Lisa Haver’s Inquirer Op Ed: Public education could face major threats in a Trump presidency

imgresby Lisa Haver
December 1, 2016

The election of Donald Trump as president had an instantaneous effect when students in several schools became targets of racial and ethnic intimidation. High school students in Bucks County found swastikas and anti-gay slurs painted on walls; one girl found a note in her backpack telling her to “go back to Mexico.” African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were sent text messages with the greeting “Heil Trump” announcing the next “N-Lynching.” Immigrant and Muslim children wondered whether they would be rounded up like criminals and jailed or deported.

Whether or not the hate crimes continue, the long-term effects of a Trump presidency could cause irreparable harm to one of the bedrocks of our democracy: an open and equitable system of public education. Trump has made several pronouncements about wanting to break up the “government schools monopoly,” viewing it through the only perspective he understands, that of a corporate CEO. His outspoken support for more charters and “school choice” would not be a complete departure from his two predecessors, whose No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives made millions for edu-vendors and testing companies while doing little to narrow the achievement gap for poor and minority students. Trump, though, talks of diverting billions of public dollars to private schools via voucher programs, despite overwhelming evidence that they have done nothing to improve educational opportunities for most students.

Apparently, Trump wants to replicate Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s experiment in Indiana, where twice as many students attend charters than only five years ago. Nearly 60 percent of Indiana children are eligible for vouchers averaging about $4000 annually – which would not cover even half the tuition of most private schools, who, of course, are under no obligation to accept them. A recent study of the Indiana program conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that voucher students in private schools actually performed worse on standardized tests than those who remained in public schools.

Taxpayers across the country are already spending $1 billion for tuition to private and religious schools, including those in Cleveland, New Orleans and Milwaukee. Two-thirds of Wisconsin students receiving vouchers were not “rescued” from failing public schools, since they were already enrolled in private schools.

Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education signals his clear intention to ramp up the privatization of American’s public schools. An heir to the Amway fortune worth an estimated $5.1 billion, DeVos has no degree or experience in education, did not attend or send her children to public schools, has never been elected to any local school board. She has been a major contributor to right-wing organizations, particularly those working to dismantle public education through voucher programs.

“It is hard to find anyone more passionate about . . . steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos,” writes New Jersey taecher Mark Weber.

One impediment to the federal imposition of this free-market approach to public education could be the growing opposition on the local level. Voters in Montana, Utah and North Carolina elected strong pro-public education governors. Georgia’s voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum, pushed by Georgia’s Republican governor with heavy financial support from the Walton Foundation and other pro-choice groups, that would have forced public schools with low test scores to be turned over every year to private management or charter companies. An effort to unseat judges in Washington state who upheld lower court decisions that the state’s method of funding charters was unsuccessful, despite millions poured into the campaign by Bill Gates and other corporate reformers.

And, in a stunning defeat for pro-privatization donors with deep pockets such as the Walton family, who poured $26 million into the campaign, voters in 241 of 255 Boston precincts rejected a charter expansion referendum by a resounding margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.

The new administration would do well to understand that voters are rejecting failed privatization policies. Parents don’t want to be forced to search for alternatives – they want fair and equitable funding for quality public schools in their own communities.

Link to the Inquirer article.

Ears on the SRC – November 15, 2016


by Diane Payne
November 29, 2016

Joyce Wilkerson made her first appearance after being sworn in by Mayor Kenney and appointed Chair by Governor Wolf.

Wilkerson, currently an administrator at Temple University, has a long history of public service; she served as Chief of Staff for Mayor John Street. We are hopeful that she will steer this commission toward more transparency, accountability, and democratic values. We also hope that she will actively engage with those advocating for stronger public education.

Superintendent’s Remarks
Dr. Hite’s addressed the following topics: Priority Schools; the reintroduction of the school TV station; gratitude for Office Depot’s support of Student and Teacher of the Month; announcing the first Middle College High School at Parkway Center City; and the ongoing support of the Cole and Heidi Hamels Foundation for W B Saul High School.

 Few Answers to Concerns about Priority Schools
At October’s SRC meeting, APPS member Diane Payne asked Dr. Hite about his plan to designate eleven struggling schools “Priority Schools”, thus targeting them for some type of turnaround: You stated in the October 10, 2016 Public School Notebook article that these schools were not performing “despite investments we have made” in them. What are the specific investments you made to support these struggling schools? And please define merging, managing on a contractual basis, and restarting with significant staff shifts?

