Thursday, July 2, 2015

Schools and Communities United Stands in Solidarity with Milwaukee Transit Workers

The following is the speech given by Bob Peterson on July 2, 2015 on behalf of Schools and Communities United at a rally in support of the Milwaukee Transit Workers (ATU) in their struggle for respect and a fair contract.

Hello Milwaukee Transit Workers!

The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association and Schools andCommunities United stand in solidarity with you.

Schools and Communities United is a coalition of over 20 community organizations working to improve and defend public schools.

But quality public schools will only happen in healthy neighborhoods. So we fight for both the schools and the communities that our children deserve.

And our children and their families deserve a community with a strong public transit system, a system that treats its workers with respect and dignity and provides adequate compensation.

If it’s public, Gov. Walker and County Executive Abele want it defunded and turned over to private interests. Whether it’s our public university, our public schools, public radio, public TV, public health care, public natural resources, or public transportation — it’s on Walker’s hit list. And all too often it’s on Abele’s hit list as well.

Chris Abele previously collaborated with Walker and Republican legislators to eviscerate the power of the County Board.

Now Abele is collaborating with two suburban legislators -- Senator Darling and Representative Kooyenga to attack the Milwaukee Public Schools. They plan to have Abele appoint a commissioner who would have equal power of the elected school board --  power to take over dozens of  Milwaukee public schools and turn them over to private operators.

These attacks – on Milwaukee Transit Workers and on MPS have two things in common.

First they are attacks on two essential public services like schools and transit that serve ALL people.

Second they are taking place in the most hyper segregated metropolitan area in the nation where white power brokers think they can ride rough shod over communities of color – whether it’s white suburban legislators putting a white County Executive in charge of a commissioner to take over public schools that serve mainly students of color. or whether it’s a white County Executive who ignores the fact that the vast majority of transit workers in this city are African American. I call that racism. 

Schools and Communities United calls on the people of Milwaukee to stand with the Milwaukee transit workers and demand that the all public services be fully funded and kept public!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A failed idea will fail Milwaukee’s kids

During my 30 years of teaching fifth grade, I’ve always encouraged my students to look critically at problems and to learn from mistakes.

Sen. Darling’s and Rep. Kooyenga’s plan to take over public schools in Milwaukee does neither. 

The few details in their plan provide no framework for actually improving academic achievement. Equally important, the plan ignores the Milwaukee community’s experience with similar efforts to dismantle our public schools and undermine our democratic institutions.

There are several glaring problems with the Darling/Kooyenga plan.

1) Not learning from mistakes. Attempting to improve public schools by turning them over to private charter or voucher operators has been tried before — and failed. For 25 years vouchers have been a conservative’s dream – no unions, no school board, no state-mandated curriculum or regulations. What has been the result? Vouchers schools on the whole perform worse academically than the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Vouchers schools have drained over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money away from public schools and into private schools with little public accountability. The defunding of public schools has meant larger class sizes, less individual attention to students and greatly reduced access to art, music, libraries and physical education within Milwaukee’s public schools. Let’s fully fund our public schools and fix them, not abandon them.

2) Undermines democracy. Governance is not the problem with our schools — Milwaukee arguably has more governance options than any urban system in the country.  The rhetoric around governance in the Darling/Kooyenga scheme is a smokescreen to get rid of democratically elected and accountable school boards and schools. 

There are two ways to undermine democracy. First by attacking voter rights through limiting early voting options and requiring photo IDs. Another way is to remove entire institutions from democratic control. Yes, democracy can be messy, but the alternative is worse. If we decide to abandon every democratic institution that is not up to our hopes and dreams, why not get rid of the U.S. Congress? Or the Wisconsin legislature?

3) Part of a coordinated attack. The Darling/Kooyenga plan can’t be viewed in isolation. It’s in the context of Walker’s budget that continues deep cuts in public education across the state, and increases statewide privatization of public schools. In addition, Walker’s budget eliminates Chapter 220 – the only educational program in Milwaukee designed to reduce racial segregation in public schools and improve equal opportunity for students of color.

