Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Green New Deal for Public Schools

 

A GREEN NEW DEAL FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

JACOBIN Magazine.

BY

LIZA FEATHERSTONE

A major socialist-led grassroots campaign is underway to pass Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools — a strategically savvy measure that combines forthright climate action with large-scale investment in working-class schools.


Global warming is here, wreaking havoc and terror, and even as children return to school under uncertain pandemic conditions, our public school system — especially in working-class neighborhoods — is, like so much of American infrastructure, a disgraceful wreckage. Schools are understaffed. Buildings are poorly ventilated, with windows that don’t easily open, and science labs and bathrooms in varying states of disrepair. A new socialist congressman has proposed addressing these problems with a Green New Deal for Public Schools. With a dynamic national organizing campaign, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been pushing to make it happen.

This summer, as wildfires and hurricanes ravaged the country, newly elected New York congressman Jamaal Bowman, who was endorsed by DSA and represents Yonkers, parts of the Bronx, and southern Westchester County, introduced the legislation, which would invest $1.43 trillion over ten years in public schools, to upgrade them for energy efficiency and health, and to hire and train hundreds of thousands of new staff (education jobs are green jobs; they don’t require fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gases). (Bowman, a former middle school principal, was well-known as an education justice activist long before he ran for office and was interviewedby Jacobin during his campaign.)

Bowman’s office estimates that the legislation would fund 1.3 million new jobs per year and remove seventy-eight million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equivalent to seventeen million cars vanishing from the nation’s roadways. The Green New Deal for Public Schools could become law this fall, most likely as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill — but lawmakers will need public pressure.

Besides addressing the urgent problems facing our schools, the Green New Deal for Public Schools can introduce the public to — and provide a focal point for organizing around — the broader idea of green jobs. Other than Medicare for All and the labor law reform bill known as the PRO Act, there are few national legislative priorities more popular on the Left than the Green New Deal, the bill proposed by socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to create good jobs while following the urgent call of nearly every climate scientist to move toward a carbon-free economy.

But, as DSA activists interviewed for this article explained to me, the organization doesn’t currently have the political muscle to help pass the Green New Deal bill. To do that, they said, DSA needs to build labor support and expand its reach as a mass organization, especially in working-class communities. One route to reaching this more powerful position is DSA’s campaign to pass the PRO Act; the other is the organization’s campaign to enact Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools.

To build the power DSA needs to pass a Green New Deal, says Gustavo Gordillo, a member of the Green New Deal for Public Schools steering committee, the group needs “to be more embedded in working-class institutions, which public schools are.” The campaign in support of Bowman’s initiative also builds on a DSA strength: many members work in public schools — in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, the public school system is the largest employer of the DSA chapter’s members — and those members have been organizing their colleagues and unions.

DSA members working in the building trades have been doing the same. So far more than fifty DSA chapters are participating in the national campaign to pass Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools, a highly coordinated effort with extensive cooperation among chapters. In a weekly phone call, members get updates on the legislation’s status in Congress, share tactics, templates for flyers, and other ideas. This level of cross-chapter communication, say Gordillo, newly elected to DSA’s National Political Committee, “doesn’t always happen in DSA and we want to do this more.”

Yvette Jordan is a public schoolteacher in Newark, New Jersey, where, she says “our schools are disenfranchised and not afforded the accoutrements enjoyed in many other communities.” Jordan teaches in a newer school building, but she says many Newark school buildings lack ventilation and are plagued by mold. Asthma and other respiratory problems are common among both staff and students.

Cara Tobe, chapter lead for the Green New Deal for Public Schools campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, describes similar problems in her local schools: a single nurse has to be shared by six different schools, whole floors of a building cannot be used because of asbestos or mold, there are not enough buildings, resulting in serious overcrowding (obviously a matter of special concern under pandemic conditions).

Devin Collins, a Jacksonville, Florida, DSA member, described (via text) receiving an enthusiastic reception in poor, black neighborhoods while canvassing for the Green New Deal for Public Schools. He spoke with mothers whose children dropped out of unresponsive, understaffed schools, and residents who described schools with toxic waste buried onsite.

