Saturday, March 30, 2013

Issue #107 March 30, 2013- Vote, DeWalkerize WI, Speaking My "Truth"

April 2nd Elections…
If we've learned anything from the past two years, it should be that elections matter.  With that in mind I'm urging every eligible voter to head to the polls on April 2nd and exercise their rights as citizens.

The two statewide offices up for election will have huge impacts on the immediate future of our fight to reclaim Wisconsin.  The race for Supreme Court Justice between Justice Roggensack and Ed Fallone has the potential to decide the fate of Act 10 among other key issues.  

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction features two contrasting visions for public education in Wisconsin.  Tony Evers is the best choice to lead our public school system.  Pridemore appears to be more interested in privatizing our schools than in leading them.

 Local races feature a key contest for Dane County Circuit Court Judge and Rhonda Lanford is an excellent candidate worthy of our support.

With three seats up for election on the Madison School Board, this spring's election will have a huge impact on the way the board approaches important issues.  With the continuing assaults on public education from the state and federal levels and the impending expansion of the voucher program into more Wisconsin communities it is vital that we have a strong school board who will work with educators, administration and the community to protect our public schools.   

Seat #3- Dean Loumas vs. Wayne Strong
Seat #4 James Howard vs. Greg Packnett
Seat #5 TJ Mertz vs. the now out of the race Sarah Manski

De-Walkerize Wisconsin…
As I thought about the upcoming elections I reflected on the qualities of the candidates, but I realized that my attention wasn't focused on them as much as on the overall political climate and the possible repercussions of casting a ballot for any individual.  This has always been something that voters needed to consider, that their vote would put people in office who would create policies that would impact our communities.  It should be obvious that, in a representative democracy, we elect people who best represent our interests, but they may not be "perfect" fits for each individual.  We also face the fact that, once elected, politicians are able to act in ways that we may not support. 

The election of Scott Walker in 2010 made this real for many voters in Wisconsin.  I've gone back and looked at his campaign material and it is clear why it resonated with voters during the election.  Many Wisconsinites cast a vote for him thinking that he was a "common sense" type of candidate who would represent their interests well, yet once elected he became a different Governor than what was portrayed.  Now, as we prepare for another election, many of us are worried that we won't get what we thought we were getting when we cast our ballots.  This concern is reinforced when things happen like Sarah Manski suddenly withdrawing from the race for school board.  Suspicions run rampant and confidence in the process is undermined.

Looming over every race on this April's ballot is the specter of Walker and the conservative reforms that that have swept over Wisconsin during the past two years.  Without the threats that Act 10 and school vouchers put on public educators and community members would our discussions about issues like Madison Prep have been different?  We certainly would be discussing the merits of candidates differently and politics wouldn't be as divisive in many races.  The past two years have created a legacy of bitterness, fear and in some cases hatred that make it so difficult to find common ground and the compromise that is necessary to truly exist as a viable society.

As I read the John Roach article I found myself becoming furious at, what I consider, the unfair and spiteful language directed at a person who I respect and admire.  I also was offended by the tone that implied that race is the only issue of importance in our society and that we should cast votes based exclusively on one trait of a candidate.  It seemed to imply, just what has been said before about public educators, that we are pawns in a larger game and mindlessly follow the directions of leaders who supposedly don't have the best interests of others at heart.  It is also humorous to think that MTI or any public educator entity has such power over our public school system.  If that was the case, I can assure you that things would be much different.  Just ask any public educator about what they would do to change the system and you will find yourself realizing that it isn't the people who are necessarily the problem, it is the bureaucratic reality that shapes so much of what happens in public education. 

I could mention many other issues I have with this editorial, but as I reflected on them I realized that there was something else happening here.  As a society we are spending way too much time dwelling on the past and looking for scapegoats.  We live in an imperfect world and one where social justice is often elusive.  If we are to continue moving forward we must find ways to unite.  If we can't then we face a future where we will refight the same tired old battles and achieve the same flawed results.        

