US Education System Earns a C

Education Week is a non-partisan publication which produces an annual national and state by state report card on the health of our education system. Sadly, the 2017 report released today does not bring good news. Overall, for the third year in a row, the report gives the American education system a C grade, certainly nothing to brag about. Thirty-four states including my home state of Wisconsin, which earned merely a C+, fell into the C- through C+ grade range.

apple-256261_1920

To  come up with that score, the report uses a multifaceted analysis, with 3 broad categories: K-12 Achievement; Chance for Success and School  Finance.

Chance for Success considers many critical factors in the lives of our children which help determine the probability that they will have a successful educational experience, including:

  • Family income
  • Parent education
  • Parent employment
  • English fluency
  • Preschool enrollment
  • Kindergarten enrollment
  • Elementary reading achievement
  • High school graduation rate
  • Young adult education
  • Adult education attainment
  • Annual income
  • Steady employment

School Finance also uses a multifaceted analysis including both equity and spending.

Wisconsin’s score breaks down as follows with its lowest score (D+) being in spending which raises serious questions as to how it will improve in the coming years:

Chance for Success: B (83.0)
*Early foundations: A- (90.3)
*School years: B- (79.9)
*Adult outcomes: B- (79.7)
K-12 Achievement: C (74.6)
*Status: C+ (76.7)
*Change: C- (69.9)
*Equity: C+ (79.2)
School Finance: C+ (79.1)
*Equity: B+ (89.2)
*Spending: D+ (69.0)

Unfortunately, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means that each state gets to choose its path towards improvement. Given the stagnant lack of significant improvement over many years, skeptics have every reason  to be concerned that any significant progress will be made in the foreseeable future. As the Report Overview states:

The question that loomed over the celebrations hailing ESSA’s passage in December 2015 remains: What will more state control mean for historically overlooked groups of students?
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, recalled that when ESSA became law, an influential civil rights leader in his state tweeted that he’d lived through states’ rights and it hadn’t worked out very well, a reference to segregation.
“I took that to heart, I took it as a personal obligation” to make equity for all groups a central tenet of Wisconsin’s plan, Evers said.
Civil rights advocates are heartened by such sentiments, but caution that states have a lot of decisions left to make.
“We’re still kind of in the thick of it,” said Daria Hall, the interim vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust, which advocates in support of poor and minority students. “There’s a lot of conversation going on right now, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can definitively say here’s where that conversation is leading us, for good, bad, or other.”

Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers is running for re-election in April and faces 2 opponents, John Humphries and Lowell Holtz, so there will be a primary in February. Parents, advocates and voters who care about Wisconsin’s education  system should ask all 3 candidates how they intend to improve Wisconsin’s education system given these long standing mediocre results.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin State Superintendent has no power over the state’s spending on education and does not write the laws that govern our education system, so parents, educators and advocates will need to pressure the Governor and state legislature to demand more funding and less diversion to private school voucher programs and charter schools which have failed to improve Wisconsin’s educational outcomes.

_________________________________________________________________

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Charisma and Messaging

As Democrats ponder their recent election losses and pundits wonder how it is possible that approximately 17% of the electorate could support President Obama, but voted for Donald Trump, many simply shake their heads and wonder how this could happen. There are, of course, many theories: sexism and Democrats allegedly abandoning the working class and rural America are commonly mentioned. However, almost nobody mentions the one thing that President Obama and Donald Trump have in common. They both have tremendous charisma which enables them to convey powerful messages. Indeed, when I googled “images for charisma” these are the first two photographs that showed up.

Understanding both charisma and messaging are critical to any successful political campaign. Of course, charisma matters more when discussing specific candidates and messaging goes beyond candidates as it also includes issue campaigns.

In the case of charisma, Hillary Clinton conceded that she simply does not have it. That may have been wise for her to simply be honest about it. But acknowledging a flaw does not make the flaw go away. Of course, nearly 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton, nearly 2.5 million more than voted for Donald Trump, which means that charisma is not the only deciding factor and for many people, Hillary Clinton may have been more charismatic than Donald Trump. But, given our electoral college system, as well as the results in the Congressional and gubernatorial elections, serious political analysis cannot ignore the fact that Donald Trump was able to galvanize far more people to attend his rallies which helped to generate media attention in a way that smaller attendance at Hillary Clinton’s rallies simply could not match.

