Monday, January 31, 2011

Republicans to Hold School Funding Hostage to Pensions

(Image by Mike Licht)
Gov. Brown has not yet revealed his plan for dealing with CalSTRS, although he has promised to spare K-12 education any further cuts next year if voters approve tax increases on themselves in the June election (an exaggeration at best: See Who Do You Think You’re Fooling, Jerry). However, legislators have to approve placing the tax measure on the ballot. Republicans have said that pension reform will be required before they will approve placing any tax increases on the June ballot. Therefore, if teachers unions oppose pension “reform” (which likely means greater out of pocket contributions and/or lower benefits), they will be accused of selfishly supporting cuts to education spending and the accompanying increases in class sizes, school closures, and program cuts, (not to mention furloughs, layoffs, and pay and benefits cuts).

According to Fensterwald, pension contributions make up around 18% of a teacher’s salary. CalSTRS is recommending that this percentage be raised to 33%. CalSTRS cannot impose this. Rather, it will be up to the legislature to decide how much to raise contributions. Districts and the state also contribute to the pension fund. However, with the monstrous state budget deficit and declining revenues in all districts, it is very unlikely that the CalSTRS shortfall will be covered by larger state or district increases. Teachers are the ones who will be asked to make the sacrifice.

California Billionaires Profit on Backs of Poor

Redevelopment is Good for the Poor
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to eliminate state funding of Redevelopment Agencies (RDA) as a way to help offset California’s $28 billion deficit. Elimination of RDA funding would save the state $1.7 billion. Speculators and developers are pissed off, as this would take away a huge stream of free taxpayer cash that they had been using to line their pockets. Eli Broad, for example, who has been trying to dismantle public education and replace it with private charter schools, received $52 million in RDA funds for a parking lot for his art gallery.

Supporters of RDA say that redevelopment funds help the most vulnerable Californians. However, it’s hard to see how a parking lot for an art gallery is particularly helpful to a family struggling to keep a roof over its head. Likewise, without the savings from cutting RDA, there could be even greater cuts to education, healthcare, childhood development, Medi-Cal, Welfare-to-work, and home services for the elderly, blind and disabled, hardly a benefit for the most vulnerable Californians. RDA doesn’t even do much to create jobs or help the economy. The state Legislative Analyst says that “there is no reliable evidence redevelopment agencies have improved the state’s economy.”

Bloomberg Threatens Cuomo: Kill Teacher Seniority, Or Else!

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo use his upcoming state budget to reverse teacher seniority rules. Bloomberg hysterically claimed that current state law could force him to fire all 5,000 teachers hired in the past five years. “If the budget contains education cuts. . . it must also take merit into account.”
Bloomberg and Cuomo Duke It Out (Image by Bruce Turner)

Bloomberg cynically made the demands in front of a mostly African American crowd at the Christian Cultural Center in Flatlands, Brooklyn, telling them that the budget cuts would mostly affect low income communities, where higher percentages of new teachers work. Of course, if Bloomberg really cared about low income kids, he’d donate some of his billions, no strings attached, to make up for any budget shortfall.

Cuomo’s office said that seniority is not a fiscal issue and not one he plans to touch during budget planning, though he is not opposed to overhauling the seniority system once he is done slashing of social programs (especially if it will help him get to higher office).

If Only Teachers Could grade Legislators

If only teachers could grade legislators

From Chris Guerrieri (Education Matters blog)

Legislators Grade (image by amboo who?)
The Florida legislature is considering a bill that would require teachers to grade their students’ parents. As you can imagine the bill has garnered quite a bit of attention nationwide from education experts and in the state from teachers themselves. Almost universally it has been ridiculed though that has not slowed it down in the Florida Legislature. Where we all think more meaningful parental involvement would be beneficial, most of us think the unwieldy ht it with a hammer bill isn’t the way to go.
It did however get me to thinking, what if teachers could grade legislators, what kind of grade would they get?

