Saturday, February 21, 2015
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Remarks by Bob Peterson
at the Stop the Cuts Rally
February 14, 2015
Hello UW-Madison! I bring greetings of solidarity from thousands of teachers and educational assistants who are members of the Milwaukee teachers union.
We stand with you to fight against the cuts proposed by a Governor who has not had enough education to know whether the earth is 6,000 or 4.5 billion years old.
We stand with you to fight against attacks on the public UW-System, public technical colleges and public schools. We know that public schools in our communities are the only institutions that have the commitment, capacity and legal obligation to serve all children, including for example in Milwaukee 3,000 homeless students being served by MPS. Similarly, as the Wisconsin IDEA so proudly notes, the UW System is dedicated to serving all citizens throughout Wisconsin.
We stand with you to fight all attacks on the public sector. If it’s public, Walker and the 1% want it defunded and turned over to private interests. Whether it’s our public university, our public schools, public radio, public TV, public transportation, public sector unions, public health care, or our public natural resources — it’s on Walker’s hit list.
I’m from Milwaukee, so I am particularly concerned about Walker’s success in using the race card. We must not allow Walker to play on racial fears, and convince white people to vote their prejudices instead of their class interests.
In Milwaukee this Monday – President’s Day –a multiracial coalition will rally at of Scott Walker’s house. High school students will demand “Fund our Future.” I invite you all to come – 4:30 PM. Find details on facebook page of SchoolsandCommunitiesUnited.
I’m a 5th grade teacher, so I know these cuts will affect children and their future the most. Listen to the wisdom of a ten-year old student, Eddie. Four years ago, Eddie was in my fifth grade classroom during Walker’s first attack on public employees and schools.
I asked my students to write in their journals: “What the budget cuts mean to me. Eddie wrote a poem in her journal entitled “A Letter to Governor Scott Walker.” Listen carefully to a child speaking truth to power:
A Letter to Governor Scott Walker
Budget cuts: an unfair mutiny
that destroys the economy
and slowly tears apart all humanity
and makes the flaws of ourselves
that much deeper
that much bigger
and that much more hurtful.
It is hard to believe
that all this circles
around Governor Walker
the King of destroying schools and jobs
So congratulations Scott,
you ruined kids' lives!
Now isn't that a sport?
Just A. Student
P.S. Kids are the future.
Eddie and others do not deserve Walker’s budget cuts.
But for us to succeed in stopping these cuts and other attacks on the public sector we need to recognize we can’t do it alone.
Our struggle will only be successful if we are part of a broader social movement including Black Lives Matter, Raise Up 15 for a living wage, defending immigrant rights, the environmental movement and prison reform.
Let us unite in a broad social movement for economic and political democracy and racial justice in this state and country.Let us choose hope over despair and continue to fight for our children and justice in our communities.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Remarks by Bob Peterson
at the Save Our Schools Community Strategy Session
MATC • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
February 7, 2015
Why are we here? We are here our children, our grandchildren, and our entire community. We are also here for the people have gone before us, those who fought for the rights that are now being threatened by the know-nothings that run our state government.
We know the public schools needs to improve, as do most social services in our community. That’s why several of our workshops today will examine how to improve our public schools while we fight to defend them.
But we also know that when governors cut budgets, when companies move family sustaining jobs out of our community and when business leaders and politicians ignore the glaring racial and economic inequalities, it’s time to organize and to stand up for what is moral and just.
We did that in 2009 when a Democratic Governor and Mayor proposed that Milwaukee’s democratically elected school board be replaced by one appointed by the mayor. Wendell Harris of the NAACP and I co-chaired the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover and together, with many people and other leaders, we stopped that sorry attempt to disenfranchise our community.
But those who oppose democracy and justice do not rest. Backed by the wealth of the Walton’s, Koch brothers, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce they managed to pass a voter ID law that would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands had it not been the legal work of the ACLU, the NAACP and others.
In 2013 the MMAC and Republicans talked about a New Orleans style recovery zone for the Milwaukee Public Schools – in which dozens of public schools would be taken over by private operators unaccountable to any elected body. We restarted the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover and again, with many others, pushed back. The idea was shelved and anti-public school legislation like SB 286 was blocked.
