Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for hisblogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.
Thursday was my first full day on the bus, and it was a full day. Everywhere we went, our bus made clear the message we were delivering:
Let me describe the events of the day, and then talk a bit about parent trigger laws.
We began in the offices of Progress Ohio where there was an event announcing a letter to Governor Kasich. Behind the speakers was this banner:
Mariah Hatty of Patriot Majority began and ended the event. In her opening remarks she noted that the Koch are trying to make our country their country. People like Gov. Kasich have been very close to Koch Bros. He and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been moving to enact the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda. This Greed Agenda includes a vast array of items to take over the rights of ordinary people.
The Koch Brothers Greed Agenda includes vast array of agenda items to take over your rights, including weakening consumer rights, taking away veterans benefits, privatizing Social Security and Medicare while making money for themselves and their friends.
Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director of Progress Ohio spoke next. Ohio has seen fracking with no public comment on drilling permits, no health studies of affects, secrecy about chemicals being pumped into ground in a state where there have been 11 earthquakes near Youngstown. It starts with ALEC, which was put together to allow corporations to influence legislation. All of the gains for ordinary people, even those made under Republican presidents, are under threat. The Greed Agenda means corporate profit mean more than your health, more than your voting rights. That’s why this is more than a bus. That bus is reminding us of what we face as a society.
Next was Bentley Davis of Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans,, who pointed out that proposal like the privatizing of Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher program are the brain children of the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute, both established and originally funded by the Koch Brothers. Their Greed Agenda involves cutting Veterans’ programs, which she says “not just wrong, its anti-American.
Robert Davis of the local AFSCME Council said that if Ohioans like those at this event If had not succeeded on SB5, we would have seen similar legislation spreading across the country. He then read the letter to Governor Kasich.
Reverend Joel King Jr., a cousin of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke passionately about the moral consequences of political and policy actions, citing words from his cousin.
Mariah closed the presentation by telling the assembled folks, including representatives of a number of major unions who took literature to distribute to their members, that we don’t need to be afraid, but we do need to act.
After the event, the bus traveled to the area of the State Capitol, where Jarrod Curry, who is coordinating this bus trip, delivered a copy of the letter to the Governor’s office:
We then traveled to the suburb of Dublin where Mariah was invited to address the reunion of the regional council of SEIU:
Members of the SEIU read the literature we handed out:
and lined up to have their pictures taken with the bus:
Some even signed the large markup of the letter we gave the Governor:
We left Dublin and traveled to Wheeling WV, where Mariah was interviewed alongside the bus by WTRF channel 7, the local CBS affiliate:
The Greed Agenda hit education hard. It includes privatizing public schools by turning them into charters, often run by for-profit organizations. One way of accomplishing this is so-called parent trigger laws. Under such laws, if the majority of parents decide to turn the public school over to a charter operator, it is a done deal. The movie released on Friday Sept. 28, “Won’t Back Down,” with Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis, is a fictionalized account attempt to influence the public in favor of such laws. The film itself was heavily promoted – it was hard to escape the TV advertising in the DC Metro area. I have not seen the film, and will not. It has received mediocre reviews, and now, despite the advertising, has the unique distinction of the worst opening performance ever of any film in broad release. It is possible that the ticket revenue may not have matched the advertising costs.
The first Parent Trigger laws was passed in California in 2010, and it has been used twice, in Compton and in Adelanto. That law was pushed by Steve Barr and his Green Dot chain of charter schools. Similar laws are in effect in a number of other states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, Indiana and Ohio, with proposals pending in additional states. There have been legal challenges to the law in both districts in CA, where the efforts to use the Parent Trigger were pushed by a group called Parent Revolution which just so happened to be set up by Green Dot. Parent Revolution operates with a $1 million annual budget funded by the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. This is no generic nor grassroots organization nor movement. “Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, established by Philip Anschutz (this compnay was also involved with “Waiting for Superman,” another anti-public school and anti-teacher union film). The film has been supported and promoted by among other Walmart, ALEC, and Rupert Murdoch whose New Corporation has a division designed to profit from privatizing parts of public education that is led by Joel Klein, former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools.
I live in Arlington VA, where only about 1 in 10 households have children in the public schools. Yet we all pay taxes to support those schools. A Parent Trigger law would allow a small group of those in the County to decide how those tax dollars were going to be spent, with little or no input from the rest of us. Some might counter that since these are laws they have been passed by those we have elected to represent us. This is nominally true, but many of the legislators participating in ALEC and pushing its agenda were doing so without disclosing either their affiliation with the organization nor their intent to push such legislation. In electing them we did not intend to give them a blank check.
It is also perhaps worth noting a previous parallel. There are voucher programs in existence in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Both of these were imposed by the state legislature, not submitted to the voters either of the affected cities nor to the voters of the state as a whole. When given the opportunity, voters usually reject voucher programs, in Utah, 62% of the voters repealed a legislatively enacted voucher program before it could into effect. In CA, when Tim Draper tried to get vouchers through Proposition 38, the final vote was to reject by 70.6 to 29.4.
There is a real issue of the nature of democracy. Parent Trigger laws are intended to undermine basic democracy – the right of the people in a community to govern their own schools. Yes, states do have oversight, but that oversight should not exclude the voice of those paying the taxes. The normal approach of those pushing items from the Greed Agenda is first to try to co-opt the process by co-opting the legislative branch. Sometimes this happens at the state level, sometimes it happens in local school board elections, where an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars will swell the campaign coffers of those willing to acquiesce in the Agenda.
The approach of the parent trigger is an undercutting of the idea of public institutions. This should not surprise us. It did not take ALEC to see a movie to undercut public institutions in favor of privatization of government services. This privatizing of the Commons is something that has greatly contributed to the loss of the American Dream, and is part of the downward economic pressure on increasing numbers of Americans.
Parent Trigger laws are but one of the approaches being used to implement the Greed Agenda of the Koch Brothers and their wealthy friends that will devastate public schooling and undermine democracy.
I will discuss others in future posts from this bus trip.