Tag Archives: Public Education

U.S. Students Participate in ‘Million Student March’ Over Debt, Free College

Students in universities across the United States participated in the “Million Student March” on Thursday, leaving their classrooms to advocate for changes in the higher public education system.

The march called for free public college tuition, the elimination of all current student debt, and a $15 per hour minimum wage for all workers. The organizers noted that individual marches could also touch on higher pay for adjunct professors.

Reuters reported that over a hundred schools pledged to join the march, and about 50 students were seen at Northeastern University carrying signs that read “Degrees not receipts” and “Is this a school or a corporation?”

Marches were also reported on social media at schools such as Texas State Universitythe University of California, Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Texas.

“Education should be free. The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education,” the organizers stated. “We are united to fight for education as a human right.”

The march occurred days after the president at the University of Missouri resigned following protests from the school’s football team, and after a national “Fight for $15” campaign calling for a nationwide $15 minimum wage held large rallies across the country, “many of which were led or bolstered by student activists.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan debt currently stands at $1.2 trillion under the Obama administration, which is more than double the figure of less than $600 billion under the Bush administration in 2006.

Students at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, carried signs that said things such as “Banks got bailed out, students got sold out,” and chanted “Fight! Fight! Fight! Education is a right!”

The university’s radio station, KTSW 89.9, reported that students marched “until they reached the President’s House, where protesters gathered to voice their opinions and demands,” and that “several students that were against these demands approached the protest,” with one stating that the marchers’ “demands were absurd and wouldn’t resolve anything.”

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As students from Penn, Drexel, and the Community College of Philadelphia gathered to protest at City Hall, WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reported that the protests were sparked by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In June, Sanders said Republicans in Congress would be forced to act on student debt if a million young people marched on Washington.

Missouri Gov. Signs Law Banning ‘Free Speech Zones’ On College Campuses

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE Act) into law on Tuesday, making Missouri the second state to prohibit public universities from limiting student speech to a designated “free speech zone.”

Senate Bill 93, which was created to “protect free expression on the campuses of public institutions of higher education,” designates that all outdoor areas of the campuses of public universities will be recognized as traditional public forums.”

The CAFE Act states that any individual may freely engage in “noncommercial expressive activity” as long as the individual’s conduct is “not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the institution’s functioning.”

The act, which was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ed Emery, also notes that universities “may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in service of a significant institutional interest” at times when such restrictions “employ clear, published, content and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.”

“This act may be enforced in a court of competent jurisdiction by the attorney general or any person whose expressive rights were violated under this act,” Emery wrote. “A person may recover compensatory damages, reasonable court costs, and attorney fees.”

If a court finds an institution in violation of the new law, the CAFE Act states that it must award no less than $500 for the initial violation, and $50 for each day the violation continues.

Joe Cohn, the Legislative and Policy Director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said that while “one in six public colleges in the United States use free speech zones to restrict student speech,” the CAFE Act lets Missouri “statutorily ensure that its public colleges and universities will no longer be among them.”

FIRE noted that the CAFE Act received “overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate,” and was passed by a unanimous 34-0 vote before being passed in the House of Representatives.

Virginia became the first state to ban “free speech zones” on college campuses, when it enacted House Bill 258 in April 2014, which prohibits public universities from “imposing restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that occurs in the outdoor areas of the institution’s campus and is protected by the First Amendment.”

“The fact of the matter remains that universities have a track record at silencing free speech, especially in cases that they disagree with,” said Republican state Rep. Rick Brattin, who handled the bill in the House.

Brattin told the Missouri Times that the CAFE Act became necessary when lawmakers discovered that the West Plains campus of Missouri State University designated a basketball court near the student rec center as its only free speech zone.

“Free speech is not a right or left issue,” Brattin said. “It’s an individual liberty and freedom we all hold dear to our heart. It’s sad that it comes to this point that we have to pass legislation to uphold these First Amendment rights.”

Illinois GOP Rep.: Let Chicago Public Schools Go Bankrupt

By Eric Owens

A member of the Illinois General Assembly has proposed a bill that would allow Chicago’s deeply troubled public school system to solve its massive projected budget deficit of $1.1 billion by declaring bankruptcy.

The House member is Ron Sandack, a Republican from the pleasant Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, according to WLS-TV.

“This knee jerk reaction to always say ‘let’s just raise taxes,” Sandack told the ABC affiliate. “That’s where a bankruptcy can actually be helpful.”

