The Weekly Update: The news you might have missed.

We’ll start with Reuters this morning:

Smaller U.S. budget for smallest citizens – report

Over the next decade, the report predicted, the largest drops in federal spending will be in education. The cuts have left states scrambling to make up the loss of federal funds or let certain programs languish.

Among developed countries, the United States ranks 15th in education spending as a percentage of gross domestic product and 32nd in public spending on family benefits in cash, services and tax measures, according to 2007 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The report continues:

The economic crisis reshaped spending, shifting funds to social safety net programs such as food stamps and income security for families with children and away from education, the report said. It warned of potentially damaging consequences.

“People sometimes think that you should just look at how much you’re spending on childcare, or child welfare, or something that has the word ‘children’ in it,” said Julia Isaacs, a lead researcher on the report. “But unless you look across the broader programs, you miss what’s happening to children.”

Overall federal outlays and tax expenditures for children fell by $5 billion, to $445 billion in 2011, for the first time since the early 1980s.

The report classifies spending on children as programs designated wholly for children, such as education or the children’s portion of Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for low-income families; family benefits that grow with each additional child; or programs that benefit only families with children.

Children’s share of the federal budget dropped to 10.4 percent from a three-decade high of 10.7 percent in 2010, while total government spending rose to $3.6 trillion from $3.52 trillion.

To read this article in full, go to Reuters.

And more about ALEC from truthout.

The Other ALECs’ K-12 Education Agenda Exposed

This is the fourth and last article in Sarah Blaskey’s and Steven Horn’s series, “The Other ALECs Exposed.”

For over 30 years, corporate America and its allies on both sides of the political aisle have carried out an assault on US workers, pushing down wages, slashing benefits and busting unions.

But after decades of repeated and near-fatal assaults, the US labor movement has waged a fight back, with teachers in the forefront of the battle. Public schools have become the centerpiece of the struggle. Through an array of recent policy initiatives, influential policy wonks are attempting to restructure education fundamentally. According to Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and union activist in Seattle, part of this restructuring process is happening through model bills being enacted systematically in statehouses nationwide.

“Most famously ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] has been ghostwriting bills and passing them out to astroturf organizations around the country to put forward legislation that undermines teachers’ unions and helps in this effort to restructure education based on test scores,” Hagopian told Truthout.

But ALEC is not the only organization using model bills to push the corporate-friendly education agenda in the states. Rather, a few corporate-funded “Groups,” or “Other ALECs,” significantly influence education policy in every statehouse nationally. Aside from ALEC, the most influential Groups are two bipartisan trade associations, the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

These entities ensure that teacher-blaming and union-busting policies constitute the “reform” agenda in the vast majority of states. Dozens of reports of cuts to states’ education budgets accompanied by privatization campaigns demonstrate the effectiveness of this coordinated attack on public education.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states and the District of Columbia cut education funding between 2008-2011. For public schools, the financial situation is indeed dire and has worsened in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. The Groups have used the crisis to accelerate the implementation of so-called “reform” policies.

“Eighty-four percent of school districts describe their funding as inadequate and the number of teachers laid off since the economic crisis began is likely to top three hundred thousand without federal assistance to the states,” wrote Gillian Russom in the newly released book, “Education and Capitalism.”

The economic crisis has created a rationale for ALEC and other stealth lobbyists to push privatization campaigns while claiming that they are necessary “reforms” for improving our failing education system, according to Brian Jones, a teacher and New York-based activist featured in the education documentary “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.”

“For the charter operators, ‘reform’ means more money, bigger salaries, etc. For the politicians, it means they get to shout to working and poor people about how they’re reforming education, while doing a huge favor to wealthy, powerful interests,” Jones told Truthout.

The article continues:

A Battle Brewing in the Windy City

CTU President Karen Lewis.

In early June, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents more than 26,000 of the city’s teachers and other school employees, called a strike authorization vote. The vote took place in the immediate aftermath of what many see as labor’s drubbing in the Wisconsin recall elections, which failed to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Adding to the challenge for CTU, in 2011, the Illinois legislature passed SB 7, which mandates that 75 percent of a teacher union’s membership vote “yes” to authorize a strike, rather than a simple majority of voters. To put that into perspective, when the CTU organized a 91 percent voter turnout, it needed at least 83 percent of those members who voted to vote “yes” for its potential strike to be legal.

Though they might not have realized it at the time, the Chicago teachers, who ultimately voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if they do not reach an agreement with the school district on a raise to compensate for an increase in their working hours, were directly challenging the corporate model for education that CSG and ALEC have both promoted in recent legislative cycles.

To read this article in full, go to truthout.

Earlier this year, I posted information about the takeover of Philadelphia schools through privatization. See Philadelphia and the attempted coup of their school district and The push to privatize education in Philadelphia and beyond. During that time, Bruce Dixon, editor of the Black Agenda Report, asked the question:

Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?