The coalition to stop the takeover, however, didn’t want to always be viewed as on the defensive and only against things. So we changed our name to Schools and Communities United. Last May 17th over 500 people commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board school desegregation decision. We did so by publishing the booklet “Fulfill the Promise: The Schools and Communities Our Children Deserve” that’s in your pocket folder. It’s main message: our children deserve both high quality public schools and revitalized neighborhoods. You can’t have one without the other.
And notice I said public schools. The Milwaukee Public Schools are the only institution in the city that has the commitment, capacity and legal obligation to serve ALL children.
Schools and Community United continues today – promoting community school model – which you’ll hear more about shortly – and organizing against privately-run charter schools that don’t serve all kids. Currently we’re campaigning to convince the City Council that it should hold the schools it charters more accountable, and we’re having impact – but we need your help, which will be explained later in the program.
But today we face one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. We have a governor who is set on destroying the public sector to benefit the wealthy few. If it’s public Walker and the 1% want it defunded and turned over to private operators -- whether it’s our public university, our public schools, public radio, public TV, public transportation, public sector unions, or our public natural resources.
Unfortunately many in the state legislature have the same attitude.
A key ingredient in Walker’s success so far has been to play the race card, saying he didn’t want Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee. Too many white working people voted their prejudice instead of their class interests. And because of that we are in one hell of a mess. And it’s a national mess, with Wisconsin and Milwaukee at ground zero.
Some friends throw up their hands and say, but what can we do? The forces of evil are too powerful and too wealthy.
I acknowledge that these are very difficult times and short term, it’s bleak. To those who say it is hopeless and use such pessimism to rationalize their own inaction, I say look at our history. I ask, would confronting Walker and reinvigorating public life in our country take more effort than that exerted by the abolitionist movement as they successfully fought to end the scourge of slavery? Would it take more work than that by the suffrage movement as they successfully fought to win the right for women to vote? Or of the labor movement which won union rights, social security and Medicare. Or of the civil rights movement that won the right to vote and ended de jure segregation?
Yes, I am comparing our current situation to some of the historic challenges that our forefathers and foremothers had to confront. And they fought for justice and succeeded because they had the tenacity and courage to continue in even the darkest of times.
While we are here advocating for educational justice, our struggle will only be successful if we see ourselves as part of a broader social movement including Black Lives Matter, Raise Up 15 for living wage, immigrant rights, the environmental movement and prison.
That’s what we must do now, we must unite in a broad social movement for economic and political democracy and racial and social justice. All those who are under attack – students, women, people of color, parents, undocumented, elderly, the unemployed – must recognize that our future and the future of our children are bound together. Thank you for coming today, continuing our work tomorrow. Let us choose hope over despair and continue to work united for our children and our communities.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Defend our Public Universities
By Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Walker has said his proposed budget cuts for the UW System would “be like Act 10 for the UW." It’s a frightening analogy.
As with Act 10, Walker’s proposed cuts have nothing to do with the state budget. It’s about promoting privatization, undermining democracy, and abandoning public institutions.
Walker’s Cuts are a Manufactured Crisis
In 2011, Walker introduced Act 10 —all but eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions — under the guise of solving a budget shortfall. Even after union leaders agreed to increase workers’ payments to healthcare and pensions, Walker continued with Act 10. It became clear that Act 10 was an attempt to weaken democratic rights, cripple the power of unions, undermine the public sector, and increase the power of private interests.
Today, in 2015, there is another manufactured crisis. Walker is proposing $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System. The cuts would be the largest in the UW System’s history, and would cripple one of the state’s most honored public institutions.
But this is a manufactured crisis. Just one example. If Walker had accepted full federal funding for BadgerCare, the state would have saved more than $500 million over three-and-a-half years. (Figures are from an August 2014 editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Walker is putting his presidential ambitions ahead of what’s good for Wisconsin
Walker is proposing his 13 percent, $300 million cut in funding to the UW System as part of his presidential campaign. Other states, focused on the needs of their residents, are putting money into their public universities and colleges.
Across the country, state support for public universities is up 10 percent in the last five years, according to a survey from Illinois State University. Iowa increased state funding by 12% from 2009-10 to 2014-15. In Indiana it was 8%, and 7% in Ohio. In Wisconsin, it’s down four percent — and now Walker wants an additional 13 percent cut.
