Teachers were heroes as Florida politicians cower before NRA

Kathleen OropezaGuest Columnist, Orlando Sentinel, 2.16.18                                                                                                                                     

Another mass shooting. Seventeen families inducted into an exclusive club no one ever wants to join. Eighteen school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. Along with the hollow political chorus of “thoughts and prayers” by folks enriched by NRA cash, we are told to “see something, say something.” Well, here goes. I’ve worked as a full-time volunteer public-education activist for 10 years. I’ve advocated, written, researched and lived through my own children the systematic, politically driven effort to dismantle public education in Florida.

I see a glorious public asset, our schools, torn apart brick by brick every year by politicians taking orders from the likes of Jeb Bush and the Koch brothers. I see our public-school funding hollowed out as legislators write bills brokered by vendors in exchange for campaign cash. I see disbelief and sorrow in the impossible fight to overcome a 3:1 GOP to Democrat ratio, where the odds are never in our kids’ favor. I see political leadership maligning teachers as “evil,” making educators their whipping boy, refusing professional pay, stripping classroom autonomy, threatening to dismantle their union, marginalizing teaching certificates.

“I managed to get 19 kids in the closet with me. Society failed these kids today,” Melissa Falkowski, a journalism teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told CNN just hours after the shooting. She and all the other teacher heroes kept terrified teenagers quiet, knowing that each of them was someone’s precious baby.

I see politicians standing in extreme denial of the obvious. They have grossly defunded school counselors, social workers, behavior specialists and psychologists, the very professionals best suited to identify and help troubled kids. It says a lot about priorities when funding pays for only one psychologist for six schools filled with thousands of students. I see recalcitrance on the part of politicians who will not even utter the words “sensible gun control” for fear of losing millions in NRA political-action-committee dollars. Ironically, earning an A+ from the NRA is more important than putting all options on the table to find a way to save lives.

I see folks on social media parroting cable news talking points instead of examining the cold, hard truth. Each of us had better take a long look in the mirror. Why are we willing to accept the world politicians choose for us? The Second Amendment, sensible gun control and mental-health professionals for schools can all stand firmly on common ground. What we lack are courageous lawmakers ready to lay down their political lives to make this a priority.

I’ve seen teacher after teacher step up in the face of gun violence to protect everything we hold dear and sacred in lives — our children. What does it say about us as a nation, as a state, if we as parents, voters and lawmakers will not find the bravery to do the same? It’s way past time to take “see something, say something” one step forward. It’s time to replace those politicians who will not be part of the solution.

This is the very least that we owe to all of the American heroes like Coach Aaron Feis and Melissa Falkowski, whose bravery puts the rest of us to shame.

Printed in the Orlando Sentinel, 2.16.18

Authors note: It is with great sadness and pain that there is yet another occasion to write about a tragic, preventable mass killing of children and their teachers. The first time I wrote about such a horrible event was for Sandy Hook. Back then, it was everyone’s desperate hope that our nation would for once ignore the NRA and act to protect our children by banning assault rifles and large magazines, investing in mental health care and screening and closing all loopholes for both the gun registry and sites of purchase, including private and gun show sales. This is the piece I wrote about Sandy Hook and Teacher Bravery on December 17, 2012 and it was printed in papers across the country. As the brilliant student survivors of MSDHS say: #NeverAgain.

Rosanne Wood on the March for Science: a powerful blueprint for what education should be


Tens of thousands of scientists and supporters in 600 cities across the world participated in a Global March for Science on World Earth Day, Saturday, April 21st to stand up for science and protest the current politically-driven push to deny proven facts.

Here’s an excerpt from the powerful remarks made by Leon County School Board Member Rosanne Wood at the Tallahassee March for Science:

Parents: the first time your toddler discovers that mixing water and dirt together can create a cool mud pie, I want you to celebrate your miniature scientist and nurture that sense of wonder and discovery from then on.

Teachers and Administrators: I want you to realize, that despite all the pressures for good test scores and school grades, we must make time for recess, field trips, science labs, thematic learning and hands-on problem solving.

Everyone: I want you to know that school and fun do not have to be antonyms; they can be synonyms. There is nothing more fun than learning how to read a book or play an instrument or do a science experiment in a lab.

I want you all to remember–Children are naturally curious and love to learn. They will persevere If we can just refrain from draining all the joy and adventure from learning. No adult nor child likes constant grading, testing and tedious homework. School should not be about stress, it should be about challenge—and that’s what science is.

Science makes sense of the world and teaches us to question things that don’t make sense. Science teaches students how to make and defend an argument based on real facts supported by evidence.

Our education system needs a make-over. Students literally have all the facts and figures that they need at their fingertips. Science education needs to start on day one of pre-kindergarten with that first mud pie or bumble bee that lands on the flower. The Scientific method which values trial and error and learning from mistakes should be at the core of our instructional methods.

Legislators and policy makers: We need to have a serious talk about what does and does not work when it comes to nurturing our future scientists and mathematicians, as well as our artists and poets. We need you to use the scientific method and gather information on how to save our public schools-It’s not rocket Science! Start by asking a teacher.

Next attract young people and working scientists to become teachers by providing autonomy and a good salary. Teaching is the most noble profession; we need to treat it as such. And if any of you out there want to become a teacher-we need you, now more than ever.

