This Is How You Know Public Opinion Has Shifted On Minimum Wage

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Bruce Rauner, a super rich Republican businessman who is running to be the next Governor of Illinois, unintentionally illustrated how the American people have changed their attitudes on raising the minimum wage.

Earlier this week, Rauner actually advocated decreasing Illinois’ minimum wage:

In a radio interview Tuesday, Bruce Rauner (R) went farther than the other three men competing for the Illinois GOP’s nomination, who all oppose Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) push to raise the Illinois minimum wage from its current $8.25 hourly level to $10 by the end of 2014. “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage” of $7.25, Rauner told WBGZ listeners. That radio interview brought Rauner’s wage cut proposal to a broader audience, but it wasn’t the first time he had offered it. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rauner called for the same one-dollar cut in December at a candidates’ forum.

Hearing this news, folks went nuts. Rauner was slammed in the press. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis pointed out that Rauner earned $7.36 per second during his private equity career.

Even Republican Bill Brady, a competitor for the nomination, called Rauner’s position “out of touch.”

So the next day, Rauner completely reversed:

“I made a mistake,” Rauner told the Tribune. “I was flippant and I was quick.” Rauner now proposes tying the Illinois minimum wage to the national wage…“I should have said, ‘Tie the Illinois minimum wage to the national wage and, in that context, with other changes in being pro-business, I support raising the national minimum wage.’ I’m OK with that.”

That would mean that if Congress is successful in passing an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, an effort endorsed by President Obama, Rauner would be “OK” with bringing Illinois’ minimum wage up to match it.

Remember, Bruce Rauner is a pro-corporate businessman from the private equity world, the same kind of work as Mitt Romney. He is running as a Republican. And opening his mouth and saying he wants a $1 reduction in his state minimum wage makes him a target of Democrats and Republicans, to the point that he immediately reverses course.

It’s 2014, folks. People are fed up with stagnant wages and political inaction. Anything can happen.

Image via Fightfor15 on Instagram

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Teachers Take Action for Public Education

In more than 60 cities across the country today, teachers, parents, allies and education supporters are rallying to save public education from a series of radical “reforms” pushed by corporations and politically motivated organizations that would do significant damage to our schools and limit the future of our students. The Reclaim the Promise of Public Education coalition was formed to fight for public education as our nation’s gateway to democracy and racial and economic justice.  As part of the day of action, the AFT is running radio, print and online ads to spread the coalition’s message.

AFT President Randi Weingarten discussed the purpose of the day of action:

Teachers, parents, students and community members are banding together to demand a new direction for public education. In some ways, this Day of Action is years in the making. Parents, students, teachers and community members have been coming together in places like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York to call out what’s not working and create solutions that do. Text-fixation, austerity, privatization, division, competition are not working for our students—as we saw in the PISA results this week. Our schools need evidence-based, community-based solutions like early childhood education, wraparound services, professional autonomy and development, parent voices and project-based learning. That’s what this Day of Action is about. That’s what reclaiming the promise is about. These are our schools and they need our solutions.

AFT started a petition for those who support the goals of the day of action:

We want great neighborhood public schools that are safe and welcoming, are fully funded and have teachers who are well-prepared, are well-supported and have manageable class sizes and time to collaborate. We want our schools to be centers of our communities and ensure that children and families have access to wraparound services to meet their social, emotional and health needs. We want curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music and the sciences. We want to put the public back in public education.

In addition to the petition, supporters can join a Thunderclap for the day of action.

Some events are happening later in the day—find out if there is an event near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Cleveland Teachers Give Thousands of Books to Local Latino Families

The impact of a child owning a book cannot be overstated, which is why on July 25, the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) partnered with community group Esperanza to donate more than 6,000 books to Latino families in the area.  The event was held in conjunction with the First Book National Book Bank and was part of a community fair that included face painting, hot dogs and other activities organized and staffed by CTU members.

One child, Maria, immediately picked up a book and dove right into reading. Her eyes lit up as she saw the illustrations, said event organizer and CTU member Jillian Ahrens. “She asked if she could have the book and when we responded, ‘of course,’ she had the biggest smile on her face”.

