Trouble for Public Education in the Industrial Heartland

The end of June brought action across the states that will affect public education for millions of children. Here are reports from three states in the industrial heartland where children’s right to quality education remains seriously threatened: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

In Pennsylvania the state has slashed funding for the School District of Philadelphia, forcing massive school closures and the elimination of 3,859 teachers, aides, administrators and other staff; libraries, the arts, nurses, aides, assistant principals, counselors—all gone. Daniel Denvir continues to report the catastrophe in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia City Paper. Here is Corbett to Philly: Fix Your Own Schools. Last week Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and education historian and reformer Diane Ravitch wrote a letter asking Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, to intervene to avert catastrophe in Philadelphia. I urge you to read the letter in which teachers describe what cuts will mean for particular schools and the children they serve. Cuts to the School District of Philadelphia will have a disparate impact with poor students of color most seriously denied opportunity.

The Akron Beacon Journal reports Ohio Budget Rewards Low Performing Charter Schools. While this piece reports only on funding for Ohio’s charter schools and skips the subject of cuts to public schools that serve the majority of Ohio’s children, remember that funds for charters in Ohio remove funding from traditional public schools. Here the Beacon Journal describes the influence of David Brennan, owner of White Hat Management (a Charter Management Organization), Ohio’s most significant investor in political contributions to legislators.

One bright spot: Education Justice at the Education Law Center reports Michigan Court Rules Children Have the Right to Education. On June 27, a Michigan Circuit Court ruled that the state’s constitution guarantees the children of the Highland Park School District the right to an education and rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the ACLU protesting the Highland Park emergency manager’s hiring of the Leona Group (a Charter Management Organization) to run the school district without the emergency manager’s having taken steps to provide for the basic literacy of the children. According to the Education Justice Newsletter:

” ACLU-MI filed the case in July 2012, on behalf of Highland Park’s students, many of whom are years behind in reading and writing. At the heart of the lawsuit is a Michigan law that requires districts to provide additional “special assistance” to students who are not performing at grade level on fourth- and seventh-grade tests. The assistance must be “reasonably expected … to bring reading skills to grade level within 12 months.”

Plaintiffs are seeking a court order for immediate remedy by the state, including research-based methods of instruction, highly trained educators and administrators, new educational materials and textbooks, a clean and safe learning environment, and implementation of a process for monitoring progress. ACLU’s Moss asserts that the state, district and for-profit charter company have no program to systematically deliver the mandated reading assistance.

ACLU’s lawsuit in Highland Park is urgently important as a brake on Michigan’s emergency manager legislation that abrogates democracy by permitting the state to seize power from local school boards and appoint emergency financial managers who can over-ride labor agreements, fire entire teaching staffs, and hire private firms to run local school districts without public oversight. The citizens of Michigan overturned the “emergency manager law” in a referendum last November, but Governor Snyder and the Michigan legislature responded by passing a new emergency manager law that is supposedly referendum-proof.

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