I can tell you with certainty that the path we are on now, which rewards correct answers on tests over in-depth learning is not the way forward. If we are counting on the next generation to save our planet- we need to make sure they can solve complex problems, not just answer multiple choice questions.

Science is the opposite of being rewarded for the right answers; science is about asking the right questions.

Rosanne Wood represents District 2 on the Leon County School Board. She has built an impressive career in public education, including her groundbreaking role as principal of SAIL (School for Arts and Innovative Learning) High School in Tallahassee.

Photos from around the world:


Tallahassee March for Science


Washington D.C. March for Science


New York March for Science


Portland, OR March for Science


Sydney, Australia March for Science


Berlin, Germany March for Science

Despite “photo op” Trump budget slashes $85M from Historically Black Colleges & Universities


By now everyone knows that President Trump and ED Secretary DeVos staged a grossly insincere photo-op with the leaders of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). That’s where DeVos displayed her unforgivable ignorance to the suffering of African Americans at the bigoted hands of the Jim Crow South by making a glib self-serving comparison of HBCUs as “pioneers” of school “choice.”

HBCU leaders attended the meeting with the reasonable expectation that President Trump planned to budget some much needed Federal dollars for these chronically underfunded institutions. Instead, DeVos proceeded to speak these unsettling obtuse words, rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.”  

It didn’t take long to find out what that meant.

President Trump’s budget slashes $85 million dollars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and cuts $4 billion dollars from Pell Grants, which serve financially-needy students. Seventy percent of students attending HBCUs receive Pell Grants. 

The Washington Post reports:

“Less than three weeks ago, this administration claimed it is a priority to advocate for HBCUs but, after viewing this budget proposal, those calls ring hollow,” Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), a graduate of the largest HBCU, North Carolina A&T State University, said in a statement.

At the time, United Negro College Fund President Michael L. Lomax, who attended the ceremonial signing, lamented the lack of financial support in the order, noting that none of the funding recommendations were included… “President Trump pledged to do more for HBCUs than any other president has done before. However, this budget is not reflective of that sentiment. Without strong federal investments, President Trump’s commitment to HBCUs and the rebuilding of African American communities will be promises unfulfilled,” Lomax said.

Historically black schools educated nearly 300,000 students in 2014, the latest figure available from the National Center for Education Statistics. Education Department data shows that three-quarters of all doctorates awarded to African Americans and 80 percent of black federal judges earned an undergraduate degree at historically black schools.

Though the federal government sets aside money in the budget for historically black colleges, those schools have not benefited from the same level of public funding as other institutions of higher education. The disparity in funding public HBCUs, in particular, has resulted in a series of lawsuits, including a decade-old case in Maryland that is still being fought in the courts.

Considering Trump’s intended $85 million HBCU budget cut, could it be that DeVos’s shameful “choice” comment was deliberate instead of ignorant?

Inside Higher ED reports, DeVos said, “black colleges were created when “there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”  The institutions were founded because black students had, in many respects, no choice. They could not enroll at predominantly white institutions in the South, even public institutions in their own states.

Further, as states created public historically black colleges, they did so to meet “separate but equal” requirements, and never took the equal part of that statement seriously. Public black colleges were created with a fraction of the budgets, programs and facilities of their predominantly white counterparts. While many students did thrive at these institutions, educators there constantly decried the lack of resources (and many maintain that continues to this day).

Raw deal for regular folks: Health & Education “Savings Accounts”


The two most important things we will ever pay for in this world are K-12 education and health care. That said, Americans are being fear-mongered by politicians over everything from losing healthcare to the constant lie that public schools are failing.

Central to this threat is the concept of a “savings account.” Like everything else in the “reform” lexicon the political intent is wholly different from what it seems. Most people don’t equate “saving money” to vouchers, privatization and forcing citizens to incur extraordinary debt for what seems like a basic human right.

This is “Gaslighting” in its purest form. Corporations, politicians and billionaire ideologues are manipulating the 99% with psychological spin to make us question everything we know to be true.

We’ve spent decades happily sharing the cost of insurance with employers with a reasonable expectation that the cost of accidents and illnesses would be covered without penalty. That confidence has been eroded by five to ten thousand dollar annual deductibles that leave folks paying out of pocket for everything but the most catastrophic health crisis. This high stakes “access” to coverage has left millions of Americans completely priced out of affordable health care. There’s a will, but no way.

Similarly, taxpayers across the nation invest at least $800 billion dollars per year to fund free public education at the state level. School “reformers” such as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, use aggressive rhetoric in an attempt to wear down the affection people have for their teachers and public schools. The goal is to convince parents to use vouchers to “Choice” into private, mostly religious schools. What is not made clear is that the voucher, which is paid for with public tax dollars, will always be worth a fixed amount. Private schools are free to set tuition as high as possible, leaving parents struggling, even going into debt to pay the difference.

Instead of serving the greater good of society, both Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Education Savings Accounts (ESA) shift the cost of services such as Medicare, Medicaid & free high-quality public education onto the backs of individual citizens. And who benefits? The 1% who can afford to pay millions out of pocket for their healthcare, private schools and college.