A longtime environmental justice activist and the leader of a reform caucus in her union, Jordan joined North New Jersey DSA about three months ago after attending the chapter’s meetings for some time. In Newark, the campaign has focused on organizing constituents who live near the Mount Vernon School, an elementary school in the city’s West Ward that is especially lacking in resources; members have been knocking on doors weekly, engaging new recruits and getting residents to call their representatives to urge them to support the Green New Deal for Public Schools. For her part, Jordan has also been organizing her fellow educators and their unions to support the campaign.

The campaign has engaged DSA’s members en masse. A thousand DSA members participated in a launch call hosted by Jamaal Bowman this summer. The Green New Deal for Public Schools inspired the Louisville chapter’s biggest post-Bernie action, with a thousand doors knocked. It’s also been “very effective at engaging people not involved in DSA,” says Gordillo. In addition to the working-class communities whose schools most desperately need investment, the campaign has drawn many others who want to take action on climate change, Gordillo says. After Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of several people in New York and New Jersey earlier this month, NYC-DSA organized a protest at Senator Chuck Schumer’s house, demanding that he support the Green New Deal for Public schools. About two hundred people showed up.

Aside from DSA, there is no grassroots, mass organization committed to building working-class power and pressing for sound climate policy. A victory on the Green New Deal for Public Schools would be an incomparable boost to those efforts — but even more important in the long run may be the power and organization that such campaigns can build.

 

Gavin Newsom defeats California recall election in historic vote

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Oppose the California Recall



by Duane Campbell  

California voters have a very important decision to make. 

 

The Sept 14, special election is asking us to choose between two very different Californias. 

 

We can choose a stronger California — one where we build on the progress we’ve made and provide help to our families and neighbors who’ve fallen on tough times, where we expand health care to everyone, and where we make sure we keep a roof over our heads by preventing evictions, providing food for the hungry, and protecting each and every Californian. 

 

Or, we can choose to reverse the current political efforts.

Voters will decide on this important issue. The Latino vote turnout will make the difference between winning and losing. Please vote.  

The  California recall vote scheduled for Sept 14, is powered by a partisan, Republican coalition of national Republicans, anti-vaxxers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant activists and Trump supporters. They seek to overturn Governor Newsom’s election, and their victory could threaten California’s economic recovery and Covid efforts.

From the Los Angeles Times: 

“Allied with radical and extreme elements… includ[ing] groups promoting distrust of government, science and medicine; peddlers of QAnon doomsday conspiracies; “patriots” readying for battle and one organization allied with the far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys.”

POLITICO reported how one of the co-founders and chief organizers of the recall- a former Yuba county sheriff,  suggested it would be a good idea to “microchip” immigrants, and anti-immigrant rhetoric has been central to recall organizers’ appeals to supporters.

The advocates  reveal their emphasis in the  official statement of reasons for the recall as printed for the voters. In their second sentence they say, 

“ Governor Newsom has implemented laws which are detrimental to the citizens of this state and our way of life. Laws he endorsed favor foreign nationals in our country illegally, over that of our own citizens….

And, the fourth sentence says, “ He has imposed sanctuary state status and fails to enforce immigration laws.”

Could they be more clear? These are anti immigrant dog whistles.  And they work with some voters. 

This campaign is a  dangerous repeat  of the 1994 campaign of California  Prop.187 which created 10 years of anti immigrant repression.  California  Prop. 187 was a hate crime.  It was a racists law, passed by 2/3 of California voters.  It banned over 600,000 immigrants from receiving needed food stamps, medical care.   Although overturned by a court decision at the state level in 1999, the elements of California  Prop. 187 became national law in 1996 as a part of the Immigration Reform and Control act of 1996 and the bipartisan  " Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193)."  during the Clinton Administration. 

 These laws continue as foundations of  some of the most punitive and cruel  aspects of our current immigration enforcement system.In the Summer of 1993, a failing economy and governmental retrenchment combined to make Republican  Governor Pete Wilson the most unpopular governor in recent history.  By November of 1994 Wilson won re-election with over 56% of the vote.  Two factors combined to deliver victory to Wilson; a mean spirited, divisive, and racist campaign directed against Mexican and Mexican Americans, and an inept campaign by Democratic Candidate Kathleen Brown. 

