Category Archives: Education Funding

Seattle Teacher: Dear Betsy DeVos, You’re Not Welcome Here

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This article was first published at The Progressive.

Dear Betsy DeVos,

My name is Jesse Hagopian and I teach ethnic studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School. I hope you didn’t just stop reading this letter after you heard the subject I am teaching—I urge you to keep reading.

I am writing in regards to the Washington Policy Center’s $350-a-person fundraising dinner you will be addressing on October 13 at the Hyatt Regency in the nearby city of Bellevue. Thousands of my colleagues and I will surround the building to make sure the world knows your message of division is not welcome here.

Given the recent protests of your speeches at Harvard, at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, and many other places, you must be getting used to this by now. But just so there are no surprises, let me tell you what to expect.

There will be bull horns, signs, speeches, and I bet some of the more creative teachers—perhaps the few art teachers your proposed budget hasn’t cut yet—will show up in grizzly bear costumes, referencing the asinine comment you made defending the use of guns in schools to “protect from potential grizzlies.”


There will be students there questioning your qualifications to serve as Secretary of Education, given that they have more experience with the public schools than you. They might point out that you never attended public schools and neither did any of your four children.

There will be black people and civil rights organizations because you refused to say if the federal government would bar funding for private schools that discriminate. These anti-racist activists will protest your claim that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are “pioneers of school choice” as a way to promote privatizing public education—as if the segregation that forced African Americans to start their own colleges was a magnificent choice.

There will be feminists protesting your outrageous dismantling of title IX protections aimed at reducing sexual assault on campuses. Your decision to meet with sexist so-called “men’s rights” groups to decide on your approach to Title IX policy shows just how little regard you have for protecting victims of sexual assault. As Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said recently, “She’s meeting with groups and individuals today who believe that sexual assault is some sort of feminist plot to hurt men.”

There will be transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community protesting your decision, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to pull back public school guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms for the gender they identify with. And while you have stated you don’t support gay conversation therapy, according to the Washington Post, you served from 2001 to 2013 as vice president of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation (founded by your mother) which donated to anti-LGBTQ groups that do.

College students will join us because of your attempt to stop debt collection regulations meant to protect students from predatory colleges. The “borrower defense to repayment” rules implemented under President Obama make it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to obtain debt forgiveness.

In addition, union educators and members will join the rally because of your unrelenting attack on organized labor. As Mother Jones magazine wrote of your plan to push the anti-union “right-to-work” legislation, “These laws outlaw contracts that require all employees in unionized workplaces to pay dues for union representation. Back in 2007, such a proposal in the union-heavy state of Michigan was considered a ‘right-wing fantasy,’ but thanks to the DeVoses’ aggressive strategy and funding, the bill became law by 2012.”


To be fair, I want to acknowledge that the destruction of public education didn’t begin with you. When your predecessor Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to town, we protested him as well. Like you, he was also committed to privatizing education; he just didn’t have your zeal for the voucher approach. But Duncan was even more motivated than you to reduce an individual student’s intellectual and emotional learning to a single number on a test that could be used to punish a child, a teacher, or a school.

To truly transform our public education system so it empowers students to be critical thinkers and changemakers, we must go far beyond removing you from office. To achieve the schools our children deserve it will require a mass grassroots uprising of educators, students, parents, unions, working people, the poor, LGBTQ folks, women, people of color, and human rights organizations who are ultimately empowered to democratically run their own school systems. Thankfully, all these constituents will be at the rally. And hopefully, we can start talking about our vision for remaking schools without billionaires and corporate reformers who see dollar signs where they should see children.

See you in a few days.

Sincerely,

Jesse Hagopian

“Stop Blaming Teachers, Start Funding Schools”: 30,000 Teachers Walk Out in Protest of Big Class Sizes in Washington State

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Educators, students, and parents rally in down town Seattle during the one day strike on May 19th, 2015. [photo taken by Jesse Hagopian]

The economic justice periodical In These Times recently ran this important article on the mass rolling strike wave of teachers and educators across Washington State--including now some 65 different union locals–who are standing up to a lawless state legislature that refuses to obey a court order to fully fund education.  As I point out in the article, Washington State has the most unequal tax structure and it is time we taxed the rich to fund our schools.  And as In These Times points out,

…the state’s top 1% contributes 2.4 percent of family income in state and local taxes while the poorest 20 percent contribute 16.8 percent, making Washington the “highest-tax state in the country for poor people.”

Meanwhile, the state’s largest corporations have received eye-popping tax breaks in recent years: In 2014, Boeing was awarded the single largest tax break a state has ever given a company: an $8.7 billion cut. Microsoft reportedly avoided $528 million in state taxes between 1997 and 2008 due to lax legislative oversight concerning the company reporting its revenue through its licensing office in Nevada, despite basing its software production in Washington….WEA members say that if legislators don’t resolve funding issues by the end of the second special legislative session, rolling strike waves will begin again when school begins in September.

Let the Washington State Legislature know that they must come up with the money for our schools by emailing them here.  As a popular sign carried by striking Washington educators reads, “On strike against legislature – stop blaming teachers – start funding schools.”

 

Seattle Educators Set To Strike For The Schools Our Children Deserve: Video interview with Jesse Hagopian on the rolling strike wave in Washington State

Educators are walking out of the public schools in Seattle on Tuesday, ft-teachers-washingtonMay 18th, joining a one day rolling strike wave of educators unions around the state, with a powerful message for the State Legislature: Fully fund education. These educators will be joined by many parents and students who are asking that the Washington State Legislature do what is not only right, but what is lawful.  The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the that State Legislature is in violation of state law and has mandated that they add billions of extra dollars to fund eduction.

Moreover, Washington State voters have approved I-1351 which would reduce class size around the state, yet the legislature is preparing to ignore that law.  To make matters worse, the Washington State Legislature is getting ready to take an 11% raise, even while educators have had their voter approved cost of living adjustment revoked for the past six years, and now only offer educators a 1.8% increase.

The Real News Network covers the rolling strike wave across Washington State in this special segment:

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DHARNA NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore.Thousands of public school teachers went on strikes across nine Washington State school districts on Wednesday. These single-day strikes are part of a protest against the new state budget proposal. The teachers, who are members of a union called the Washington Education Association, are demanding smaller class sizes, better compensation, and less testing. Teachers of other districts are set to strike this Friday.Joining us from Seattle to discuss these strikes is Jesse Hagopian. Jesse teaches history and is also the black student union advisor at Garfield High School, where teachers just voted to join the strike. Jesse is an associate editor of the acclaimed magazine Rethinking Schools. He’s also a founding member of Social Equality Educators. He blogs at I’mAnEducator.com and is the editor of More than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

[See the rest of the transcript here]

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