Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let's Play Whack-a-Mole...And WIN!


A lot has been coming at us at one time from both the state house and the senate.  Many of my friends are not sure whom to write, what to write, etc. I thought I would clarify it (such that I know and given that things keep changing!) on this post.

The reason so many of these types of bills appear all at once is quite simple.  It is literally a page out of the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) playbook for how to "reform" schools.  :

Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whack-a-mole”—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages. (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 108)

If you don't know about ALEC, you really ought to.  And you should spread the information as far and as wide as possible.  Here in Indiana they have been very busy and very successful.  The majority of our recent changes (especially from the blitz of 2011 which saw the loss of collective bargaining and all kinds of rights for teachers, the expansion of vouchers, charters and the use of tests to beat up public schools and portray them as failures) have been legislation written by ALEC.  ALEC's goal is to privatize public education.  They are all about free markets and see a pot of gold where our children's education is concerned. Former state superintendent Tony Bennett was the poster child for the corporate reform and it was to the shock and horror of corporate reformers across the nation that he lost to Glenda Ritz, a master teacher no less!

Now former state chairman of ALEC, Rep. Bob Behning, has introduced two bills which would make Ritz virtually powerless over the direction of public education.  For a description of them and of HB 1251 (Huston-another power grab) , read the post on this blog just before this one.

Here is a brief how-to for composing your response to these particular bills:

Dear Rep. ---,

I am ----. (If you are a constituent, by all means say so! IF youare not, call yourself a concerned parent, citizen, and keep 'em guessing).

Identify the bill/s you object to (in this case, it is okay to name all three of the power grabs: HB1251, HB1309, and HB1342. They are all aimed at taking away Ritz's authority and ability to direct education).

Briefly tell him/her WHY you voted for Glenda Ritz and what your hopes for her and the direction of education are.

Thank him/her for his/her time and attention.



 I wrote to chairman Behning myself last night.  Here is my letter:

Dear Rep. Behning,

I am writing to you because I am greatly concerned about a number of house bills that have come to my attention.  I know that you are intimately familiar with them as you have authored (?) or sponsored two of them: HB1309 and HB1342.  House Bill 1251 is also of great concern to me; allow me to explain why.  

I recognize that you invested both time and maybe even money in the movement to privatize education.  I see from your record that you are a strong member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and that you were state chairman of ALEC for 8 years.  It doesn't come as a surprise to me as I've noticed that the policies you follow in education align themselves completely with ALEC's vision of a system of education in which competition is the driving force and free markets reign supreme.  I contemplate whether you truly believe this is best for children or whether you are only concerned with the few who will benefit.  Perhaps you are discovering that this is a huge money-maker.  You see, I've become cynical in recent years and you'll have to forgive me for that.  I don't believe that schools run as businesses will ever put children first.  It is antithetical to their purpose:  a business is for profit, schools are a service for children.

As you know, ALEC and the corporations backing your organization have received a lot of press this past year.  The shooting of Trayvon Martin exposed the many ways that ALEC can impose business interests and control aspects of our democracy at the peril of our citizens.  The very act of wooing legislators, giving them model legislation and having this pass as law, is undemocratic in itself.  What happened to representation of your constituency?  And this brings me to my main point.

Glenda Ritz won.  She won fair and square and against all the odds reflected in campaign finance studies (he who has the biggest coffers wins). She ran on a platform dedicated to education and she received even more votes than Governor Pence.  That speaks volumes to her support.  I would think that with this strong backing, your efforts to diminish her power and marginalize her position would be a very risky venture for you.  When voters are made aware that you are trying to create a state school board made up of your own party (no longer requiring that there be no more than 6 of a party) and made up of non-educators (no longer requiring that there be employees of schools with teaching licenses) --HB1251--, I think that they will be very unhappy with you as their representative.  Furthermore, when they discover that HB1309 creates a new position (vice chairman) for the board who would act in Ritz's stead and have an unusual amount of power over agendas, meetings,etc (HB1309) as well as ensuring a "majority" at the Education Roundtable (all appointed by the governor), I think that your constituents will stop and wonder why you would blatantly disregard their will/votes.

