The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party is On

Perhaps not since Teddy Roosevelt split from the Republican Party to create the Progressive Party in 1912, has the Republican Party faced the kind of fight in which it is now engaged for its very soul.  Although the Tea Party has not actually created a separate political party and run outside the Republican party to challenge Republicans, the fact that it has frequently run candidates against established Republican moderate incumbents demonstrates its intent to take over the Republican Party.

But the real question for the Republican Party is not whether candidates who affiliate themselves with the Tea Party end up controlling the party.  The much more important issue is whether the ALEC driven agenda becomes the driving force of the party, regardless of the status of the Tea Party.

At the federal level, we have recently seen Bob Dole’s televised regrets that the Republican Party,

“can’t get together on a budget or legislation”

and that his party should hang a

“closed for repairs”

sign on its doors until it comes up with a few new ideas.

At the state level, it may not be a lack of ideas that is exacerbating the battle for the soul of the Republican Party.  Rather, it is ALEC sponsored ideas such as private school voucher expansion that has pushed this battle to the forefront.

Wisconsin is demonstrating this perfect storm in the battle over its budget, where Gov. Walker chose to insert ALEC inspired private school voucher expansion into the budget.  While one would normally expect this to easily pass due to Republican control of both the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, it is not playing out that way. Although voucher expansion would easily pass the Wisconsin Assembly, a revolt by moderate non-Tea Party Republican Senators is blocking the massive expansion sought by Gov. Walker.

This story is playing out all over the country and while many may make predictions about its outcome, just as Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party likely resulted in electing Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, as President, the question on the other side of the aisle today is whether Democrats can seize the opportunity which the internal Republican battle presents.  President Obama likes to claim that he has already done so, but given that he still faces a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans hold 30 of the states’ governorships, the Democrats have clearly failed to set forth a sufficiently clear and attractive vision to take advantage of the opportunity which the Republicans have presented to them.

The Chinese curse may say it best:

May you live in interesting times.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.


Doing the Right Thing: Dropping Racist Mascots

It is truly remarkable that our society has yet to fully evolve to a place where it is unthinkable that schools and sports teams even consider retaining racists mascots. Perhaps the most offensive mascot is that of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which the team dubs, “Chief Wahoo.” It is important to note that there is no historical figure with such a name, so there simply can be no argument that this caricature honors anyone.


While it has proven difficult to legislate prohibition of racists mascots in professional sports, fortunately slow progress is being made in the amateur arena.  The NCAA banned racist mascots as of 2006. The latest count shows that such racist mascots are now under 1000 nationally, though that is still nearly 1000 racist mascots too many.

In Wisconsin, the state adopted legislation in 2010, which allows citizens to file complaints against racist public school mascots with the Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI).  The most contentious case is in Mukwonago, where a high school student filed a complaint against the racist “Chief” mascot and DPI ruled that it must be changed due to its racist and offensive nature.  Sadly, the Mukwonago School District has persisted in fighting this order and maintains the offensive mascot despite a ruling against the mascot in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  Although the district has told the media it will appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as of this writing, there is no such filing that appears on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s web site.

Fortunately, the small northern Wisconsin town of Winter, recently agreed to retire its Native American logo by acting proactively to remove it rather than wait for a complaint and a ruling by DPI.  As District Administrator District Administrator Penny Boileau said,

“If we’re offending our students, neighbors, friends, it’s not appropriate, it’s time to change.”

The difference in attitudes between these two districts probably has something to do with the population in the districts.  Mukwonago is a suburban district which as of the latest data reported, only had 1 Native American student graduate from its high school in 2011-12.  This contrasts with the small Winter school district where in 2011-12, 5 of its 27 high school seniors were Native American.

One must wonder why our nation continues to permit so many racist Native American mascots and logos when the same would not be tolerated of other racial or ethnic groups.  Perhaps this picture says it all–an African-American fan dressed up as a “Redskin” to support his NFL football team.