4) Exacerbates inequality. Data show that privately-run charter and voucher schools serve significantly fewer students with special needs, English language learners and more difficult to educate students. Students are counseled out and pushed back into public schools. The Kooyenga/Darling plan will only increase this problem.

5) Refusal to learn from other urban areas. Other urban districts have tried similar takeovers, with disastrous results. A takeover plan in Detroit is costing the state $72 million, with the mayor raising strong objections. In Memphis, several national charter operators have repeatedly proposed new schools, only to abruptly cancel their plans. And in New Orleans, thousands of students — including those with special needs — are being underserved. Let’s learn from, not replicate, the problems that have come up in these other cities.

6) Continues Milwaukee’s Plantation Mentality. The plan’s colonial implications — what MICAH President Rev. Willy Brisco calls the “plantation” mentality that dominates social policy in Milwaukee — are disturbing.  Milwaukee is the most segregated metropolitan region in the nation. Sixty years ago the U.S. Supreme court, in its Brown decision that was fundamental to overthrowing Jim Crow segregation, noted that “separate is inherently unequal.” It should give people pause when two white suburban legislators propose having a white County Executive appoint a “commissioner” to be able to pluck schools away from the democratically elected school board of an overwhelmingly non-white district.

If we want to truly provide equal education opportunities, why not try something truly radical. Why not build a countywide school system – democratically elected and controlled and open to all children, regardless of the ZIP code where they were born. Not only would this open up well-funded schools with excellent opportunities and learning conditions to the children of Milwaukee, it would attack the dual problems of segregation and inequality that plague our region.

7) Sending the wrong message to our children. What message do we send to the next generation when we condone a plan to remove control of public institutions from a democratically elected board? When we undermine a Superintendent with a Doctorate from Harvard University and instead place public schools in the hands of a “commissioner” to be appointed by a county executive who doesn't even have a college degree and was not elected to run schools? When we allow a plan that specifically says the children of Milwaukee do not need licensed teachers?

These are just some of the many problems in the Darling/Kooyenga plan.

This proposal should be rejected by anyone who believes in democracy and the importance of educating all children.

The Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in the city with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all our students.

Our schools are the foundation of our democracy and of our future. Let’s unite to support and improve our public schools, not abandon them.

This op ed was published in the May 17, 2015 print edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

WI GOP Legislators Plan to Takeover Milwaukee’s Poorest Public Schools -- A racist attack on democracy and public schools