It is true that charisma alone does not automatically result in winning elections. One need only look as far back as Richard Nixon to understand that Americans will occasionally elect candidates who simply have no charisma. But in order for those candidates and their issues to prevail, they must overcome their lack of charisma with powerful messaging that enables them to win elections. Whether by coincidence or design, it is worth noting that both Nixon and Trump used silent majority messaging to win their elections.

A quick look at some of the hot button issues of our time demonstrates why many traditionally Republican issues have galvanized such a strong following. For example, if you put your own views aside, and you do not have strong feelings about abortion, it is fairly easy to see why the message of: pro-life is more compelling than pro-choice. After all, who is against life?

In the case of the private school voucher debate, the pro-voucher campaign succeeds because it wisely uses the phrase pro-choice and in this case, the anti-voucher campaign simply has no galvanizing message other than it is anti-voucher.

Although it was ultimately abandoned as failed policy, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform of federal education law passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in 2001 and remained the law of the land despite widespread acknowledgment of how poorly it was working until 2015, because of its name. After all, who could argue with the basic concept of no child left behind? Regardless of how the law failed, the name carried such a powerful message that it sustained despite years of bi-partisan recognition that it did not come close to fulfilling its mission.

Although President Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress, and the name appeared to carry a good message at the time, it is likely to be abandoned or at least significantly modified by the next Congress not just because of the election results. The simple fact is that unless you receive a subsidy, the Affordable Care Act is not affordable! This is a case of the original messaging running so contrary to reality, that its name may help to bring its own demise.

On the charisma front, it behooves any political campaign to keep this critical factor in mind as it searches for successful candidates, especially in large scale statewide or national elections where TV appearances will be frequent. Failure to do so will result in losing elections in most cases regardless of whether voters agree with the views of the candidate.

Messaging is manufactured and its success starts with listening to what voters care about and testing messages with focus groups. Although I am not a political insider, I am a keen political observer and I have heard enough whining about voters who vote against their own interest to understand that such whining does not win elections or issue campaigns. Listening to voters and crafting messages that they want to hear and are congruent with the values of the candidate, party or issue is how campaigns are won. Patience and perseverance are critical as voters have demonstrated that they will easily switch parties based on charisma and message.

_________________________________________________________________

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Read my Lips: Charter Schools are Public Schools & Must Comply with Civil Rights Laws

The battle lines have been drawn in the education reform movement.  There are those who would privatize as much of our public education through vouchers as possible, and they are strongly opposed by those who defend public education at all costs.  As is often the case, when the vitriol gets louder, confusion reigns, and in education reform, confusion has reigned supreme in the charter school arena.

Many who oppose school privatization oppose charter schools, despite their potential for innovation,  because they believe that charter schools are just another vehicle for privatizing and therefore destroying public schools.  Fortunately, the US Department of Education (USDOE), has made perfectly clear that charter schools are public schools subject to all federal civil rights laws.  In a guidance letter issued by the USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on May 14, 2014, it was made abundantly clear that,

These laws extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

The guidance letter specifies 4 key federal laws that apply to charter schools:

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin;
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination based on sex); and
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination based on disability).

The OCR letter states that a separate guidance letter will be issued in collaboration with the USDOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) to address charter schools’ obligations to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Eduction Act (IDEA).

Some key provisions of the new guidance letter are:

  • Charter schools may not discriminate in admissions.  This includes:

Charter schools must ensure that language-minority parents who are not proficient in English receive meaningful access to the same admissions information and other school-related information provided to English-proficient parents in a manner and form they can understand, such as by providing free interpreter and/or translation services.Also, communications with parents with disabilities must be as effective as communications with other parents. Appropriate auxiliary aids and services (such as Braille materials or a sign language interpreter) must be made available whenever they are necessary to ensure equally effective communication with parents with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.

Of course, this means that charter schools may not have admissions criteria which discriminate on their face.  But, in addition,

a charter school may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, or national origin from the school without proper justification. Charter schools also may not categorically deny admission to students on the basis of disability.

  • Regarding children with disabilities, OCR makes clear that,

every student with a disability enrolled in a public school, including a public charter school, must be provided a free appropriate public education–that is, regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Evaluation and placement procedures are among the requirements that must be followed if a student needs, or is believed to need, special education or related services due to a disability. Charter schools may not ask or require students or parents to waive their right to a free appropriate public education in order to attend the charter school. Additionally, charter schools must provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in such a manner that students with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to participate in these services and activities.

