Multi-tasking with the 1% … killing the schools AND making the poor pay for their funeral.

I showed here how we could raise $94 million for the School District from the property tax, as requested by the Mayor, and sequester it until the SRC abandons its privatization plan. But is the property tax the best place to get the money? If the City raised the $94 million from some other source, it could still sequester it until the SRC sees the light.

The 1% generally likes the property tax. It’s a regressive tax that falls most heavily on people who are property-rich, cash poor. How sweet it would be to make poor and working people not only pay more, but to make them pay more for destruction of one of their greatest assets, the public school system.

There has been dispute, however, whether a property tax increase as it’s been packaged this year would indeed hit poor people the hardest.

Some progressives think that a property tax increase this year would not be regressive because it would emerge out of the AVI initiative intended to correct the massive inequities in City property assessments. But even if assessments were accurate, and didn’t under-value richer neighborhoods, poor property owners would still get hit hardest from tax rate increases. It’s just the nature of the property tax. It taxes at a single rate that the rich can pay much easier than the poor.

AVI, if done right, is a good thing. Increasing rates, however, to generate more revenue from the tax, might still not be.

Council Can Give the SRC the Money to NOT Privatize the System

Helen and Dan have laid bare the SRC’s plan to kill public education and to use the Mayor’s AVI initiative to fund the murder to the tune of $94 million. I have nothing to add to their brilliant exposure of the crime scene. However I do want to point out that Council does not have to collaborate. In fact Council can help prevent the sell-off of the School District through a simple carrot and stick approach.

All it has to do is sequester the $94 million and hold it back until the community gets what it wants and deserves.

Here’s how Council can do that:

1) Amend the pending Operating Budget Bill to appropriate $94 million to the City’s Sinking Fund Commission, a traditional place for parking money intended to be used later for other purposes. Putting the $94 million there would mean the School District couldn’t get it until Council passed another ordinance approving its transfer later in the year.

2) Amend the Mayor’s AVI bill to shift the revenue targets so that the City is getting $94 million more (the money that would go to the Sinking Fund) and the School District $94 million less.

3) Work with labor and the community to come up with a plan that works to keep the School District public and thriving, and refuse to send the $94 million until the SRC goes along.

What if the SRC doesn’t meet our demands by the end of the next fiscal year and insists on going forward with its fun and games? Well, then the $94 million would merge back into the City’s General Fund to be allocated the following year either for other purposes or to enable tax rates to be reduced. Or it could be used next year to reduce the pain from the Governor's social services cuts.

That’s it. It’s not rocket science; it’s just about Council’s sincerity in opposing the privatization of the District. They can fight it if they want.

Predatory Payday Lending Bill Flies Out of Cramped PA House Committee

By Mark Price, Third and State

Room 148 of the State Capitol might as well double as a Capitol broom closet. That's where the House Consumer Affairs Committee this morning rushed out amendments to House Bill 2191, which legalizes predatory payday lending in Pennsylvania.

The amendments to HB 2191 were misleadingly pitched as adding more consumer protections to the bill. Even the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society took a look at these amendments and said they do "nothing to mitigate the already harmful aspects of HB 2191," and that one amendment "actually worsens the problem it claims to solve."

One focus of the amendments this morning was language banning renewals or rollovers of a payday loan, as if that was a solution to stopping the long-term cycle of debt. It is not.

Let the Games Begin: PA Senate Announces Details of Budget Proposal

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Action on the state budget began in earnest Monday with state Senator Jake Corman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, releasing important details on the Senate budget plan that will be advanced this week.

The proposal would increase Governor Tom Corbett's budget proposal by $500 million, with total spending rising from $27.15 billion to $27.65 billion for 2012-13. The Senate plan rejects $191 million in fund transfers and new revenue and proposes new spending cuts of $165 million. Those spending reductions were not yet detailed.

According to a Capitolwire.com report (subscription required), the Senate budget plan:

Set off without a Paddle: Unpacking the School District’s Disaster Capitalism

Photo by Louie U-A

Last night, a few more details (and scare tactics) from the School District’s radical plan for Philadelphia schools were released. If you didn’t believe that we were in the throes of disaster capitalism, you should now. Watch how the game is played:

The Philadelphia School District's financial situation is so dire that without a $94 million cash infusion from a proposed city property-reassessment plan, schools might not be able to open in the fall, leaders said Tuesday night.

At a district budget hearing, chief recovery officer Thomas Knudsen stressed that the district might fall off "the cliff on which we now stand so precariously" if swift action is not taken.