This is exactly why schools are the right place to teach our children that racist mascots just support continued tolerance of racism in society.  Congratulations to Winter, Wisconsin for agreeing to teach its children that such racism must end.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Defending the Civil Rights of Children with Disabilities in Voucher Schools

The challenges which disenfranchised people face are as old as mankind. Fortunately, the courage to defend their civil rights also goes back millennia.  As the famous Rabbi Hillel said,

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a compelling sermon invoking the “if not now, when?” question at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta just 6 months before his assassination.

King specifically referenced the system of justice in his famous and compelling, Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he stated:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider…”

It was in that spirit that I joined with the ACLU in filing a complaint with the US Dept. of Justice (DOJ) which clearly documents that Wisconsin’s private school voucher program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Recently, after a lengthy investigation, DOJ issued a directive to the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI), which makes clear that DPI must eliminate discrimination against children with disabilities in the Milwaukee voucher program and orders DPI to undertake the following actions:

  1. Establish and publicize a complaint process for parents of children with disabilities who believe their children have been discriminated against in the Milwaukee voucher program.
  2. Collect data to determine the extent to which children with disabilities are being served by voucher schools.
  3. Conduct outreach to parents of children with disabilities to inform them of their rights related to attending voucher schools
  4. Monitor and oversee voucher schools to ensure that they do not discriminate against children with disabilities.
  5. Provide ADA training to voucher schools; and
  6. Provide written guidance to voucher schools on ADA compliance.

Sadly, to date, well over a month after the DOJ issued its directives, DPI has done absolutely nothing to comply with these directives.  In fact, rather than decry disability discrimination by voucher schools, and pledge to eliminate it, DPI has repeatedly stated that it is reviewing the directives which are now more than a month old, and wrongly believes it needs more legal authority to enforce them.

DPI’s response demonstrates that it simply cannot be counted on to defend the civil rights of children with disabilities.  It is a mystery why DPI has failed in its legal obligation to enforce the ADA ever since that law went into effect over 20 years ago, while children with disabilities suffer rampant discrimination at the hands of voucher schools.  But even more shocking is DPI’s reticence to follow DOJ’s directives.

In my nearly 2 decades of advocating to protect the civil rights of children with disabilities in school, my observation has always been that DPI considers schools as its clients or customers.  This DOJ directive gives DPI the opportunity to change that paradigm and understand that its true mission should be consider Wisconsin’s students as its customers.

As Rabbi Hillel and Martin Luther King, Jr. made clear, there is no higher calling than defending civil rights.  Now is the time for DPI to take on that mantle and defend the civil rights of children with disabilities.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Combating the Racism of Low Expectations

In the current education reform wars, poverty is often used as a rationale for poor student performance.  Indeed, as discussed in the NY Times:

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

But the conversation simply cannot end there and serve as an excuse not to provide an appropriate education to children who are impoverished.  Excuses based on poverty are easily translated into excuses for failing to properly educate racial minorities given the much higher rates of poverty which African-Americans and Latinos suffer from as compared to whites.

A quick look at the data reveals shocking disparities between state level achievement and the achievement of minority groups, especially those concentrated in urban districts.  In Milwaukee, for example, the 10th grade reading performance data shows that only 8.8% of African-American students in Milwaukee were reading beyond the basic level, as compared to 44.1 % of white students who read at that level statewide. Other large districts in Wisconsin, with high minority populations, reveal academic achievement disparities as well.

In addition to academic achievement disparities, there are also discipline disparities. Indeed, the disparities are so bad in Seattle that the US Dept. of Justice launched an investigation of the suspension and expulsion rates there, which are 3 times higher for African-American students compared to white students.

Graduation rates are similarly disturbing.  While Milwaukee has shown some improvement, its latest data shows only 66.2% of its high school students graduating, compared to an 87.5% statewide graduation rate.