Wisconsin State Senator Darling and Assembly Kooyenga recently issued new version of their “recovery zone”proposal for the Milwaukee Public Schools. Their proposal to take over several of Milwaukee’s public schools is an insult to the Milwaukee community and is part of a larger plan to privatize schools throughout the state. I call on all people who believe in public schools and democracy to oppose this plan.
For two white suburban legislators to propose that the white County Executive appoint a “Commissioner” who will have “parallel authority” to the democratically elected school board is a racist attack on the democratic rights of the citizens of Milwaukee, the majority of whom are black and brown. The Commissioner will be able to privatize five schools a year under this proposal.
This proposal is replete with false assumptions, misguided assertions, and unworkable ideas. It would be laughable if not for the fact that anti-Milwaukee bias and anti-public education sentiment among some power brokers in Madison make this threat real.
Twenty-five years of experience with voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee has proven that turning schools over to private operators is not a silver bullet for improving academic achievement. There is no guarantee that students at a privatized school will perform better.
The false assumptions and assertions of Darling and Kooyenga’s plan include the following:
1) The basic “solution” proposed by Darling and Kooyenga is that their “new governance structure in MPS [is] to free students from nonperforming schools.” The assertion that there is a need to provide “new opportunities” to parents and students ignores the fact that the city of Milwaukee has more school options for parents to choose from than virtually any other city in the nation.
2) The assumption that privatizing schools” will improve educational achievement in Milwaukee ignores the fact that after a quarter of a century of massive school “choice” in Milwaukee, there is little evidence showing improved educational achievement.
3) Labeling schools “failing” due to low test scores is wrong. There are a multiplicity of factors – such as low attendance, concentrated poverty, impact of high levels of students with special needs or English language learners – that may contribute to low scores. This does not mean the school is failing. In fact, it is a signal that other institutions in our society are failing.
4) The assertion that “consequences of these ‘failing schools’ are a significant factor in contributing to Milwaukee’s declining economic and social health” shows little understanding of the social, economic, and political history of our city. It ignores the long history of racial segregation in housing, schools and jobs, the devastating consequences of the corporate decisions to move tens of thousands of family sustaining jobs out of Milwaukee, and the hyper-segregation and growing inequality and joblessness that plagues our city.
5) There is no cost estimate or funding source provided for the “Commissioner’s” work, which according to the proposal, includes doing a qualitative analysis of 55 schools and directly managing several schools or supervising charter operators.
6) Under the proposal parents, students and community members are stripped of their democratic rights as to the future of their schools because power will be transferred from the democratically elected school board to an appointed “Commissioner.” The Commissioner will have unilateral authority to choose schools that will be taken from the public school system and privatized.
7) Educators at the privatized schools will be required to “waive current and future privileges to be represented by any union,” which is contrary to federal law governing private sector employers.
8) Apparently the educators at the schools established by the Commissioner will not have to have a teacher or administrator license because, “employees shall receive non-portable licenses as requested by the commissioner.”

Sign the petition against the recover zone and this proposal 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Walker's Budget: Hypocritical and Racist

Testimony before the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin • March 20, 2015
Bob Peterson, President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association

I have taught 10 and 11 year-old children for 30 years in MPS.

When I taught at La Escuela Fratney in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood I had the opportunity to see the power of Chapter 220. White students from Mequon and Whitefish Bay used 220 to take advantage of our school’s two-way bilingual program as their parents wanted their children to learn two languages with student of many races. Over the years, I’ve heard from those parents and students what a valuable experience it was in their lives.

Of course, that is a side benefit of the program. The power of the program is that it provides. African-American children the right to access educational opportunities in the suburbs, something that was out of reach for most families given the Milwaukee regions’ hyper segregation.

Today metropolitan Milwaukee is #1 in the nation in black/white residential segregation and # 1 in residential segregation based on poverty.

Is it not odd that when the State Legislature has gone out of its way to expand taxpayer funded private school options throughout the state, the one “choice” program on the chopping block is the only one that reduces racial isolation and segregation?

Ending Chapter 220 when expanding vouchers and charters is at best hypocritical and at worst racist.

In addition, the funds provided to MPS for Chapter 220 are significant and without those, MPS would be face a serious fiscal crisis with dire consequences for the students.

Instead of ending Chapter 220 increase support for public education, the foundation of our democracy.

Public school systems in our communities are the only institutions have the have the capacity, commitment and legal obligations to serve all students. While it may be seductive to expand taxpayer-funded private schools through vouchers and charters for the few, the result is to limit and degrade the choice for the many.

Vouchers and privately run charters drain money from public schools and do not serve all children. They serve fewer students with special needs, fewer English Language learners and regularly push back to public schools the hardest to educate children.

History will be the judge. Will the 2015 Wisconsin State Legislature continue to undermine Wisconsin public schools through funneling millions to private schools or will you recognize the necessity to support public schools as the corner stone of our democracy?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fulfill the Promise of Public Education

Remarks by MTEA President Bob Peterson at the Support Public Schools Rally featuring Diane Ravitch • March 18, 2015 

If there’s ever been a time in our nation’s history to defend and improve our public schools, that time is now!

If there’s ever been a place that needs people to defend public education, that place is Milwaukee and Wisconsin. So thank you Diane Ravitch for being with us here today.