ALEC believes that corporations are people who can influence legislators to pass laws that benefit them.  But I think most of America's citizens believe that legislators should represent the people who voted for them.  This is, after all, the idea of a democracy.  I hope that if you believe in our country and a democracy, that you will also believe in Indiana's constitution which gives every child a right to a free public education or "common school." If you can't get behind a system of public education, I would hope that you would get behind the idea that you are elected to represent the people.  In this case, the people overwhelmingly voted for Glenda Ritz.  Allow her to do her job. 

Thanks for your time.  

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer

And here are more sample letters from friends:

Subject: HB1251 and HB1309

Representative Behning:

I read with dismay in the Ft. Wayne Journal that you have sponsored the two bills referenced above. I really must ask what has driven you to the reform groups intent on dismantling our public education system? I honestly wonder if you had a bad experience in school and that you have decided that teachers are the enemy and need to be punished?

Your bills remove teachers -- the professionals-- from the State Board of Education. Why? Would you remove medical doctors from similar boards? Pharmacists from their boards? Your point seems to be that teachers and administrators are not relevant to the issues and concerns of public education and should not be represented. That is so wrong. It implies that those non-educator board members have more expertise and experience than those who work directly within the schools and that they have the wisdom and ability to make better educational decisions affecting all of our children. It sort of like anyone who went to public school knows how to solve its problems just because they attended.

HB1309 can only be construed as a bald attempt to limit the authority of the new Superintendent of Public Instruction. I don't believe that would have happened had Tony Bennett been re-elected. In the face of Glenda Ritz' overwhelming vote total, you must agree that Hoosiers decided that Bennett's agenda, so tied to the private for-profit sector, was not what was wanted. More than teachers voted to remove him. Your bill seems to reflect the desire to undermine our votes by punishing Supt. Ritz. Again, why would you do that for any other reason than a political pay-back?

I wish you would stop and consider the image you present to educators in particular by fronting for the reformists who have branded our schools and teachers as failures and stand ready to remedy all perceived faults -- for a price. Your bills diminish your public education system.

Mike Walsh, Retired teacher and administrator

And from a parent:

Dear members of the Indiana house of representatives,

I am a stay-at-home parent of three kids. The oldest is thriving in our local public school and the younger two will enter it soon. Over the past several years, I have been distressed to see how the need to maximize scores on the high-stakes ISTEP test was dictating how decisions were made in my school district.  I do not think that strategies for maximizing scores on a bubble-sheet test are the same thing as a good education. Still, I see that my district administrators are caught in a bind. I hold my legislature responsible. It pains me that the state, which should be using our tax dollars to support our public schools, has instead created a culture of fear and top-down intimidation in the name of "accountability."

Like 1.3 million other Hoosiers, I voted for Glenda Ritz. Now I learn that legislators Behning and Huston have introduced several bills to undermine, even eviscerate, her authority, and to make the oversight of education a job for political hacks. House Bill 1251 removes the requirement that at least four members of the state board of education be actively employed in schools in Indiana and hold a teaching license.  It removes the requirement that no more than 6 members of the board be of the same political party. House Bill 1309 requires the state board to elect a vice-chairman who would have the power to fulfill all the state superintendent's functions; it also would create a third co-chair, appointed by the governor, to the Educational Roundtable, giving the governor total power to make administrative decisions. House Bill 1342 removes oversight of the school voucher program from the Department of Education.

This multi-pronged, blatant power grab--going directly against the clearly expressed will of Indiana voters--should be viewed as an embarrassment to the Republican party. As a parent, I do not want ideologues shaping my children's schools. I urge you to defeat these bills. They are an affront to democracy in Indiana.

Jenny Robinson

Let's get started on this letter-writing and phone calling campaign.  We can't allow these legislators to override our votes nor our voices! Write your letters, make your phone calls. Send it to the papers.  Share with friends!  Please get those MOLES!

1 comment:

  1. Great work and so helpful Cathy and Jenny and Mike!