On February 14, 2012, Pennsylvania public school students, parents and teachers converged at the Capitol Rotunda to denounce Governor Corbett’s education plans and demand better schools. (Photo: karathepirate)

If some racist made an inappropriate remark about the First Lady or her children our national “civil rights leaders” Obama fans all of them, would be all over that. But standing up for ordinary black children is something our leaders just don’t do much any more.  When was the last time you heard Sharpton, Jealous or any of that tribe inveigh against school closings and the creeping privatization of our schools?

In what should be the biggest story of the week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced Tuesday that it expects to close 40 public schools next year and 64 by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of current enrollment to charter schools, the streets or wherever, and put thousands of experienced, well qualified teachers, often grounded in the communities where they teach, on the street.

Ominously, the shredding of Philadelphia’s public schools isn’t even news outside Philly. This correspondent would never have known about it save for a friend’s Facebook posting early this week. Corporate media in other cities don’t mention massive school closings, whether in Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, or in this case Philadelphia, perhaps so people won’t have given the issue much deep thought before the same crisis is manufactured in their town. Even inside Philadelphia the voices of actual parents, communities, students and teachers are shut out of most newspaper and broadcast accounts.

The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.

But they won’t grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won’t start and won’t engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.

To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar “loan” from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds.

To read this post in full, go to the Black Agenda Report.

I also ask the same question.

And from another writer on the subject of Philadelphia schools…

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia

Last week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings – nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work?  Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education – from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch — will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion, prisons, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy, but not enough for education—or for jobs, housing, healthcare, or old age pensions?  These are not “welfare” but are part of the social contract for which we pay taxes and make social security payments.

In an article reprinted on Truthout on May 10th titled “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?,” Bruce Dixon posed this answer:

The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don’t want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don’t need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go.

“Lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor or prison”—this is very close to the “indentured servitude” that was abolished along with slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865.  The freed slaves are being recaptured by debt, beginning with the debt of school loans, followed by credit card debt, mortgage debt, and healthcare costs.

As was cynically observed in a document called the Hazard Circular, allegedly circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts in July 1862:

[S]lavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages. This can be done by controlling the money. The great debt that capitalists will see to it is made out of the war, must be used as a means to control the volume of money. . . . It will not do to allow the greenback, as it is called, to circulate as money any length of time, as we cannot control that.  [Quoted in Charles Lindburgh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (Washington D.C.: National Capital Press, 1913), page 102.]

The quotation may be apocryphal, but it graphically conveys the fate of our burgeoning indentured class.  It also suggests the way out: we must recapture the control of our money and banking systems, including the issuance of debt-free money (“greenbacks”) by the government.

To read this article in full, go to The Web of Debt Blog.

The vultures are continuing to circle around the last bastion of our public trust, the public school system. This time it’s Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp Rebrands Its Education Division, But Is It Enough for Schools to Trust It?

News Corp and Education: Some Background

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp made two important acquisitions in November 2010: paying $360 million for a 90 stake in the educational content/assessment company Wireless Generation and hiring New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. These were the first signs that News Corp was making a foray – clearly a political and a technological one – into the education sector. But there were plenty of questions about what exactly the publishing/news company had in mind.

Since then, News Corp has made a few more moves, including hiring Diana Rhoten, the co-founder of education startup accelerator Startl, teaming up with the College Board to make education an important issue in the 2012 Presidential campaign, and sending Murdoch and Klein to speak at various events about the “failures” of the current education system and the promises of technology to fix things.

Whatever the company’s plans might have been, they were sidetracked in 2011 by the phone hacking scandal at its News of the World tabloid – revelations that the paper had hacked into phones of politicians, celebrities, and British citizens.

Joel Klein set aside his leadership over the company’s new education division to lead the internal investigation. (British prosecutors filed charges against 8 of the organization’s editors yesterday.) The New York state comptroller yanked a no-bid contract that had been granted to Wireless Generation, citing its association with News Corp following the phone hacking scandal. (The state did not, however, sever ties for the contract given to the Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative for a nation-wide educational data infrastructure with software built by Wireless Generation. New York City is one of the pilot districts for that project.)

Despite what looks to be an ongoing criminal proceeding against News Corp, the company hopes that its announcement late last month to split the company in two will help assuage fears about its ethics and its future. One company would focus on the newspaper and publishing business (including The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins); the other on entertainment (including Fox News). And yesterday News Corp unveiled the new brand for its newly formed education division: Amplify.

To read more about Amplify and Murdoch’s vision for our children, go to Hack Education.

This week, I will leave you with Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges on “The Sacrifice Zones”. To follow is the introduction.

There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.

“These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed,” Hedges tells Bill.

“It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings… And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.”