Thursday, July 30, 2015

CHICAGO Public School Budget Cuts:  A Mother Speaks


By Bats Social Media Team: Aixa Rodriguez, Steven Singer, Sue Goncarovs, Lisa Smith

A group of concerned Chicago mothers, called BAM, or Badass Moms, dressed in skeleton and bone costumes on July 29th to protest against $60 million in public school budget cuts while charter schools gained $30 million in funding. These mothers and their children wore the Halloween attire to illustrate how deep these spending cuts were hitting their schools - down to the bare bones. Members of the Badass Teachers Association's Social Media Team chatted with Rousemary Vega, founding Badass Mom, an involved and concerned parent of four public school students, to find out about the BAM action and what is happening in Chicago public schools.
Aixa Rodriguez:  We would like to tell the story of this parent protest. Tell us about your group. What is your mission/purpose?

Rousemary Vega: Our mission was to bring to life how our Public Schools are being starved. We have been on the chopping block for many years, but money is being redirected and charters are being funded.

Aixa: You protested by wearing clothing with skeletons and bones on them and were holding tombstones. What was the significance of these choices?

Rousemary: We wanted to be creative in our message and we needed to be bold enough. The purpose of the skeleton suits was to visually show that we are DOWN 2 BARE BONES.

Aixa: What does this group of mothers wish to change?

Rousemary: We wish to change the dirty inequality in our neighborhood public schools. We want to change how our parents are linked and involved. We want to build bridges of parents, from one Public School to another. We want to raise our parents voices so loud that we no longer can be ignored and or silenced. We will not shake in fear.

Aixa: What is currently happening in Chicago schools? How have the mayor's choices impacted neighborhood schools?

Rousemary : What is happening here in Chicago, is a massacre of Public Education, a disruption of futures and the killing of a profession. Our children are paying the price for the corporations' free ride. Public school is where everyone is welcome. They are changing and privatizing schools. Where will the kids go? Where will the kids that need different teaching and more time go? They are cutting the arts, trips, teachers, transportation. The charters are getting funded and they are leaving us with nothing.
We started a petition asking Depaul University for the money back that would have gone to public schools.

Aixa:  Your group has said “Every Chicago school is your school.” What do you mean by that? Why is this your slogan?

Rousemary: It is not enough to just care about the school your kids go to. These cuts are happening to the system. Chicago is really segregated, and they want us to fight among ourselves. But we can't hate each other because one school has a program my school doesn't. We need to unite and fight so all schools have that program. Every school is our school.

Aixa: Parents have long supported the Chicago Teachers Union, seeing the teachers issues as connected to the quality of education children receive in Chicago Public Schools. This #Down2BareBones action features mothers alone. Why was this done? Why were teachers not at this event?

Rousemary: We love and highly respect the CTU. But this action was about mothers who are done being a shadow. We want the mayor and every other parent to know we have our own voice and that this is our fight. Because when I fight for Education, I mean everything.

SueG:  Karen Lewis has been a stalwart supporter of teachers and parents in have the attempts to discredit teachers been part of the impetus of your protests?

Rousemary: Karen Lewis is amazing and her support for parents, loyalty. It really upsets me to see how they - the system, the reformers, the money makers - are discrediting teachers. I know this is being done because teachers are the forces to our chances and changes. Because without teachers, we will all fail. That is my motivation, I can't let my children fail. Why are they not valued like the kids in charters? Why must we make do with the bare bones?

Steven Singer: Rousemary, is this happening in all Chicago public schools or just schools serving certain populations? Minorities? Poor? Etc.

Rousemary: Steven, this is happening to all our public schools, but more cuts to our poor communities as much as $3.9 million. Rahm's choices have clearly been an attack on our black and brown communities, teachers and students.

Steven: Is this coming mostly from the mayor's office? Would it have been different with Chuy (Garcia)?

Rousemary: Yes, much different with Chuy.

Aixa: What do you want Chicago aldermen to know?

