“Backpack Full of Cash” Film Screening—Next Tuesday Night at Cleveland Heights High School

A Northeast Ohio screening of the new film, Backpack Full of Cash, from Stone Lantern Films and Turnstone Productions and narrated by Matt Damon, is scheduled October 10, next Tuesday evening, at Cleveland Heights High School.  Please join us for this timely film presentation, followed by discussion.

  • Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
  • Time:  7 PM
  • Place: Cleveland Heights High School Auditorium (corner of Ceder and Lee Roads) (Park off Washington Boulevard and enter the high school from the newly remodeled east entrance.)

Sponsors of this free screening are:

  • Heights Coalition for Public Education
  • Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, Local 795 AFT
  • Reaching Heights
  • Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education
  • Northeast Ohio Branch, American Association of University Women
  • Progress Northeast Ohio.

In these times when Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, is devotedly promoting school privatization, we will consider the essential civic role of public education. Public schools are not utopian; of course society must attend constantly to improving the public schools. At the same time public education is the civic institution in which, by law and through the democratic process, we can best protect the rights and serve the educational needs of all of our children.

In the discussion guide for the film (Touch the thumbnail for the discussion guide.) the education journal Rethinking Schools explains: “There are more than 13,500 public school districts (over 90,000 public schools) serving approximately 50 million students in the United States… There are about 6,800 charters in 44 states and the District of Columbia, serving almost three million students, or… 6 percent of the nation’s public school students….  Roughly 1.3 million students took part in a voucher or voucher-like program in 2017.”

The discussion guide traces the history of charter schools: “Charters first appeared, often with community and teacher union support, in urban districts in the late 1980s and early 1990s… Over the years, the charter school movement has changed dramatically. While there are high-quality individual charter schools, the charter movement has become a national and well-funded campaign organized by investors, foundations, and educational management companies to create a parallel, more privatized school system with less public accountability and less democratic oversight.”

What about the history of vouchers? “The voucher movement can be traced to economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago. In 1955, he called for eliminating the funding of public schools and replacing it with universal vouchers…. The first use of vouchers was by white families after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision. For five years, until federal courts intervened, officials closed the public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, rather than desegregate.  White parents took advantage of vouchers to send their children to a private, whites-only academy… The first contemporary voucher school program began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1990.”  It was soon followed by the state supported voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio. Voucher programs today also include education savings accounts, and tuition tax credits.

Here are some of the questions our October 10 film screening will address:

  • We live in a capitalist country. Why not look to the free market for solutions to challenges in education?
  • Is it true, as some say, that charters and vouchers outperform public schools?
  • If a school is educating a child, whether it’s a private school or a charter school, doesn’t it deserve public dollars?
  • Why shouldn’t we be using public dollars to help some children escape from public schools?
  • We have choices in other areas of life. Why not in schools?
  • How should we define our civic responsibility to educate all children?

Our screening of Backpack Full of Cash and the ensuing discussion will address timely concerns not only in today’s national context as our U.S. Secretary of Education promotes school privatization, but also in Ohio, where children’s opportunities and our public school funding are threatened by an unregulated charter sector—including out-of-control online academies, in addition to several statewide school voucher programs.

Check out the official trailer for the film.

Small Local Group Uncovers Widespread Opposition to Confirmation of DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary

On Tuesday, January 3, as everybody crawled out from under holiday cooking, gifting and celebrating, leaders of our local Heights Coalition for Public Education met to consider mounting some kind of local response to the existential threat of a Betsy DeVos-led U.S. Department of Education. President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy Devos alarms us because her only connection with public schools has been a lifelong commitment to using her billionaire philanthropy to privatize education. We’ve all personally sent letters or signed petitions to protest Trump’s nomination of Devos to be our next education secretary, and we looked for a way to expand our advocacy to include our broader community.

We crafted a sign-on letter for organizations and assigned different people to reach out to leaders they knew to see of their organizations would consider signing on. On Wednesday, we learned there was some time pressure: DeVos’s hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (Senate HELP) Committee had now been scheduled for January 11.

