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June 26, 2013

What the Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand About the Voting Rights Act

Filed under: Voter Suppression — millerlf @ 10:07 am

Ari Berman on June 25, 2013 The Nation Magazine

No sooner had the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, after two hundred years of slavery and nearly 100 years of Jim Crow, than Southern conservatives, who failed to stop the law, began to attack it. South Carolina mounted the first constitutional challenge to the law only a month after it was enacted. President Nixon tried to weaken the law take the “monkey…off the backs off the South,” as did Presidents Ford in 1975 and Reagan in 1982. Every effort to gut the VRA failed. Each time the law’s constitutionality was challenged, in 1966, 1973, 1980 and 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the act. Every congressional reauthorization, in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, made the law stronger, not weaker, in protecting voting rights. Each Congressional reauthorization was signed by a Republican president, cementing the bipartisan consensus supporting the VRA. “The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our Nation’s history,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent today.

That consensus held until now, with the Roberts Court finding that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 is how states are covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision which requires states with the worst history of voting discrimination—those who had a discriminatory voting device on the books and voter turnout of less than 50 percent in the 1964 election—to preclear their voting changes with the federal government. Without Section 4, there’s no Section 5. The most effective provision of the country’s most effective civil rights law is now dead until and unless Congress figures out a new way to cover states where voting discrimination is most prevalent that satisfies the Roberts Court.

Explained the Chief Justice, who has been trying to weaken the VRA ever since he was a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department: “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, ‘[v]oter turnout and registration rates’ in covered jurisdictions ‘now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.’ The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years. Yet the Act has not eased Section 5’s restrictions or narrowed the scope of Section 4’s coverage formula along the way. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown even stronger…. In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

Congress, which reauthorized the VRA by a vote of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate in 2006, “cannot justify the considerable burdens created by Section 5,” the Chief Justice wrote. The Court’s message to Congress: drop dead. “In the Court’s view, the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy,” wrote Justice Ginsburg in her powerful dissent. “Congress was of another mind. Recognizing that large progress has been made, Congress determined, based on a voluminous record, that the scourge of discrimination was not yet extirpated. The question this case presents is who decides whether, as currently operative, Section 5 remains justifiable, this Court, or a Congress charged with the obligation to enforce the post–Civil War Amendments ‘by appropriate legislation.’ With overwhelming support in both Houses, Congress concluded that, for two prime reasons, Section 5 should continue in force, unabated. First, continuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and second, continuance would guard against backsliding. Those assessments were well within Congress’ province to make and should elicit this Court’s unstinting approbation.”

There’s a particular irony to the Court killing Section 5 just months after a presidential election in which voter suppression attempts played a starring role. Congress was prescient when it reauthorized the VRA in 2006 for another twenty-five years. Thirty-one discriminatory voting laws have been blocked by Section 5 since that time. Six of nine states fully covered by Section 5, all in the South, passed new voting restrictions since the 2010 election, when GOP state legislatures approved a wave of voter suppression laws unseen since before 1965. In 2008, Shelby County, Alabama, the plaintiff challenging the VRA, was found guilty of the very type of voter discrimination the VRA was meant to address, after trying to eliminate the only black city council district in the city of Calera. The law’s coverage formula, though dated, is still surprisingly accurate. Law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer surveyed data on racial stereotypes from the 2008 election and found that “Section 5…is remarkably well tailored to the geography of anti-black prejudice.” If anything, Section 5 should be expanded to encompass the wide scope of twenty-first-century voting discrimination, not narrowed or eliminated.

Today’s opinion by the Roberts Court was the most radical since Citizens United v. FEC and the worst voting rights decision in a century, since the Court upheld poll taxes and literacy tests in Giles v. Harris in 1903. “The Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decisionmaking,” wrote Ginsburg. “Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.” Just as the Citizens United decision led to an explosion of unregulated dark money spending in US elections, so too will the loss of Section 5 encourage many more of the shadowy voter suppression attempts that we saw in 2012.