            The voters of California voted 62% to 38% in favor of Proposition 187, the Save Our State initiative to restrict illegal immigration.  A number of groups including FAIR, the Republican Party, and the Perot organization worked together to qualify the initiative. 

            In 1994 California has a population that is 56.3 % White, 26.3 % Latino, 9.4% Asian, 7.4 % African American, and 0.6% other.  However, according to exit polls, the voters in this election were 80% white, 9% Latino, 7 % African American, and 4 % Asian. Exit polls show that Latinos voted against Prop. 187 by 3 to 1, African Americans split their vote 50 -50, and the Anglo electorate passed the proposition by over 60%.

             

            On campuses the Chicano/Latino youth mobilized in unprecedented numbers. School walk outs and protests occurred up and down the state – but they could not match the power of mobilized voters.   

            

Make no mistake about it. This was an anti Mexican campaign.  While the Wilson said that he welcomed legal immigrants, the photos, the letters, the references, and the scapegoating clearly blamed Mexicans for the state’s economic crisis. 

The anti Mexican immigrant campaign had far ranging consequences.  For example, Proposition 186 on the same ballot would have provided a single payer health system for California, but it was defeated by the engaged voters.  In following years the same voter group passed Proposition 209 banning Affirmative Action in California, and Proposition 227 banning bilingual education programs among others.

 

            Now, this is the Republican agenda once  again. They are using the economic crisis and blaming the current governor for an endless series of problems related to the pandemic – and they are engaging and motivating the dangerous, armed white militarized organizations.  This mobilization grows the white supremacy movement in the state and advances Republican politics- the same people who sought to overthrow our democracy on Jan.6, 2020. 

 

    California politics changed in the decade after the passing of Proposition 187 in 1994.   The Latino vote grew from about 20% of the electorate to 30 %.  A new younger generation of Latinos have now become active and elected leaders.  The growth of the Latino vote produced a major shift as California “Turned Blue,”  https://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2020/01/03/the-blue-ing-of-california/ .  However the harmful national legislation that derived from the Proposition campaign was never repealed.  It remains law. 

 

  But, bad racist politics did not go away.  In a substantive July 27, 2021,  poll, some 47% of likely voters would vote to recall Newsom, while some 50% oppose the recall.  And, the Republican right is much more engaged in the campaign. A September election will be a low turn out election, which usually means an increased percentage of White voters.

 

 This polarizing  recall campaign illustrates that California could turn Republican once again.

 

 

We must unite to defeat the recall.

Duane Campbell 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Returning to “ Normal” in Education is Not Good Enough.

Bob Moses, 


Bob Moses, a renowned civil rights leader of the 1960s and founder of The Algebra Project, passed away on July 25. Moses was among the key activists working on voter education and registration in the south, and later in life devoted his efforts to helping low-income students and students of color achieve the mathematical skills necessary for postsecondary success. The Imprint is honored to publish this previously unpublished column, shared with us by his colleagues at The Algebra Project.

As a nation, we stand with bated breath — waiting for public schools to reopen and for “a return to normal” while ignoring that for many, normal is not only not good enough, it was also never really good. 

Historical inequities and disparities in our public schools, as across all our public systems, operate along a constitutional fault line — an embedded caste system — that we need to find our way across. It is a fault line that is not only about race: class, identity and disabilities also block the path to equal educational opportunity for millions of students. Just like the right to vote in the 20th century, the lack of equal access to a quality education in the 21st century threatens to limit the future life choices for too many young people. 

As a nation, the time has come to embrace quality education as the constitutional right that it should be, guaranteeing that all young people have full access to the social, economic and political opportunities that a democracy promises its people. But nothing will change for these children and youth if we continue to rely on federal education policies that emphasize rigid testing and punitive accountability structures, while paying little attention to ensuring that teachers are well supported, and that all students have access to high-quality structured opportunities to learn.

History keeps talking back to us, if only we would listen. Mandating improved achievement without providing the resources to accomplish it has failed to ensure equitable opportunities. This pattern of under-resourcing and underserving local schools in communities where there are children and families who most need public education to work, and work well, is not the return to the “normal” we need.