So, we really need to de-Walkerize our elections this spring.  Not by voting based on our support of opposition of Walker, but by deciding to move beyond, or above, the climate he's created in Wisconsin.  Somehow we, collectively, need to realize that it isn't about Scott Walker.  He is only one voice, and one that will be replaced in the not so distant future.  Many of us remember Tommy Thompson's reign as governor.  I always thought that things couldn't get worse than Thompson, but the reality is that someone will always come along to try and make their mark.  It was with no small amount of wonder that I found myself saying that Thompson was probably the best Republican candidate in the past primary for U.S. Senate. 

Instead of focusing on Walker and dwelling in the past, voters need to send a message about the future of our society by choosing candidates based on merit and not on fear or anger.  As a wise Jedi once said, "Fear is the path of the Dark Side.  Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."  It is our job to change the path that we walk on. 

In this election, cast your ballot wisely.  Do your "homework" and learn about the candidates.  But, also never forget that your job as a citizen isn't done after the ballot is cast.  In reality the job of citizen is never finished.  It is up to each and every one of us to hold our elected officials accountable for their words, actions and policies as they work to represent us.  

Sharing My "Truth"…
One of the dangers in politics, or in any larger scale human endeavor, is the fact that words and actions can be interpreted in many ways.  Trust and honesty are vital to the ability of us to form sustainable relationships that serve a societal greater good.  We are facing a crisis here in Wisconsin, and across the nation, and it isn't so much economic as it is something much more important.  When Scott Walker said that our state was "broke" he meant financially, but I really think that he should have recognized that the real break was in a different venue.

What has happened over time has been a retreat from a more prosperous, egalitarian society to one that is secretive and access to opportunity is more exclusive.  There is no doubt that the "American Dream" has always been one that has been much more difficult for individuals of different demographical groups to attain.  However, in recent years we are seeing fewer and fewer "real" opportunities for people and more concentration of wealth and power into fewer hands. 

Trust, security, opportunity, equality…these are all terms that can be elusive to define precisely.  We all have a sense of what they mean, but the reality of the words can be interpreted in different ways.  As a society we are always striving to find the best ways to offer the most for each individual member of the group.

In America we have chosen democracy and an economic system based on a more capitalistic philosophy to deliver these benefits to our citizens.  However, in order for a society to utilize these "tools" well there are some basic needs that must be met.  When we don't succeed in meeting these requirements we face significant problems.  People feel disenfranchised, people lose faith and hope in the system and we see a movement away from the values that our nation is supposed to be built upon.   

The "truth" as I see it is very troubling.  We are seeing a breakdown in communication of accurate information at all levels.   

We are seeing a widening of gaps in economic opportunity with small numbers of people making vast sums of money off the majority of the population.
FOCUS | Cheney's Halliburton Made $39.5 Billion on Iraq War

We have been mislead by our elected leadership and made more vulnerable because of their actions. 

We find ourselves struggling to stem the tide and to resist the movement of our resources, human, financial or other towards concentration in the hands of the few.  Unions provide one way to resist these trends and are standing up for those they represent.   

We need more organizing efforts and more coalitions between the people of our society.  Unions, co-ops and other community based efforts will give individuals power to act in their own defense.   

Marriage Equality, Race, Economic Class and Public Education…
History is a series of events that seem cyclical in nature.  We always hear about the need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and it is clear that there are trends that reappear throughout human history.  The late 1800's become the 1920's which in turn become the early 2000's.  We see struggles for civil rights move from specific group to specific group and then back again.  Struggles for freedom, suffrage, economic opportunity, citizenship, etc… all find common threads throughout history.  The names, faces and situations change, but the stories sound eerily similar in nature.

Over the past week a lot of attention has been focused on the issue of Marriage Equality.  Many equate the issues surrounding rights for GLBTQ citizens as the newest in the long line of civil rights battles.  We've seen many parallels drawn between the issue of Marriage Equality for GLBTQ Americans and those that African-Americans faced in the not so distant past.  People have brought up the reality that marriage between Blacks and Whites was illegal until just a few decades ago in many places.  Just check your Facebook and you can see that Marriage Equality is of interest to many of us.

