Thursday morning announcements.

My friend Diane Horowitz at De Paul wants you to know about their program marking the 40th anniversary of IDEA, the ground breaking federal special education law.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 7.59.54 AM

And my friend and neighbor Robin Potter wants you to know about this labor ed program, funded in part in the memory of her late husband, Peter Camarata. Peter was a nationally known rank-and-file union activist and reformer inside the Teamsters.

“We can only take 20 registrations, so it is first come first serve for CTU members only (pilot program, then we will expand depending on success).  Will be a worthy education – the Fund pays the tuition & lunch. Member only pays $20.  Thank you my fav blogger,” wrote Robin.

Please contact Maria Dokes mdokes@illinois.edu for registration inquiries.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 7.59.03 AM

The inbox. Ralph Martire in Crain’s. A pension fix.

By: Ralph Martire
January 16, 2013

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the recent lame-duck session in Springfield ended.

Why? No action was taken to address the $95 billion in debt owed to the state’s five pension systems.

This leaves the systems with just 40 percent of the funding they should have currently, which is well below the 80 percent generally deemed healthy for public systems. Good government groups and editorial boards alikelamented the Legislature’s failure to pass yet another proposal to reduce that ginormous obligation — this time by cutting almost $30 billion in benefits earned by current workers and retirees.

But rather than being dismayed, folks should be relieved. Here’s why.

A problem really can’t be solved unless the proposed solution addresses its true cause. And the proposal that failed to pass during the lame-duck session — like every other proposal introduced to date on this subject — focused its solution on benefit cuts and thereby failed to deal with this particular problem’s true cause.

See, three factors have contributed to the creation of this unfunded liability. The first two are items inherent to the pension systems themselves, like benefit levels, salary increases and actuarial assumptions; and investment losses suffered during the Great Recession. But if those were the only factors creating the unfunded liability, the systems would be around 70 percent funded today, meaning no crisis.

The vast majority of the unfunded liability is made up of the third contributing factor: debt. Indeed, for more than 40 years. the state used the pension systems like a credit card, borrowing against what it owed them to cover the cost of providing current services, which effectively allowed constituents to consume public services without having to pay the full cost thereof in taxes.

This irresponsible fiscal practice became such a crutch that it was codified into law in 1994 (P.A. 88-0593). That act implemented such aggressive borrowing against pension contributions to fund services that it grew the unfunded liability by more than 350 percent from 1995 to 2010 — by design. Worse, the repayment schedule it created was so back-loaded that it resembles a ski slope, with payments jumping at annual rates no fiscal system could accommodate. Want proof? This year the total pension payment under the ramp is $5.1 billion — more than $3.5 billion of which is debt service. By 2045, that annual payment is scheduled to exceed $17 billion, with all growth being debt service.

It is this unattainable, unaffordable repayment schedule that is straining the state’s fiscal system — not pension benefits and not losses from the Great Recession. And no matter how much benefits are cut, that debt service will grow at unaffordable rates. Which means decision-makers can’t solve this problem without re-amortizing the debt.

Given that the current repayment schedule is a complete legal fiction — a creature of statute that doesn’t have any actuarial basis — making this change is relatively easy. Simply re-amortizing $85 billion of the unfunded liability into flat, annual debt payments of around $6.9 billion each through 2057 does the trick. After inflation, this new, flat, annual payment structure creates a financial obligation for the state that decreases in real terms over time, in place of the dramatically increasing structure under current law. Moreover, because some principal would be front- rather than back-loaded, this re-amortization would cost taxpayers $35 billion less than current law.

One last thing — it actually solves the problem by dealing with its cause.

 

 

In the NEA, this is what democracy looks like.

At the NEA convention in Chicago last year, we delegates voted in support of New Business Item 93.

NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.

More than the precise wording of the NBI itself was the sense (common sense I would say) that Teach For America has become a tool of corporate reformers to undermine teacher unions and teacher contracts.

Here we are less than six months since NBI 93 was adopted by the 10,000 delegates at the NEA RA, and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is co-writing columns on teacher quality with the Wendy Kopp, head of TFA.