Rousemary:  Today's action was important for us as mothers, we want to raise awareness. We need our parent voices to rise and be heard. I want to be that mother to guide and push other parents to stand up for all schools not just their own. Some of our schools no longer have physical education. They are taking it online!

Aixa:That's outrageous !!!

Rousemary:Yes. The cuts are really deep. We are literally #DOWN2BAREBONES.

Aixa: How do they even justify this!!

Rousemary: He (Emanuel) is a money making bully who says he cares about our city, but not the people in the city. No money. They say they are bankrupt.

Aixa: What is the state of the charters?

Rousemary: They are giving away our Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money to corporations that don't need it. It's all about privatizing.

Nancy Osborne: Awful, awful, awful. Chicago is like watching Detroit sliding into the abyss again.

Aixa: What do you want other parents to know?

Rousemary:That when it comes to public education and its teachers, we need to act today because tomorrow might be too late. To know that when you stand up and fight.....your voice becomes heard.

Aixa: You are a warrior for the right reasons. How can Chicago citizens help draw attention to this situation?

Steven Singer: Is there anything folks outside of Chicago can do to help?

Rousemary: All our public schools are bleeding and being cut. It's really hard to watch. Help us spread our message. #Down2BareBones. Tell your elected officials.

SueG: How should parents who are interested in helping you contact you for more information?
Rousemary: They can email me at

SueG:  How difficult has it been to attract media attention to what parents have been saying?

Rousemary: The media is not on our side.  Not difficult to attract,  difficult for right words. They spin the story so our voices aren't heard. It's like we don't matter. They had security and like 10 policemen for mothers with babies and didn't let us into the meeting; they said it was full. But with who? Who speaks for us? And the media doesn't dig deeper and doesn't expose this.

SueG: How will these cuts  hurt your children and has your family been impacted economically?

Rousemary: I wish I could tell you that this is about how it is hurting my pockets and it is, trust me. But, these cuts are hurting us physically, mentally and emotionally. For example, the budget cuts included that special teacher, or no more physical education, or no more field trips, or no more bus transportation. Our cuts are #DOWN2BAREBONES. We are in desperate times. We are being closed out. We must stand up today.

Poster in picture courtesy of  Ellen Gradman, a BAM MEMBER
Present for this action:
Clare Fauke
Julie Dworkin
Mary Fahey Hughes
Karen McKeegan Fraid
Carolina Gaete
Carolyn Brown
Rachel Lessem
Janet Meegan
Jesus Ramos

BAM member Cassandre Creswell

Links for Further Reading :


     Where Have the Dreams and Democracy Gone?

     by Larry Proffitt, Member of Tennessee BATs and the BAT Leadership Team

    As I have watched films lately that speak to the privatization movement entrapping public education, I've observed teachers' many comments about the change in their original dream of being an educator.

    The fire has dwindled in their eyes.

    I'm concerned for this lost passion for the classroom that they appear to exude.

    If they have become so discouraged, what is to become of the dreams of the students they teach?

    Dreams are shared and inspired by educators, but the dreams seem to be dying, and along with the dreams, the future of democracy seems to be fading.

    An agricultural experiment at the University of Tennessee was never meant to squash the dreams that education is capable of inspiring, but it has happened.*

    I speak to teachers daily trying to encourage them, but they have become discouraged and ready to leave the profession.

    This is a double whammy because of the experience and passion needed to mentor new teachers, but this does not seem to affect most politicians. They have either bought into the false propaganda about failing schools, or they are a part of the false propaganda machine. 

    Copycat legislation circles our nation striking down any protections available for our teachers, and in effect, our students. With those protections, fear creeps into the profession of teaching. Fear is powerful. It creates an environment of uncertainty and submissiveness. 

    What can be done to reverse the trend steamrolling through America on the false rails of misinformation? 

    Education and solidarity are the only tools available to educators. With these tools, teachers are reaching out to parents, and they rally every grassroots group who will lend an ear. 

