Oakland/January 31, 2017—As the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee of the US Senate voted to advance the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education to the full Senate along party lines this morning, hundreds of Bay Area parents, teachers, and students came together at a noon rally and press conference in front of the Federal building in Oakland to denounce her nomination.
Demonstrators at the boisterous event—organized in just a few days—raised fundamental concerns about DeVos’s lack of experience in public education, her support for corporate charters and school vouchers, and her track record dismantling public schools in her home state of Michigan. Speakers from both sides of the bay stressed the radical nature of her appointment, and urged public school families to contact California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to vote no on DeVos when her nomination reaches the full Senate in February.
|Berkeley Federation of Teachers president and CFT vice-president Cathy Campbell told the crowd of several hundred at noon on Tuesday, January 31 in front of the Federal Building in downtown Oakland that "education is the foundation of democracy."|
Berkeley Federation of Teachers president and CFT vice-president Cathy Campbell told the crowd of several hundred at noon on Tuesday, January 31 in front of the Federal Building in downtown Oakland that "education is the foundation of democracy."
Berkeley Federation of Teachers president and CFT vice-president Cathy Campbell told the crowd of several hundred at noon on Tuesday, January 31 in front of the Federal Building in downtown Oakland that "education is the foundation of democracy." Watch a two minute video of Campbell’s speech.
Shanthi Gonzales, a member of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, spoke passionately about the impact DeVos will have on students across the country. "All kids need and deserve a Secretary of Education who believes in public education and who knows what makes for a strong education system,” said Shanti to loud applause. “Instead it looks like they will be getting someone who has spent their life undermining and profiteering from public schools. It's unacceptable."
That sentiment was echoed by Lita Blanc, the president of the United Educators of San Francisco, who spoke of the need for all communities to protect and defend our public schools. “Our students need a champion of public education who will fight for the right of all students to have a quality education, regardless of their zip code,” said Lita, who noted that DeVos and the organizations that she supports have spent $33.5 million on school privatization. “Student success shouldn’t be dictated by winning a charter school lottery or getting accepted into a private school.”
Speakers at the event discussed in detail DeVos’s track record in Michigan, where she and her family spent millions of dollars in support of school vouchers to divert funding from public to private schools, and in support of corporate charter schools which operate with little or no oversight or transparency.
The issues of charter school accountability have hit close to home in Oakland, as just last week another much-heralded charter school closed its doors. The closure of Castlemont Junior Academy has left the district scrambling to place the students in other Oakland public schools and ultimately could cost the cash-strapped district several hundred thousand dollars. Oakland Education Association President Trish Gorham warned that under DeVos, such calamities will be commonplace across the country.
“The disruptions that Betsy DeVos will bring upon our public schools cannot be overstated,” said Ms. Gorham. “Parents and students in Oakland have already suffered from unchecked support of charter schools. What we need is a leader who is committed to protecting and supporting all of our students, not one who is ready to sell off our children’s future to the highest bidder.
According to those present, one glaring example of Betsy DeVos’s complete lack of qualifications for the job of Secretary of Education came at her US Senate hearing on January 17th, when she suggested that states should have the right to decide on the enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal civil rights law that requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities.
San Francisco parent Julia Martin, who has a son who is on the autism spectrum, addressed the dangers DeVos presents to families of children with disabilities. “As a parent of a student on the autism spectrum, we are dependent on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure my son is supported and able to access all the benefits of school as his typically developing peers,” said Julia, who sits on the SFUSD Special Education Community Advisory Committee. “While there are private schools for students with disabilities there are few spots open, the cost is prohibitive, and it is up to the school to decide which students can stay and which have to leave. Public school is the only option for millions of vulnerable families and must be protected.”
In a nod to comments DeVos made at her only Senate hearing on January 17th, when she suggested that teachers should arm themselves to protect their classrooms from grizzly bears, one hundred stuffed teddy bears were placed in front of the Federal building as part of today’s demonstration. According to event organizers, the line of bears was intended to highlight the absurdity of nominating someone to lead our nations’ schools who is completely out of touch with public education.
According to several media reports, opposition to Betsy Devos is sweeping the nation with phone lines for every US Senator jammed with calls from concerned residents. With the confirmation vote in the full Senate as little as one week away, educators, parents, and concerned school supporters from across the country have vowed to keep up the pressure on all one hundred senators.
“Betsy DeVos would be a disaster for our schools and our children,” continues Lita Blanc. “We hope that the movement continues to grow to stop DeVos before she does irreparable harm to our public schools. If you haven’t called your senators yet, now is the time!”