  • For English Language Learners,

charter schools must take “affirmative steps” to help English-language learners overcome language barriers so that they can participate meaningfully in their schools’ educational programs. (emphasis supplied) A charter school must timely identify language-minority students who have limited proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, or understanding English, and must provide those students with an effective language instruction educational program that also affords meaningful access to the school’s academic content. Federal civil rights laws do not, however, require any school, including a charter school, to adopt or implement any particular educational model or program of instruction for English-language learners; schools have substantial flexibility to determine how they will satisfy their legal obligations to meet these students’ needs.

The latest guidance on charter schools also affirms that the prior guidance issued by the USDOE jointly with the US Dept. of Justice on discriminatory school discipline also applies to charter schools.  As I wrote about previously, this guidance is an important step in stopping the schools to prison pipeline.

Of course, laws are only as good as their enforcement, so it is good that OCR ends its guidance by providing a link to its contact information and complaint form.  It also provides its toll free number and e-mail address: (800) 421-3481 & ocr@ed.gov.  OCR is clearly inviting complaints if charter schools violate the law.  It will be up to advocates to make sure that OCR honors its commitment to enforce the law if violations occur.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Response-Ability: Critical to Personal and Organizational Success

The human condition involves making mistakes.  The challenge we have both personally and organizationally is how we deal with those mistakes.  That is where responsibility becomes the key to both personal and organizational growth and strength.

The dictionary definition of responsibility includes:

the quality or state of being responsible: as

:  moral, legal, or mental accountability

:  reliability, trustworthiness

However, when thinking of this important quality in terms of personal and organizational growth, I prefer to break the word into its component parts:

Response Ability=the Ability to Respond

On an individual level, being responsible means having the ability to respond to mistakes one makes by rectifying them when possible and apologizing if it is truly impossible to rectify them.  Few of us do not have the ability to respond, though many of us choose not to respond when we make mistakes or fail in our responsibilities.  Such failures inevitably lead to anger, disappointment and fractured personal relationships.  Most certainly, responsibility cannot mean blaming others for one’s own mistakes and failures, or as depicted here taking the short-sighted approach that problems that you will need to confront are really someone else’s problems.

Image

In my career as a civil rights attorney, mostly in the non-profit sector, when confronting serious governmental or organizational malfeasance, more often than not the wrongdoers rarely accept responsibility for their own actions, much less so the actions of their subordinates, over whom they theoretically have responsibility.  Examples include:

  • the Appleton principal who refuses to take responsibility for the abuse that one of his teachers inflicted on multiple children with disabilities over a number of years right under his nose.
  • multiple school districts’ failure to take responsibility to comply with the reporting requirements of Wisconsin’s seclusion and restraint law; and
  • the Department of Public Instruction’s failure to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) obligations of private voucher schools.

The list, of course, can go on, but when engaging in systems change, one key aspect of achieving real change is to create responsible organizations and governments which have the ability to respond when mistake are made.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission has an excellent description of organizational responsibility as part of its Policy and Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Family Status, a portion of which is worth quoting here:

There is an obligation to ensure that environments are free from discrimination and harassment. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective to choose to remain unaware of the potential existence of discrimination or harassment, or to ignore or fail to act to address human rights matters, whether or not a complaint has been made.

This obligation can and should extend to both individuals and organizations, in a wide variety of settings.  The next time you are seeking to find out who is responsible for a problem, ask:

Who is able to respond?

If the answer is nobody, or if you are tossed around the organization in a Kafka-esque manner, then you know that the organization has failed to organize itself in a manner in which it can effectively respond to problems which inevitably occur, and is in need of serious systemic change.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Wisconsin Fails to Protect the Civil Rights of Children with Disabilities in Voucher Schools

As I reported last May,

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.

Since I am no longer at Disability Rights Wisconsin, I am not directly involved in that complaint.  However, my sources recently provided me with DPI’s stunning rebuke to DOJ in a letter dated November 25, 2013.  This letter is stunning for the length of time it took DPI to reply (over 7 months) demonstrating DPI’s utter indifference to the plight of children with disabilities in Wisconsin’s voucher (Choice) school program. It further disappoints due to DPI’s failure to accept responsibility to address the very real discrimination these students experience in this program.  As this letter is not available on-line, you can e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick if you want a copy.