    It is vital that parents, students, and community members join in the movement meant to derail the privatization movement. It is the only hope to put the inquisitive minds and philosophers back in play in our society. 

    We must once again ask, "What if.....?"

    We must once again make curiosity ruler of the classroom, along with imagination and play. 

    Our children are our most precious resource. 

    We must think of them and their future, and with that comes the future of democracy. 

    So, when someone reminds you that dreams become the foundation of aspiring inventors or creative minds solving society's issues, remind them that the dreams are disappearing and soon after, democracy.

    *A professor at UT was the creator of Value-Added formula to assess crop yield. It was later applied to educational gains.

California BATs Rock the House (of Representatives)

By Kristin Vogel, California BAT and member of the BATs Leadership Team

Over the course of two days, the small California BAT contingent held meetings with
sixteen out of the fifty-three Representatives from the Golden State! Even though we were
drained physically and mentally at the end of each day, it was a wonderful learning experience,
and many relationships were established that we hope will be in place for some time to come.
Here is a brief write up of our meetings, and what we hope to follow up on.

Meeting #1: Julia Steinberger, Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. Mark Takano (District
41). This was the first of many times during our appointments that we heard the phrase
“preaching to the choir”. It was great to get such a good response from Ms. Steinberger. She
advised us to “work on the younger/less experienced members” of Congress, and offered
support. Our members in the 41st will definitely be following up with Rep. Takano as he heads
home during recess.

Meeting #2: Kelvin Lum, Legislative Aide to Rep. Ami Bera (District 7). Rep. Bera’s office
was tiny and cramped, so we met with Mr. Lum in the hallway. He seemed preoccupied, and at
some point I noticed he had glazed over and was focused on other things. As a product of
public education from K-medical school, Rep. Bera states that he is pro-public school and
anti-voucher/school choice. Mr. Lum was not able to give us an exact stance on his boss’ view
of charters, but stressed several times that Rep. Bera loves public education. This was a neutral
at best meeting, but I will give Mr. Lum the benefit of the doubt due to our meeting place.

Meeting #3: Annie Nguyen, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Alan Lowenthal (District 47).
Ms. Nguyen was unsure about her boss’ stance on charters and vouchers, and we agreed to
follow up with her about this. Rep. Lowenthal is a huge proponent of civil and human rights, and
we used this to tie in the issue about standardized testing and the inequities it perpetuates in
our schools. Ms. Nguyen said that Rep. Lowenthal fully supports Early Childhood Education and
Head Start, and we had a discussion on the school lunch programs in our schools.

Meeting #4: Nicole MacDougall, Legislative Correspondent to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (District
12). I am a constituent of Rep. Pelosi, and this lunchtime meeting was supposed to be with
another staffer. It was passed onto Ms. MacDougall due to the debate on the House Floor of
H.R. 1599. Ms. MacDougall was extremely pleasant and stressed that Rep. Pelosi is strongly

anti-charter and anti-standardized testing. She was the first aide to bring up grade-span
testing as an alternative to yearly testing. As a constituent I also received the email of the Rep.’s
scheduler in San Francisco, so I hope to have a meeting with someone at her home office
during recess.

Meeting #5: Ellen Hamilton, Legislative Aide to Rep. Judy Chu (District 27). This was an
extremely productive meeting; Rep. Chu is a psychologist by trade, and has authored and
sponsored several bills that stress the importance of community based wraparound services in
schools, and that students’ mental health needs are met. Sandy Goodwick, a member of the
BAT/AFT Quality of Life in the Workplace Survey Team, went over the result of their work. Ms.
Hamilton gave us suggestions as to what points to speak of to other aides, and made
connections to appointments we had scheduled the next day. I am so looking forward to our CA
BATs following up with Rep. Chu’s office during recess, and thanking her for her hard work to
promote mental health awareness in schools.

Meeting #6: Matt McMurray, Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. Anna Eshoo (District
18). I don’t think we were at the top of our game at this meeting. It was towards the end of a
long day, and Mr. McMurray was definitely more interested in listening rather than speaking. I
wanted there to be more of a dialogue, but we did most of the talking. He was very pleasant and
respectful, and gladly took the additional information we provided him, but we did not
accomplish a whole lot.