Here’s what “Choice”/Education Savings Accounts mean: 

  • Accepting a “Choice” voucher means giving up your child’s right to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE)
  • Your voucher will not pay for a full year of private/religious school tuition
  • You must use your child’s “Choice” voucher/ESA to pay for private schools and/or vendors
  • You will pay the cost difference between the value of the voucher and private/religious school tuition which could be thousands of dollars
  • Your state will assign a fixed dollar value to your voucher and is not obligated to provide a mechanism for increasing dollar amounts or accommodating a short-fall
  • Free market principles as applied to “Choice”/ESAs means vouchers will be funded at the cheapest rate possible, then it’s up to consumers/parents and providers/private schools to battle over actual costs. As in health care, consumers/parents will be on the hook for extraordinary costs.
  • If you spend your entire voucher during the first half of the school year, it’s “Oh, well. You made your “Choice.”
  • Private/religious schools are free to discriminate against you or your child
  • Private/religious schools are not required to hire credentialed staff or adhere to any particular curriculum
  • Private/religious schools may ask your child to leave at any time for no reason
  • Private/religious schools are under no obligation to ensure that your child graduates ready to attend college or study a trade

Health Savings Accounts are central to the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. As in the ESA/”Choice”vouchers, the political intent is to pass nearly every expense onto taxpayers. Instead of “choice,” today’s Healthcare HSA scheme revolves around the notion of “access” to care.

Here’s what “Accessible”care/ Health Savings Accounts mean for regular folks: 

  • An HSA is a tax-free way for you to save up money to pay for your own medical bills
  • The “success” of the HSA scheme depends solely on your ability to deposit large sums per family member into the account every year. Those in the top 5% wealth category will see this as a way to shelter funds tax free while folks living paycheck to paycheck will find the task of funding their HSA insurmountable
  • Under the HSA scheme there is “access” to healthcare for anyone who has the ability pay for premiums and generously fund their account. Those who cannot afford to buy “access” are in the harshest “free market” sense, “out of luck,” and “should have worked harder/planned better” like the wealthiest 5%.
  • Current Medicare and Medicaid benefits will cease to exist
  • Out of pocket expenses will include chemotherapy, surgeries, hospitalization, doctor visits, urgent care, ER visits, and prescription drugs
  • Buying insurance does not inoculate you from having to put money into your HSA to pay for an enormous deductible, prescriptions and other expensive health services not covered by the policy
  • HSAs mean you must put any extra funds into your account making it impossible to save for other important things like college tuition or retirement

For regular people, these HSA and ESA savings accounts are a path to disaster. We are quickly receding into the brutal past where wealth alone determined access to high quality healthcare and education.

Expecting regular folks who support families on less than $15/hour to be able to “save” enough to fund their own Health Care Savings Account or pay for a $10,000 difference between their Education Savings Account/”voucher” and the actual cost of a private school is intentional cruelty on the part of our political leaders. In education it will mean accelerated re-segregation along poverty lines and in health care it will visit unfair suffering on anyone from the poor to middle class who cannot afford to pay.

Consider the challenges faced by the citizens of Florida, a state with nationally relevant demographics, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times: 

Low-wage jobs dominate Florida’s economy with 67 percent of all jobs in the state paying less than $20 per hour. Three-quarters of these jobs pay less than $15 per hour.

More than 4 of every 10 households in Florida — 3.3 million of the state’s 7.5 million households — are struggling to make ends meet. That 44 percent includes not only the 14.5 percent of households that earn less than the federal poverty level but another 29.5 percent of Florida households that are part of the working poor. These are folks ranging from fast food workers, the bulk of tourism industry employees, home health care workers and even certain teachers who find their modest paychecks still make it tough to meet basic needs.

There is an undeniable parallel between Education Savings Accounts/”Choice” vouchers and “Accessible” Care/ Health Savings Accounts.  In both cases citizens invest for years funding public education with their property taxes and pay high insurance rates with extraordinary deductibles during their youth to ensure quality healthcare later in life.

In both healthcare and education, politicians – not citizens – are orchestrating the transfer of hundreds of billions in public funds to private for-profit entities.  And in both cases, regular working families, the backbone of this nation, will be asked to do the impossible by privileged politicians who truly couldn’t care less.


DeVos buys influence, Rubio drinks at the trough & it’s not just a FL problem


Betsy DeVos, with an estimated net worth of $5.1 billion, has invested at least $200 million buying influence from mostly Republicans and some Democrats. In Florida, Marco Rubio received $98,000 from DeVos and that’s not all. DeVos has covered her bases across the states. In fact seven of the Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee received generous donations from DeVos and went on to approve her nomination setting her up for a full vote on the Senate floor, Tuesday, February 7th .

Like many ambitious politicians, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s need for cash creates conflict over being true to voters or appeasing donors able to secure political futures. Sadly, money wins almost every time.

Job one for every politician is raising cash either for themselves or for the dark money PACs they run. Even first term politicians know their votes are payback for campaign cash.  Constituents be damned. That’s why in the face of an estimated three million calls and letters in opposition, folks like Marco Rubio will close his email box, shut down his voice mail and vote yes for U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos.

When it comes to pay to play politics, the single, most powerful force standing between voters and money is we, the people. Know this for 2018. The stakes are exponentially high.