First, DPI takes the position that it does not discriminate against children with disabilities in the administration of the voucher school program.  This, of course, misses the entire point of the complaint, which never accused DPI of such discrimination.  The complaint alleges massive discrimination by the voucher schools in keeping children with disabilities out of their schools, and further, that as administrator of the program, DPI must prevent and remedy such discrimination.

Next, while DPI has agreed (in an unspecified timeline) to,

establish and publicize a complaint procedure for individuals to submit complaints to the DPI regarding disability-related discrimination in the Choice program,

it goes on to express concern that it has no authority to do anything about many of those complaints, by stating that it can only withhold voucher funds regarding discrimination by voucher schools in the admission of students with disabilities.  While this is some progress, it does not address the very real failure of voucher schools to accommodate the educational needs of children with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In response to DOJ’s request that DPI gather disability related information from voucher schools, it then goes on to complain that it,

lacks statutory authority to force Choice to schools submit the information required for items requested.

What is so utterly disappointing about this continual denial of responsibility is that:

  1. DPI has done nothing to seek the authority it alleges it needs; and
  2. DOJ has made it clear that DPI’s obligation is under federal law (the ADA), so the lack of a state statute providing similar authority is irrelevant.

Can you imagine if DPI took the position that it had no authority to respond to discrimination against racial, ethnic or religious groups by voucher schools?  The public outcry would be tremendous, and so it should be in this instance as well.

Fortunately, DPI has agreed to conduct public outreach about the school choice program to students with disabilities, including the rights of students with disabilities in those programs. The problem, of course, is that if DPI will not enforce the rights of those students, there will be a serious credibility gap in that outreach.

Remarkably, DPI even refuses to provide ADA training to voucher schools, stating that,

DPI does not provide ADA training for any public schools in Wisconsin.

Instead, it is “willing” to have the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) conduct that training.  

As one of the initial filers of this complaint, I certainly hope that DOJ will not simply accept DPI’s excuse that it has no authority under the ADA.  Further DPI should use this as an opportunity to push for more authority to hold voucher schools accountable for their long-standing discrimination against 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.

Is the Tea Party really Advocating Anarchy?

While nobody in the Tea Party is likely to admit that their goal is anarchy, it is worth taking a closer look at the meaning of anarchy and the goals of those who wish to force a government shut down.  The dictionary definition of anarchy is:

absence of government.

It is not surprising then, that the next definition given by Merriam-Webster is:

a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.

Grover Norquist has been actively involved in promoting the Tea Party and believes that it should serves as the “exoskeleton” that protects newly elected Republicans against the pressures bound to be imposed on newly elected officials by “the spending interests.”  His most famous quote is that:

Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.

The irony of this radical position advocating what amounts to anarchy, is that both Grover Norquist and every single Tea Party member enjoy the fruits of government on a daily basis.  They drive on government built and maintained roads.  They call the police and fire department and expect prompt service when necessary.  They collect Social Security and Medicare when they retire.  They expect our military to defend our nation when called upon.

So, if the Tea Party and Grover Norquist are not really advocating for anarchy, why does the Republican led U.S. House of Representatives pass a Continuing Budget Resolution that it knows will result in a government shut down?  Why does Senator Ted Cruz make a mockery of the Senate by engaging in a fruitless filibuster, including reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, that even his own party’s Senate leadership disavows?

The clear hypocrisy of Norquist and Cruz and their minions can only mean one thing.  What  they really want is the power to control where government spends its money.  The best example of this is the Tea Party’s advocacy for private school vouchers.  This advocacy does not really shrink government spending.  It just shifts it to private interests who are free to discriminate against children with disabilities, as I wrote about previously.

In fact, the Tea Party’s blog says quite clearly,

Because Freedom isn’t Free.

So, House Republicans and Senator Cruz, get off your high horses and stop advocating anarchy, because as the Tea Party states quite clearly: Freedom isn’t free.


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

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.

The Fallacy in Government Budgeting

For many years, advocates of streamlining government have suggested that government should operate like a business, using phrases like “government should not spend money that it does not have.”  While such phrases may sound appealing, these same business oriented advocates tend to pick and choose which parts of government they think should operate like a business to suit their policy goals, instead of actually applying sound business principles to all aspects of government.