What will that mean in practice? Texas’ voter ID law, which was blocked under Section 5 by a federal court last year and could disenfranchise up to 800,000 registered voters without government-issued photo ID, will immediately go into effect. The states of the Old Confederacy will return to the pre-1965 playbook, passing new voter suppression laws that can only be challenged, after years of lengthy litigation, in often-hostile Southern courts, with the burden of proof on those subject to discrimination, rather than those doing the discriminating. Conservatives will be emboldened to challenge the parts of the VRA, like Section 2, that apply nationwide.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” wrote Justice Ginsburg. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself. The same assumption—that the problem could be solved when particular methods of voting discrimination are identified and eliminated—was indulged and proved wrong repeatedly prior to the VRA’s enactment. Unlike prior statutes, which singled out particular tests or devices, the VRA is grounded in Congress’ recognition of the ‘variety and persistence’ measures designed to impair minority voting rights. In truth, the evolution of voting discrimination into more subtle second-generation barriers is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclearance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent backsliding.”

There will be no easy fix in Congress. The body looked at updating how states were covered in Section 5, but no one could come up with a better answer than the draftees of the VRA in 1965. Changing the places covered by Section 5 would have blown up the entire bill. There was no political will or necessity to expand Section 5 nationwide, and “no objective statistical criteria could have added the most recent bad actors (Ohio and Florida) to the list of currently covered jurisdictions,” wrote Nate Persily, a law professor at Columbia University. “The fact that Section 5 was geographically targeted has always been seen as one of its constitutional saving graces.” Georgia Representative Charlie Norwood offered an amendment that would have exempted the entire Deep South and covered only Hawaii, a state with no history of racial discrimination in voting. The amendment was defeated 318 to 96.

Asking this current Congress, which can hardly do more than name post offices, to revamp the VRA is a very steep task. Representative Steny Hoyer, the number-two ranking Democrat in the House, was pessimistic when I asked him recently what Congress would do if the Court overturned Section 5. “I think right now it would be difficult, because I don’t think, frankly, that the Republican majority in the House would allow it on the floor,” Hoyer said. “And I don’t think the Republican minority in the Senate would refrain from filibustering it. So I don’t think there would be much opportunity for legislative response unless the Democrats take control of the House, in which case there clearly would be a legislative response.”

The VRA hasn’t changed, but the Republican Party has. Today’s 5-4 decision by the Roberts Court gutting the VRA was the result of three factors, as I wrote in February: “a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.” Will the same Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for the VRA’s reauthorization in 2006 do so again? Will a new crop of Tea Party Republicans, such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, even allow it?

But the Court’s decision today could also spark a major backlash among minority voters, like the failed voter suppression attempts of 2012 that resulted in black turnout surpassing white turnout for the first time in US history. Just as the VRA’s passage led to counter-mobilization drives led by the likes of George Wallace, who registered to vote hundreds of thousands of conservative white voters in the 1960s, so too could the loss of Section 5 motivate a new wave of minority voting activism. “I absolutely believe that Americans will be even more embolden to hold every elected official accountable on protecting and expanding voting rights,” says Jotaka Eaddy, director of voting rights at the NAACP. “If Congress fails to act it will trigger a very [strong] response from the electorate.”

UPDATE: Congressman John Lewis, whom I profiled recently in The Nation and who almost died to win passage of the VRA in 1965, released this statement following the decision:

Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years.

These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.

I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits. This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected.

I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.

As Justice Ginsberg mentioned, it took a Bloody Sunday for Congress to finally decide to fix on-going, institutionalized discrimination that occurred for 100 years after the rights of freed slaves were nullified at the end of the Civil War. I am deeply concerned that Congress will not have the will to fix what the Supreme Court has broken. I call upon the members of this body to do what is right to insure free and fair access to the ballot box in this country.

What is at stake now that the Supreme Court gutted the VRA? Look at Texas.

Read more: What the Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand About the Voting Rights Act | The Nation


June 25, 2013

Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era

Filed under: market reforms — millerlf @ 9:52 am


Friday, 17 May 2013  By P.L. Thomas, Truthout 

OFFICERS SCHOOLS CRIME 7 mainOfficer Craig Davis, a former municipal policeman now with the Houston school district force, monitors a hallway at E.L. Furr High School in Houston, March 20, 2013. (Photo: Michael Stravato / The New York Times)There are significant parallels between the war on drugs and market-oriented education reform, and both create an underclass – especially among African American males, according to Thomas, who traces the history.