For now, contact Sen. Marco Rubio and all the others who took money from Betsy DeVos. Let them know, it’s time to pay the real piper – the voters.

Sen. Marco Rubio:


Here’s a list of Senators under the influence of Betsy DeVos:


SEVEN H.E.L.P Members who took cash from Betsy DeVos plus Twitter Handles & Emails. Call them out! 

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R, TN – DeVos Cash $2,500: @SenAlexander www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Email

Sen. Richard Burr, R, NC – DeVos Cash $43,200: @SenatorBurr  www.burr.senate.gov/contact/email

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R, LA – DeVos Cash $70,200: @BillCassidy www.cassidy.senate.gov/contact

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R, UT – DeVos Cash $2,000: @SenOrrinHatch www.hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact?p=Email-Orrin

VOTING NO ON DEVOS: Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R, AK – DeVos Cash $40,500: @LisaMurkowski www.murkowski.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

Sen. Todd Young, R, IN – DeVos Cash $48,600: @SenToddYoung

Sen. Tim Scott, R, SC – DeVos Cash $49,200: @SenatorTimScott  www.scott.senate.gov/contact/email-me


Breakdown of Florida politicians under the influence of Betsy DeVos:

Name    Amount    Year     Party

Al Lawson for  Congress    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Al Jacquet    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Betty Reed    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Bob Healy    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Darrell Rouson    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Dianne Williams-Cox    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Gary Siplin    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Jim Waldman    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Mary Estime-lrvin    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Virginia Saviett o    $500.00    2016    D

Committee to Elect Anitiere Flores    $1,000.00    2016    R

Committee to Elect Anitiere Flores    $1,000.00    2016    R

Marco Rubio for US Senate    $5,400.00    2016    R

Mica for Congress    $2,700.00    2016    R

Republican Party of Florida    $10,000.00    2016    R

Soto for Congress    $2,700.00    2016    D

Buddy Dyer for Mayor    $1,000.00    2015    D

Carlos Curbelo Congress    $1,000.00    2014    R

Committee to Elect Daphne Campbell    $1,000.00   2014   D

Committee to Elect Diane Williams-Cox    $1,000.00    2014    D

Committee to Elect Gary Siplin    $1,000.00    2014    D

Committee to Elect Jeff Brandes    $1,000.00    2014    R

Committee to Elect Manny Diaz    $1,000.00    2014    R

Frank Brunner for School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Johnny Gaffney for Florida House    $1,000.00    2014    D

Lizbeth Benequisto for  Congress    $2,600.00    2014    R

Melody Johnson for  School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Rick Scott for Governor    $5,000.00    2014    R

Shawn Frost for School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Committee to Elect Michael Joseph    $1,000.00    2014    D

Jeff Atwater for CFO    $3,000.00    2013    R

Pam Bondi for Attorney General    $500.00    2013    R

Teresa Jacobs for Mayor    $250.00    2013    R

Al Lawson for  Congress    $1,000.00    2012    D


Allen West for  Congress    1, 000    2012    R

Bobby Powell for State House    $500.00    2012    D

Friends of Connie Mack    $1,000.00    2012    R

John Patrick Julien for State House    $500.00    2012    D

Mack Bernard for State Senate    $500.00    2012    D

Victoria Siplin for State Senate    $500.00    2012    D







FL Speaker’s rant against voucher lawsuit linked to national”Reform” endgame: Get parents to opt out of Public Ed, take a low-$ tax-funded debit card & pay the difference


By now, many know that Florida Speaker Richard Corcoran bitterly lectured newly installed house members regarding his contempt for the teachers union, calling it “downright evil.” Corcoran spent inordinate time focused on a lawsuit filed by the Florida Educators Association challenging the state’s private school voucher program. It was a miserable spectacle watching Corcoran call public school teachers “crazy,” “disgusting” and “repugnant,” just because he dislikes a two year old suit.

Why is Speaker Corcoran so angry about this lawsuit?

For starters, if the court rules in FEA’s favor, striking down Florida’s voucher program, it will be very difficult for reformers in this state to convert the current corporate tax credit scheme to the much broader next generation Choice 2.0 Education Savings Accounts (ESA). The problem is that BOTH programs rely on diverting potential tax revenues to a third party, allowing reformers to claim that the money never “technically” belonged to the state.

Currently, Florida’s voucher program allows corporations to divert their taxes to Step Up for Students, the state’s largest designated Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO). The resulting vouchers are then used primarily for private religious schools that do not have to meet any of the standards imposed by the state on public schools. Since its inception in 2001, lawmakers have expanded Florida’s voucher program so that $2.7 billion dollars once destined for state general revenue that should have funded a wide range of needs has been diverted to private schools. Keep in mind that Step Up for Students has been paid at least 3% of the gross or $81 million dollars over the years as a “fee.”

Education “reform” is all about chaos and disruption. Because it’s hard to tear down a cornerstone asset like public education, reformers rely on issuing a series of unfounded “studies” in the hopes that the press and politicians will quote their theoretical “findings” as fact. That strategy, called “moving the Overton window,” manipulates public perception with the goal of normalizing radical policy ideas like annually transferring $800 billion public tax dollars into privatizing public schools.