Listening in class, D minus: There are very few members of the legislature that were teachers or worked in the education profession but that doesn’t stop them from meddling and thinking that every notion that pops in their heads won’t somehow improve education. They have also shown very little interest in listening to those on the front lines of education. Rick Scott’s transition team had only one teacher on it out of 23 people and he taught at a virtual schools

Completing Assignments, F: The Florida constitution requires the state to fund education at a world class level, instead the legislature has chosen to cut education funding in order to pay for tax breaks to special interests (and I don’t want to hear the argument that they are the group that creates jobs because if that is the case then they have failed too). They also ignored the people with the class size amendment, preferring to fine districts or violating it rather than properly funding it.

To read the rest, please visit Education Matters or click on the link If only teachers could grade legislators

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teachers Union Boss: We’re In the Protection Racket

According to Doug Tuthill, a member of the Florida Education Association, “To be a viable business, the union must maintain its membership base. Fewer members means less money and less clout. . . The flip side is that, when I was a union president, I knew that battles over tenure were great for business. That’s because teacher unions are in the business of selling protection, and anything that causes teachers to experience more job-related fear or insecurity increases union membership. I could never say so publicly, but the elimination of tenure would mean the union contract would be the only protection teachers had. That’s amounts to a full employment act for unions.

So long as union bosses see themselves as running a business, they will do whatever it takes to maintain that business, even sell out their own members. (Better to have low paid members than no members at all).

In right to work states, maintaining membership is a bigger issue than in places like California, where membership is virtually guaranteed for those in traditional public schools. (One reason why charter schools are so popular among Wall Street speculators and billionaire philanthropists is that they are an efficient way to break the unions). However, when any union starts to look at their members as dollar signs rather than as humans, they have lost sight of their purpose: to organize their members to fight for their interests.

Unions fight by taking job actions, not by paying lobbyists to beg politicians for mercy.  However, when Tuthill talks about “less money and less clout,” he reveals the fact that most unions have in fact moved far away from organizing and focus most of their resources on political influence. While this approach may open doors to union bosses and their lobbyists (see California, where Jerry Brown paid the CTA back for its support for his campaign by giving a school board seat to their lobbyist, Patricia Ann Rucker) it does little to support the interests of teachers.

Politicians are fickle. They make their decisions based on who gives them the most money and how they think a particular decision will affect their next campaign. They are also timid and conservative, rarely taking a risky or controversial stance on any issue. Thus, when push comes to shove, a union may waste millions of dollars of its members’ dues on a failed legislative effort or campaign, when a fraction of that could have been used to organize an effective strike or other direct action.

Unions have tended to behave like a protection racket. We give them our money and they try to protect us by fighting for the status quo, or by making compromises that they think screw us over less than the alternative. In contrast, rather than trying to hold onto a mediocre or lousy status quo, a fighting a union struggles for something better, such as the abolishment of NCLB, more paid prep time, longer lunches, universal health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, or an end to wage slavery.

Confused History Teacher Calls for “Revolution”

With protests breaking out against repressive regimes throughout the Arab world, it is not surprising that people here would feel inspired. However, the activities in the Middle East are not revolutions, at least not yet. People are not calling for new forms of government or economic systems. They are simply asking for the bad guys to get out. Perhaps inspired by the Tunisians and Egyptians, Carl Herman, a history and economics teacher, is calling for a revolution in the U.S. However, like the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, what Herman actually wants is for the bad guys to go away, or least to stop doing bad things.

One of his justifications for “revolution” is that the U.S. government is engaged in unlawful wars. Of course this begs the question of what a “lawful” war is, or whether war is ever justified. The argument that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unacceptable because they are illegal implies that they would be legitimate if congress had declared war or if the U.N. had given their consent. Yet the consequences would be the same: thousands of dead and millions displaced, starved and terrorized. And the same people would still reap the spoils.

Regardless of whether congress declared war, they certainly gave their consent, and did little to oppose it. Even the majority of those who later opposed the war with Iraq refused to cut off funding, which was a legal and simple way to end that war, if that is what they truly wanted. Thus, despite the lack of formal approval through a declaration of war, congress did and still does approve both wars. Likewise, the members of the U.N. did little to stop the U.S., which either makes them complicit, or impotent. If the latter is true, then what point is there in having a UN or international law? Laws that cannot or will not be enforced are meaningless laws.  If the law is meaningless, then why use it as a justification for your opposition to war?

