts unilaterally imposed by these appointees have been devastating. In the Muskegon Heights school system, 158 teachers were sacked, before the EM gave control of the district to Mosaica Education, a private company. Resnikoff writes:

Roy Roberts, the Snyder-appointed EM for Detroit’s public school system, imposed a new contract [12] on the Detroit Federation of Teachers in July 2012. Under his predecessor, the teachers had agreed to significant concessions in a contract that was estimated to save the school system $100 million [13].

Keith Johnson, president of the teacher federation, described the new contract as an “edict,” not a collective bargaining agreement, and accused Roberts of creating a “culture of fear.”

The law proved so unpopular that opponents, led by organized labor, rounded up the signatures necessary up for a vote in November, where it was decisively repealed. So Lansing Republicans passed Public Act 36, essentially a new version of the same law, and today five cities (soon to be six [14]) and three school districts are under emergency full managerial control [15], including both Detroit and its school system. When Roberts announced his retirement, after closing dozens of schools, he told union leaders that his original instructions upon being appointed to take over the school district of Detroit had been to “blow up the district and dismantle it [16].” (He has since claimed that his statement was misunderstood.)

There is evidence that such laws could spread, especially to other states where capital flight, discriminatory public policy, and declining state aid to cities have left municipalities and their school districts systemically underfunded. In 2012, Indiana’s then-governor Mitch Daniels ® signed [17] an emergency manager bill.

3. Seattle Testing Revolt

In early January, all the teachers and much of the administration at Garfield High School in Seattle boycotted their school district’s standardized test, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), because they claimed it detracted from the students’ learning experience.

Teachers cannot know the contents of the test, which is not matched to school curriculum, although the results were used to evaluate teacher performance. In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, a Garfield teacher explained [18]: “Seattle’s ninth- and 10th-grade students already take five state-required standardized tests, with 11th- and 12th-graders taking three….Our computer labs are commandeered for weeks when the MAP is on, so students working on research projects can’t get near them. The students without home computers are hurt the most.”

More schools soon joined the protests [19].

The Garfield teachers expressed a widespread sentiment about the overreliance on standardized testing, garnering a public letter of support [20] signed by more than 250 education experts (including Diane Ravitch). The Garfield boycott grew to be a potent symbol of a national disenchantment [21] with high-stakes testing, which was demonstrated that same month in Texas where the Republican-dominated State House of Representatives eliminated all funding for standardized testing from the 2014-2015 budget. While this was largely a symbolic gesture, as federal law requires some standardized testing, earlier this month Governor Rick Perry cut the number of required exams [22] at the end of a high school course from 15 to five and also eliminated other testing requirements.     

As of May, the Seattle School District has discontinued [23] mandatory MAP tests for high schools, although other district schools must continue to give the test twice a year.

4. Charter School Union Organizing

The relentless expansion of the charter school movement, especially in urban school districts, has resulted in waves of school closings across the country. Public schools in these areas are often unionized; not just teachers, but janitors, cafeteria workers, and other district employees. Charter schools are rarely unionized, and when they are, it’s usually because states like Maryland, and a handful of others, have laws requiring charter employees to be included under the same collective bargaining agreements as district employees.

This year the American Federation of Teachers stepped up its efforts to unionize charter school teachers and other staff. According to AFT president Randi Weingarten, the union organized 22 schools so far in 2013, nine in 2012, 11 in 2011, 14 in 2010, and eight in 2009. (The union started actively organizing charters in 2007.) That brings the total membership up to 8,000 charter school employees organized at 204 schools (AFT’s total membership is 1.5 million in 6,500 schools). According to a Labor Notes article [24] from April 2012, the National Education Association claims there are 625 unionized charter schools in America.

In May, 87 percent [25] of teachers in Chicago’s Uno network, one of the city’s biggest, voted to unionize. Uno quickly recognized the union. But it’s unclear if this is a trend-setting development. There are other charter school networks that have accepted unionization, such as the California-based Green Dot (although their contracts, in some cases [26], offer less overall job security). But most networks prove less amenable, so their component schools must be tackled piecemeal. The majority of charter schools are run individually, not by networks, so organizing must proceed school-by-school, a potentially grueling process [27]. But this year’s wins show that it can be done.  

5. School Closings

And there is every indication that it will need to be. Despite the CTU strike that opened the year, Chicago is still planning on implementing another round of budget cuts and school closings. (It may be worth noting that in Chicago the number of closures will be higher but the number of layoff significantly less than, say, Philadelphia—where the resistance movement has not galvanized as much support or attention.) According to In These Times’ Matthew Blake, CTU is planning [28] on orchestrating a voter registration drive to support Democrats who back a more progressive education policy.   

Such actions, along with the growing pushback against high-stakes standardized testing, are the first rumblings of what John Tierney (no one’s idea of a radical) calls [29] “The Coming Revolution in Public Education.” The CTU strike and the MAP boycott have both tried to tie teacher and student interests together, in the face of a mainstream reform ideology that often tries to set them against each other. But so far the Obama administration shows no signs of altering its education policy, while copycat laws could bring emergency managers to low-income cities across the country, imposing education reform and other policies with even less democratic accountability.  

Increasingly, it seems, Americans are listening to voices like Patricia Norris and her comrades in Philadelphia, most of whom ended their hunger strike on June 25 (a new group will take up the tactics, and one of the original four will continue fasting). It’s just not clear that those in power are paying attention yet.

See more stories tagged with: education reform [30], Philadelphia City [31]
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Libertarians, in their zeal for privatizing government functions, tend to forget one vital truth: that some functions of government, such as the Internal Revenue Service or providing concentration camps for dissenters, deserve to be abolished rather than privatized. To put it another way: we must not forget that government is not the only organization that can and does commit crimes. Private persons and organizations, and not only governments, can and do commit robbery, assault, kidnapping, and murder. We must not forget that not every private actions deserves our uncritical blessing.