At the state level, the most obvious example of the diametrically opposed methods of budgeting is how most states budget for roads versus how they budget for schools. Not only do most states budget as much road money as road builders request for both new projects and repairs, but specific projects are then put out to bid and states award the contracts based on the amount the road builders claim it will cost to perform the work requested.  This is how business typically works.  A business wants to buy a product or service.  It examines the cost, determines if it has the money, and pays the required cost if it has the money.  Some are so concerned about keeping road money sacrosanct that in Wisconsin, they are moving closer to a Constitutional Amendment to preserve the Transportation Fund from being used for anything other than transportation projects.

When budgeting for education, on the other hand, absolutely no serious consideration is given to how much it costs to educate children properly.  Rather, a pure political decision is made about how much money government is willing to spend on educating children, and then school districts are told to produce high achieving students without any consideration about whether the funding is sufficient to accomplish the desired goal.

Tonight, Governor Walker will announce a biennial budget proposal that calls for vastly increased per pupil funding for children in voucher schools vs. public schools.

The governor’s proposed budget would increase state aid to kindergarten-through-eighth-grade voucher schools in the 2014-’15 school year to $7,050 per pupil from $6,442, an increase of $608 per pupil, or 9.4%…Walker is also rejecting an increase in the state-imposed cap in revenues that public schools are allowed to raise from both the state and local property-tax payers. Before Walker’s tenure, the cap had gone up around $200-plus most years. Two years ago, Walker cut the cap by 5.5%, or about $550 per student.

Leaving aside the issue of the lack of any documented improved educational performance in voucher schools, the budgeting question is this: why is there a complete lack of budgeting analysis about how much it costs to achieve the clearly identified state and federal education standards that are written into law?

There is a method for doing this kind of education budgeting.  It is called, “Adequacy.”  The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) started promoting adequacy funding as far back as 2003.  However, even WAES stopped promoting it as it has failed to gain political traction.  In many states, the failure to adequately budget for successful educational outcomes has resulted in litigation, which has had mixed results.

An additional disparity between business based budgeting and both school and human services budgeting is that business would never appropriately refuse to raise revenue.  No business can survive without bringing in revenue.  Yet, ever since the Reagan taxpayer revolution, those who want to reduce spending on education and human services believe it appropriate to take the government revenue side of the equation off the table.  They should be challenged on business grounds, i.e., if they were running a business would they take revenue off the table?

Ultimately, whether in business or in government, if you want a good product that produces a good result, you have to pay an appropriate price for it.  If that means raising revenue, then raise it in a responsible manner as I described in my prior tax reform blog posts:

It is time to have honest business like budgeting when educating our children instead of using them as political pawns.


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

How Systems Change Happens

Having created progressive systems change in a variety of public policy arenas for over 27 years, many have asked me how I do it.  There is no formula for achieving systems change.  But my experience tells me that effective progressive  systems change only happens if the following elements are present:

  • Have the truth on your side.  That requires assembling data and stories that back your cause.  We did this in the 12 year campaign to pass a law prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint on children in Wisconsin’s public schools.
  • Educate those who need the change, the media, and those who are the decision makers required to make the change.  We accomplished this in 2011 by killing the Special Needs Voucher bill in Wisconsin despite a massive lobbying effort by the American Federation for Children (otherwise known as the lobbying arm of US Private Schools).
  • Organize supporters (or opponents, depending on the issue).  Especially when confronting powerful special interests, those seeking progressive systems change must have as many organized allies as possible.  Convincing the Wisconsin legislature to add key special education provisions to last term’s Read to Lead legislation required great organization amongst progressive reading and disability groups.
  • Litigate when necessary.  The courts are the oft forgotten branch of systems change.  Though years of unhelpful decisions often make systems change difficult in the courts, it still happens.  Our class action settlement with the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI), in our case against Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), created systems change in both of those massive bureaucracies.
  • Be Persistent.  Systems change is not for faint of heart.  Nor is it for those who are not willing and able to work hard for many years.  But remember, lack of persistence allows the other side to rule the day.  It took us 10 years to get a hearing on our seclusion and restraint bill, and 12 years to pass it.  We could have quit at any time before that and Wisconsin would continue not to have this important legislation.
  • Use all the tools above, but use them strategically and effectively.  Those who want to fight powerful, well-financed special interests, must be willing and able to use the truth, educate all concerned, organize well, litigate enough of the right cases, and be persistent.  Moreover, they must do so strategically and effectively.  Unprepared, ill-equipped advocates may cause more harm than good while fighting for a righteous cause.  Getting Gov. Walker’s signature on our seclusion and restraint legislation required using all of these tools including strong media work and publishing Out of Darkness…Into the Light. 