One such study by Matthew Ladner, is entitled The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family. Ladner works for Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, writes the K-12 Education Report Card for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is a fellow at the Friedman Foundation for School Choice/Ed Choice and the Goldwater Institute. Don’t dismiss this study because it was written in 2012. Its contents are a road map that should not be ignored. Of course, ALEC conveniently provides legislators with an off-the-shelf model bill called the Education Savings Account Act.

Ladner writes that, “Education Savings Accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.” He lays out all the usual reasons for why, in his opinion, public schools are failing. He claims that public education is a 20th century “factory” model. In reality, what could be more factory-like than “reform” standards such as high stakes testing, teaching to the test,virtual learning and student data obsession?

Of course, Ladner blames teachers unions and school boards while ignoring the trauma of poverty and hostile legislation. On one hand he extols parental “choice,” on the other hand he decries the locally elected voice of school boards as “monopolies.”

Camel’s nose under the tent

Florida already has several forms of vouchers. There’s the aforementioned Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, Voluntary Pre-K, McKay Scholarship for Exceptional Education Students (ESE) students and a targeted ESA program called the Gardiner Personal Learning Account that expanded the pool of eligible ESE students to include 504 classifications and requires recipients to relinquish their right to public education.

School reformers have been busy. Since 2014, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have adopted ESA programs.  The easiest first step is to write legislation that covers ESE students. That’s the so-called “nose under the tent.”  Once that happens the door is open for states to pursue Education Savings Accounts for every child while launching a wholesale conversion of existing voucher programs.

Zero proof exists that ESAs are better than public schools

There is an assumption that handing tax funded Education Savings Accounts over to parents will transform them into discerning consumers and thereby “providers will have powerful incentives to compete on the basis of both quality and cost.” That’s the thinking that destroyed thousands of healthy mom and pop businesses across the nation and left us with Walmart. Put another way, should we allow our children to be used as guinea pigs to prove whether consumers control the market or the market controls consumers?

One thing is clear, voters, teachers, parents and children have been gamed by high stakes test and punish reforms. The past 15 years of notions such as “failure factories,” “ineffective teachers,” “status quo,” “merit pay,” “Common Core,” “mandatory third grade retention” and “choice” are the semantics of a scheme. All the high stakes discomfort, micromanagement, cruelty and humiliation vectored toward teachers and children were never about improving or investing in public education. If it were, why would Matthew Ladner write this?

“The job of a private school, private tutor, or community college accepting funds from an ESA is decidedly not to teach the state K-12 academic standards. Rather, people should understand ESAs as an opt-out of the public school system, not as an extension of it into other delivery methods. The hope of an ESA system would be to allow a broad diversity of approaches. We should view dictating a single set of curriculum as a self-defeating anathema to such a project.

The public does have an interest in the academic progress of students in such a system nonetheless. Requiring students to take a national normed exam would serve the needs of transparency in a fashion that does not dictate curriculum to providers or students.” The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family

Where’s the truth? In Florida and other “reform” states, Jeb Bush, legislators, lobbyists, education commissioners have all supported state tests, vehemently rejecting any substitution or use of a nationally norm-referenced test, citing the incongruity with state standards. What about Pearson, AIR and all those vendors with their expensive data-manipulated criterion referenced tests, prep and remediation that cost taxpayers billions?

Public Tax Dollars + For-profit Corporations = Privatized Education

School reformers dislike the fact that the U.S. Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state and that most states have a “no-aid’ or Blaine amendment prohibiting states from using tax dollars to fund religious schools.  An analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out that:

A lengthy discussion that follows of so-called Blaine amendments (the generic term for measures enacted in various state constitutions forbidding direct government aid to educational institutions with any religious affiliations) contends that since the ESA money goes to parents, state constitutional prohibitions against funding religious institutions are avoided.

This is the same type of work-around Florida uses to divert dollars to Step Up for Students Corporate Tax Credit vouchers.

Ladner himself writes, “Relative to a voucher program, a system of parent-managed accounts may have constitutional advantages over school vouchers. The broader possible use of funds may help to immunize choice programs from court challenges under “Blaine Amendments” in some state constitutions.”

Privatizing public education is corporate welfare on steroids. These “reformers” don’t really care about kids, quality or accountability. They believe the $800 billion dollars states spend annually on public schools is their “entitlement.”

 Education Savings Accounts buy more than education

 ESAs require a shift to private schools and a rejection of public education. Here’s what they do:

  • Parents must withdraw/”opt out” from traditional public school
  • Deposits 90% of district per student funding in ESA account (ex: in Nevada that’s $5,100)
  • Districts lose these funding dollars
  • Acceptance to private schools, which are free to discriminate, is not guaranteed
  • Parents determine if teaching certificates, curricula, standards or accreditation is necessary
  • 3% of all ESA funds are paid to private Scholarship Funding Organization for management “fees”
  • Allows private schools to charge more than the ESA for tuition and other services
  • Allows parents to use ESA money and their own wealth fund expensive private school tuition
  • Allows private oversight firms to apply penalties/seek criminal charges against parents/vendors
  • Allows private schools to expel students at any time for any reason
  • Can pay for textbooks required by private school
  • Can pay for tutoring or other services
  • Can pay for on-line virtual K-12 schooling
  • Can pay for national norm-referenced test fees
  • Can pay for special ESE instruction and/or services
  • Can pay for college or university tuition if student is dual enrolled
  • Can pay for textbooks for a state college or university
  • Can pay for transportation to school
  • Can pay for purchase of curriculum or any supplemental materials
  • Leftover funds can be applied to a 529 college tuition program

