Public Education Weekender 2/16/2014

Public Education Weekender
Sunday, February 16, 2014


Last Thursday’s snow storm pummeled the eastern half of the nation and shut down hundreds of schools from Georgia to Connecticut.  New York City public schools — with 1.1 million students —provided a glaring exception and remained open.  The de Blasio administration defended its decision to keep schools open in response to an avalanche of anger from many students, parents and social media jabs.  New York City Schools Chancellor, Carmen Farina, said a big part of the decision came down to the fact that if schools are closed, many children don't eat.  "Many of our kids don't get a hot lunch and, in many cases breakfast, unless they go to school.   Farina’s statement sheds light on the hidden crisis of childhood hunger in America’s classrooms, an issue often ignored by corporate education reformers narrowly focused on school outputs.  Last year, more than 21 million children nationwide ate free or reduced-price lunches and 73 percent of teachers said they regularly instruct students who don’t have enough to eat at home.  Teachers, who are often vilified by the right, spend nearly $300 a school year buying food for kids out of pocket.  The staggering prevalence of childhood hunger in America’s schools should provide some food for thought for corporate reformers who would rather close a school than address the out-of-schools issues that children bring with them into the classroom.  


As legislators working to advance and protect public education you are well-aware of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) work to drive flawed K-12 polices within your state.   It is clear how ALEC bills promoting so-called education “reforms” such as vouchers and anti-union legislation would work to rob public schools of funding and strip educators of their voices.   It is also clear how ALEC’s radical fiscal agenda would work to make it harder for states to invest in public education.  What’s less apparent, however, is how ALEC’s attacks on labor and employment standards could trickle down to the classroom and impact student learning.   A report released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) details how ALEC tax and budget proposals would work to slash public services, including public education.  Gordon Lafer, an EPI research associate, points out that if ALEC’s concerted effort to get anti-worker laws approved through state legislatures across the country is successful, more families will be forced into poverty—which will ultimately mean more children in poverty.  Increased poverty levels, in turn, will leave more students facing an uphill battle in the classroom.   As elected leaders taking on education issues rise to the challenge of tackling income inequality and creating more opportunity, that is the very prescription for disaster America should seek to avoid.

Want to Stand Up to ALEC?  Access PSN’s Online Policy Library (password protected) for Toolkits to push back against ALEC, state-specific information and model progressive economic security and education bills.  


The drumbeat is hard to miss: Our schools are failing. Public education is in crisis.   We know this is not true. PSN wants to change the narrative by highlighting public school success stories.  This week’s public school spotlight features Balsz School District in Phoenix, Arizona.  When Dr. Jeff Smith became superintendent of the Balsz in 2009, the school district was struggling, enrollment was dropping and the district faced a possible state takeover. The district also faced considerable socio-economic challenges. About 90 percent of the student population qualified for free or reduced lunch and more than half of the students were English language learners.  Dr. Smith worked to implement a bold approach: extending the school year by 20 days -- a policy move that has transformed the district, while working with the same teachers and students.  Just two years after the longer school year went into effect, test scores in reading had risen 43 percent in the fifth and sixth grades, and 19 percent in the third and fourth grades. Students in the district continue to excel and are enjoying more time for enrichment classes.  Click on the following links to view an interview with Dr. Smith and learn more about funding ELT opportunities in your state.


On Wednesday U.S. Senator Tom Harkin introduced a bill that would end the controversial disciplinary practice of seclusion and restraint in schools.  Restraint refers to any method that restricts a student's movement, including binding a student to a chair or physically holding a student down. Seclusion is the practice of leaving an out-of-control student alone in an empty space, such as a small room or closet.  Sen. Harkin noted that schools are the last public institutions where seclusion is allowed. Seclusion isn’t allowed in prisons, jails, nursing homes, group homes or psychiatric facilities, except in emergencies.  States have also taken action.  A senate committee report found that 18 states require parents to be notified about the use of seclusion and restraints, 19 states have laws that provide "meaningful" protections against these practices for all children and 32 do for children with disabilities.  Last week, Mississippi Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison introduced the  Mississippi Student Safety Act (S. 2594), to keep all students safe by limiting the imposition of restraint and seclusion on students in Mississippi schools.  Click here  to view model seclusion and restraint legislation.  


The poverty rate in our schools underscores the need for policies like a living wage and earned sick leave. Children shouldn't have to go to school sick because their parents can’t afford to take time off from work. Fellow legislators in 15 states have already signed on  to stand up for these students and their families by participating in the April 7th week of action for Real Prosperity Across America.  Click here for more information or feel free to contact our Campaign Director, Anne Bailey at


The Public Education Working Group hosted its 2014 kickoff webinar exploring Expanded Learning Time (ELT) earlier this month.   The webinar highlighted funding streams that are available to help you expand the learning day in the schools and the communities you serve. If you missed it, we’ve got you covered.  Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation. Supplemental webinar information and model ELT policies are available on our Online Library.

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