What shouldn't be lost in the modern incarnation of our ongoing quest for a socially just society is that the battles are fought and victory or defeat result, but the struggles don't end.  We know that the Civil Rights Movement didn't end racism in our nation.  Women's Suffrage didn't end sexism.  The passage of Act 10 didn't eliminate organized labor.  The "War on Poverty" didn't result in an elimination of economic distress.    

Humans are quick to try and declare a verdict and to move on to new challenges.  When we do this we ignore the actuality that we are all connected and that our struggles are part of the fabric of our humanity.  The union mantra "An Injury to One is and Injury to All" is at the heart of this reality.  We are facing the inertia of human nature that causes discrimination, inequality and injustice, but is also capable of inclusion, equality and justice in equal measures.  

Most people will act in their own self interest first, and then act for the benefit of others second.  What many of us miss is the recognition that by acting in a self-interested manner we often don't promote the most positive action that would benefit all.  In this way we see people acting in short sighted and often acting against their own interests.  Working class people supporting anti-union candidates, "minority" groups attacking the rights of others to achieve equal opportunities, these are a couple of examples that demonstrate the actions of people operating solely for their own interests.
As Americans in a consumer driven, materialistic society we find ourselves swept along in the river of self-interest.  We feel a need to defend what is, or should be, ours and to worry that anything that benefits someone else, by definition harms us.  This somehow implies that there is a finite amount of any given resource available and that we must compete in order to get any part of the desired commodity. 

One can argue that in economic terms this may be true.  We live on a planet that has finite amounts of resources and access to these have long been a source of conflict.  However, in modern America there is enough wealth so that no person should be starving or without their basic needs being met.  Our drive to accumulate is causing long-term damage to our nation's future.

On the other hand, there is no such limit on things like knowledge or rights.  If I learn as much as I can about a topic, that only serves to educate me, it doesn't take away from others opportunities to learn.  In fact, I can use my knowledge to educate others and thereby improve the educational opportunities for those around me.  The more people who are educated, the more opportunities there are and society as a whole improves. 

This same logic holds true in other aspects of rights, freedom and knowledge as well.  Giving a group access to rights like marriage, voting or other basic freedoms doesn't dilute them for others.  The case can be made that by supporting the rights and freedoms of all citizens improves the quality of life for everyone.  Just like union wages raise wages for all workers, so too can providing real, equal opportunity for all actually serve to increase the freedoms, rights and opportunities for everyone in our society. 

Allowing others to have these opportunities is frightening to some.  For example, people may look at the demographics and recognize that White Americans are no longer the majority.  This can lead to fear that by allowing more access to voting the power in America will shift in a way that leads towards an unknown future.  Yet, what is ignored is that our future is always unknown and filled with potential for success or failure.  Holding fast to what we know won't change this reality.  It will make the future more painful if we fight against what is socially just.  The cycles of history have shown us as the concentration of wealth in the late 1800's, and 1920's brought us the events like violent strikes, social upheaval, and the Great Depression. 

In many ways the social movements that have been labeled revolutionary are exactly the opposite.  Revolution implies a radical, sudden change and we often see that the movements that are revolutionary are in reality just the outgrowth of the will of the majority.  They become revolutionary because of the fact that the rules and norms of a society are often conservative in nature and are slow to change.  The struggles become more confrontational because those in power are reluctant to cede any control to others and impose restrictions to slow the changes that are frequently necessary for the long term survival of a nation. 

We are seeing the beginnings of a "revolution" here in America around issues involving many groups and institutions.  Public education will continue to be a centerpiece in this struggle.  Education is vital for each persons success as well as for the success of society as a whole.  Access to quality educational opportunities are necessary and the fact that we are seeing more restrictions to education means that the "establishment" recognizes the importance of this battle.  Educators, families and community members must work together to move our society forward and deliver quality educational opportunities to all students and communities.   