The district's money problems, coupled with a lack of academic progress and safety issues, have prompted Knudsen to propose a total overhaul of how schools are organized and run. More students would be shifted to charter schools, and the central office would be shrunk, with district schools managed by staff or outside organizations who bid to run them.

See the connections they make? We have a massive budget hole! Ergo, we need a total overhaul of schools!

There. Is. So. Much. Wrong. With. This. Shit. Where to start?

Yes, the School District has a massive budget hole. Let’s all acknowledge that reality, while also remembering that it seems pointless to totally trust the always shifting numbers that come from a School District that still employs the same financial wizards as during the reign of Arlene Ackerman.

The School District will attempt to fill this massive, mostly state-caused, budget hole through the following ways:

  • Slashing wages and benefits from teachers, cafeteria workers and janitors.
  • Forcing charter schools to take seven percent less money, per child.
  • Scaring City Council into coughing up 94 million dollars more.
  • And, in the end, borrowing. A lot. (They will do this by issuing bonds.)

All told, the ‘true’ deficit that they are making up with the above factors is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Where does the restructuring of the School District, the closing of 40 schools and moving tens of thousands of kids to charter schools, fit into all of this? Surely, this radical change in the district is also a huge part of the savings?

Nope. Not really. Despite needing to plug this massive, hundreds of millions of dollars big hole, this radical reorganization will save something like 33 million dollars (according to the School District’s questionable numbers). Again, compared to all the rest, borrowing included, which stretch well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, these savings— if they are true— are almost a pittance.

As a parent put it eloquently last night:

Parent Rebecca Poyourow said the district was resorting to "crazy-making" rhetoric and unfairly connecting the reorganization plan with the budget.

"It is at best foolish - and at worst devious - for you to choose this moment of fiscal crisis to foist a poorly conceived and primarily ideological reorganization scheme on Philadelphia schools," Poyourow said. "This move smacks of manipulation."

Again, and again, and again, this needs to be stated: The massive overhaul of our schools and the massive budget deficit are not connected.

So, why are the Mayor and Knudsen connecting these two things?

I can think of at least two possible conclusions. First, the radical changes are simply a long-standing ideological push, led by people who believe markets should solve the puzzle that is urban education. (In this game, the Mayor is anywhere from the person behind the scenes, pushing this along, or, alternatively, someone who is also being taken for a ride.) Maybe it really is that simple.

Or second, maybe Knudsen and Nutter are overseeing a bankrupt district, and want to ‘look good’ for Wall Street. They know they need to borrow money to keep this crippled mess hobbling along, so they are going with what they think will appeal to creditors.

Neither, of course, has anything to do with how we properly educate our children. But, this is the shock doctrine, where logic and reason are but constructs to be shouted down.

So, please, ignore the screaming threats of nuclear Armageddon that Mayor Nutter and Knudsen are making on your porch. Because while they are doing so, your television, your dining room set, and your youngest child are all being carried out the back door.

Want to understand just how horrible the voter ID law is?

Yesterday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center, the Homeless Advocacy Project, and others, filed suit against Tom Corbett to stop Pennsylvania's voter ID law:

HARRISBURG - Wartime welder, civil-rights marcher, world traveler, voter - Viviette Applewhite of Philadelphia's Germantown section can boast of having been all those things.

On Tuesday, she added another title: plaintiff.

Applewhite, who is 93 and uses a wheelchair, became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed here in state court by the ACLU and the NAACP challenging Pennsylvania's new law requiring voters to produce a driver's license or other photo identification before they are allowed to vote.

The complaint (pdf) details in heartbreaking detail the stories of a number of people-- especially the elderly-- who, quite simply, will no longer be allowed to vote, come November.

9. Petitioner Viviette Applewhite, a registered voter in Pennsylvania, is a 92-yearold African-American woman born in 1919 in Philadelphia. A graduate of Germantown High School, Ms. Applewhite worked as a welder during World War II in the Sun Shipyard in Chester, Pennsylvania. She thereafter worked in hotels in Chicago and Philadelphia. Ms. Applewhite married and raised a daughter who for decades worked for various federal, Pennsylvania, and municipal government agencies. Now a widow, Ms. Applewhite has lived in Philadelphia for much of her life, including the past twenty years, and enjoys five grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.

School Destruction Video: "If we fail, we will have to console more families who have lost their children to crime and despair."

Last night, as reported by the Notebook, the Inquirer and others, I attended the first (I think) of what will be many mass meetings about the Nutter/Knudsen plan to radically alter public education in the city.