But rather than a piecemeal state-by-state approach, states need the federal government to take leadership and make up for past injustice. We need Congress to hear community voices and level the playing field for them by investing directly in those schools and districts most in need. Join me in asking President Biden, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and your congressional leaders to stand with students being left behind, the teachers who work with them, and education advocates crying for justice for them to champion a federal civil rights bill for education, akin to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. 

Like that historic bill, the 14th Amendment offers a constitutional platform for bold legislation to promote and protect education as a civil right, rectifying the structural inequities that have resulted in the existing disparities in our public schools, inequities that keep paying tragic dividends for children and their families on every front.

Since the civil rights movement, when I fought for the right to vote, it has been clear to me that limiting access to education is a subtext of efforts to suppress civil rights. In 1963, as field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), I was registering sharecroppers in Mississippi to vote. A federal judge asked us why we were registering illiterates, the implication being that it did not make sense to register the uneducated, just as it did not make sense to teach those who were enslaved to read a generation earlier. 

In the ’60s, voting was our organizing tool to demolish Jim Crow and achieve political impact. Since then, for me, it has been algebra. What’s math got to do with it? — you ask. Everything, I say.

Amidst the planet-wide transformation we are undergoing, from industrial to information-age economies and culture, math performance has emerged as a critical measure of equal opportunity. We can see the collateral damage of inequities in math education in the way that students are tracked into dead-end math courses and how that tracking is then used to deny them other opportunities because they cannot demonstrate the required math competencies on standardized tests. Simply look at how the failure to complete math requirements is strongly correlated with not completing either high school or post-secondary education. 

Math also can be a collateral opportunity. By elevating math, alongside reading and writing, as an essential literacy, we can substitute the old pre-COVID-19 normal for a new one, where students get the space they need to operate as active problem solvers and claim their place inside information-age technologies and economies.

But, like happiness, education must be pursued. Students and teachers currently encapsulated in the inequities and disparities of the current public education system, like the sharecroppers before them, must be deeply involved in crafting the opportunity structures that will be needed to deliver 21st century math literacy. The nation needs a federal civil rights bill for education, one that opens up the funding and policies needed to assure full access for all students who are currently being left out of the critical literacies that will be required to thrive in the 21st century.

 

The late Bob Moses was a civil rights leader, SNCC Field Secretary and Founder, The Algebra Project, Inc.

The Imprint is an independent, nonprofit daily news publication dedicated to covering child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and educational issues faced by vulnerable children and families.

 

  

Monday, August 16, 2021

Unions and Covid - What Needs to be Negotiated

 What Needs to Be Negotiated?

Teacher Unions, the COVID Pandemic and Safe School Reopenings

 

by Leo Casey

 

What needs to be negotiated for U.S. K-12 schools to be reopened safely?

 

Quite a bit.

 

That statement may seem counterintuitive. We are now witnessing a potential unraveling of the hard-won progress in beating back the COVID-19 pandemic — and it is largely because of the failure of many of our fellow citizens to be vaccinated. Our patience is exhausted. Understandably, there is growing sentiment to simply mandate vaccines. For the frustrated, mandates — in schools and elsewhere — seem like an obvious step that would address the current crisis and put us back on track to controlling the pandemic. What is left to negotiate?

 

Yet the challenges are more complex. Yes, mass vaccination — over 90 percent of the population, such as countries like Iceland are well on their way to achieving — is an indispensable front in winning the fight against the COVID pandemic. Mandates can play an important role in getting to mass vaccination, and so they can and should be employed, particularly in healthcare, public safety, public education, mass transportation and other critical services. But it will require more than mandates to get us where we need to be with mass vaccination, and the mass vaccination that is now within our reach will not, by itself, be sufficient for schools to reopen safely this fall.

 

Let’s start with why mass vaccination is a positive, but not sufficient, condition for the safe reopening of schools. In fact, educators are already vaccinated at very close to the rates we need for the general population: both the AFT and the National Education Association calculate that somewhere in the vicinity of 90 percent of their K-12 educator members are vaccinated. This achievement comes in part because of the prodigious work of teacher unions to get their members vaccinated. A vaccination mandate for educators could improve that rate, and so is worth doing, but we need to be clear that it will be improvement largely at the margins: the numbers of unvaccinated educators are relatively small, and they include people who have genuine medical reasons and sincere religious beliefs for not being vaccinated and people who will leave teaching rather than be vaccinated. (Part of what must be negotiated is the procedures for identifying authentic medical and religious exemptions.)