In Milwaukee, Walker’s cuts would mean $40 million in cuts in the next two years — about the amount of money it takes annually to run the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Silber School of Public Health, the School of Information Studies and the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. Should those programs be eliminated?
Walker is undermining democracy
Act 10 was part of a multi-pronged, partisan attack on democratic rights and local control, from voting rights to collective bargaining. In undermining public sector unions, Walker sought to eviscerate the most powerful defenders of the public sector.
As part of his plan for the UW System, Walker is once again undermining principles of democracy and collaboration. In addition to the funding cuts, Walker wants to eliminate the UW system as a state agency run in accordance with state law. Instead, he wants to create a so-called “public authority.” But there are several devils in the details.
First, Walker would control those appointed to the new authority. Second, Walker wants to eliminate the long-standing concept of “shared governance” at the UW System, under which the faculty, students and staff are involved in decision-making.
Walker’s goal: public dollars for private interests
As governor, Walker has increasingly diverted public dollars into privately controlled organizations. In education, the most disturbing example is the public funding of private voucher schools, a program that Walker expanded across the state. (Since the Milwaukee voucher program was started in 1990, more than $1.7 billion in public tax dollars has been diverted into privately run voucher schools, most of them religious schools. The voucher schools are allowed to ignore basic democratic safeguards, from constitutional guarantees of due process, to open meetings and records requirements.)
The UW System has a worldwide reputation, not only for its excellence in education, but also for its role in promoting research and the free exchange of ideas in service to the common good.
The UW System is too valuable to be sacrificed in service to a conservative ideology that undermines the democratic mission of public institutions, and that privileges privatization over the public good.
By Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’Education Association, and Barbara Miner, author of Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of PublicEducation in an Iconic American City.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Originally posted at the MTEA blog
The University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee should be ashamed.
Urban Day — a UWM charter — is using bribery to increase enrollment.
Urban Day, on its website, in radio commercials and in flyers (photo above) distributed in the neighborhood, is promising $100 to anyone who recommends a student who will enroll and be present on the third Friday of September.
As educators know, the third Friday is used by the state to determine a school’s funding. As many MPS teachers also know, there is a history of students from voucher and charter schools transferring to an MPS school after that third Friday count.
For years stories have circulated of private voucher and privately-run charter schools offering incentives to parents to enroll their kids – gas cards, gift cards, and even money.
But UWM’s cash-for-students plan stoops to a new low.
On its website, Urban Day has a full-page graphic of $100 bills with the headline: Refer a Student, Earn Money.” The flyer meanwhile states: “Earn Free Money!!!” by convincing people to enroll in their school.
The flyer goes on to note: “For every new student who is enrolled at school on September 19th and has you as a reference: We will pay you $100. (No limit on the number of students, but students must be present on September 19th for you to receive money.)”
Urban Day originally was a private voucher school, and for years had been touted as an exemplary community school. It became a UWM charter school in 2010.
Urban Day’s flyer did not include any information about the school’s curriculum or offerings. Nor did the flyer (or website) note that in 2011-12 and 2012-13 the school met “few expectations” on the new statewide report card — the second lowest rating, just above “no expectations.”
In 2012-13, only 8.6% of Urban Day students had special needs, compared to nearly 20% in MPS.
UWM is supposed to be the flagship public university in our city. It should be ashamed.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
St. Marcus, a private voucher school, wants to buy Lee Elementary, a public school. The decision comes before Milwaukee’s Common Council in coming weeks.
Taxpayer funding of private schools raises any number of problems. But this particular controversy rests on one essential question:
Should public policy promote discrimination, in particular discrimination against gay people and women?
Last week, supporters of democracy and equality won a well-deserved victory when a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage. The victory was the culmination of decades of struggle, with supporters of gay marriage often dismissed or criticized in the early years.
The controversy over St. Marcus raises similar issues of equality versus discrimination. Will politicians who support gay marriage have the courage to say “no” to the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus?
St. Marcus is a private voucher school that is connected with St. Marcus Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran synod. The synod’s core beliefs include:
- Homosexuality is a sin
- Living together outside of marriage is a sin
- Women are not to hold positions of authority over men. (The St. Marcus School Council is appointed by the church’s all-male board of directors, and the school council chair must be a male. Women are not allowed to vote for the church’s board of directors.)