Many despair of the never ending legitimately awful things monied interests have foisted on the public.  But there is nothing new about the rich and powerful exerting their will on those less wealthy and powerful than them.  The challenge for those of us who want the world to be a better place is to apply these systems change principles consistently to push back on the never ending power grab by the select few.

 


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

Why Special Needs Vouchers are Still a Bad Idea

Although Democrats in Wisconsin celebrated the victories of President Obama and Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin, Republicans rejoiced over recapturing the State Senate.  Republican control over the full legislature means many things, but as Gov. Walker recently signaled in his speech at the Reagan Library in California, among his top priorities is to expand Wisconsin’s voucher programs, including creation of a Special Needs Voucher program. During the last legislative session, Tea Party member Rep. Michelle Litjens sponsored AB 110, which would have created Special Needs Vouchers in Wisconsin.  Although she retired after just one term, the ascendency of Rep. Robin Vos to the speakership assures that his party will reintroduce some form of that legislation, which did pass the Assembly, but failed to pass the Wisconsin Senate, as there was sufficient moderate Republican opposition to allow Sen. Luther Olsen to decline to call a vote in the Senate Education Committee. As a key leader in Wisconsin’s special education movement, I was there every step of the way to raise awareness and help defeat AB 110 last session.  This included numerous meetings with Rep. Vos, Sen. Olsen, and American  Federation for Children (a/k/a school privatization through vouchers is our mission) lobbyists former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and former Republican spokesperson Brian Pleva. Among the reasons, a coalition of disability groups defeated AB 110 last session was that not a single disability group supported the measure.  Although the proponents of the bill traded on some parents’ legitimate frustrations with their children’s special education programs, these parents, whose children already attended private schools and therefore would receive no benefit from these vouchers, were not persuasive enough to get this bill through the Senate. Why are these vouchers such a bad idea, if parents have legitimate frustrations with their children’s special education in public school?

  • No voucher bills force private schools to accept children with disabilities.  In fact, Wisconsin’s current voucher programs have a long track record of failing to serve all but a few children with disabilities, which is currently being investigated by the US Dept. of Justice.
  • AB 110 did not even require that voucher schools provide children with disabilities any special education or related services such as physical therapy or assistive technology.  Even the somewhat improved Senate version, SB 486, sponsored by Sen. Vukmir, though it required implementation of the child’s IEP, failed to require private schools to employ any special educators or therapists.
  • Parents who choose a special needs voucher give up all the rights they have under state and federal special education law, the most powerful education law in the nation.  Thus, if things go wrong in the voucher school, a parent’s only recourse is to return their child to the public school they were unhappy with initially.
  • The voucher program takes money out of public schools, hurting the remaining children with disabilities, and worse yet, does not provide sufficient funding to educate children with disabilities in private school.
  • AB 110 had no income cap, or tuition cap.  This means that millionaires could have their children educated in private schools at state expense, and low income families could not use the vouchers because tuition would likely be higher than the amount of the voucher.
  • These vouchers will likely result in private schools creaming the least disabled students who cost the last to educate, thereby segregating the most disabled students in public schools, who have been stripped of funding by this program, to properly educate them.
  • These programs guarantee that once a child takes one of these vouchers, that child can keep it until they graduate or turn 21.  This means that regardless of whether the child needs special education anymore, unlike the public school requirement which calls for reevaluation of that status every 3 years and generally removes 1/3 of such students from special education upon reevaluation, once in private school, these children will maintain disability status at public expense for the rest of their educational career.

Hopefully, disability groups will coalesce once again to block passage of a special needs voucher program in Wisconsin.  To do, however, they will need to work closely with moderate Senate Republicans, including Senators Olsen, Schultz and Cowles.  The American Federation for Children will come bearing gifts for Wisconsin legislators who vote to create this program, so the battle will be fierce.