Meeting #7: Jocelyn Rivera-Olivas, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Janice Hahn (District
44). I’m glad we had a productive meeting at the end of day one. When we first asked Ms.
Rivera-Olivas about her boss’ stances on charters, she replied that she believes Rep Hahn
“sees the value in charters, in that they provide choice”. We definitely educated her! It was
wonderful to have two teachers from Southern California, Sandy Goodwick and Zeena Pliska,
there to illustrate the harm that charters have done to public education. Ms. Pliska spoke about
the Green Dot charters, and the damage that Parent Revolution has done with trying to enact
the Parent Trigger law. Ms. Rivera-Olivas asked so many questions, and took copious amounts
of notes. Even though we did not agree at the beginning I think we were able to help her see the
reality, which I hope she will pass onto Rep. Hahn. Great way to end the day.

Thanks to Marla Kilfoyle, Sandy Goodwick, and Zeena Pliska for attending Day One
meetings with me!

Our second day saw our lobby team shrink a bit, as Ms. Goodwick and Ms. Pliska had
other events to attend to. I was accompanied by Owen Jackman, also a member of the BAT
Leadership Team and a Sacramento area Special Education Teacher.

Meeting #8: We stopped in for a meeting unannounced, but since Ms. Pliska is a
constituent of Ms. Waters, we were granted a sit down with an aide (I have lost her business
card). She was extremely gracious, sitting and conversing with us for about 25 minutes. We
discussed the school to prison pipeline, and parents’ right to opt their children out of testing. I
will be following up with my other lobby team members to see if we can get her info.

Meeting #9: Angela Ebiner, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (District 19). This
was a very unorganized meeting, as I met with Ms. Ebiner right next to Mr. Jackman speaking to
someone else. I am not sure if I really got to know what the Congresswoman thinks or if what
Ms. Ebiner was just sharing her personal opinions. She was somewhat combative regarding opt
out, and believes that students need to take whatever tests are prescribed by the law. She
(once again, not sure if this was her or Rep. Lofgren’s opinion) was also convinced that charter
schools are beneficial, in that they give “choice”. I could not find anything on her related to TFA,
but she has certainly taken at least a beginner’s course in EdReform 101.

Meeting #10: Victoria Coats, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (District 40). 

At the beginning of the meeting, Ms. Coats let us know that she “used to” be a teacher; she
had taught for two years in New Orleans and two years somewhere in Texas. I looked over to
Owen and red flags were flying all over the place. For a Congresswoman who is as progressive
and pro-labor as Lucille Roybal-Allard to have an aide tell us that “our hands our tied, we are in
the minority in Congress and there isn’t much we can do that haven’t already tried” was
distressing. Then she came right out and said she was a TFA alum. This meeting was a bust; I
am sure she ripped up her notes or was just scribbling. I decided not to leave a packet of info;
instead to send it directly to her district office or have a BAT deliver it there. It would not have
made it past the clutches of a TFAer.

Meeting #11: Molly Fishman, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Jackie Speier (District 14). I
teach in Rep. Speier’s district, and received contact information for her scheduler to possibly
arrange a school visit. I think this is something we need to do on a regular basis so that our
elected officials see our schools with their own eyes. Ms. Fishman was great and said many of
the things that BATs believes before we could mention it. Rep. Speier is staunchly anti-charter
and pro-public education; she believes that standardized tests are used too much, and Ms.
Fishman questioned the age appropriateness of CCSS in ECE classrooms! A definite ally.