Perhaps the most striking problem on the list above is the amazing opportunity ESAs have for inequity. Obviously private schools reserve the right to raise their tuition, discriminate and teach whatever they want as long as consumers buy. Reformer’s can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to be concerned about zip codes keeping  poor students “stuck” in schools while pushing publicly funded ESAs designed to allow Johnny’s parents to pay and extra $20,000 per year for an exclusive prep school when Ricky’s parents cannot.

As an analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out:

”Research evidence from the United States and abroad suggests that parental choice policies, such as ESAs, result in increased social, economic, and racial stratification. This poses a fundamental equity issue for the provision of universal education in a democratic society.”

ESAs – national strategy

Predictably, ESAs were front and center at Jeb’s recent Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit where there was talk of schooling in a “post facility” world and “education savings accounts (ESAs), voucher-like subsidies that can fund not just private school tuition, but also things like tutoring and home schooling.”

Writer Rachel Cohen, who attended the summit observed: “In theory, additional money to pay for educational expenses sounds like a great way to level the playing field between well-off and low-income students. Children from wealthy families take advantage of all sorts of costly educational opportunities outside of school, such as summer enrichment programs, sports teams, and private tutoring. But at least as they’re currently conceived, education savings accounts are more about redirecting existing per-pupil funds away from public schools, not so much about supplementing public school students with additional money.” 

Speaker Corcoran’s anger over the voucher lawsuit betrays his motives. Years of legislators passing “reforms” that hurt children and harm their teachers speaks volumes. Without the ability to divert funds, it will be very hard to enact Milton Friedman’s sixty-year-old free-market voucher/ESA vision that devotees like proposed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jeb’s Foundations and the James Madison Institute want so badly.

Of course DeVos, an ardent voucher/ESA fan, has invested heavily in her effort to undermine public schools. The Washington Post reports, And in 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow school vouchers — the only choice tool not currently in play in Michigan.”

Make no mistake, the political school “reform” agenda intends to destroy public schools. They’ve talked about it, they’ve written about it, they’re passing a suite of laws to do it.

Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Now would be the worst possible time for public education advocates to back down from this fight. These are our children and they desperately need us to be their voice.

Watch Speaker Corcoran’s entire address here and comments to press here.

I voted. – Best way to honor brave souls who fought so hard for us


Susan B. Anthony said, “No woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.” That nonpartisan statement spoke volumes to the thousands of brave souls who fought fiercely, risking life and limb, to secure the vote for all of us. Anthony was arrested on Nov. 5, 1872, for voting. It wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified; making women’s voting rights the law of the land. Now this presidential campaign has laid bare a deep vein of misogyny that would have rocked our suffragette heroes to the core. Much work remains. – Kathleen Oropeza, Orlando Sentinel 100, October 16, 2016

It took 48 years from the time Susan B. Anthony was arrested for casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She was not alone; women’s suffrage officially began in 1840, when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from London’s World Anti-Slavery Convention, prompting them to hold a Women’s Convention in the United States. All told, the struggle for women’s suffrage took 80 years.

We must never forget that the vote was not guaranteed to women or people of color by the original U.S. Constitution. African Americans endured a terror-filled unjust  civil and voting rights struggle that spanned 95 years from the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to 1965 when Congress finally enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enforce rights for all African Americans.

Voting is the best way to thank all of those heroes who fought so hard for us. It’s how we breathe new life into such difficult victories. 

Erin Blakemore wrote.  Why Women bring their “I voted” stickers to Susan B. Anthony’s gravefor the Smithsonian:

When Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at age 86, her funeral overflowed with mourners. Despite the fact that there was a blizzard raging in Rochester, New York, thousands packed into the church service and over 10,000 others showed up to pass by her flag-draped coffin and pay their respects. Yesterday, over a century later, admirers of the suffrage icon came to her grave with a different kind of tribute—dozens of “I Voted” stickers.

Rochester women have been coming to Anthony’s grave with flowers and stickers since at least 2014. One of them, Sarah Jane McPike, told The Huffington Post’s Caurie Putnam that the first year she voted, she brought flowers to Anthony’s grave. She isn’t the only one—as of 6:15 yesterday, the grave in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery was covered with two bouquets and at least 28 stickers. In a Facebook post about the tribute that is now becoming a tradition, Brianne Wojtesta wrote that the cemetery “has taken an official stance that they love this. It’s seen as a way of interacting with and honoring the legacy of one of their ‘permanent residents.’”

And what a legacy: Anthony fought for equality for women for over 60 years and laid the foundation for the legal right to vote that American women enjoy today. Not only did she encourage women to agitate for the vote, but she herself illegally voted and served time for her defiance.