We must work together to fulfill the promise of public education and create the schools and communities our children deserve.

There is a war going on against the public sector and the common good. And Milwaukee is ground zero in that war.

Twenty-five years ago proponents of private school vouchers claimed that to improve Milwaukee schools they had to get rid of district bureaucracy, state regulations and teacher unions. Well, for the past quarter of a century they’ve experimented on the children of Milwaukee – no bureaucracy, no state regulations, no unions in their voucher schools.

The result: worse academic achievement than public schools, serve very few children with special needs, no accountability, lots of fly-by-night operations, and a constant push-out of hard to educate students back into the public schools. The oldest and largest voucher program in the nation has failed.

What is Gov Walker’s response to this failure? Expand vouchers statewide.

Milwaukee Common Council was the first city government in the nation to be allowed to charter privately-run schools. The results: little accountability, pathetic oversight. Their schools serve one half as many children with special needs as MPS and 1/3 as many English language learners. Last fall one of their schools offered adults a $200 bribe for each new child they brought to school on third Friday.

What is Walker’s response to this fiasco? Expand privately-run charter schools statewide.

Walker’s plan is simple. Give tax breaks to the rich. Turn down hundreds of millions of federal dollars for high-speed rail, Badger Care, and early childhood education. Destroy unions. Vilify teachers. Accept huge donations from the Koch Brothers. Declare a budget crisis and make further cuts to education and social services.

His agenda is about promoting privatization, undermining democracy, and abandoning public institutions.

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 health care, or our public natural resources — it’s on Walker’s hit list. Writer Arundhati Roy summed it up, “Privatization of essential infrastructure is essentially undemocratic.”

Four years ago Walker and his supporters made the largest budget cuts in public education in the history of Wisconsin. It meant less individual attention to our students. Less art, music, phy ed and librarians. This year Walker plans to cut $300 million from the UW system, $127 million from the public schools.

We must not allow a Governor who has not had enough education to know whether the earth is six thousand or 4.5 billion years old to destroy our good state.
There are other people waiting in the wings to propose even more draconian legislation. Senator Alberta Darling and Rep. Kooyenga, have proposed a New Orleans’s style Recovery Zone for Milwaukee to further privatize our schools. We have one message for Darling and Keyenga: Keep your hands off MPS!

But folks it’s not only the Republicans who are preventing our children from getting the schools they deserve.

In 2009 we saw a Democratic Governor and Milwaukee Mayor propose a mayoral takeover of the MPS school board. Arne Duncan supported it. The Democrats for Education Reform sent in lobbyists to promote it. 

But people in Milwaukee fought back. The Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover, MPS School Board members and Congresswoman Gwen Moore said no and we won.

We still have a democratically elected school board so vote on April 7.

On the federal level we aren’t winning. Corporate-backed, bipartisan education policy is a disaster for children.

George Bush’s No Child’s Behind Left and President Obama’s Race to the Bottom have promoted school privatization and a massive increase in testing.

This obsession with testing and the idolatry of data are squeezing the joy out of learning. They’re destroying the craft of teaching and turning teachers into test technicians and data collectors. Classrooms are becoming test prep centers, suffocating creativity, collaboration, inquiry, reading of whole books, and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Teachers waste hours inputting and analyzing data that reveals little that they don’t already know about their students. They’re forced to implement scripted curriculum that is antithetical to quality teaching.

Should our children be subjected to endless test prep and narrow curriculum? Or should they have well rounded education that President Obama’s daughters and Joe Biden’s grandchildren receive at the Sidwell Friends School? Or that Arne Duncan received as a child at the Chicago Lab School?

The children of Milwaukee also deserve the best. Our schools should not be data driven, but child driven and data informed. It’s time to demand that students have more time to learn and have teachers more time to teach.