In California, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris have already pledged to vote against DeVos’s confirmation.
The press conference and demonstration today was organized byBay Resistance, a new network of almost 40 organizations formed to organize Bay Area communities to stand up to the Trump administration. Participating groups include those advocating for immigrant rights, Muslim Americans, environmental justice, labor, education, women's rights and more. For more information go to www.bayresistance.org. The protest is also part of a series of #ResistTrumpTuesdays actions in three hundred cities across the country to oppose Trump’s cabinet nominations.
Betsy DeVos Fact Sheet, American Federation of Teachers
United Educators of San Francisco and SFUSD Board of Education letter to Senators Feinstein and Harris opposing Betsy DeVos Nomination, January 19, 2017
Anti-DeVos calls jam Senate phone lines, The Hill, January 26, 2017
Two Highly Touted Oakland Charter Schools Quickly Closed, Now Owe the District Money, East Bay Express, January 24, 2017
The union explores partnership of community and educators to launch quality public education campaign
Making schools community hubs is key to the union’s campaign for quality public education, CFT President Joshua Pechthalt told participants at the Leadership Conference. Connections with community members comprise the CFT’s greatest strength and he encouraged educators to mine those ties.
Pechthalt said that he first met one of that morning’s panelists, Christina Livingston, the executive director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, when his local worked with ACCE to close a metal plating plant across from an elementary school in South Los Angeles, which was causing respiratory problems in the kids and cancer in the teachers. After years of organizing, the plant was removed and the soil was cleaned. Showing that teachers and staff care about students and their families makes a big difference, Pechthalt said.
We need to move away from numbers and statistics and test scores to real stories of people. That’s how you move people — when it’s connected to a face, and they feel compelled to change.
— Christina Livingston, Executive Director, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
“Our relationships with our community partners is about more than what happens in school. Then when we start to talk about issues like seniority, the parents have some confidence in us,” Pechthalt said.
“This attack on us is 30 years in the making,” Pechthalt said. “We’re not going to turn it around in a couple of months. But this is the antidote to these powerful forces fighting against us. They have more money and more access to media, but they don’t have our connections to parents and students.”
Livingston, who was on the Quality Public Education panel at the Oakland Marriott with Steven Pitts, a senior policy analyst with the UC Berkeley Labor Center, also encouraged union locals to build relationships with parents.
“School sites are instrumental in the community. Parents and teachers have the same goals — they’re natural allies,” Livingston said. “Folks who want to dismantle public education would love to see us divided.
“We need to move away from numbers and statistics and test scores to real stories of people,” she said. “That’s how you move people — when it’s connected to a face, and they feel compelled to change.”
Pitts, too, emphasized the importance of building alliances. Talking about the need for good jobs, Pitts said education alone is not a silver bullet. “We need to go beyond trying to fix a person and try to fix structures,” he said.
After the panel, conference participants broke into three groups —
classified employees, K-12 and higher education — to come up with what they thought a quality public education system should look like. Teachers and staff discussed how work should be evaluated, what types of services students should have and what teachers need to be effective.
We need your energy and ideas. We need a compelling vision of quality education that we can build a campaign around.
— Josh Pechthalt, CFT President
In the classified group, accountability, more training and respect among colleagues, students, teachers and parents came up again and again.
Getting input from faculty, students and community when making decisions at the school was also something Barbara Hanfling, the executive director of the San Jose/Evergreen Faculty Association, had as one of the top ideas from her group. Hanfling’s group discussed how students learn best when they have a vibrant and diverse curriculum.
In the K-12 group, Britt Dowdy, a middle school science and math teacher from the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said his group discussed the importance of an interconnected curriculum that goes beyond testing. Other ideas were appropriate support for teachers and professional development.
Implementing all these ideas won’t be easy, Pechthalt told the group, but the CFT is used to setting ambitious goals. He reminded participants of the March for California’s Future, the 48-day trek from Bakersfield to Sacramento that led to Proposition 25, which reduced the legislative vote margin on the state budget from two-thirds to a simple majority, and last November’s Millionaire’s Tax, which proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest two percent to fund schools and essential services. Many in the labor movement told the CFT both were mistakes.
Pechthalt asked everyone to keep thinking big with this campaign. “We need your energy and ideas,” he said. “We need a compelling vision of quality education that we can build a campaign around.”
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
California Teacher, Feb-Mar 2013