“The turnout was incredible,” said Ahrens.”Having families, educators and children come together to celebrate books and reading was a great way to connect.”

Ahrens went on to talk about the importance of the event:

During the summer, a lot of our families and students may not have access to books. This contributes to summer learning loss. This summer event not only brought much-needed resources to the students of Cleveland, but it also infused the children with a sense of excitement and joy to engage them in reading. The event helped keep students reading over the summer, which will help them as they begin school this fall. By igniting the love of reading within families and children, this event can help set the stage for future academic success.

Books were given out in CTU bags which created a visual impact that could be seen for several blocks around the event, drawing in more people.

Esperanza is a community organization serving the city’s Latino population. CTU says it plans to continue working with First Book during the upcoming school year.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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From the Cheap Seats: House of Cards Stacks the Deck

As a hardcore DC political junkie and fervent Kevin Spacey fan, I was thrilled when Netflix released the entire first season of House of Cards earlier this year. (Netflix’s experiment is paying off already, with a number of Emmy nominations for this original series.) Veep and Scandal were intermittently amusing but no match for The West Wing‘s fly-on-the-wall insights into the political issues of the day, and even WW jumped the proverbial shark the last couple of years, before closing up shop for good in 2006.

And the first couple of episodes of House of Cards were promising indeed, as Spacey, playing a Democratic congressman out to wreak revenge after being passed over for appointment to Secretary of State, chewed up familiar DC political scenery with obvious relish. A southern Democrat (his character, Frank Underwood, is from South Carolina’s 5th District), Spacey was gleefully non-partisan in his quest for retribution, skewering his own party colleagues as well as Republican opponents.

With so many juicy political targets these days, I looked forward to enjoying seeing how Spacey would humiliate his next hapless – and deserving – victim.

Which turned out to be…the teacher’s union. Say wha?

The far-right Tea Party has hijacked the GOP, Walmart execs are bribing Mexican officials, BP’s egregious negligence blew up Deepwater, the zillionaire Koch brothers are buying up state legislatures left and right and the big bad bogeyman that Kevin Spacey savages (literally, at one point) for three painful episodes is the union representing the folks who teach our kids?

Look, I’m not saying unions should always be portrayed as heroes (though wouldn’t that be a lovely change of pace?) or that they should get a pass. And the specific issue raised in House of Cards – school reform – is a complex one with strong opinions on many sides, sometimes even within the labor movement and certainly among our members, who are parents as well as union members themselves.

But a show as sophisticated as House of Cards can do so much better than trotting out the same old “union boss“ that was a tired stereotype years ago. At its best, The West Wing showed us how our democracy, flawed and imperfect as it is, could work for all of us. These are darker, more difficult times, but even a show like House of Cards, which revels so entertainingly in the seamy underbelly of that same system, can help by showing us who’s really skulking about in those dark alleys behind the Chamber of Commerce.

And sorry, Kevin, it ain’t the teachers.

Garlock, Union Cities Mobilizer for the Metro Washington Council, directs the annual DC Labor FilmFest.

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A Thousand Letters to Tom Corbett

Working America members, teachers, and unemployed Pennsylvanians on both sides of the state delivered over 1,000 handwritten postcards to Governor Tom Corbett’s regional offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. We wanted Corbett to know the drastic, widespread, and ultimately disastrous results of the budget cuts he enacted last year. We wanted him to make good on the rhetoric used in his first year, which called for “shared sacrifice.”

There has been a great deal of sacrifice. But it has not been shared. It has been targeted, acute, and painful. And while the brunt has fallen on students, low-income families, and public workers, 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s businesses pay nothing in income taxes.

“The budget cuts have added to the pool of unemployed workers by contributing to the elimination of 14,000 jobs in education alone,” says Mary Karscig, an unemployed nurse and Working America member who wrote to Corbett. 21,000 Pennsylvanians lost their jobs due to budget cuts alone, many of them due to nearly $900 million slashed from public education. We’ve written about the many school districts in Pennsylvania now facing the fiscal brink, with the bankrupt Chester Upland School District as a sign of things to come. The New York Times reported yesterday that 75 percent of Pennsylvania classrooms now have more kids than they did in 2010.