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Issue #106 March 24, 2013- April Elections, Resisting School Reform

April 2nd Elections Looming…
We are only about a week away from the April 2nd elections.  There are a number of important races that will be decided and everyone's participation is needed.  We know that spring elections are usually low turnout, so every vote will be even more important.  The ironic thing is that, while more people cast ballots in presidential elections, it is these local races that tend to have a greater impact on the individuals in specific communities.  So get informed, get involved and get to the polls (either on April 2nd, or vote early).

There are two major state wide races.  Both have significance in the continuing fight over the future of public education in Wisconsin.  In the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers faces Don Pridemore.  Evers is the best choice in this contest.  He has experience, and is an advocate for public schools.  Pridemore is inexperienced and appears to be a mouthpiece for the "reform" and voucher movement.  He might be a good selection to lobby for privatization, but not to lead Wisconsin's Department of PUBLIC Instruction. 

The second state race is for a seat on the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.  This race features Ed Fallone against Pat Roggensack.  Once again there is a clear difference between the two candidates with Roggensack firmly in the conservative camp.  She is getting significant support from conservative organizations and represents the movement in Wisconsin to consolidate power in the hands of the GOP majority.

On the local level, there are three seats up for election on the Madison School Board. 

Seat #3- Dean Loumas vs. Wayne Strong
Seat #4 James Howard vs. Greg Packnett
Seat #5 TJ Mertz vs. the now out of the race Sarah Manski

While there are many issues facing the MMSD and the school board will be at the center of all the decisions made, the most important issue of all is the commitment of any elected board member to defending public education.  We can debate curriculum, we can disagree about testing and data driven reforms, and we can have conflicting visions of how best to address the many challenges that face our schools, however we can't afford to elect anyone who isn't fully committed to public education.  Someone who supports vouchers or any type of privatization should not be a school board member, making decisions about our public schools.  Voters must pay close attention to the comments, backgrounds and connections that candidates have and choose wisely in these races. 

The race for Dane County Circuit Court features Rhonda Lanford versus Rebecca St. John.  Lanford is a strong candidate who doesn't have the unsettling baggage that St. John brings with her.  St. John has connections with conservatives who are tied to the Walker administration.  It is important that we have qualified and impartial judges to provide fair, legally supported and ethical judgments.  Rhonda Lanford provides the best choice for Circuit Court Judge in Dane County.  

Organize for the Future…
It is safe to say that there has never been a time in human history when people have had more access to information so quickly and in such volume.  Most of us are never more than a second or two away from resources that provide us with up to the minute news about virtually any topic imaginable.  This access to information allows us to inform ourselves and others about important issues and to share opinions quickly, reaching more people than anyone could imagine just a few years ago.   

However, information is a double-edged sword in many ways.  As an educator I find it difficult to argue against anyone becoming more informed and accessing as much information as possible.  Yet, at the same time this vast amount of information threatens to overwhelm us and often creates a sense of hopelessness and frustration.  We are inundated with images and stories that, too often, demonstrate the negative aspects of human nature.  Leaving us with the idea that the world is a hostile place and one that we can have little effect on.  

You can feel this hopelessness in many ways as people withdraw into "safer" corners of the world and seek to shut others out.  Instead of building community, we see some arming themselves and increasing the barriers between people.  Instead of supporting public institutions we see a movement to privatize services and to exclude others so that a small number can feel secure.  We see organizations and institutions pulling back and becoming conservative in order to preserve resources and to keep functioning, even when these cuts are counterproductive and even harmful to those who rely on them.      

With all of the access to information and the ability to get a sense of public opinion quickly there is still a sense of disenfranchisement felt by a large portion of the people.  We also see an effort being made to manipulate public opinion and to generate fear through the way specific demographic groups and certain organizations are portrayed.  The protests in Wisconsin were called "mobs", the Chicago Teachers Union earned the label of "thugs" (one proudly carried by Wisconsin educators as well).  Extensive damage was done to the state capital in Madison and the normal operations of a city were disrupted by hordes of educators in Chicago.  The list of negative imagery used to describe those fighting for progressive values is virtually limitless. 