Everything sped up. When some organizations lacked a way to meet formally to consider our letter, they polled their members. People responded by telling leaders of their organizations their own stories and their concerns about the danger of losing democratically controlled public schools whose mission it is to serve all children.  One person complained: “Betsy DeVos has refused to pay a $5.3 million fine for campaign violations by her PAC in Ohio. She’s not only an anti-public education ideologue but also a scofflaw and a deadbeat to boot.” Another sent his dismay as a former longtime resident of Michigan: “Thanks for this letter. We spent most of our lives in Michigan and are very well acquainted with the anti-government, anti-public education beliefs and advocacy of Betsy DeVos.  Trump could not have picked a worse person to head public education in his administration.” As they rejected the idea of expanding a school choice marketplace, many declared their commitment to improving access and opportunity in our public schools.

We discovered this week that a mass of people from across our community, across Greater Cleveland, in surrounding counties, and across Ohio were delighted their organization had been given an opportunity to weigh in on this important matter that will affect our public schools, our communities, our state, and our society.

On Monday, with members of the organizations that signed on, we will deliver our letter personally to the Cleveland offices of our U.S. Senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. While neither of our senators serves on the Senate HELP Committee, we are putting them on notice that we expect both of them to pay attention to next week’s Senate HELP Committee hearing on the DeVos nomination. We are asking them both to oppose the DeVos nomination when it comes before the full Senate.

Here is our letter:

Ohio Organizations Oppose Confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

January 9, 2017 — President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As local and state Ohio organizations committed to protecting and improving one of America’s primary civic institutions, our public schools, we oppose confirmation of Ms. Devos.  Based on her record, it is clear that Ms. DeVos is not an advocate of public education and would use her position to undermine this essential democratic institution to the detriment of children, communities, our economy and our democracy.

Every human being is valuable. We are committed to the principle that our public school system, regulated by law and overseen through democratic governance, is the institution most able to serve the needs and protect the rights of all of our nation’s children. Public schools are also the best way to ensure that valuable public resources achieve public purposes.

Traditional public schools serve 90 percent – approximately 50 million – of our nation’s children and adolescents, yet Betsy DeVos has no experience with public education. She has never attended a public school, nor did she educate her own children in public schools. Neither is she a public school teacher. She lacks relevant expertise, never having served in a school or studied pedagogy, or school administration, or school psychology, or the philosophy of education.

Betsy DeVos is explicitly hostile to public education. She has said that public education is “antiquated and frankly embarrassing” — “a dead end.” In a speech last year she declared: “Government really sucks.” (Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, To Trump’s Education Pick, the U.S. Public School System is a ‘Dead End,’ December 21, 2016)

Betsy DeVos is a billionaire whose only experience with public schools is her extensive philanthropy that has underwritten lobbying to privatize public education. Ms. DeVos has used her position to promote the expansion of private school vouchers and to oppose responsible regulation of charter schools. The American Federation for Children––the organization founded by Ms. DeVos and the organization on whose board she served until her nomination as Secretary of Education—helped design Donald Trump’s plan to create a $20 billion federal block grant to states to incentivize them to expand vouchers for children to pay private and parochial school tuition and to expand charter schools. The Great Lakes Education Project, a Michigan lobbying group founded by and supported by Ms. DeVos and her husband, blocked legislation in the Michigan House to responsibly regulate charter schools, a plan that had already been agreed upon as part of the Detroit City Schools bailout. 

Marketplace competition, by definition, creates winners and losers. Turning over education to a privatized education marketplace would abandon our commitment to all children. It would leave behind children likely to score low on the tests by which our society now judges schools, children with special needs, and children whose parents are unable to participate in or are not interested in school choice.

We support public schools that are required by law to serve all children and protect their civil rights, principles that we fear would be lost under the leadership of Betsy DeVos.

  • Central Ohio Friends of Public Education
  • Cleveland Caucus to Reclaim Our Schools
  • Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, Local 795, American Federation of Teachers
  • Cleveland Teachers Union, Local 279, American Federation of Teachers
  • Cuyahoga County Educator Summit
  • Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus
  • Heights Coalition for Public Education
  • Lorain County Parents Supporting Our Children and Teachers
  • Northeast Ohio Branch, American Association of University Women
  • Northeast Ohio Education Association, Board of Directors
  • Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education
  • Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education
  • Ohio BATS
  • Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding
  • Ohio Education Association
  • Ohio Federation of Teachers
  • Orange Teachers Association
  • Public Education Partners Ohio
  • Reaching Heights
  • Refuse of Cuyahoga County
  • Roxboro Middle School PTA
  • Roxboro Orchestra and Band Organization
  • Summit County Progressive Democrats, Board of Directors