As a religious-based school, St. Marcus and its teachers are expected to defend and promote the synod’s beliefs.
If the Common Council approves the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus, the voucher school hopes to enroll an additional 850 students who will be taught the synod’s beliefs. An estimated $5 million more per year in taxpayer dollars will be used to promote the synod’s beliefs.
This is the question the Common Council faces. Will it approve the sale to St. Marcus, knowing that it is thus using public policy to promote and expand publicly funded discrimination?
Or will council members do the right thing and say “no” to publicly funded discrimination?
RELIGIOUS FREEOM VERSUS DISCRIMINATION
Let me make it clear. This is not a question of religious freedom. I was raised Lutheran (in a more liberal synod) and my wife was raised Catholic. We have any number of relatives who disagree with our beliefs, and we disagree with theirs. It’s no problem. We all respect religious freedom.
St. Marcus should be free to promote its religious views. But not with taxpayer dollars and a public policy stamp of approval.
The Milwaukee voucher program was set up by the state legislature and Milwaukee voters have never had a chance to vote on this controversial program. This is a chance for the Common Council to defend democracy and equality and say “no” to policies of discrimination.
PUBLIC DOLLARS SHOULD BE USED TO EDUCATE ALL CHILDREN
The voucher schools’ ability to discriminate against gay people and women is part of larger problems. To name just a few:
- Private voucher schools do not have to adhere to open meetings and records requirements. (Public schools do.)
- Private voucher schools, unlike public schools, do not have to educate all children. Unlike public schools, they do not have to provide ELL or bilingual education. Unlike public schools, they do not have to provide all needed special education students. Unlike public schools, they can expel or suspend students at will, with no constitutional protections of due process and free speech.
- Private voucher schools, unlike public schools, do not have to adhere to Wisconsin law that prohibits discrimination against students on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital or parental status.
Over the years, private voucher schools have drained more than $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars from public schools. Due to funding cuts, public schools have been forced to reduce art, music, physical education and libraries, and have drastically enlarged class size.
Voucher schools have been used to privatize, defund and dismantle the Milwaukee Public Schools — even though MPS is the only institution in the city with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all children.
All these controversies swirl around the proposed sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus.
Voucher supporters are adept at framing the program in rhetoric of “choice.” But with the current controversy over the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus, there is no escaping this fundamental question:
Should public policy and taxpayer dollars promote discrimination? If you believe so, then vote for the sale. But be clear: that is what your vote means.
But if you believe that public policy should defend democracy and safeguard equality, the choice is clear. Say “no” and don’t sell Lee Elementary to St. Marcus.
Friday, May 23, 2014
A revitalized teacher union movement is bubbling up in the midst of relentless attacks on public schools and the teaching profession. Over the next several years this new movement may well be the most important force to defend and improve public schools, and in so doing, defend our communities and our democracy.
The most recent indication of this fresh upsurge was the union election in Los Angeles. Union Power, an activist caucus, won leadership of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second-largest teacher local in the country. The Union Power slate, headed by president-elect Alex Caputo-Pearl, has an organizing vision for their union. They have worked with parents fighting school cuts and recognize the importance of teacher – community alliances.
In two other cities –Portland, OR, and St. Paul, MN – successful contract struggles also reflect a revitalized teacher union movement. In both cities the unions put forth a vision of “the schools our children deserve” patterned after a document by the Chicago Teachers Union. They worked closely with parents, students and community members to win contract demands that were of concern to all groups. The joint educator-community mobilizations were key factors in forcing the local school districts to settle the contracts before a strike.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers involved parents and community members in formulating their contract proposals, which emphasized lower class size, less time spent on test prep and testing, and increased early childhood services. Working with parents they staged a massive “walk-in” to schools when 2,500 people – educators, parents, community members and students – walked into school in unison in a show of solidarity.
The Portland Association of Teachers organized support from religious leaders, the NAACP, and the Portland Student Union. They conducted petition campaigns and generated public support. Ultimately the school board agreed to many of the PAT’s proposals, including hiring 5% more teachers to reduce class size, and a substantive increase in planning time for elementary teachers.