 

More importantly, the most critical challenge of a safe reopening of schools is not the status of educators, with their high rates of vaccination, but that of students. In pre-K through 7th grade, none of the students will be vaccinated this fall, and in the higher grades, we have yet to reach a 50 percent vaccination threshold. So, vaccination will provide essential protection to the adult educator in the classroom, but that protection will be missing for the 15 to 30 students in the class who are unvaccinated. While as a rule the severity of the COVID disease declines with age, the ability to transmit the virus does not. If students communicate the virus to each other in the classroom — and here we must take into account the much greater transmissibility of the now dominant Delta variant — they will become vectors for the spread of the COVID virus to their families and to the community at large. And that would be very bad news for containing the pandemic.

 

Schools may be able to require vaccinations for students down the road, much as we currently require vaccinations for measles and mumps, but that is just not within our reach now — and the danger of a resurgence of the pandemic is now. So, the safe reopening of schools will depend not just on the vaccination of educators, but on employing mitigation strategies that reduce and abate the potential for transmission among students — the use of masks, physical distancing, appropriate ventilation, and regular and full cleaning of classrooms. The critical battle in the safe reopening of schools is around employing these mitigation strategies, especially universal masking. We must be able to turn back the efforts of elected officials like Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who is doing everything in his power to try to undermine universal masking in Florida’s schools, even as his state leads the nation in the resurgence of the pandemic with its highest daily number of new COVID cases — including cases among children — since the start of the pandemic. (It is telling that the reflexively anti-union commentators who were quick to attack teacher unions for saying that negotiations over these matters are necessary, like New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, have managed to overlook DeSantis’ attacks on mask mandates.)

 

The experience of teachers and their unions throughout the last year and a half is that left to their own predilections, too many school districts and local and state governments will not employ these mitigation strategies in the comprehensive ways that are required. The strategies can be costly (retrofitting poorly maintained school buildings with appropriate ventilation) and logistically difficult (finding space for smaller classes that allow for physical distancing). Even the easiest of these strategies to implement — universal masking — can become a subject of contention in an era where science and public health have been under attack by public figures like DeSantis. Moreover, the challenges to implementing these mitigation strategies are greater in schools that serve working-class and poor communities and communities of color, as their buildings are often aged and in poor repair and their class sizes are larger. Taking on the necessary work of mitigation strategies in schools is not for the faint-hearted.

 

Add to this on-the-ground reality a likely scenario for how vaccine mandates would roll out. There will certainly be legal challenges, and it is probable that courts will hold the mandates in abeyance while the issue is adjudicated. It is by no means certain that this Supreme Court would rule in favor of mandates, despite clear precedents for them. As a consequence, vaccine mandates will not be immediate fixes, but — assuming the Supreme Court does not strike them down — more medium- and long-range tools in the pandemic. It is essential that other means of achieving mass vaccination — education campaigns, incentive programs and requirements of weekly and even twice weekly COVID testing of the unvaccinated working in critical services such as education — not be abandoned in the name of pursuing mandates, but instead intensified.

 

In sum, vaccination mandates are not a “magic bullet” in the fight against COVID but one of many tools that need to be employed. We need all the tools we can muster in this battle, so mandates should be supported, but we also need to be clear about all that is needed to safely reopen schools and contain the pandemic. The common good of achieving both of these objectives is best met when teachers and their unions have a voice in the pandemic-related policies and practices of their schools, and when local school districts are required to negotiate these matters with them.

 

Leo Casey is the former director of the Albert Shanker Institute and is currently assistant to the president of the AFT.

 

Leo Casey

Assistant to the President

American Federation of Teachers

555 New Jersey Avenue N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

LCasey@AFT.ORG

202-879-4552

 

https://aftvoices.org/what-needs-to-be-negotiated-a65af72e067b

 

 

 
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