“I feel worried about the impacts of these cuts on my job search, and I am even more worried about their impacts on my son’s job search,” says Mary.

She adds: “My son will go wherever there is a job, and there is a pretty high chance he’ll have to move out of state.”

We were hoping that this morning’s budget announcement would bring some reprieve to working Pennsylvanians like Mary for the next fiscal year. No such luck. K-12 education did not get the recoup it needed. This time, the biggest ax fell on higher education:  a 17 percent cut to public universities, state-related schools like Penn State, and the 14 state-owned universities.

In another devastating move, $30 million was cut from the Welfare Department, eliminating cash assistance for 60,000 of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians; Philadelphia Senator Vincent Hughes said this was the Governor “putting his foot on the neck of poor people.”

“Last year, Governor Corbett talked a lot about shared sacrifice,” said Kim McMurray, Working America’s Pennsylvania State Director.  “While 70 percent of businesses in Pennsylvania aren’t paying any income taxes to the state because of corporate tax loopholes, schools are running out of money and families are losing their homes.  Does that look like shared sacrifice to you?”

Despite the time, thought, and concern reflected in the postcards, our Pittsburgh members, staff, and allies were refused entrance into Gov. Corbett’s office.  In fact, we were told at the door that the building was private property, and the group was not allowed to enter.  So the delegation delivered the 500 postcards, the community letter, and the report card to the building staff at the entrance of the building where the governor has his office. Corbett needs to understand the effects of his far-reaching, short-sighted cuts, and we’re going to keep fighting to make sure he hears us.

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Corbett’s Budget Will “Turn the Screws” on Pennsylvania Schools

Take Action – Join Working America in telling Gov. Corbett to fully fund public education in Pennsylvania.

“Dramatic and difficult.” “Pain.” “Tough times.” “Turn the screws even tighter.”

That’s just a sampling of the language being used to describe Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow early afternoon.

Last year, Corbett cut almost $900 million from the state education budget, a decision that caused well-publicized pain for the Chester Upland School District. The unionized teachers of that district, which relies on state aid for 70 percent of its budget, made the decision to work without pay, until finally a judge ordered the state to fund the Chester schools through February 23.

The silver lining is that the Chester Upland fiasco shone a bright light on the way schools were getting funded in Pennsylvania. Sarah Ferguson, one of the district’s elementary school teachers, sat with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union earlier this month. Last week, Ferguson was a guest on the Ellen Degeneres Show, where she received a check for $100,000 for the Chester Upland School District from JC Penney.

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But all of that exposure means nothing if Governor Corbett doesn’t restore any funding to struggling schools. And from all the signals he’s sending, it appears that Corbett will stay the course and continue his efforts to defund public education in Pennsylvania, while keeping the oil drillers and others from feeling any pain.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t a problem with one school district. Chester, where the median household income is about $26,000, was just the canary in the coal mine. Six other school districts will be in similarly dire straits within the year if the slashes remain. School districts in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Duquese, York City, Reading, and even the relatively wealthy Poconos are reported to have similar budget predicaments.

Corbett’s belt-tightening act may work wonders with the Tea Party crowd, but they have real, disastrous consequences for Pennsylvania’s future. 70 percent of all state school districts have increased class sizes, according the PSEA President Mike Crossey. All the programs that have been proven to raise student achievement: tutoring, art, music, full-day kindergarten, and after-school programs all “took the biggest hit” with last year’s budget.

The New York Times quoted Chester Upland’s acting deputy superintendent as saying: “Poor schools in this state are underfunded…Poor kids aren’t going to get the same shot as wealthy kids. That’s the society we are in now.”