That is what Schools and Communities United outlined in its report Fulfill thePromise: The Schools and Communities our Children Deserve. Fair funding. More teaching. Less testing. Teach the whole child. Smaller class sizes. Expand bilingual education. Community schools. Our schools should be greenhouses of democracy in revitalized neighborhoods.

The Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in our community that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all children.

We should be proud of that, but also recognize that unless we work together to defend and improve our public schools, what was once a great city and state will be gone.

The enemies of public schools are strong and well financed. Our struggle to defend public schools and the entire public sector will only be successful if we are part of a broader social movement for economic and political democracy and racial justice. We need to work with other social movements like Black Lives Matter, Raise Up 15 for living wage, immigrant rights, the environmental movement and prison reform.

It is will be a long fight. But there is no alternative. Together we can and will create the schools and communities our children deserve.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gov. Walker: Support Jobs, Not Attack Working Families

Wisconsin desperately needs family-supporting jobs. Yet Governor Walker and the Republicans’ misnamed “right to work” legislation will do the opposite.
Such legislation might boost Walker’s presidential ambitions, but it will hurt all working people in Wisconsin.
In 2011 Governor Walker and the Republican majority used a budget shortfall as an excuse to attack the rights of public sector workers and the public sector.
Now they have turned their attack towards destroying the rights of private sector workers, blaming private sector unions for our economic woes.
This law is nothing more than a cover for pro-corporate interests who know that weak unions and low wages can build ever-higher profits. Rather than build prosperity, this legislation will undermine our state’s progressive tradition and quality of life.
This country has a long history with such anti-union laws. Most states with these measures are in the West or the South, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and have lower wages and a poorer quality of life.
A better name for Republican’s proposed legislation would be “race to the bottom.”
Here’s why.
So-called right-to-work states have lower wages. 
Good wages and benefits are key to quality of life – both to support families and to provide a reliable tax base for education, infrastructure and public services. Yet the annual median income in right-to-work states is $6,185 less than in other states, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data. What’s more, these anti-union states tend to have higher poverty rates, less access to health care and lower performing schools. In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s well-respected “Kids Count” survey, the three worst states for children are in right-to-work states and the three best all allow workers to form strong unions. Would you rather have your child go to the University of Wisconsin or the University of Mississippi? Would you prefer to raise a family in Mississippi, where the 2013 child poverty rate was 34%, or in Wisconsin, where it was 18%?
Strong unions build a strong middle class.
During the New Deal, federal laws not only permitted but encouraged collective bargaining. After World War II, such policies built a foundation for shared prosperity and a thriving middle class. With the rise of deregulation and attacks on unionization in recent decades, including Walker’s attack on public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011, income inequality has skyrocketed as the rich have grown richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class has shrunk. As The New York Times has editorialized, “the drive for more jobs must coincide with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity – Social Security, Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action, regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws.”
So-called right-to-work laws undermine workplace democracy and foster a freeloader mentality.
Right-to-work laws promote freeloading and are a backhanded way of de-funding unions. The union, by law, negotiates wages and benefits that all workers receive whether or not they are union members. The union, by law, represents workers in disputes that arise – whether or not they are union members. Current Wisconsin law allows all represented employees in private sector job sites to share in the cost of union representation. The proposed Republican legislation would allow workers to escape paying their fair share while still receiving all benefits. That’s not the way democracy works. Contributing to the common good is an essential component of democracy. Imagine if this freeloader scheme existed throughout society. People could refuse to pay taxes and still receive a public education, drive on our freeways and receive police and fire protection.
As we dream of a better future for our children, we should heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated during his campaign supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as right to work,” King warned. “It provides no rights and no works. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining. . . . We demand that this fraud be stopped.”
Governor Walker should deliver on his campaign promise to create jobs, not use false slogans and a new attack on Wisconsin working families to bolster his presidential ambitions.
Bob Peterson is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

WI Children Do Not Deserve Walker’s Budget Cuts

Remarks by Bob Peterson
at the Stop the Cuts Rally
Madison, Wisconsin
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.