Anthony’s espousal of temperance and abolitionism was controversial enough—but it was her die-hard insistence on women’s right to the vote that won her mockery and outright abuse during her lifetime. When she presented a petition that would have allowed women to own their own property and have custody of their children to the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee in 1856, she was openly ridiculed with a response that recommended the petitioners “apply for a law authorizing them to change dresses, so that the husband may wear petticoats, and the wife breeches, and thus indicate to their neighbors and the public the true relation in which they stand to each other.” Effigies of Anthony were given sneering mock funerals when she came to town. And she was often caricatured in the press as what one biographer called “an unattractive reject.”

But to Anthony, the right to vote was worth it all. “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union,” she said in an 1873 speech. “And we formed it, not to give the blessings or liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.”

Anthony did help women in the United States win the vote—but it was granted to them 14 years after her death. For Anthony, who had devoted her entire life to the cause, this was a bitter pill to swallow. “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel,” she said to a friend while on her deathbed.

For the women she helped enfranchise, a little sticker holds a lot of symbolism. Perhaps the tribute is a 21st-century version of the outpouring of love and emotion at Anthony’s funeral—an acknowledgment that, in the words of Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, who delivered Anthony’s eulogy, “there is no death for such as she.”


The propaganda behind Jeb’s Harvard “teaching” job


After years of devising and pushing legislation to disrespect and harm professional educators, Jeb Bush is going to “teach” at Harvard. The irony cannot be overstated. To be clear, Jeb is no teacher and this is no job.

Jeb will act as a visiting fellow in the Program on Education Policy and Governance – an organization where he served as chairman of the Advisory Board for several years beginning in 2011. Other members of the advisory board have included John KirtleyPhil HandyGerard RobinsonJoel Klein and Corey Booker. PEPG funders include the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the The Walton Family Foundation. The Milton Friedman Foundation was among the earliest funders, dating back to 1997, the program’s inaugural year.

PEPG delivers many of the “studies” Jeb, ALEC and others use to justify privatizing public schools. One such study, The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over time: Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida was written by Martin West, Deputy Director of PEPG but released to the media deceptively by The Brookings Institute.  The study conveniently concluded “evidence that early retention leads to adverse academic outcomes is misleading due to unobserved differences between retained and promoted students.” 

Studies like this allowed Jeb and his friends to aggressively convince 18 states to implement mandatory third grade retention, despite overwhelming evidence that retention is a proven drop-out predictor.

So, PEPG has asked Jeb to deliver its 2016 Godkin Lecture as a “visiting” academic. This is just another effort by public education “reformers” to use the Harvard Kennedy School as a beard to promote a political agenda.

It’s essential to fully understand what Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance does. Far from an objective research center, PEPG is an ardent proponent of the Milton Friedman vision of privatization of public schools using vouchers, for-profit charters, and a vast array of vendors.

Predictable, recurring themes such as mandatory third grade retention, teacher evaluations, U.S  students being unable to compete internationally, investing less on public education while expecting increased returns, class-size doesn’t matter and the ever-expanding push to digital learning are front and center.

Of course, once a “study” is released, PEPG boasts about all the media coverage.  The only thing this proves is that, like many other institutions, the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance churns out thinly supported but well-timed reports to support a political objective. Often this “proof” is released to the media just prior to legislative session or a critical floor vote in the House or Senate.

So, PEPG is part of an enormous propaganda machine that Jeb and his school “reform” pals have been using for years.  Using studies to manipulate and even harm the futures millions of children for political expediency is worse than bad. Calling yourself a “teacher” after working continuously to discredit and devalue the profession is a level of disrespect that knows no bounds.

This overview of several recent PEPG annual reports tells the story:

2015 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children – PEPG refutes the effects of poverty on student learning
  • The Public Turns Against Teacher Tenure – Celebrates Vergara ruling ending teacher tenure in California, which was overturned on appeal. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-court-rejects-bid-to-end-teacher-tenure-in-california-marking-huge-win-for-unions-20160414-story.html
  • The Education Spending Fog – PEPG dismisses the importance of investment in public schools
  • The First Hard Evidence on Virtual Education – PEPG builds the case that computers are just as good as human teachers. “The bottom line is that Florida high-school students taking algebra or English I online perform at least as well on state math and reading tests as do students taking the same courses in a traditional format.” 
  • Public Schools and the Private School Voucher Threat – PEPG purports that school vouchers are good for public schools

2014 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School – PEPG uses NAEP and PISA to support argument that better accountability, more school choice, and market-based teacher compensation and retention policies can, on the other hand, boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.”
  • Louisiana Voucher Program May Improve Racial Integration – PEPG position flies in the face of extensive evidence.
  • Teachers vs. The Public – Among the “findings”: public support for school vouchers for all students increases sharply when people are informed of the national ranking of student performance in their local school district. Support for charter schools and parent trigger laws also increases when the public learns the truth about local student performance. 

2013 PEPG Annual Report:

  • New Digital Learning Policy Conference Hosted by PEPG – the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, created in 2010 by the Digital Learning Council, co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, providing the starting point for the conversation: Funding follows the student, Choice among multiple providers: Reducing costs without lowering quality, Fund achievement, not attendance and Federal, state and local roles in education
  • School Vouchers Help African Americans Go to College: Experimental Evidence from New York City – PEPG based its claims on prediction not longitudinal study: The study shows that an African American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than an African American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery
  • Reforming the Early Years of Schooling: Third graders benefit from retention – PEPG executive director Martin R. West claims that: Florida’s policy of retaining third graders based on state standardized test scores has a positive long-term impact on those students.