Dr. Hite responded that those questions would be answered at the November SRC meeting when he would give a full presentation about these schools, but no answers were provided by Dr. Hite at this meeting. Payne again pressed Hite to identify the resources provided to those schools. His one example was a new dental lab at Kensington Health Sciences Academy. He didn’t explain how a dental lab would raise test scores in Math or Reading for all or most of the school’s students.

It is important that the public understand the district’s failure to make the necessary investments into these struggling neighborhood schools. We read these types of statements by Dr. Hite in the press, but often there is no perspective from the teachers and students trying to teach and learn under the “Doomsday Budget” passed by the SRC year after year.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

In defense of a Philadelphia public school teacher wrongfully threatened with termination of employment

Philadelphia school teacher Marianne Kennedy was threatened with termination of employment after she was accused of abusing a student. Even though her Principal and other teachers said there was no truth to the allegations, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission was prepared to vote on termination of her employment after nineteen years as a teacher without any due process.

The school faculty and members of the community came to her defense and showed what solidarity looks like. Testimony is in the order of appearance at the School Reform Commission meeting on November 15, 2016. Each testimony should be read not only for understanding of Ms. Kennedy’s case, but for insight to how the SRC will be operating with its new Chair Joyce Wilkerson.


Click each picture to see the video of that person’s  testimony.


Philadelphia public school teacher Marianne Kennedy testifying in her own defense at the SRC meeting.

Click here to read the transcript of Marianne’s testimony.


Richard Migliore, Ms. Kennedy’s lawyer and APPS member, testifying at the SRC meeting.


APPS member Lynda Rubin testifying in defense of Ms. Kennedy.


Philadelphia teacher Christine Del Rossi testifying in defense of Ms. Kennedy.

Click here to read the transcript of Chrissy’s testimony.


Philadelphia teacher Robin Lowry testifying in defense of Ms. Kennedy.

Click here to read the transcript of Robin’s testimony.


The discussion and vote on the resolution on Ms. Kennedy’s termination of employment.

On February 17th, 2017 Marianne Kennedy won her case.

Teacher accused of child abuse cleared, will return to Kensington school soon | Philadelphia Inquirer – February 17, 2017.

Victory for APPS in its SRC Sunshine Suit

APPS logo

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, November 18, 2016
SRC agrees to more transparency

The meeting was held early in the morning, called with minimal notice. Barely any members of the public were present, and no one registered to speak.

 But the School Reform Commission took an unprecedented step – voting to cancel its teachers’ contract – on Oct. 6, 2014.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an activist group, sued, alleging the SRC violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act with this under-the-radar move. More than two years later, it has settled the case against the SRC and then-Chair Bill Green, winning a promise of more transparency from the commission.

 The SRC must now be more forthcoming about the purposes of its executive sessions, telling members of the public which specific cases it discussed if legal matters come up.

It also agreed to post on the Philadelphia School District’s website full SRC resolutions two weeks before meetings. The exception is quasi-judicial resolutions.

Resolutions presented less than 48 hours before a regular meeting will be made available to the public and clearly marked as walk-on matters. The SRC also promised to allow interested people to speak about walk-on resolutions without advance registration, and agreed to not take any votes until the public has had the chance to comment.

A district spokesman said the SRC was pleased that the parties were able to reach a settlement.

“The policy adopted in response to this case codifies practices, such as publishing resolution lists two weeks in advance of public action meetings, which the SRC put in place last year in order to increase public access and transparency,” said H. Lee Whack Jr., the spokesman.

At the October 2014 SRC meeting, no one was allowed to testify until after the vote – which has since been nullified by the state Supreme Court.

The lone speaker that day was Lisa Haver, a retired School District teacher, a frequent district critic, and a founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. This week, she called the settlement, years in the making, “a first step – a significant step – toward more openness and transparency.”

Haver and others have been frustrated by the SRC’s method of operation.

“People have to know what their government is doing, and to have a reasonable opportunity to speak on it,” Haver said.

The settlement is enforceable in court, and Haver said her group would continue to monitor the SRC closely.

But, she said, she is optimistic that a new-look SRC – Joyce Wilkerson just joined as chair and Estelle Richman awaits state Senate confirmation – will help push the issue.

“I think that they will honor this agreement, and they may be open to making the SRC more accountable, more transparent,” Haver said. “They both worked in government for a long time. The SRC is a governmental body. It controls a $2.6 billion budget. It has to be more accountable.”