Apparently NEA votes don’t mean much to NEA leaders.

Waiting for Kryptonite VII.

This is probably the last in a series of reviews of the faux doc Waiting for Superman. Alistair Bomphray teaches English and Journalism at Cal State Hayward.

Unfortunately, Guggenheim’s view on this debate is as free from nuance as a DC comic book. Enter Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of D.C. schools, as the caped union buster. And over there, feasting on the wormy corpses of our children’s dreams, is Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, as Lex Luthor. Rather than provide useful historical context or explore the philosophical gap between these two opposing figures, Guggenheim is content to paint the issue in broad strokes. Yes, of course, the Rubber Room is straight out of Catch 22, and, yes, of course, there are bad teachers out there (we’ve all had them), but, c’mon, what about all of the average to amazing teachers who are doing their job? Instead, Guggenheim focuses on a minority—the woefully inept, cruelly indifferent, really, really, bad teacher.

PURE on the Tribune’s not-so-hidden anti-union agenda.

Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE):

The Tribune’s Sunday editorial featured a scorching attack on the National Education Association based on a You Tube video in which a retiring NEA lawyer states that the union’s top priority is protecting its members.

Yes, that is what unions do, much to the dissatisfaction of the Tribune, whose editors went on to gleefully conclude that educating children is not the NEA’s top priority, though the lawyer also says that “closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like…are the goals that guide the work we do.”

The Trib was clued into this “gotcha” video by the Rev. Sen. James Meeks, who recently stated at Operation PUSH that the Chicago Teachers Union is the worst gang in Chicago. So, following the old adage that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, the Trib now totally loves Meeks.

And their love is made even more perfect by the shared desire of the Trib editors and Meeks to punish and weaken teachers’ unions by promoting unlimited charters and vouchers.

“It’s all for the children”

As a veteran local school council member,  I have learned that when someone complains that “you never talk about children,” they’re usually trying to shut you up because you’re getting too close to the truth, and when someone asserts that they are only doing something “for the children,” there are usually other agendas at work.

Come on, folks — we ALL want what’s best for children. Get real. Now let’s peel back the rest of the onion.

In the case of the Tribune, their union-busting, privatization-hungry, corporate-model-worshipping preferences are well-known. Their defense of charters ignores the issue of academic progress (something that is truly good for children), and instead focuses on the marketplace value of charter “waiting lists.”

The situation with Senator Meeks is a little more complicated. He’s eccentric (some might say flaky).   He has gone to the mat for school funding in a state where no one else has the guts to stand up to the powers that be. Taking a page from PURE’s 1990’s playbook, he bused CPS students to the suburbs to “register” them for school.

But is he “genuinely looking out for kids,” as the Tribune claims?

If he’s genuinely looking out for kids, how can he promote more charter schools? A 2009 Stanford report clearly shows that African-American students enrolled in charter schools in Illinois do significantly worse in reading compared to their counterparts in traditional schools, and gain no benefit in math.

If he’s genuinely looking out for kids, how can he promote vouchers when the research on that strategy is equally grim? The longest-running voucher program, in Milwaukee, has shown no advantage for students in the voucher program over the traditional schools.

If he’s genuinely looking out for kids, how can he advocate what is essentially more Renaissance 2010, a failed program that has caused increased student drop-outs, push-outs, and violence without actually improving schools.

Could there be another agenda behind Rev. Meeks’ interest in vouchers? Of course. A voucher program in Illinois would directly benefit the private religious school run by Meeks’ church, the Salem Christian Academy (S. C. A.), which Rev. Meeks serves as Pastor/CEO.

A bad joke?

Well, maybe the Rev. Sen. can go on a national tour ala Duncan-Gingrich-Sharpton. Meeks can pair up with Rod Paige, George Bush’s Secretary of Education, who called the NEA a terrorist organization.

At least Paige tried to apologize for his comment, calling his statement a “bad joke.” Unfortunately, the joke will be on our children if we don’t get hold of Senator Meeks before he pushes his proposals through the legislature in January 2010.