In the United States, the intersection of the criminal justice system and public schools has intensified in the wake of school shootings, prompting similar solutions from supposedly opposite ends of the political spectrum. As noted in a New York Times editorial,  “The National Rifle Association and President Obama responded to the Newtown, Conn., shootings by recommending that more police officers be placed in the nation’s schools.”

As the editorial points out, however, research tends to show that police in the hallways  creates schools-as-prisons and students-as-criminals, increasing, rather than eliminating, the problems. In another piece, Chloe Angyal highlights the disturbing connection between incarceration and education:

Punishment rates in schools mirror the rates in the ‘real world’ – though what could be more real than entrenched discrimination in our schools? – and in fact, contribute to those real world figures. The Civil Rights Project report notes that the abuse and misuse of suspensions can turn them into “gateways to prison.” Even if that were not the case, even absent a school-to-prison pipeline, the situation would be grim enough. What this report reveals is a disregard for the well-being of marginalized populations that, were it directed at other groups, would never be allowed to stand. If a quarter of white middle school boys were being suspended every school year, and if pretty white ladies were being frisked on the streets of Manhattan, there’d be an uproar.

While the term “a nation at risk” tends to be associated with the 1983 report on US education from the Reagan administration, the early 1980s also spawned an era of mass incarceration, built on claims that the United States was also a nation at risk because of illegal drug sales and use, identified by author Michelle Alexander as The New Jim Crow:

In October 1982, President Reagan officially announced his administration’s “War on Drugs. At the time he declared this new war, less than 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the country. This fact was no deterrent to Reagan, for the drug war from the outset had little to do with public concern about drugs and much to do with public concern about race. By waging a war on drug users and drug dealers, Reagan made good on his promise to crack down on the racially defined “others” – the undeserving. (p. 49)

Within a year of each other, then, the Reagan administration launched a war on drugs and a crisis response to public education. Just as Alexander details the masked intent behind the war on drugs, John Holton exposed A Nation at Risk as less about education reform and more about political agendas.

We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom; encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools; support vouchers; leave the primary responsibility for education to parents; and please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. Or, at least, don’t ask to waste more federal money on education – “We have put in more only to wind up with less.”

For three decades, the War on Drugs has led to mass incarceration, primarily impacting African American males, the racially defined “others,” and the education reform movement based on high-stakes accountability has targeted “other people’s children”  in ways that suggest market-oriented education reform is a school-based component of the New Jim Crow grounded in the criminal justice system.

Mass incarceration and market-oriented education reform share more than their genesis in the 1980s, since both have been shown to cause far more harm than good and to further marginalize African American and impoverished youths and adults.

The Dark Reality of Market-Oriented Education Reform

The education accountability era begun in the early 1980s focused on implementing curriculum standards and high-stakes testing, first at the state level and then over the decade since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), increasingly at the national level.

The evolution of the education reform movement has included some central ideological commitments – focusing on in-school-only reform and relying on slogans such as “no excuses” and “poverty is not destiny,” as expressed in a 2010 manifesto from several key figures in reform, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas and Joel Klein:

So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income – it is the quality of their teacher.

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

At first, reform was driven by revolutionary promises and often unverified claims of public school failure, but over the past 30 years, ample evidence now suggests that political education reform has failed to fulfill its promises, and, in a mechanism similar to the negative consequences of the mass incarceration, has harmed the exact students those reforms were designed to help.

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education has resisted market-oriented, in-school-only reform championed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Rhee, Vallas and Klein, calling instead for social and educational reform seeking equity of opportunity for all families and students. In Broader, Bolder’s “Market-Oriented Education Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality” (April 18, 2013), Elaine Weiss and Don Long examine test-based teacher evaluations, school closures and expanded charter schools in Chicago, New York City and Washington, DC, concluding: “The report finds that the reforms delivered few benefits and in some cases harmed the students they purport to help. It also identifies a set of largely neglected policies with real promise to weaken the poverty-education link, if they receive some of the attention and resources now targeted to the touted reforms.” (p. 3)

Market-oriented education reform has depended on addressing inequity indirectly, trusting mechanisms such as choice and business models of managing teachers as well as schools to initiate social change. This reform has specifically targeted goals such as closing the achievement gap, better serving impoverished and minority students, and raising international indicators of educational quality.