We also see the challenge of sorting through the vast amount of information to find accurate information.  Public opinion is manipulated through words, but also through the use of data and "facts".  These "facts" vary based on the source and the way that they are used.  We have watched the job numbers in Wisconsin fluctuate more than anyone could ever have thought possible, with multiple sources quoted and the data altered beyond recognition.  The numbers and "facts" become a part of the argument and are used even when later proven incorrect.  Apparently, despite claims to the contrary, Wisconsin isn't really "Open for Business".    

As the struggle continues it becomes more and more difficult for individuals to speak out against the wrongs that are being done in the name of "balancing the budget" and "preserving American values".  Now, more than ever, we need the support of others to work to move our society in a more socially just direction.  It is vitally important that those of us with the connections, the knowledge and the ability to act do just that, act in the defense of those who are silenced and act in the name of a society that is truly "Of the People, by the People and for the People."      

Defending Public Education…
We have reached a critical period in the evolution of public education in Wisconsin.  It is difficult to find a time when public schools faced more significant challenges to their existence.  Wisconsin appears poised to follow the patterns established in other states around the nation in opening our educational system to privatization initiatives.  The proposed expansion of the voucher system into new districts across the state threatens public education to the very core.  We don't have to look too far away to see what happens when the education "reform" movement gets a chance to operate.

It is important that we do everything possible to resist the ability of private schools to access public money.  The simple reality is that the privatization of schools has very little to do with improving educational outcomes for students.  It is all about accessing the financial opportunities that educational enterprises offer for entrepreneurs, and reestablishing the dominance of the elite over the rest of the population.  An elite that sees their power threatened by the increasing diversity in America's population and the wave of anti-establishment activism generated by the Wisconsin Uprising, the Occupy Movement and other similar efforts. 
It is clear that there is a concerted effort being made to undermine the public's trust in our educational system and to play on the fears of the white, male citizens who face a future where they will be in the minority.  The established "normal" is threatened by the changing demographics and the continuing efforts of those previously disenfranchised to exercise their rights to equal opportunity.  Controlling education not only provides financial opportunity, but also is a tried and true way to keep "others" in their place in society.  

One way to achieve their goals of undermining trust in public education is to make it appear that our schools are failing and need to be "reformed" or even totally replaced.  The current wave of testing and standards serves the multiple purposes of supposedly improving education, drawing attention to the "failures" of our public schools, while highlighting the struggles of specific groups.  Drawing attention to Achievement Gaps isn't done to improve the opportunities for the groups affected, but rather to divide and conquer groups that otherwise might find common cause in protecting public education.  Why else do we find the supposedly superior "reforms" mostly enacted in schools serving the urban poor and not in suburban schools?  Why else have private, voucher schools tried to avoid sharing information on their demographics and academic results (that don't compare favorably to the public schools).         

When it comes to defending public education there are many possible alliances that could be forged.  Unfortunately, we have lost control of a significant amount of the debate in the media and other public forums.  This can be seen in the fact that while most people involved in public education on a professional level (educators, school boards, administrators) are against the expansion of vouchers, the general public's opinion is mixed and many feel like they need more information.  We need to reclaim the debate and take the offensive in the battle over vouchers specifically and public education in general.

I am realizing more and more, just what it means to be an educator and to belong to a union that represents public educators.  This is more than just an issue of protecting wages, benefits and working conditions.  It is about defending an institution that, while not perfect, provides the best opportunity for the most people to receive a quality education that they can use to improve themselves, their immediate personal circle and society as a whole.  We have an obligation to speak out for ourselves, but more importantly for the families we serve.      

In some ways it may be too late to stop the expansion of vouchers.  School "reformers" have the ear of many legislators and certainly have the support of Governor Walker who sees this as an excellent opportunity to not only cement his alliances with powerful allies, but also to strike another blow to public sector unions in Wisconsin.  However, we must continue to share the facts about voucher schools and let the public know the reality of what is happening.  We must also work to make sure that we connect with those who currently send their children to public schools.  We may not be able to halt the legislation, but we can certainly do everything possible to make public schools a more attractive alternative to vouchers.  What if, when given a choice, most people chose public schools and voucher schools were left empty?