NYT’s Kristof. “Education is the central front in a war, and teachers are the enemy.”

ts-kristof-190NY Times op-ed cliche artist Nicholas Kristof phones in one of his columns this morning. It is so full of triteness and crap that I almost decided not to comment. But I can’t help myself.

Cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

Yes. That’s what Kristof says. Generations of poor kids go to bad schools because of teacher unions. For example, it must be teacher unions that have relegated Illinois to the 49th state in the union in levels of public school funding. The IEA and the IFT must have cowed the Democratic legislature in Illinois into refusing to adequately fund schools.

This is the central front in the war on poverty, the civil rights issue of our time. Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, isn’t it time to end our “separate but equal” school systems?

If I had a dollar for every time some hack writer says that something is the civil rights issue of our time, I wouldn’t have to worry about the political cronies who run my state teacher retirement system. And please, someone explain why Kristoff puts separate but equal in quotes? They are separate. They are not equal. And, trust me, teachers and their unions didn’t do it.

Another shocking story in the wake of Katrina. Filipino teachers forced in to virtual servitude.

school-ae075-250x250H/T Brooklynjak

Of the many shocking stories that you have read in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, add this.

It is a story that combines the destruction of the public schools in New Orleans and turning them into private ones, the attempts to crush the teachers’ union along with the gross mistreatment of immigrants.

In These Times:

They came on a mission to teach American children, but ended up getting a tough lesson on America’s volatile labor system.

A group of Filipino teachers recruited for Louisiana schools was coerced into contracts that amounted to “virtual servitude,” according to a complaint filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

Three over coffee.

crane06

Joanna and Robbie met us for dinner last night. Robbie and I had made a bet last August right after the Democratic convention on how many electoral votes Obama would win by. I won.

It took us four months to celebrate. But who would have thought that four months after the election we would still be feeling good about Obama? We cracked open a bottle of sparkling cava and made a toast to a new world.

And to the end of a week of ISAT testing.

Thursday I head to Rosemont for the IEA state convention known as the Representative Assembly. Since the last RA, we elected a president the United States from Illinois, impeached a governor, got a new governor, appointed a goof-ball senator, got a new president of the state senate and found out the state is at least $9 billion in debt. Jobs in education and IEA membership numbers are threatened by cut-backs, contract negotiations are difficult to say the least and our state pension system is under attack.

Should make for an interesting RA.

Chicago is the birthplace of May Day.

The fight for the eight hour day was born in the streets of Chicago. It led to the establishment of May Day as a labor holiday around the world.

Chi-Town News reports:

Chicago labor and immigrants’ right activists will gather tomorrow on the South Side to begin preparing for a possible May 1 march in support of workers.

“May 1 is celebrated all over the world, except here,” says Martin Unzueta, an organizer for the Chicago Workers Collaborative.

If unions were the problem, the best public schools would be in the South.

In a CNN article, Pedro Noguera, a professor at NYU points out:

To solve the pressing problems confronting our economy and our schools, national leadership by the Obama administration and the teachers’ unions will be needed.

We must avoid the tendency that has become popular in some political circles to blame teachers and unions for the failings of our schools. Unions must play a greater role in addressing the performance of their members, but we must also acknowledge that if unions were the problem, the South would have the best schools.

The Republicans are without a clue.

Charles Blow looks at polling data for the NY Times. In an op-ed piece this morning:

The Republicans have dissolved into a querulous lot of nags and naysayers without a voice, a direction or a clue, and we are not amused.

And who has surfaced as their saviors? Bobby Jindal, Michael Steele and Rush Limbaugh — the axis of drivel.

Actually, I am amused.

25 years ago, no collective bargaining rights in Illinois.

It was only 25 years ago that every teacher in Illinois won the right  bargain collectively for their rights. The IEA marks the anniversary:

On Sept. 23, 1983, Gov. Jim Thompson signed the Collective Bargaining Act (CBA), giving Illinois public education employees a more level playing field in negotiations with school districts that had become used to playing hardball against their teachers and support professionals. It is worth noting that CBA made strikes a rare event in Illinois, because districts were no longer able to easily bully employees into taking unfair offers.