Sandack’s matter-of-fact recommendation comes as Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest taxpayer-funded school system in the nation, faces a grave and immediate financial crisis.

The bulk of the $1.1 billion deficit is a mammoth $634 million pension payment which will come due on June 30.

Chicago Public Schools doesn’t have enough money to make the payment. It also has no reserve fund.

Sandack’s legislation would allow Chicago Public Schools and other cash-strapped school districts across Illinois to seek Chapter Nine bankruptcy protection. Federal bankruptcy judges could then order debt restructuring, which could include partial or full release from pension obligations.

“We can’t tax our way out of this problem,” Sandack told WLS. “We need additional, broader relief.”

“Some restructuring of that obligation I believe can occur at the federal level under a Chapter Nine construct,” the GOP state congressman added.

Chicago’s powerful teachers union opposes Sandack’s bill.

“Financial crisis is no reason to go back on what basically was a promise made to people who taught the last generation of school children,” Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey told the station. (RELATED: Chicago Teachers Union Chief Faults ‘Rich White People’ For City’s Education Mess)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also against the massive national embarrassment that would surely result from the bankruptcy his city’s public school system.

“We should not allow the finances to undermine all the educational progress our principals and teachers are making,” Emanuel told WLS. “Because what you don’t want to do is put the system into a process that could actually distract away from the educational things.” (RELATED: Mayor Rahm Was A SHIRTLESS BADASS Who Took On The Nazis In The Summer Of ’78)

The fate of Sandack’s bill awaits a decision by a House committee.

Meanwhile, early Tuesday evening, a couple thousand Chicago Teachers Union members took to the downtown streets of the Windy City — as they frequently do — shouting, hoisting signs and snarling traffic in an effort to get their way in their latest contract dispute. (RELATED: Chicago Teachers Union Blasts Mass Firings Dictated By Post-Strike Contract)

“You have to remember that what you’re fighting for is not just a fair contract, it is the history of fair contracts,” teachers union president Karen Lewis told protesters outside the hideous, 1970s-spaceship-looking Thompson Center,according to the Chicago Tribune. “And if we have a chance, this is it. This is the time where you have to stand up and tell ’em all ‘No, we’re not going to take that.’” (RELATED: Karen Lewis: Improving Failed Schools Full Of Black Kids Is RACIST)

“There’s a lot of money on LaSalle Street, and Chicago claims to be broke,” union delegate and elementary school teacher Adam Geisler told the newspaper, alluding to the banking and legal offices lining the street.

The rally showcased the Chicago Teachers Union’s new slogan: “CPS: Broke on purpose.”

Chants included: “Education is our right. That is why we fight!”

In May 2012, members of the Chicago Teachers Union authorized a strike which occurred in the fall of that year, forcing the city’s children to miss seven days of school.

The bond rating of the Chicago Public Schools has steadily deteriorated over the last decade. For example, while Standard & Poor’s gave CPS an A+ rating in 2006, that rating is now A-. Moody’s Investor Services gave the district an A2 rating in 2006 but the Moody’s rating is now Ba3.

This Moody’s rating of Ba3 means investing in Chicago’s public schools is “speculative” and “subject to substantial credit risk.”

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NH Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Educational Freedom

Concord, NH- The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the state’s law providing tax credits for businesses that fund scholarships to private schools in a ruling Thursday. The unanimous ruling overturned a lower court’s decision in June that had declared a part of the law- one that allowed the scholarship money to be used at religious schools- was unconstitutional.

The law, passed in 2012 by Republicans who overrode a veto by former Democrat Governor John Lynch, allowed businesses that donated to private nonprofit scholarships to claim a tax credit of up to 85% of their donations. The scholarships were then awarded to qualified children of low-income and middle-class families. The program had a cap of $3.4 million in its first year, and $5.1 million in the second year.

Former state representative D.J. Bettencourt, an author and prime sponsor of the bill, wrote “The School Choice Scholarship Act (House Bill 1607) allows businesses to make tax-deductible donations to K-12 educational scholarship programs. Such programs will offer up to $2,500 scholarships to disadvantaged and special needs students toward the cost of out-of-district public schools, independent schools, and even certain home-schooling expenses.”