One-time gifts from Ellen Degeneres and JC Penney are great, but they are not policy. Corbett seems to think that Pennsylvania can have a bright future with crowded classrooms, fewer teachers, fewer extracurricular programs, and the lightest possibly tax burden for oil drillers and the already-super-wealthy. But that’s just simply not the case. Corbett needs to reverse course with this new budget, before it’s too late.

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Stop the Spread of the Education Catastrophe in Pennsylvania

Last week, a federal judge ordered that the state of Pennsylvania release $3.2 million to fund the cash-strapped Chester Upland School District.

For the students, as well as the unionized teachers who worked for free for several weeks after the district ran out of money in early January, the trouble is far from over. That money will keep those schools running only until February 23, and the school board has sued the state for funding to take district through the end of the school year. Columnist Phil Heron rightly called it “a reprieve; not a pardon.”

It’s also increasingly clear that Chester Upland, which relies on state aid for 70 percent of its funding, might not be the last Pennsylvania school district to go bankrupt this year.

There’s this report out of Philadelphia:

City Controller Alan Butkovitz told new schools chief Thomas Knudsen in a letter Wednesday that he would including a warning to bond-rating agencies in his annual independent audit report unless the district offers plans to close a massive projected budget deficit by the end of June.

As well as this warning from Paul Gottlieb of the Pennsylvania State Education Association:

“The Harrisburg School District, the York City School District, Allentown School District, the Reading School District and on the west coast there’s a district called Sto-Rox and another called Duquesne which are, if not totally out of money at this point, are on the verge of being totally out of money,” Gottlieb said. “Duquesne has been in straits for many, many years now.”

The problems stem from a decision made by Republican Governor Tom Corbett to slash nearly $900 million in state education funding last year. Despite the outcry for additional revenue, Corbett has been unwilling to take small steps to recoup funds; he has particularly stubborn in charging fees to oil drilling companies.

Corbett, responding to public pressure, finally joined legislative leaders on Monday to discuss the Chester Upland situation. After a 90 minutes conversation he told the press: “It will be up to everyone to work together to find an acceptable, long-term solution to this problem. A solution that will make sure this problem is not repeated in the future.”

Corbett unveils his next state budget in two weeks. He needs to make sure to give school districts enough funding to give students an education that prepares them for the future. What we’re seeing in Chester Upland and elsewhere is the result of a cut, slash, and defund policy that hurts kids, hurts teachers, and ultimately hurts the state.

Take action – tell Governor Corbett to fully fund public education. If he is serious about not repeating the Chester Upland situation in the future, he needs to show it.

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Will the Voices of Chester Upland Teachers Be Heard at the State of the Union?


Photo by Terrapin Flyer on Flickr, via Creative Commons

Updated – Take action! Tell Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to fully fund public education and put teachers back to work.

In the Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania, unionized teachers worked without pay for weeks after the district ran out of money. The district relies on state aid for 70 percent of its funding, and the $900 million in education cuts put in place by Republican Governor Tom Corbett have put teachers and students in an impossible position.

Yesterday, the Governor said he would release enough funds for the district to operate through June. While the immediate problem is resolved, this makes no assurances for next year; nor does it address similar situations that could soon be faced by schools in Reading, York, Duquesne City, or Harrisburg.

Luckily, this problem might get a big, bright light shone on it this evening at the State of the Union, where Chester Upland District math and literacy teacher Sarah Ferguson will attend as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Ferguson, who has taught in Chester for 21 years, had one of the more devastating quotes in the Philadelphia Inquirer piece that broke the news on the catastrophe in Chester:

Columbus Elementary School math and literacy teacher Sara Ferguson, who has taught in Chester Upland for 21 years, said after the meeting, “It’s alarming. It’s disturbing. But we are adults; we will make a way. The students don’t have any contingency plan. They need to be educated, so we intend to be on the job.”

Of the decision to invite Ms. Ferguson, the White House wrote that she is someone who “sees education as a vehicle of change in our society, and feels privileged to have touched the lives of so many students.”

What the invitation also says, implicitly, is: There are real, tangible, and dire consequences of politically-driven decisions to oppose funding for states to pay teachers and public safety workers.