As Weiss and Long show, however, test-based teacher evaluations, school closures and expanded charter schools haven’t succeeded, even against their advocates’ promises:

· Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.

· Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.

· Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.

· School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

· Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.

· Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.

· The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.

· Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient and multipronged. (p. 3)

Further, additional evidence reveals (ostensibly) unintended consequences of market-oriented reform have included increased segregation by race and class in charter schools and a widening gap between the type of educational experiences affluent children receive compared with the authoritarian and test-prep-focused “no excuses” schools for minority and impoverished students, notably as detailed in Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope, exploring the post-Katrina rise of charter schools in New Orleans:

But inside the schools, the war over education no longer seems so stark and clearly defined. Edges blur, shades of gray abound, and simple solutions prove elusive.  . . . Many of the most powerful people in the country have a plan for the future of education in America, one focused on more charter schools, technocratic governance, weakened teachers’ unions and the relentless use of data to measure student and teacher progress. (pp. 5, 6-7)

But Carr’s narrative and analysis show that, as detailed in the Broader, Bolder report, market-oriented reform tends to replicate and even perpetuate inequity instead of eradicating it: Students in New Orleans sit in “no excuses” charter schools that are both authoritarian and segregated, while the post-Katrina Recovery District reduced the African American teacher workforce from 75 percent to 57 percent of the city’s teachers.

Despite the slogans and the rhetoric, schools experiencing the array of market-oriented education reform policies have shown that home and community characteristics do predict educational opportunities, mirroring the historically greatest challenge facing traditional public schools. Ultimately, like the War on Drugs, current education reform exists as a key element in America’s New Jim Crow era.

Education Reform and “Racially Sanitized Rhetoric”

Just as the education reform movement was spurred by a “manufactured crisis,”  as exposed by Gerald Bracey and Holton, the War on Drugs grew out of a racially divisive political agenda, a drug crisis that did not yet exist, but created “mass incarceration in the United States . . . as a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow,” as Alexander details. (p. 4)

Since market-oriented education reform is producing evidence highlighting the ineffectiveness and even negative outcomes associated with those policies, that the agendas remain robust suggests, again like mass incarceration, education reform fulfills many of the dynamics found in the New Jim Crow.

Just as mass incarceration from the war on drugs continues institutional racism once found in slavery and Jim Crow, education reform, especially the “no excuses” charter school movement, resurrects a separate but equal education system that is separate, but certainly isn’t equal. The masked racism of mass incarceration and education reform share many parallels, including the following:

· Both depend on “racially sanitized rhetoric,” according to Alexander, that thinly masks racism. “Getting tough on crime” justifies disproportional arrests, convictions and sentencing for African Americans; “no excuses” and “zero tolerance” justify highly authoritarian and punitive schools disproportionally serving high-poverty children of color.

· Both depend on claims of objective mechanisms – laws for the war on drugs and test scores for education reform – to deflect charges of racism. Alexander recognizes “this system is better designed to create [emphasis in original] crime and a perpetual class of people labeled criminals, rather than to eliminate crime or reduce the number of criminals,” (p. 236) just as test-based education reform creates and does not address the achievement gap.  

· Both depend on racialized fears among poor and working-class whites, which Alexander identifies in the Reagan drug war agenda: “In his campaign for the presidency, Reagan mastered the ‘excision of the language of race from conservative public discourse’ and thus built on the success of the earlier conservatives who developed a strategy of exploiting racial hostility or resentment for political gain without making explicit reference to race” (p. 48). The charter school movement masks segregation within a progressive-friendly public school choice.  

· Both depend on either current claims of post-racial America or the goal of a post-racial society: “This system of control depends far more on racial indifference [emphasis in original] . . . than racial hostility,” Alexander notes. (p. 203)

· Both depend on a bipartisan and popular commitment to seemingly obvious goals of crime eradication and world-class schools.

· Both depend on the appearance of African American support. Alexander explains about the effectiveness of the war on drugs: “Conservatives could point to black support for highly punitive approaches to dealing with the problems of the urban poor as ‘proof’ that race had nothing to do with their ‘law and order’ agenda.” (p. 42)

This last point – that African Americans seem to support both the war on crime and “no excuses” charter schools – presents the most problematic aspect of charges that mass incarceration and education reform are ultimately racist, significant contributions to the New Jim Crow.