Social Justice Unionism
For years a small but growing number of union activists, myself included, have promoted a vision of social justice teacher unionism that builds on the lessons of past, but pushes the envelope well beyond traditional unionism. We promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff.
We also are redefining the role of teacher unions so that we become the leading professional force in our communities to defend and improve the craft of teaching and the quality of public education.
Another essential part of social justice unionism is the recognition of the key role played by coalitions of parents, students, educators and community – on city and school levels. Such coalition work must deal not only with educational issues, but broader non-school issues such as living wages and voter and immigrant rights.
Teacher leaders in Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul and elsewhere have drawn inspiration from the transformation of the Chicago Teachers Union. Led by Karen Lewis and other activists, the CTU organized a successful strike in September of 2012. The strike won significant improvements in the quality of schools and received overwhelming community support, despite the efforts of an appointed, corporate-dominated school board and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Their strike was anchored in months of member and community organizing, and the CTU continues to organize on numerous educational and community fronts.
Of course, teacher unions must respond differently depending on conditions they face.
I know. I am from Milwaukee, WI. I was elected president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the largest union local in the state, just weeks after Governor Scott Walker and his Koch brother friends imposed Act 10 on public sector workers (except the police and firefighter unions that had endorsed him).
Act 10 took away virtually all collective bargaining rights, including the right to arbitration. It left intact only the right to bargain base wage increases, and even those are limited to a yearly cost of living index. The new law ended fair share and payroll dues deduction. It imposed an unprecedented annual recertification requirement on public sector unions, requiring a 51% (not 50% plus one) vote of all eligible members, counting those who do not vote as a “no.” Using those criteria, Governor Walker would never have been elected.
The Governor then further attacked public schools and educators by imposing the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin’s history. He also expanded the Milwaukee-based private school voucher program statewide further contributing to the defunding of public schools.
The MTEA’s response has been to accelerate our work as a social justice teacher union. We believe that schools must become greenhouses for both democracy and community revitalization. Our work has included:
- Building strong coalitions with community, parent, students and religious organizations to fight school privatization and to improve public schools.
- Creating our own Teaching and Learning Department to reclaim our profession and our classrooms.
- Establishing a non-profit organization, The Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning, and Public Education, that provides an array of teacher-to-teacher professional development.
- Dramatically increasing member participation in many areas: school-based building committees, neighborhood canvassing, union-sponsored professional development workshops and classes, campaigns and committees advocating for developmentally appropriate early childhood practices, bilingual education, less standardized testing, adequately staffed libraries, and more.
- Promoting culturally responsive teaching, including bilingual education, learning a second language for all students, and multicultural, anti-racist teaching.
- Partnering with the district on key reform initiatives such as the rollout of the new state mandated teacher evaluation system and the promotion of community schools within our district.
- Working to ensure the rights of members who now work under a “handbook,” not a negotiated contract.
Whether teachers find themselves in the backward state of Wisconsin, or a state with more progressive labor and educational laws, teacher unions should reimagine themselves and move toward social justice unionism.
People are stepping up to the challenge. Last August and this spring, the Chicago Teachers Union and Labor Notes hosted meetings of local teacher union activists and leaders to learn from one another.
Support for these types of move towards social justice unionism appears to be coming from the highest levels at both the NEA and AFT.
At the 2012 NEA Representative Assembly NEA Executive Director John Stocks called on members to become “social justice patriots.” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has promoted the Great Public School initiative that encourages unions to move in these progressive directions.
Randi Weingarten has been arrested protesting school closings in Philadelphia, and this past March she spoke at the newly formed Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, during which she announced she would recommend that the AFT no longer accept money from the Gates Foundation.
It is no longer sufficient to just critique and criticize those that are attempting to destroy public education. Teacher unions must unite with parents, students and the community to improve our schools – to demand social justice and democracy so that we have strong public schools, healthy communities, and a vibrant democracy.
originally published on Common Dreams, May 23, 2014
Bob Peterson is President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. A founding editor of Rethinking Schools, he has taught 5th grade for 30 years in MPS. He is co-editor with Michael Charney of Transforming Teacher Unions: Fighting for Better Schools and Social Justice. (Rethinking Schools, 1998)