This racism of low expectations revealed itself during the class action trial in Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, which helped to create some of the recent progress in MPS. Among the methods the school district used to try to defend itself was to try to show that the students we claimed were harmed, MPS suggested had succeeded.  Indeed, one of the plaintiffs graduated and MPS trumpeted that fact.

On cross examination, however, my co-counsel, Monica Murphy, pressed the point with his educators that he graduated with only an 6th grade reading level.  The educators simply did not understand her concern.  In fact, what became crystal clear was that the mere fact that this student had graduated made him a success in his educators’ minds, regardless of his inability to read sufficiently well to succeed in his adult life.  When Monica finished her cross examination, I whispered to her,

You have just elicited testimony on the racism of low expectations.

As long as educators and policy makers believe that graduating an African-American student with an 8th grade reading level is a success, then we will never get beyond the current achievement gap between the races in this country.  Regardless of which side of the education reform debate one supports, everyone should agree that while poverty, and therefore race, may impact on a child’s performance, the answer is not to accept those horrible results.  The answer is to work harder to change them, as has been done in Union City, New Jersey.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Is it Time for an Independent Run for US Senate in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin is now considered the most politically polarized state in the country.

Gov. Scott Walker’s approval rating from Republican voters was 92% in a Wisconsin survey last month by Public Policy Polling.

His approval rating from Democratic voters was 9%.

Invert those two numbers and you get something very close to President Barack Obama’s ratings in Wisconsin: 93% approval from Democrats, 4% approval from Republicans.

In both cases, the partisan divide is bigger than anything Public Policy Polling has recorded for governor and president in the 40-plus states where it has polled since 2011.

To date, there are no candidates who have announced a challenge to Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in November, 2014.  That is not terribly surprising given his convincing victory in last year’s recall election and the daunting task of raising enough money to run an effective campaign against him.

However, Senator Ron Johnson does not have the popularity that Gov. Walker enjoys.  The most recent Marquette Law School poll shows Senator Johnson with a mere 30% approval rating, leading the state’s largest newspaper to opine that he will have a tough re-election campaign in 2016.  There are many reasons for his low rating, but certainly one of them is that he is considered the second most conservative Senator in the US Senate.  Given that Wisconsin just elected the very liberal Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate, that certainly does not bode well for Senator Johnson.

Given Sen. Johnson’s lack of popularity in his own state, it is quite surprising that there have been no official announcements of any Democratic candidates who plan to run against him.  This could be a symptom of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s dysfunction given that it is poised to re-elect its party chair despite its failure to recall Gov. Walker and continuing losses in the state legislature giving Republicans majorities in both houses for two terms in a row (other than a brief lame duck period when the Democrats held a majority in the Senate due to  recalls, which they gave up in November, 2012).

The combined factors of Sen. Johnson’s extreme conservative views, lack of popularity in his home state, and a dysfunctional Democratic party in Wisconsin beg the question of whether an independent candidate could gain the next US Senate seat in Wisconsin.  Needless to say, given that the 2012 US Senate race in Wisconsin was the 7th most expensive race in the country with over $35 million spent in that race, raising sufficient funds without the benefit of party machinery in the era of Citizens United is certainly daunting.

But can it be done?

It has been done elsewhere, and in fact, the November 2012 election saw 2 US Senators win as Independents.  Bernie Sanders was re-elected as an Independent in Vermont, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he held the US House seat in Vermont since 1991.

Perhaps more important was the victory of Independent Angus King in Maine, who is now the first Independent Senator from Maine in a state where the previous Senator was Republican Olympia Snowe.

Ultimately, whether an Independent can win a US Senate seat in Wisconsin in 2016, depends on 3 critical factors:

  • The popularity of the eventual Democratic candidate;
  • The popularity of the Independent candidate; and
  • The ability of the Independent candidate to raise sufficient funds.

Since we are now living in an era where extremely wealthy people like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros can pour millions into such an Independent campaign, such a decision by influential wealthy donors could create a dynamic to make Wisconsin the state to seat a 3rd Independent candidate in the U.S. Senate in 2016.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.