Meeting #12: Megan Sussman, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Doris Matsui (District 6).
Ms. Sussman is a Master’s of Public Health, and Rep. Matsui definitely sees the connection
between mental health and school success. Owen teaches in Rep. Matsui’s district, and is
familiar with many of her stances. This was another “preaching to the choir” meeting, but Owen
put it perfectly by saying that the people need to tell their Representatives when they are doing
something they agree with, not just when they are angry. Even elected officials need positive
reinforcement. :)

Meeting #13: Megan Price, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Ted Lieu (District 33). Rep.
Lieu was just sworn in this past January, so he is still developing positions and stances. Ms.
Price was very open to developing a continuing dialogue between the office and California
BATs. He is mostly focused on access to higher education and Pell Grants, but just a few weeks
ago wrote a letter to Sec. Duncan stressing the need to arts education. We appreciated that and
will definitely follow up.

Meeting #14: Jeff Milbourne, Albert Einstein Distinguished Education Fellow for Rep.
Mike Honda (District 17). This was possibly the best meeting of our entire lobbying session. Jeff
is a high school physics teacher who has been working in Rep. Honda’s office for a year on a
fellowship. He was so open to hearing what we had to say, and it aligned completely with what
the Congressman believes in. He gave us some tips on things to look out for. He and I have
already been exchanging emails back and forth regarding education issues. He will be moving
out to California later this year; we are hoping to recruit him to BATs!

Meeting #15: Sam Jordan, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Eric Swalwell (District 15). Rep.
Swalwell is one of the newer Congressman, and Owen has some connections to his office. We
definitely want to work with him to develop his stances on education. Rep. Swalwell recently
wrote a letter demanding that IDEA be fully funded; which was wonderful news for the two SpEd
teachers at the meeting! Mr. Jordan was extremely open and considerate, listening, and asking

Meeting #16: Emma Mehrabi, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Barbara Lee (District 13).
Ms. Mehrabi is a social worker, so we appreciated that she handles education issues for the
Congresswoman. We had a very productive meeting at the end of the day, discussed issues
relating to race, inequities, funding, the problem of charter schools in Oakland, and the
privatization movement that is threatening public education. Ms. Mehrabi’s ears were open and
the dialogue was very helpful. I am hoping some of my East Bay BATs can schedule a meeting
locally during recess.

What is next? Bringing this work back to the California BAT page, encouraging our
members to schedule follow up appointments with their member of Congress, and continuing
the dialogue and relationship. During lunch on Friday, I realized that we need to bring this local
to California. I propose that in 2016 California BATs swarm to Sacramento for a day of lobbying
with our State Senators and Assemblypersons. We need to make sure that education in the
Golden State remains free, accessible to all, and PUBLIC!
Ohio BATs Lobby the Hill

by Brittany Alexander, Member of Ohio BATs and BAT Leadership Team


Ohio BATs delegates had scheduled meetings with ten of our eighteen elected federal representatives over two busy days in DC. We started day one with a hike to Capitol Hill. It was a bright and beautiful summer day, and I was excited to share our stories with those who make policies that impact our kids. During our lunch break we received a welcome call to reschedule one meeting for the next day.

 Meeting 1: Chris Cooper, Health, Education, and Labor Assistant to Congressman David Joyce (District 14)
This poor guy didn’t get to say much. He told us that Congressman Joyce agrees that there is “too much testing.” He mostly listened as each person shared her point, illustrated by a brief story.

Meeting 2: Anne Sokolov, Legislative Director to Congressman Tim Ryan (District 13)
We decided that we wanted to ask more questions, so we heard more from Anne. Before starting, though, we asked that she share our thanks to Congressman Ryan for his statement about Gov. Kasich’s run for the presidency. She shared that Ryan had opposed HR5 (Student Success Act – House’s version of ESEA rewrite) for a number of reasons. Among them are: gutted federal funding, allowed Title 1 funds to follow students with block grants, and cutting availability of the arts and STEM. We also learned that Ryan introduced a stand-alone bill to address the need for social and emotional curriculum, that he feels “public education is the way to go,” and that he thinks there needs to be more discussion about opt-out without penalties to schools and students.

Meeting 3: Rachel Schwegman, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Robert Latta (District  5)
She told us Congressman Latta supported HR5, mainly because it moves responsibility and accountability to the state level. We also learned that Latta is in favor of repealing Common Core and that he values the idea of school choice.