Challengers of the law include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NH ACLU, Governor Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter) and public school activist and newly-appointed NH Board Of Education member Bill Duncan. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU argued that because families would be able to use scholarship money at religious schools, the law violated two sections of the New Hampshire Constitution.

The Blaine Amendment in New Hampshire’s Constitution states “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.” (New Hampshire Constitution, Part II, Article 83). Another section statesno person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.” 

However, proponents of the tax credit law countered that that tax credits are not the same as taxpayer dollars; the US Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that tax credits are not public funds and taxpayers cannot challenge how people or corporations donate their money. “We don’t want taxpayer dollars supporting religious activities any more than we want churches to become dependent on government money. That’s why scholarships under HB 1607 are entirely privately funded,” wrote Bettencourt.

The NH Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the law, but rather stated that the petitioners failed to prove that “their personal rights have been impaired or prejudiced.” Governor Hassan expressed her disapproval in a press release: “I continue to believe that the voucher tax credit is unconstitutional and am disappointed that the Supreme Court did not rule on the underlying issue.” Referring to the law as a voucher program, she stated that it is “bad public policy for public education in New Hampshire and our taxpayers, diverting millions of dollars in taxpayer money with no accountability or oversight to religious and private schools at the expense of public schools and property taxpayers across the across the state.” She added that “the legislature should repeal this misguided law.”

Despite Hassan’s urging to repeal the law, the ruling was praised throughout New Hampshire. Network For Educational Opportunity Executive Director Kate Baker said, “We are thrilled that the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled unanimously today that empowering parents to make educational decisions for their children does not violate any provision of our state constitution. We are delighted that for the 2015-2016 school year we will not be forced to discriminate against any applicant families based on their beliefs.”

Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for US Senate, said “Thank you to those legislators and activists who constructed New Hampshire’s tax-credit funded scholarship program that allows statewide school choice for deserving students. Those opposing New Hampshire’s scholarship program were unable to demonstrate to the Supreme Court that they were personally harmed in any way. Now, the benefits of this law can flow to many more students.”

“School choice is not an indictment on public schools nor a battle of public vs. private schooling. It’s about giving disadvantaged and special needs students and their families the opportunity to excel in an education that fits their needs,” wrote Bettencourt.

 

Students Face Dire Consequences For Streaking, Cartoon Drawing

This week, Kristin Tate reported that an autistic student in Greenville, South Carolina was suspended for a picture of a bomb (the suspension was lifted) and last week an Alabama high schooler committed suicide after facing criminal charges for streaking at a football game.  The incidents join a number of similar school disciplinary actions which have received nationwide attention this year.

Schools have become one of America’s primary cultural battlegrounds.  This has occurred not only through Common Core and other educational curricula, but also increasingly through disciplinary actions taken against students.  Stories about kids being suspended for plastic butter knives, hand gestures, and pop tarts shaped somewhat like guns are now far from unique.

Rhett Parham is a thirteen year old middle school student with autism.  Inspired by his favorite video game, Bomberman Hero, he drew a cartoon picture of a bomb – essentially a black circle with a fuse labeled “bomb” – on lined paper.  After he showed it to some older students at the school, they reported him to school officials who suspended him “to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Christian Adamek’s story is much sadder.  The fifteen year old Boy Scout streaked across a football field in a video which later went viral on Vine, a social networking site.  District officials recommended criminal charges be filed against the teen, with those charges including public lewdness and indecent exposure.  If convicted of indecent exposure, Adamek – again, a fifteen year old Boy Scout – would likely have been placed on the sex offender registry, something which would follow him around for the rest of his life.

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Understandably shaken, Adamek hanged himself just five days after the streaking incident.  The principal talked to local TV stations, which had reports about the criminal aspect of the incident on their website.  The press and authorities were clearly trying to make an example of one kid to show the potential consequences of a harmless act which has been a part of high school life for decades.

Rhett Parham could not have made a bomb even if he had wanted to.  He simply drew a picture inspired by a video game and YouTube video.  Adamek streaking was a harmless act.  Neither of these actions would have any practical impact on anyone else, and in neither case did officials’ actions protect anyone.

It’s ironic that at a time when bullying and cyber-bullying among students is so often discussed, teachers and authorities are increasingly engaged in what is essentially bullying.

The lesson of the Christian Adamek story should not be an anti-streaking one for high school kids.  It should be one for all officials – in the education system and beyond – stop using unjustified retribution which is much more severe than the original action.