For example, Carr reports that African American parents not only choose “no excuses” charter schools in New Orleans, but also actively cheer and encourage the authoritarian policies voiced by the schools’ administrators. But Alexander states, “Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people ‘support’ mass incarceration or ‘get-tough’ policies” because “if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be ‘more prisons.’ ” (p. 210)

New Orleans serves as a stark example of how this dynamic works in education reform: Given the choice between segregated, underfunded and deteriorating public schools and “no excuses” charters – and not the choice of the school environments and offerings found in many elite private schools – the predictable answer is “no excuses” charters.

Market-oriented education reform continues to produce evidence that it fails against its own goals and standards. But more disturbing is that current education reform also shares with the war on drugs evidence that the United States is committed to the New Jim Crow, to which Alexander quotes Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” (p. 203)

The war on drugs and highly punitive, segregated charter schools are creating an underclass, significantly among African American males – facts that must be acknowledged before equity of opportunity can be secured. About this intersection of the criminal justice system and education reform, Angyal asks, “But the real question is, what will it take for us to fix this system that punishes students and citizens for no other reason but their membership in marginalized groups?”

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), in which he authored the first volume, Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010). He has served on major committees with NCTE and co-edits The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE

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Voting Rights Act Section 4 Struck Down By Supreme Court

Filed under: Voter Suppression — millerlf @ 9:46 am

Posted: 06/25/2013 Huffington Post

The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, found that “things have changed dramatically” in the South nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Congress, the court ruled, “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” the majority said.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process,” Roberts wrote.

The court did not rule on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the preclearance requirement itself, which requires those affected states to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before they go into effect.

Nevertheless, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a wide-ranging dissent on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, justifying the continued vitality of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” Ginsburg wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed.”

As for Section 4, Ginsburg wrote that “the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as at­tempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions.”

“The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation’s most important and effective civil rights laws,” Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. Today’s decision is a blow to democracy. Jurisdictions will be able to enact policies which prevent minorities from voting, and the only recourse these citizens will have will be expensive and time-consuming litigation.”

June 5, 2013

Barca, Mason, Richards: GOP wraps up budget panel work spending money taken from school kids on tax break for the rich

Filed under: Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:22 am

Date: June 5, 2013
Contact: Rep. Barca, 608.266.5504
Rep. Mason, 608.266.0634
Rep. Richards, 608.266.0650

GOP wraps up budget panel work spending money taken from school kids on tax break for the rich
MADISON – Leaving several of the Gov. Scott Walker’s most damaging budget proposals until the last day of Joint Finance Committee action, Republicans on the budget committee actually made the budget even worse for Wisconsin’s middle class.

In its final hours, Republicans spent hundreds of millions of dollars more on a tax cut, targeting even more money toward the wealthy and creating a statewide private school system wasting the taxpayers’ money by forcing us to pay for a private school bailout in addition to public schools.  The Department of Public Instruction estimates that a statewide unaccountable private voucher school system could cost $1.9 billion annually.

“Late at night Republicans on the JFC took the terrible budget for the middle class that Gov. Scott Walker had put forward and unbelievably made it even worse,” Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said.

In two massive omnibus bill votes, they took money from a surplus that was taken from classrooms of school children across Wisconsin last budget. Republicans, blaming a deficit, made historic cuts of $1.6 billion to Wisconsin public schools. Yet somehow they found plenty of money in that same budget to give $40 million more to private schools and billions away in tax breaks that will create a deficit.

“That funding needs to be returned first to the classrooms it was taken from,” Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) said. “School children all across Wisconsin are paying for a tax cut that primarily benefits the wealthy.”

Earlier in the day Republicans, on a party-line vote, passed a health care plan that will charge taxpayers more to cover fewer people on BadgerCare and could end up eventually kicking 29,000 children off their health care.

“In the past Republicans have claimed that health care should be cut because it was too costly – but taking the federal BadgerCare expansion money would save taxpayers more than $100 million,” Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) said.  “Denying families the security that comes from knowing they can see a doctor and not worrying they are one health scare away from financial ruin is cruel. Charging the rest of the taxpayers more to do so is simply inexplicable.”