Now is the time to form alliances, establish communication and develop relationships that will allow us to defend our public schools from privatization efforts.  We have excellent schools here in Wisconsin, and we have dedicated educators who work hard every day to try and educate the young people in our state.  It is up to all of us to reach out, educate and organize for our schools.

Buy Local…
Spring Break has arrived for many schools.  This means some "free" time for educators, students and families and an opportunity to look for ways to spend money wisely and effectively exercise the power of the wallet.  If you are traveling, try and seek out local establishments that have ties to the community and that value labor.  For those of us staying around town, this is an excellent opportunity to take the time to find businesses that support worker's rights and develop shopping routines that support progressive values. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Issue #105- Legal News, Politics, Organizing and Public Ed.

Great News!!!

We always need to hear good news and this ruling gives us continued hope that we will see some justice done in the battle over Act 10.

Politics- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…
First, the good…  We are fortunate to have 2 competitive races for school board seats in Madison.  While it would be even better to be able to say we have 3 of them, far too often local races are uncontested or uncompetitive.  Democracy demands a choice and we should make sure that we are informed voters who will make wise decisions at the polls.
The bad… Politics are always partisan in some manner, but recently Wisconsin's political scene has degenerated significantly.  While we should remember that the "Good Old Days" weren't always so terrific, we can hope for a return to a time when politicians were able to discuss ideas and find some compromise in their efforts to create legislation and policy for the people they represent.

The ugly… In another example of the GOP's willingness to ignore the voices of all citizens, the controversial mining bill moved quickly through the legislative process.  The long term consequences of the bill remain to be seen, but I find it difficult to see it having a positive effect on either the employment picture, or on the environment in the areas that are impacted. 

Lies Become Truth…
More examples of ways the public is being mislead and misinformed as the battle for the future of our society continues.  These three examples show the direction that one political ideology wants our nation to move in.  In the conservative future we will need to work longer hours, retire later and will see independent businesses devoured by corporations.

Efforts to privatize Social Security and to eliminate other New Deal programs are in full swing.  Members of the GOP are working to scare the electorate using data that isn't always accurate.  

This piece is a great example of how Fox and other conservative outlets present information to guide viewers to accept a specific world view.  The panel speaks about how Wal-Mart "democratizes" our society and how we shouldn't deny anyone the benefits of having a Wal-Mart close by.  As if buying cheap things somehow makes our lives complete. 

They don't miss a chance to attack unions and talk about how unions were once good (to prevent black lung disease for example), but this is 2013 and people would rather have cheap products than work for wages high enough to afford quality goods produced by well paid and fairly treated workers.

As a society we put our money where our values are.  CEO's, athletes and entertainers make millions or more, while those who care for our sick and elderly barely scrape by.

We have a representative democracy, however, when the representation is based on gerrymandered districts then there are serious problems with the elected officials that result.   

Organize for the Future…
I heard a report on the radio that talked about how an individual's spending habits were heavily influenced by their TV viewing habits.  Watching wealthy people on TV makes many of us spend more.  In effect we are no longer keeping up with our neighbors when it comes to consumerism, but are trying to keep up with media figures.  Something that is impossible for the typical individual, or family to do.  Most of us live in a reality that is very different from what is portrayed in the media, yet we often allow the entertainment and news industry to shape our world views.

Part of what unions, and other organizations, must do is reconnect with people on a level that is different from what political or media figures operate on.  People may identify with what they see on TV or at the movies, but they spend most of their time operating in very different circumstances.  In order to really reach people in meaningful ways we need to get the message out that unions or other organizations can have a positive influence on people's daily lives. 

Politics are important, and they are a very visible arena that unions need to have a presence in.  However, they are not the only venue that unions operate in.  Nor are they the most crucial part of organizing.  In fact, in many ways it is a losing proposition when unions try to compete with the consumer driven message that is so prevalent in our politics and media.  The union message is one of unity, empathy and compassion.  Traits which are in direct contrast to the consumerism that calls for each person to try and get the most for themselves. 

