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?

Sincerely,
Just A. Student

P.S. Kids are the future.
Frightened?

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

Choose Hope Over Despair: Fighting Gov. Walker's Attack on All Things Public

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.


Thank you.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Walker's Attack on U-Wisc Shows He's Unfit to be Governor, to Say Nothing of President

Defend our Public Universities

By Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner

Walker has said his proposed budget cuts for the UW System wouldbe 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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

UWM Charter School Uses Bribery to Increase Enrollmen

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.