Historically, there hasn’t been a “legal” U.S. war since World War II, if a legal war is defined as one that has been declared by congress. The Viet Nam and Korean wars were never declared. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has been engaged in nonstop undeclared wars throughout most of the twentieth century, either directly, or through its proxies. In just the last ten years we have attacked, invaded or sent troupes into Haiti, Yemen, Philippines, Liberia, Somalia, Georgia, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the decade before that there were military actions in Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, East Timor, Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia.  In the 1980s there were the invasions of Panama and Granada, proxy wars throughout Central America, fighting in Lebanon and Africa and the bombing of Libya. We have overthrown or assassinated democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Iraq, Brazil, Ghana, Chile and Honduras.

Perhaps a better approach would be to question why the U.S. engages in so much violence throughout the world and oppose that. Herman, like most liberals, begins with the faulty premise that American democracy is fundamentally good, but that it has been usurped by bad guys and needs to be won back. The fallacy here is that American democracy is a good system for the ruling elite, as it helps keeps the masses pacified while they are exploited, but it is not necessarily so good for the masses. Its laws and wars are designed to benefit the ruling elite, generally at the expense (financial or physical) of the masses. Thus, even if the wars were legal, and even if the bad guys were prosecuted, the rich would remain rich, the majority would remain subservient, and wars would continue to kill and maim people in order to protect the property and profits of the rich.

Wars are generally fought in order to gain or keep control of resources (including cheap labor). When dictators try to stand up to the U.S. and do their own thing, they threaten U.S. control over their resources. When the people elect a leader who makes even the slightest overture toward social justice, like raising the minimum wage (e.g., Zelaya, in Honduras, or Aristide, in Haiti) they must be removed, if not through the political system, then by force, ideally by our proxies. When these objectives cannot be met through “legal” means, they are dealt with illegally, violently and often secretively.

Herman repeatedly calls for an “emperor wears no clothes” revolution, which doesn’t even make sense. In the Emperor Wears No Clothes, a little boy declared that the emperor was naked, when the rest of the public pretended he was clothed. Simply getting the public to admit the truth won’t change anything. There is much more to social change than simply educating the masses. The truth does not by itself set you free. The people must also be organized. They must have a concrete goal. They must feel they can achieve their goal. Simply getting pissed off and attacking the oppressors may result in the oppressors fleeing, as happened in Tunisia, but it does not necessarily lead to liberation, particularly when the same economic and political structures remain.

Herman’s confusion is made more apparent when he calls for an end to parasitic and criminal “economics,” by which he means capitalism run amok, in contrast to a nice, pleasant make believe capitalism that has never existed. Capital is created by bosses paying their workers less than the value of the goods and services they produce. If a laborer produces $1000 worth of shoes, and the boss pays him $200, uses $200 for overhead, and pockets the remaining $600, isn’t that a parasitic relationship? As long as there are bosses, there will be exploitation and parasitism. Perhaps what Herman really wants is a stronger union movement that forces bosses to take less from us—an improvement, but hardly a revolution.

Likewise, it should not be forgotten that the entire basis for a corporation’s existence is to maximize profits. With this as a goal, it should be no surprise that they often break the few laws that do govern their operations, and deliberately so, calculating in advance their future profits after paying off their lawyers and the occasional fine.

Overall, Herman's proposal is so full of incoherent schizophrenic and bullying ramblings that I doubt many readers will even make it through all four parts.  For example, he blames the economic crisis and “illegal” wars on a "cabal" in the government and he “respectfully” reminds us that if we are not with him, if we don’t join his revolution, we are “idiots.”

 I could go on and on, but I’m getting bored.

Like Herman, I’m pissed off and want change too. But let’s be honest. A real revolution that ends “parasitic” economic relations and the motivation for the U.S. to engage in constant warfare would involve taking down capitalism itself. We’re nowhere near that point and even if we were, it would be bloody and terrible, with considerable death, injury, treachery, and terror. Besides, most Americans love capitalism, equating it with freedom. Large numbers would defend it with their very lives. Herman may even be one of them. So relax. The revolution won’t be televised because it won’t be happening, not here at least, not anytime soon.