In order to effectively spread our message and our values we must rely on direct, personal contact with people.  As we've institutionalized our collective bargaining rights and other union ideals we have to some extent lost the "spirit" of the union.  Instead of a group of people who know each other and who share common goals, we gradually became a part of a bureaucratic process.  This happens because of many reasons and isn't necessarily the fault of any specific part of the union organization or the members themselves.  In some cases it is even because some unions have done such an excellent job of representing their membership.  However, anyone who values unions and collective bargaining must examine their thoughts and actions carefully and look to be more involved and in touch.  The challenges faced by unions in 2013 allow us the opportunity to reconnect with our "roots" and to rebuild our unions into even stronger and more powerful organizations.      

I can't stress enough that unions and other progressive organizations must continue to be involved in electoral politics.  However, it is my belief that the amount of emphasis that unions have placed on elections has become a drain on the money and energy of the members and the organizations themselves.  In addition, the return on the investment hasn't been all that terrific.  Unions that represent the Postal Workers have donated heavily to Democrats, and that hasn't "paid off".  Educators unions threw their support behind Obama and other Democrats and got a new breed of "reform" as a result.  While the argument can be made that things could be worse if conservatives were elected, the reality is that organized labor is being slowly bled dry under the Democrats, or is being quickly decimated under the Republicans.  Until we reorganize from the base, we face a losing proposition under either party.  
Attacking Public Education…
The battle over education funding, and expanding the voucher programs in Wisconsin are an example of how conservatives are framing the debate and using divisive politics to try and achieve what are political, not educational goals.  The goals that most  "reformers" want to accomplish involve making money off education, re-segregating our schools to protect the elite and eliminating the political power of educators and their unions.  Not everyone involved in the education "reform" movement are participating in order to advance these goals.  There are some thoughtful, well intentioned people who are advocating for changes to be made in our public schools.  However, the underlying motives that drive the big money and powerful interests are more about profit and power, and less about students and education. 

Public schools rely on public money, this allows conservatives an opportunity to debate education policy in ways that don’t promote accurate or rational dialog around educational issues.  It also allows political agendas to influence our schools.  Evidence of this is clear in the debate over the current budget.  

We need to support Tony Evers in his effort to be reelected.  Don Pridemore is a conservative education "reformer" who has little, if any, experience with education.  Instead he is just a mouthpiece for the "reform" movement and as state superintendent, it is likely he would do significant and irreparable harm to our public school system.

The voucher program is an obvious attempt to undermine public education and to move funds to private educational enterprises.  

The efforts of "reform" advocates to divide communities from their public schools is clear.  Whether it is through proposals like vouchers, parent trigger laws or other similar ideas, or through the continued efforts to undermine confidence in public education, "reformers" are trying to drive a wedge between public educators and families.  "Reformers" are especially focusing on groups that are part of the Achievement Gaps.  They offer "opportunities" to escape the public schools, but too often these are not real opportunities. 

Vouchers for special needs students are one case where there are hidden consequences to taking "advantage" of the "opportunity" offered by the program.  A group of concerned parents and citizens is organizing to shed light on these issues. 

By emphasizing the struggles of different groups and the Achievement Gaps that exist in our schools, "reformers" hope to create a movement of students away from public schools and into private schools.  Yet, the success rates of students who leave public schools isn't as great as what is promised.  The results of these efforts have made many large city school systems more segregated now than they were 60 years ago.

The strategies used to attack public education are many.  However, they are all tried and true methods that have been effective in other venues.  Here in Wisconsin we are seeing legislation introduced to require local governments and school districts to pre-fund retirement benefits, much like what has helped bring the U.S. Post Office to such dire financial circumstances.  

The best defense for public education continues to be an active and engaged coalition of educators, families and community members.  I'm excited to be a part of a group, now known as SCAPE (School-Community Alliance for Public Education) that is made up of members from these different "groups".  This is one of many organizations springing up in the aftermath of the assaults on public education and on other public institutions that have provided hope and opportunity for so many in our society.  I hope to be able to share more about this group in the near future as we work to advance progressive values from the grassroots in Wisconsin.