From the Notebook:

Several hundred people gathered at historic Mother Bethel AME Church on Lombard Street Sunday night to decry plans put forward by District staff and consultants to close dozens of schools, expand charters, and reorganize the School District into “achievement networks” primarily run by private entities.

A succession of preachers roused the gathering and put public officials on notice that their voices would be heard before any such radical restructuring would be allowed to take place.

“This system is being designed to fail, and fail our children,” said the Rev. Kevin Johnson of Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The meeting was organized by POWER Philadelphia, a faith-based organizing group doing work around several issues including education. Many of the speakers invoked the language of civil rights and called the plan the new Jim Crow, destined to consign Black and Latino children to permanent second-class educations.

“The most important civil rights issue of our time, that is public education,” said Johnson.

We will have plenty on the substance of this plan, but, for now, watch two preachers lead the crowd at Mother Bethel (video from Techbook Online). The first, Dr. Kevin Johnson, leads one of the more historic churches in our city, Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The second speaker is not, in fact, ordained, but, she is our preacher, and she should look pretty familiar:

Well said.

Should a Starving Child Live Within his Means? What about a Starving School District?

Would the Daily News tell a starving child to live within his means? Would the Mayor say that a child who was facing benefit cuts in already measly food stamps to ‘grow up,’ face reality, and get used to a regular dose of rice, beans, and malnutrition?

Of course not. In fact, in the face of growing attacks on nutrition assistance, politicians across the city are taking on the “Food Stamp Challenge.” The premise of the challenge is to illustrate just how difficult it is for a poor person to feed themselves on $35 a week, and how impossible it would be to function with even less.

Allotted just $35 for a week of food, participants will learn firsthand the anxiety-driven calculus of finding nutrition with nearly no money.

"The benefit is being cut in draconian ways, and we're hoping to make people aware of how limiting the benefit already is," said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Coalition.

....

Nationwide, about $14 billion will be taken out of the food-stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That translates into up to $15 a month being excised from an individual's monthly benefits. The average monthly benefit per person in Pennsylvania is $113. In New Jersey, it's around $133.

....

[Congressman Bob] Brady said it was "ludicrous" for people to have to eat on $35 a week, adding, "I'll see what I can get for that money. You can buy a lot of rice, but it's not the healthiest thing to eat. It's pretty difficult."

It is extremely hard to live with little money for food. It is commonsense then, that cutting those benefits, and simply stating that poor people should adjust, is a little inhumane. What if adjusting, while still being able to maintain reasonable nutrition, was simply impossible to do?

You're not speaking to me, Mr. Knudsen

It's election day. Vote! But let's remember we vote for the key issues we care about. Top of the list is the bomb out of 440 that the District faces a billion dollar cumulative deficit by 2017, will close 40 schools next year and another 24 by 2017, and put 40% of students in charters by 2017. Doing so would result in an 85% academic success rate, the District predicts. Tom Knudsen is the gas industry exec now heading up Philly schools as a short-term "Chief Recovery Officer." Recently the District contracted with Boston Consulting Group for $1.4M to develop a turnaround plan for schools. Knudsen announced the plan yesterday and made it public today.

Dear Mr. Knudsen:

I am a mother of three children in District and charter schools in this city. I have been actively involved in stopping good schools from decline and helping low-performing violent schools turnaround. I believe in the essentialness of a quality public school system and have fought for its vision. My 7th grade son will soon outlast four superintendents including yours. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not speaking to me.

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and right-sizing our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25% of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools – many of them community anchors – as “streamlining operations” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” – which just means larger class sizes without extra funds. You’re not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend more than a $1 million for six week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an “intimate, hands in glove” relationship yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb. You’re not speaking to me when you’ll go to any extreme to radically transform “education delivery” yet the most basic things parents and staff and students have called for – more teachers in our schools, bilingual counselors, nurses in every school, librarians, fresh food in the cafeteria, new buildings and playgrounds – are completely and utterly absent from your “plan.”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been around the block a few times.

Will the Mayor lead a movement to save our schools?

Michael Nutter talked a great deal about education during his reelection campaign. His inaugural speech focused on education. He said he wanted to take on responsibility for the schools.

But today the SRC announced that the School District in Philadelphia is going to be drastically downsized. Many schools will be closed. More students will attend charter schools. In a school system that has already suffered devastating cutbacks, even if some of these changes make for a more efficient use of resources, the overall consequences for our kids cannot be good. None of the suggested administrative changes deal with the fundamental problem--we don't have the resources to provide our kids with the minimal requirements of a decent education. We don't have money for enough quality teachers, teacher training, school books, and counselors.