2011 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Florida’s class-size reduction mandate did not improve student achievement
  • Conference on Merit Pay: Will it work? Is it politically viable? Among PEPG findings: Neither academic credentials nor years of experience, after the initial few, are correlated with a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.
  • EdNext-PEPG Survey shows that, on many education reform issues, Democrats and Republicans hardly disagree – “proof” that the public completely favors all education reforms and believe there should be no exceptions for teachers regarding tenure.
  • Shaping Court Decisions: PEPG’s research is cited in multiple court cases.
  • Shaping Opinions: Informing Citizens Through Op-eds and Commentaries

Inspect all PEPG annual reports here.

List of PEPG studies used to influence perceptions regarding education “reform.”





Vote today. NO excuses.


Vote today. Our children are depending on you to cast your vote for them.

Florida is on the brink. Everything from high stakes testing and the privatization of our public schools to destroying our water resources, denying healthcare to  our most fragile citizens to ignoring the profound impact of poverty is on the table.

We have to stop electing folks who put profit first and people last.

Be smart. Make a plan to vote today rain or shine.

The polls are open until 7 p.m. tonight! 

Find your precinct at your local supervisor of elections.

‘Reformers’ stoop low: They label them ‘government schools’ to knock students, teachers


by: Kathleen Oropeza | Guest Columnist | Orlando Sentinel  

Words have power. The advertising industry is built on finding out which words sell. Most of us accept that the principle of caveat emptor places the burden on buyers to beware. But what about the darker, politically-driven purpose of using words in calculating ways to damage or alter perceptions? Take public education, for example. There is a significant national effort underway by “reformers” urging people to re-style the delivery system of the American Dream as “government schools.”

The New York Times reports that Kansas politicians now use “government schools” to deliberately ridicule their statewide system of publicly funded education.  Jeb Bush famously refers to public education, school boards and districts as “13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions.”  That’s strange coming from a guy who burned through $80 million in PAC dollars in his quest to be elected head of our “government.”

Sadly, this is about money and power, not what’s best for our children. It’s a move to set traditional district public schools apart from so-called “public for-profit charter schools.”  States spend $800 billion on public education annually, $19 billion in Florida.  Ever since the unsecured loan/credit default fiasco of 2008, privatizers have been drooling over that evergreen pile of tax payer cash spent on public schools.  They don’t see this money as a shared community investment in our children.  It’s just a glorious pot of gold ripe for private profit, not a public asset that belongs to us.

Every hedge fund has a charter school “investment” opportunity sector.  Wealthy foreigners can buy citizenship for themselves and their families in exchange for investing in charter school development.  The problem is that this money transfer isn’t happening fast enough, meaning the public school systems aren’t dissolving as planned.

It’s not for lack of trying. Politicians, whipped by lobbyists have done their best to ratchet up the misery. In Florida they’ve defunded public schools by $4 billion dollars, used high stakes tests to harm teachers and hurt kids, diverted billions to fund vouchers for private religious schools and aggressively given public school tax dollars to for-profit charter schools that often fail.  Predictably, vendors, former bureaucrats, politicians and lobbyists have grown rich from the enterprise.

Parents baffle reformers by remaining loyal to their district public schools and teachers, choosing instead to advocate for an end to unproven, expensive test and punish policies.  Still, politicians persist in claiming public schools are failures and kids are “stuck.” Thanks to gridlock and partisanship, the term “government” resonates negatively with people.  Ironically, the very legislators who receive tax paid salaries and benefits stridently paint neighborhood public schools as shoddy “government” training centers from which children must be rescued.

This isn’t the first time words have been weaponized to achieve a political goal. In fact, education “reform” is filled with buzzwords like choice, status quo and accountability which are designed, based on individual perceptions, to mean different things to different people.

Take the word choice. “Reformers” say that parents must have “choice” in educating their children. Who would argue with that?  What’s not mentioned is that “choice” means a shift to a factory-like widget in/widget out view of students as workers. They don’t disclose that the same finite pot of money is funding extra “choice” seats for students, seriously diluting public school resources. They don’t tell parents who choose religious school vouchers that their school might not be accredited and is not accountable for their curriculum.  So getting to make a “choice” and being informed are two different things. It’s a gotcha for parents who don’t know to ask the right questions. It’s the sort of mean trick that gets played by hucksters of every stripe and it always ends with, “Sorry, you made your choice!”

There’s no do-over for our kids. The reality is that many of the so-called “reforms” from mandatory retention, excessive standardized tests, school grades, unfair teacher evaluation methods, data obsession and narrowing the path to high school graduation are failed policies that deserve to be reversed as soon as possible.

History is flush with bullies, dictators and worse who screamed into power using words to denigrate anyone who stood in their way. The dishonest label of “government schools” feeds an education “reform” narrative of doom and failure. Our free public schools, which the majority of our nation’s children attend, rank among greatest social institutions ever built. The intentional negative re-branding of public education for political expedience does nothing but advance a profit motive. In a word, that’s unforgivable.

Read article here. Reblogged from Fund Education Now.