Let me be clear: If we do not stand together as a group millions strong as public education comes under attack, there won’t be anyone who will speak for us. This fight to protect our schools and our students and our profession from government officials, corporate charter school leaders, education reformers, Pearson, data mining, big money, and all of the other forces that are systematically taking over districts must be OUR fight.
It was easy to look at Chicago and lament the closing of 49 elementary schools and 1 high school if you don’t live and work in Chicago. It was easy to look at Philadelphia and feel bad for the kids as the latest batch of schools closed if you don’t live and work in Philadelphia. It was easy to watch the teachers of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, strike as they fought for class size caps, planning time, and the withdrawal of the merit pay proposal based on students’ standardized test performance if you don’t live and work in Reynoldsburg. It’s easy to watch the teachers, parents, and students currently holding rallies and protests in York City, PA, to protest the corporate takeover of all of the public schools in that district if you don’t live and work in York City. It’s easy to watch the students in Jefferson County, Colorado, currently protesting the school board’s potential changes to the A.P. U.S. history curriculum and the teachers taking part in sick-outs if you don’t live in Jefferson County. The list goes on and on.
But, in some states, government officials already have succeeded in abolishing unions. In some states, teachers already are forced to give hundreds of assessments and work for merit pay. In some states, teachers already have to pay nearly or all of their health care premiums. In some states, public schools are being pushed out as public education spaces and dollars go to charter schools. As district officials, state officials, and federal officials hand down decisions, teachers everywhere are beginning to be affected. But, as of October 8, 2014, this is no longer THEIR problem. If you are a public education teacher, this is now OUR problem, thanks to the School Reform Commission (SRC) in Philadelphia.
We officially no longer can sit back and watch what is unfolding in Philadelphia now. We need to sit up, pay attention, stay informed, and stand in solidarity with our public education brothers and sisters. If you need a little bit of history on the state takeover of the Philly School District, click here. And, if you don’t know what the SRC is, you need to know NOW, because they are the group that is working to take away retired teachers’ benefits – as much as $10,000 per year, according to Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. They are offering a health care plan that will force teachers to pay premiums as high as $626 per month and then meet astronomical deductibles and co-pays. They failed to negotiate with teachers after being ordered to do so by a PA Supreme Court and decided instead to cancel the existing contract and enact the contract with these new terms. The SRC did not advertise the meeting properly. All of this occurred without any negotiations having taken place since July 2014.
Protests have been occurring in Philadelphia since the SRC acted, including students going on “strike” to show their support for their teachers. Parents and public school advocates also announced their solidarity with Philly teachers Wednesday by standing on the steps of the district’s headquarters. All of this was happening at nearly the same moment that a PA Senate committee failed to approve a proposal to give the governor the authority to abolish the SRC, by a vote of 14-9, with no Republicans supporting the proposal. Solomon Leach’s Inquirer article also points out that the Senate Appropriations Committee “rejected a second amendment that would have required the SRC to provide 48 hours’ notice before holding a meeting.” The result? Only the SRC can vote to dissolve itself, with the permission of the secretary of education. Heard enough yet?
There’s more. The PFT is holding a protest outside the School District headquarters today (Oct. 16, 2014), but the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives confirmed it hired a team to appear at the event. Let that sink in for a minute. This group has enough money to pay people to show up to counter the teachers’ protest. In fact, according to a Philadelphia magazine article, this “free-market think tank” would be “informing people about how Jerry Jordan and the PFT leadership are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars gong back into Philadelphia classrooms.” FYI – the Commonwealth Foundation registered two other websites this week, to put out their agenda and spread their false messages. They claim the teachers have a “selfish agenda” and fail children, teachers, and the poor, and that their group hired workers to pass out information and hold banners “to inform” the public. “The Notebook” noted that Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Foundation, would not specify how much money the Foundation spent to counter the PFT, but an email showed some “brand ambassadors” were being offered anywhere from $100 to $120 to assist.
If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Commonwealth Foundation, you should know that in April 2013, it was reported that the right-wing think tank out of Harrisburg has plans to attack pubic sector employee unions. According to an article from “The Nation,” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) wrote a letter on behalf of the Foundation, announcing “Project Goliath,” a “new effort to make Pennsylvania the next Wisconsin or Michigan.” Toomey wrote, “‘I firmly believe the future is in our hands – it’s up to you and me – and it all depends on the level of urgency we give this new campaign of ours, Project Goliath: Conquering Pennsylvania’s Political Giant. Now is the time to fight back. Like David of the Bible, now is the time to come forward and slay Pennsylvania’s Big Labor Goliath! …. First, we are forming an alliance with other successful free-market groups to actively discredit the Big Government Party (a tactic borrowed directly from Wisconsin). Like our friends in Wisconsin and Michigan, many elements of our plan involve a cooperative effort among our allied, but still independent, organizations…. But the overriding key to our whole plan will be our ability to starve the giant.’” The Commonwealth Foundation is reportedly “one of a 59-state network of similar think tanks that have vastly expanded since 2009.” They have raised millions of dollars, they have a stronghold in Pennsylvania, and clearly they are gunning for public education.
Now, several stories on Facebook are starting to emerge as the situation in Philadelphia worsens, from an SRC member telling student protestors, “You belong in jail,” to Pittsburgh teachers wearing red in solidarity with the Philly teachers.
So, what can you do? Share the stories on your social media pages. If you’re sharing recipes and Halloween pictures on Facebook, you need to bite the bullet and start sharing the stories out of Philadelphia and the rest of the country. “Like” the pages of these unions, parent groups, and teacher groups on Facebook so you can easily follow their news. If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one and start following organizations and education warriors like @TruthInTeaching, @PublicEdNation, , @APPSphilly, @NYSAPE, @PegwithPen, @UnitedOptOut, @DianeRavitch, @palan57, @CTULocal1, @BadassTeachersA, @MindyRosier and others who understand the urgent need to save public education and get out the TRUTH.
You need to talk to your local union leaders, if you’re in a state that still has a union, about organizing solidarity campaigns. You need to read the articles (there are three below that are a good place to start) and understand the implications for you, your position, and your district. You need to get involved. Or, the next canceled contract, the next corporate takeover, the next shuttered school, could be yours.
For further reading:
‘Dear America, We Give Our Schools Third-World Level Resources… With love, Philadelphia XOXO’
Philadelphia Teachers Hit by Latest Cuts
PFT pushes back: livetweeting the SRC meeting
Images via Flickr by sarah-ji, Light Brigading, and Liz West