And the financial problem we face comes from Harrisburg and Governor Corbett's relentless attack on school funding. That has me wondering if Michael Nutter has forgotten his top priority or is simply unwilling to do what it takes to address the funding problem schools face at its source, that is, in Harrisburg.

Vote: Patrick Murphy and Other Important Races Out There in Philly

Today is Election Day. Please vote.

There are a couple very important races today.

1) First and foremost: The Democratic Primary for Attorney General. I strongly support Pat Murphy. Please spread the word for him. A win there would be huge.

The other big races are primaries for State Representative. There are some heated races out there.

I will just give my take on a couple.

2) If you live in West Philly, ignore the crap, and vote for Jim Roebuck. Roebuck is one of Philly's better State Reps, and he is being targeted because he does not want to destroy public schools through vouchers. His opponent, Fatimah Loren Muhammad, is being bankrolled by big money pushers of vouchers, and other far-right groups.

The money of these groups is the reason that she is able to run a credible campaign, and, when elected, she will owe them.

3) If you live in much of Center City, you have probably received a bunch of stuff in the race between Rep. Babette Josephs and Brian Sims. I know them both personally, like them both personally, and I think they will both represent the values of the district well.

Babette has been a decent representative, warts and all, for a long time. Meanwhile, Brian would give Harrisburg something that it sorely needs: an openly gay legislator.

So, if I were voting, I would go with Babette. She is far from perfect and no one gets to hold on to a seat forever. When things are close calls, as I think this is, I don't think we need to prioritize beating our allies. (Brian used to agree, since two years ago, he was her campaign treasurer.)

Truthfully, when there is not much policy-wise between two people, you start focusing on the little stuff. And so, the thing that in the end sealed the deal for me, and made me want to at least mention the race: Brian's most recent mailing attacking Babette was absolutely disgusting, basically implying that Babette supported child molesters. We could go through the logical fallacies of the ad, but, let me just say that I think it was a shameful piece of campaign literature, targeting a 70 plus year old woman who-- whatever you want to say about her-- almost always sits on the right side of issues. So, I hope Babette wins for that alone.

That is my take. Please vote!

Keeping Promises: Patrick Murphy for Attorney General!

I met Patrick Murphy in 2005, when as a new Congressional candidate, he spoke to a room of about 12 students at my law school. His resume and bio—the handsome, young, progressive, JAG officer, who sounded straight out of Northeast Philly and who was going to lead our 2006 Democratic wave—led Democrats everywhere to swoon.

In that meeting, I vividly remember that a student immediately asked him about LGBT rights, and the Defense of Marriage Act. If I recall correctly, I think it was asked in that familiar law-school assertiveness/hostility that makes us all so lovable to our friends and families. And, given the image of military men, this was a pretty interesting question.

Patrick responded to that question quickly, stating that he occasionally taught con law, and that in his opinion, DOMA was unconstitutional, and needed to go, and that he would be an ally for LGBT rights on that and other issues. In that little circle, his forceful, responsive answer really made an impression.

And what did Patrick do when he won? He followed through. He spent the next four years— right up until the moment he left office—leading the successful fight to end DADT, an outdated, bigoted piece of American policy. Patrick, a young Iraq-war veteran, used his face and voice to the issue, and gave the fight an immediate boost.

Don’t take my word for it-observe the Obama-led standing ovation that Patrick received when the policy was finally repealed (13:10 mark if the edit doesn't work):

While the slow lurches of progress would have forced an end to DADT sooner or later, it is unclear if that would have happened anytime soon without Patrick. Think about this: If Obama really wanted legislative approval for the repeal, and Patrick didn’t spearhead this process, it very well may not have happened in 2010. And if it didn't happen in 2010, it certainly would not have happened this year, as the GOP House would have kept the legislation bottled up forever.

Instead, we have change. And while progressives often have a complicated relationship with our military, there is no question that, like the Truman ordered desegregation, our armed services can be powerful tools for larger societal acceptance of change:

Patrick was not a perfect Congressman. (For example, he supported a terrible piece of immigration legislation.) But overall, he was a good Congressman from a very tough district. He fought for healthcare for all. He fought for the public option. He fought for women to be able to control their own body. And, he led that fight on a piece of the civil rights struggle of this generation, leading on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He was an ally and a doer, and despite not being totally polished, he was a leader.