Republicans are destroying key building blocks of the middle-class such as education, health care and job training, at the same time they have failed Wisconsin on job creation. Under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican Assembly and Senate, Wisconsin has plummeted from 11th to 44th in job creation. The state is also among the bottom states in short-term job growth, long-term economic forecast, wage growth and places to do business, according to such reliable sources as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Forbes Magazine and the conservative US Chamber of Commerce.

Teach for America’s Deep Bench

Filed under: Teach For America — millerlf @ 7:27 am

James Cersonsky October 24, 2012 The American Prospect

The education nonprofit is also training the next generation of politicians, who have very specific ideas on school reform.

“Is this our Egypt moment? Will we seize the moment?”

Former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein spoke those words at Teach for America’s 20th anniversary summit last summer. Coming from Klein, who is now a divisional leader at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, incitements to political uprising might raise some eyebrows. But at the summit for the nonprofit, which recruits college graduates to be teachers in poor school districts around the country, Klein was onto something that Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman have ignored in their eight pro-TFA columns: behind the veil of well-fundeddebate-worthy idealism, TFA is coordinating a political revolution.

Since its founding, TFA has amassed some 28,000 alumni. Two have made Time’s “Most Influential” list: its Chief Executive Officer and founder, Wendy Kopp, and former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee. Others have gained prominence as the leaders of massive charter operations, like KIPP Schools and New Schools for New Orleans. And TFA alums are currently the heads of public schools in Newark, D.C., and Tennessee.

What about the other 27,000-some-odd people? That’s where Leadership for Educational Equity, or LEE, comes in. LEE was founded in 2007 as a 501(c)4 spin-off of Teach for America to provide resources, training, and networking for alumni who are interested in elected office or other extracurricular leadership positions. Its goals are ambitious: by 2015, as its standard job posting reads, it hopes to have 250 of its members in elected office, 300 in policy or advocacy leadership roles, and 1,000 “in ‘active’ pipelines for public leadership.” If all goes as planned, LEE could shift control over American education reform to a specific group of spritely college grads-turned-politicians with a very specific politics.

LEE functions in part as a network for TFA alumni. In the restricted section of its website, to which I gained access through an existing member, you can find job postings ranging from government relations at the National Education Association to Web Editor for the Heritage Foundation. Members are also encouraged to connect with each other: “[P]erhaps you want to bring some of your fellow LEE members to an education rally in Houston. You could cast a wide net, and search for all LEE members within 100 miles of zip code 77001. Your search returns about 240 LEE members—that’s quite a rally.”

The organization also provides resources for the electorally curious. Besides running two six-month fellowships pairing members with public officials, it offers a variety of webinars and tool-kits on organizing, advocacy, and elections. In a PowerPoint entitled “What School Boards Can Do,” you meet two reformers, one of whom is pushing for “data-driven, outcomes-focused” superintendents, the other “driving debate on pay-for-performance.” In another presentation, charter operator Future is Now advises on getting elected to union office. “New unionism,” in its rendering, means “enabling unions to play a critical role in the development and implementation of new efforts aimed at meeting students’ needs/achievement.” Inspired by Obama’s call to “out-educate” and “out-innovate” the world, Future is Now is in the dual business of “reforming” unions and pushing for new charter schools—in other words, something a little afield from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose reigning Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators has rallied alongside community groups to stop school closings and fight for more resources in district schools.  

Though LEE’s 990 filings are missing from the IRS’ online database and chronically allergic to press attention, executive director Michael Buman says that its budget this year is $3.5 million. While Buman maintains that elections constitute the “minority” of LEE’s work, some portion of that sum has gone toward electing TFA alums to office.

“We provide various kinds of in-kind support,” he says. “If we host a training and the person is a candidate, that’s an in-kind contribution. Sometimes they want us to take a look at a piece of mail that they’re sending out.” On the other hand, “Sometimes the candidate looks at our services and says no thanks.” Furthermore, he says, LEE does not operate independent expenditures campaigns, which support candidates or candidate committees without officially cooperating or consulting with them.    