The education catastrophe in the Chester Upland School District is a result of two policy shifts.

First is the budget-slashing bonanza that has been a hallmark of freshman Republican governors from Ohio to Florida.

State budget details aren’t the most exciting things to talk about, but they show the priorities of those in power. When Governor Corbett can’t cough up money to pay educators to teach low-income students, but can shield oil drillers from paying for impact they have on Pennsylvania communities, that shows his priorities.

The second shift is the desire at the federal level to oppose any and all attempts to alleviate unemployment and the public layoffs at the state level. When President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, Senate Republicans blocked a chance to debate it. When Democrats attempted to pass the sections of the bill separately, including the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, Senate Republicans once again filibustered even debating the bill, even though CNN found 75 percent of Americans in favor of the provision.

It’s obvious and natural that many Republican politicians don’t want President Obama to be reelected. It’s just a question of priorities: is one political victory more important than thousands of children getting an education? Is protecting the Pennsylvania oil drillinng industry, which happens to include many of his campaign donors, more important to Governor Corbett than adequately funding Pennsylvania schools?

Working America members are asking these questions. Hopefully after the State of the Union, the rest of the country will be asking them too.

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An Education Catastrophe in Pennsylvania

Two days ago, the Chester Upland School District in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, ran out of money.

Despite this fact, the schools are still functioning. Children in the predominantly African-American school district are still attending classes every day, as if nothing is different.

But something is very different. The teachers are now working for free.

While you digest that, here are some other things to know about the Chester Upland School District. The median household income in Chester, PA is $23,703, less than half the national average. With such an economically disadvantaged tax base, the school district relies on state aid for about 70 percent of its total funding.

When freshman Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed his budget last summer, he cut $900 million from Pennsylvania’s statewide education funding. Yet it was the Chester Upland school board that received a letter from the state Education Secretary in December saying, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer, that “the board had failed to properly manage its finances and would not get any additional funds.”

So at a union meeting on Tuesday, the employees resolved that despite recent developments, they would stay on teaching without pay “as long as [they] are individually able.”

Tanya Somanader at ThinkProgress has more:

Chester Upland was forced to lay off “40 percent of its professional staff and about half of its unionized support staff before school began last fall.” That leaves 200 professionals and 65 support staff to manage a school with class sizes of over 40 students.

Chester Upland is not the only district desperately trying to stay afloat. Corbett’s cuts forced one school district to enforce wage freezes and cut extracurricular activities and another turned to actually using sheep instead of lawnmowers to cut grass at two of its schools. As ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron pointed out, Corbett could relieve school districts if he let special interest groups like tobacco and the oil and gas industry go without their tax breaks. But he seems to prefer allowing teachers to go without pay.

Budgets aren’t just numbers on a piece of paper. They show the priorities of those in power. The priorities of the Corbett Administration, it would appear, include enriching the wealthy donors and industries that supported his 2010 campaign, but not the education of Pennsylvania’s children.

For instance, a woman in Florida who donated $180,000 to Corbett’s campaign is married to the CEO of a Marcellus Shale drilling firm. The legislature is currently debating how much Marcellus Shale drillers should pay for the affect their activities are having on Pennsylvania’s environment, communities, and local infrastructure. Corbett, not so coincidentally, has been very reluctant to levy fees on the drillers, despite the desperate need for revenue.

I guess it’s a damn shame that neither the children of Chester, Pennsylvania, many of whom come from households below the poverty line, nor the teachers of the Chester Upland School District who are currently making zero dollars for educating those children, can afford to make massive contributions to Tom Corbett’s reelection campaign. It’s a damn shame because perhaps Corbett would be more reluctant to gut Pennsylvania schools and more willing to charge enormous, wealthy energy companies what they owe.

But this isn’t just a story about Corbett. It’s a story about the brave men and women of the Chester Upland School District who are doing what many of us would not be willing to do: go into work every day without the promise of a paycheck, for the simple reason that the students need them. More than anything, it’s a reminder to thank a teacher.

Photo by frankjuarez on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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