That is why I was so happy to hear that Patrick was running for Attorney General. That same leadership, when applied to things like consumer issues— for which he has spoken frequently about— will be a sea change for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. (And, by the way, the handsome, Iraq War JAG Captain, will be the perfect person to run alongside President Obama, and be the first Democrat in PA to ever win the office.)

His opponent is Kathleen Kane. She was a mostly unknown prosecutor in the Allegheny Lackawanna County DA’s office. And she is running a campaign that is largely funded by her family’s trucking business. She seems fine. However, despite the need for women in PA higher offices, I simply don’t think she compares to Patrick.

There are different reasons that you can vote for a politician. You can read the questionnaires that they submitted, see if they agree with you on the issues, and then hope that they will stick to those positions, and advocate for them. You can look at someone’s bio, and look for clues there. But, there are other times when you can look at a body of work. Where you can look at how someone’s words have been reflected in their actions. That is where we are with Patrick. When Patrick tells us that he will be a strong advocate for Pennsylvania familes targeted by predatory mortgage companies, I don’t really have to wonder. His body of work tells me that he will follow through.

This is a real opportunity here. Let’s support the people that have followed through on progressive fights, and get the word out on this race. Please, please, please: vote, and spread the word. Let’s not waste this chance.

Philadelphia NOW Celebrates Local Women Leaders Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:30-7:30 pm Philadelphia Ethical Society

Philadelphia NOW Celebrates Local Women Leaders

Thursday, April 19, 2012
5:30-7:30 pm
Philadelphia Ethical Society
1906 Rittenhouse Square

Please join us as we honor:

Gloria Gilman
for
LEADERSHIP FOSTERING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AS CHAIR OF THE PHILADELPHIA DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS AND NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORKS

Tracey Gordon
for
LEADERSHIP FOSTERING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND VOTER PARTICIPATION

Sue and Hal Rosenthal
for
A LIFETIME OF ADVOCACY FOR PROGRESSIVE AND FEMINIST CAUSES AND SUE, IN PARTICULAR, FOR HER WORK IN THE MATERNITY CARE COALITION

Jocelyn Morris
for
FOUNDING GERMANTOW NOW IN 1980 TO COMBAT SEXISM AND RACISM AND FOR
HER CONTINUING WORK LINKING SEXISM AND RACISM

$35 at the door. Sponsors donate a minimum of $100. This includes two event tickets and a listing in our event program. Click on the Donate button at www.phillynow.org. Or send your contribution by check payable to Philadelphia NOW to 1211 Chestnut St., Ste. 700, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Please contact us at info.phillynow@gmail.com for further information or call Kathy Black at 215-893-3770

Vast Majority of PA College IDs Not Valid for Voting

A recent study released today by PennPIRG and a broad coalition of voter protection groups found that Pennsylvania’s new photo ID voting law could potentially disenfranchise more than 80% of the state’s college students.

While the law states that it will allow college IDs as a valid form of voting ID, it also includes language requiring that all IDs must have expiration dates, which the study found very few colleges in the state actually print on their issued IDs.

Out of the 110 surveyed colleges and universities only 15 schools have student identification cards for all students that meet the requirements of having a photo, name and expiration date on the card [1].

The recent survey was conducted by a diverse coalition of voter protection groups in the state, including PennPIRG, the ACLU, Committee of Seventy, Project H.O.M.E, the Lawyers Committee and Project Vote.

“Voter fraud isn’t a problem in Pennsylvania: Voter engagement is,” said Alana Miller of PennPIRG. “It’s estimated that only 74% of all eligible Americans are registered to vote and in 2008, a year that saw one of the highest turnouts in recent history, only 63% cast their ballot. Lawmakers should be looking for solutions that encourage full participation in democracy, not creating laws that set up hurdles for committed voters.”

Stefano Fuchs, a junior at Muhlenberg College, a school with IDs that will not be valid for voting, said, “It’s often hard as a college student to vote because of the transient nature of our living situation. However, elected officials should be doing what they can to increase voter turn out, not stifle it.”

The state legislature did not make sufficient effort to accommodate students by including college IDs as they are issued at most schools in the state as a valid form of identification for voting.

Tax Breaks Vs. Budget Cuts

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Right now in Harrisburg, there is a debate going on over whether the state should make more cuts to schools, universities and protections for our children and grandparents. Unfortunately, the Governor has put forth a budget that would do just that.

The chart below from Better Choices for Pennsylvania compares existing tax loopholes with funding cuts that could be restored by closing loopholes. In each case, additional revenue could help fund vital services without raising taxes on the middle class.

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