Meeting 4: Tiffany Angulo, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Jim Jordan (District 4)
She told us Congressman Jordan opposed HR5 because it leaves too much federal intervention where state authority should be. Jordan opposes a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. In this meeting, a nine-year-old student shared a presentation explaining why she dislikes Common Core math. It was amazing to watch her!

Meeting 5: Allen Ernst, Legislative Correspondent to Senator Rob Portman
He also didn’t get to say much. We asked that he pass our thanks to Senator Portman for key votes in S1177 (Every Child Achieves Act – Senate’s version of ESEA rewrite). These included: Franken’s amendment about LGBT anti-discrimination, Kirk-Reed amendment about the opportunity dashboard, and the Burr amendment that will recalculate how states receive Title 1 funds. He did ask for our opinion of Common Core. Our fearless young advocate again shared her presentation.

Meeting 6: Mark Gilbride, Legislative Assistant and Congressman Steve Stivers (District 15)
We met with Mark for the first part of our time. He told us that Congressman Stivers voted for HR5. Stivers entered and we introduced ourselves to him. He told us that his mom and grandparents were teachers. He said that schools are being “tested to death.” He asked how BATs are different from NEA/AFT.

Day two started just as the first one did. Another beautiful day and another hike up to The Hill.

Meeting 7: Rebecca Duberstein, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Brad Wenstrup (District 2)
She was by far the most attentive listener. She asked questions to follow up with statements and was clear that Congressman Wenstrup has heard numerous testing concerns. She asked what we would like to have instead of yearly testing as well as what we think about HR5. We were able to tie together three main themes: language that includes the workplace study (BATs/AFT), reduce standardized testing (grade-span as an option), and include the opportunity dashboard.

Meeting 8: Leah Hill, Legislative Aide to Senator Sherrod Brown
Before we began our meeting, she quickly perked up to tell us that she knew the BATs because she had looked through the survey results. We also wanted her to pass along our thanks to Senator Brown for his amendment about community schools, his votes on the Franken amendment and the Kirk-Reed amendment. We also shared our disappointment in Brown’s vote on the Murphy amendment that would keep the accountability measures of NCLB in place. It was then that she mentioned having taught for two years and commiserated with our woes. She started to expand on her experience, but abruptly stopped herself. She stated that while we have come a long way, there is “history of ignoring students of color.” We were not surprised to confirm later that she is a TFA alum.

Meeting 9: Donnica Hawes-Saunders, Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Joyce Beatty (District 3)
Did not show. We were very disappointed that despite receiving a confirmation of this meeting, the assistant was not in the office and had “no record of our meeting.”

Meeting 10: Meghan Keivel, Executive Assistant to Congressman Bob Gibbs (District 7)
We learned that Congressman Gibbs voted for HR5 because the Administration has encroached in educational policies. Gibbs agrees that the performance standards of NCLB were unattainable, supports grade-span testing and opt-out without penalty, and feels that a strong economy is important to allow for more parental involvement in education. Further, we learned that Gibbs opposes Common Core as it moves our country toward a national school board and national curriculum and also supports allowing Title 1 funding to follow students to non-public schools.

In each meeting, I tried to share my version of why we need the opportunity dashboard idea. It went something like this: We are holding children, teachers, and their schools accountable for the outcomes, but no one is accountable for the incomes. What we put into a school matters. We want our federal, state, and local governments to be accountable for the resources that are available to each child who attends a public school.

As I wrote this, I realized it is nearly impossible to determine who are our friends and who are our enemies. The (mostly) polite listening is done to appease us. Meanwhile, we’re weeks away from a new school year, with no meaningful change in ESEA/NCLB. We will face the same broken mandates that continue to test, label, and punish our children, their educators, and their schools. This is not a game. We are not playing. Our children and our public schools are not given the full and complete attention they deserve. Until it is clear that what is done is right for children and their education, I will be gathering pitchforks!