The limited-access section of LEE’s site reveals the numbers: In 2010, 12 LEE members ran for local boards of education (with 4 wins), 31 for Chicago local school councils (14 wins), 31 for neighborhood council or other local office (21 wins), and four for state legislature (two wins). In LEE’s accounting, these totals are a step up from 2008, when five members ran for school boards (four wins) and four for other local offices (three wins). In total, as of August 2011, LEE counts 56 TFA alums in office: 14 on school boards, 13 on local school councils, 24 on neighborhood councils or other local boards, two state senators, a constable, a judge, and a justice of the peace.

LEE’s poster boys—its two state senators—are of similar breeds. Soon after uprooting a 27-year incumbent to become Maryland’s youngest ever elected state senator, Bill Ferguson, who is 29 years old and worked as a TFA teacher in Baltimore, introduced a package of bills last year that included a Maryland version of parent trigger. (Parent trigger laws allow some proportion of parents to vote for new school management—and in some cases, entirely new staff—at their kids’ schools.) Upon entering office in Colorado in 2009, Michael Johnston, who is 37 and served as part of TFA’s Mississippi Delta corps, wrote a controversial, and ultimately victorious, bill that weakened teacher tenure and upped the role of students’ “academic growth” in teacher and principal evaluations to 50 percent. Ferguson got elected with significant support from TFA alumni; alumni also make up four of five Johnston staffers.

Of the five LEE members profiled at its website’s “Candidate Corner,” three speak a common language: Caitlin Hannon, vying for the Indianapolis School Board, supports merit-based pay and decries the “lemon dance” of “ineffective practitioners” lampooned in Waiting for Superman; Rob Bryan, a Republican running for the North Carolina House and fellow merit pay proponent, asserts that “the solution for struggling schools is not simply throwing more money at their problems;” and Allison Serafin, TFA’s former executive director in Nevada and candidate for State Board of Education, has signaled support for expanded standardized testing and parent trigger. (Takashi Ohno and Jeremy Ly, candidates for the Hawaii and Illinois Houses, respectively, have meager site material on big-ticket issues; neither could be reached for comment for this piece. It’s worth noting that Ly led a campaign to unionize a charter school and has received donations from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.)

According to Buman, “LEE does not have any kind of litmus test about any policies. We’re completely policy-agnostic.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a member of TFA’s inaugural class, is leery of LEE’s politics. Caputo-Pearl is a co-founder of the United Teachers of Los Angeles’ Progressive Educators for Action Caucus, which, like its Chicago allies, advocates member and community organizing and resists school privatization. “LEE hasn’t been openly unsupportive of our work,” he says. “But LEE is clearly looking to strategically promote folks who have a different politics”—including, he claims, his union’s “NewTLA” caucus, trumpeted by Future is Now and founded by a TFA alum.

Steve Zimmer, who was elected to the LA school board with the help of TFA alumni and is still a proud alum, now feels a cold shoulder from the group—possibly, he suggests, because of his stances on charter schools and unions that buck “TFA orthodoxy.” “There are many ways we can get to transformation in public education,” he says. “Either TFA is going to welcome those multiple pathways or it will run the risk of creating the resistance in the political arena that there once was at the school site.”

Because it counts on federal grants and local contracts—in sum, $43 million in 2011—TFA has to be involved in some amount of political advocacy. LEE voiced indirect opposition to TFA skeptic and Wendy Kopp persona non grata Linda Darling-Hammond when she was being considered as Obama’s Secretary of Education. In the case of Kira Orange-Jones, TFA’s executive director in Louisiana who was recently elected to the board that oversees New Orleans’ Recovery School District and approves TFA’s contract, TFA is in a position to influence its own contract from both sides.

LEE adds a new dimension to TFA’s growing empire. A selective crowd of high-achieving college graduates is primed to take over the leadership of America’s schools. This summer’s elections for Nashville’s school board, which featured a race between TFA alums, could be a preview of intra-family rivalries to come. (The winner, Elissa Kim, is TFA’s chief admissions officer and garnered near-record donations for her campaign.) And while LEE may be policy-neutral, it isn’t hard to imagine the massive proliferation of Michelle Rhees and, in turn, the entrenchment of education reform geared toward money-soaked charter expansion, “new unionism,” and test-based student achievement. In other words, what began—and is still viewed by many—as an apolitical service corps could be the Trojan horse of the privatization of public education.

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