A Federal Civil Rights Office Wants To Limit Access To Emotional Support Animals That Can Help With Depression

Originally published in The Intercept on March 18, 2019.
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development is moving forward with a proposal that could limit people’s right to live with so-called emotional-support animals under the Fair Housing Act.

As the landmark civil rights law that protects against discrimination in housing currently stands, individuals can keep emotional-support animals in their homes free of cost, provided that a trained professional certifies that the animal could help them cope with mental or physical issues. (A separate federal law, the Air Carrier Access Act, permits passengers to travel with their emotional-support animals on planes.) These laws have grown increasingly controversial in recent years, as a result of news reports about healthy pet owners exploiting legal accommodations to bring their pets on flights and into restaurants. Many landlords have also grown skeptical of those requesting to bypass “no pets” policies, suspecting that fraud is afoot.

As a result, housing industry groups have been lobbying HUD to crack down on suspected animal abuse, and they complain that the existing set of rules is too difficult for the average housing owner to understand. Civil rights groups meanwhile have pushed back, conscious that many landlords would love to keep their buildings animal-free however possible and recognize that many individuals struggle as is to have their right to an emotional-support animal taken seriously.

The National Apartment Association is “strongly supportive of disabled persons’ right to reasonable accommodations,” said Nicole Upano, the group’s director of public policy, but they have been asking HUD for clarity on how to handle these requests. “We would like for the average on-site staff person to be able to navigate this issue, but right now you really have to have a law degree,” she said.

As The Intercept reported last year, Anna Maria Farías, the federal assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD, decided to prioritize cracking down on alleged emotional-support animal fraud. For at least the last year, HUD has been working on new administrative guidance on emotional-support animals, which would essentially be a document laying out the agency’s expectations for how the law should be interpreted and applied. Federal guidance does not carry the same legal power as laws or regulations, but, in this case, it would send a strong signal to landlords and tenants about how the federal government intends to enforce the Fair Housing Act.

“The guidance is probably going to make it a little harder for someone who wants to verify the need for animals, and they will probably cut back a little on some non-domesticated exotic animals,” said Ken Walden, a disability rights attorney with the Chicago-based Access Living.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for HUD, said that the agency is currently circulating the proposed guidance among other relevant agencies, like the Department of Justice, for review. The next step would be to submit it to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. This would be at least the second time the Trump administration’s HUD tries to get guidance on emotional-support animals through OMB. In November, HUD submitted a different version of the guidance to OMB, titled, “Applying the Fair Housing Act to Decide Whether a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Should Be Granted,” but quietly withdrew it in late February. Sullivan said the guidance was removed to do more interagency vetting.

Unlike service dogs, which are permitted under the Americans With Disabilities Act and can be taken to most public places, emotional-support animals under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act do not have to be trained to perform specific tasks and can only be kept at home or brought on planes. They are considered a legitimate coping method for physical and mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

Civil rights advocates say that cracking down too harshly on phony service animals can further stigmatize mental health issues, while also reinforcing the idea that medication is the only appropriate response to mental illness. As of 2019, 24 states already have laws on the books criminalizing the misrepresentation of pets as service animals, and advocates worry that more restrictions from the federal government could deter individuals who have a legitimate need from seeking assistance.

WHEN CIVIL RIGHTS advocates first learned that HUD was considering this measure last year, they requested meetings with agency officials and their requests were ignored, even though HUD was meeting with representatives from the housing industry about the issue. Last spring, however, they finally got through. In May, Walden and his Access Living colleagues Marca Bristo and Mary Rosenberg held a phone call with HUD representatives to spell out their concerns. They followed up with a detailed letter to HUD, laying out a number of fears, including that HUD might impose unfair restrictions against certain breeds of animals, that HUD might make it too difficult for tenants to verify that they have a legitimate need for an animal, and that HUD might treat certain protected classes differently, such as veterans.

Following that letter, a coalition of national disability rights groups organized to present a more unified front to HUD on these issues. The groups also requested to see the draft guidance HUD was working on, but were denied. The new guidance is expected to replace an older guidance HUD issued in 2013, which concerned what housing providers’ legal obligations are in connection to the Americans With Disabilities Act. More than halfof all fair housing complaints concern individuals with disabilities, and nearly half of those involve animal-related issues.

In October, HUD convened a meeting in Washington, D.C., between civil rights advocates and Farías, the assistant HUD secretary; Timothy Petty from HUD’s Office of General Counsel; Lynn Grosso, the director of enforcement for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity; Ashley Ludlow, the senior HUD adviser for congressional relations; and members of Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s staff. “Senator Duckworth from our state was instrumental in setting the meeting up,” said Walden of Access Living.

Representatives from the National Association of the Deaf, the Seeing Eye, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Council on Independent Living, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Rise Phoenix Rise, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Association of Mental Illness, the American Council of the Blind, and the National Council on Disability were in attendance.

The conversation left the advocates feeling somewhat optimistic. “I’m hopeful that it’s not going to be as bad as we feared last year, but it’s hard to know without seeing the actual guidance,” said Walden.

One area of particular concern for advocates is whether HUD will further restrict the categories of people and groups that can validate an individual’s need for an emotional-support animal. Current guidance requires the verification of “a doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.” Advocates worry that under pressure from housing industry groups, HUD may limit this to only a doctor or medical provider, which they say would be too restrictive, especially for low-income people. Advocates have stressed to HUD that other providers who aren’t in the medical field, like social workers, case managers, counselors, and even dog trainers can reliably testify to an individual’s need.

Industry groups have been pushing HUD on this very issue. Upano, of the National Apartment Association, told The Intercept that her members believe there should be a “legitimate treatment relationship” between a provider and the person requesting verification of need. Upano, of the National Apartment Association, told The Intercept that her members believe there should be a “legitimate treatment relationship” between a provider and the person requesting verification of need. Her group’s members believe that the best way to cut down on abuse is “to require that there be a therapeutic relationship between the person who is writing the note and the person requesting the reasonable accommodation,” she said. This wouldn’t necessarily need to be a medical doctor or psychologist, she added.

Civil rights advocates had concerns at one point that HUD would treat veterans who require emotional-support animals differently than other individuals with disabilities, but they said HUD officials assured them that this would likely not be the case. “We had heard there may be different standards for veterans with PTSD than other protected classes, and it would be easier for them to get verification, but we’re pretty confident at this point that they will have the same standards,” said Rosenberg.

Another takeaway from their October meeting was that HUD will likely not differentiate between types of housing or animal breeds. “We do not expect HUD to issue separate rules for condos versus apartments versus dorms,” said Rosenberg, who added that they also expect there will be consistency applied toward animal breeds.

ADVOCATES DO EXPECT HUD to take steps to address the online cottage industry that has cropped up for the sale of cheap documentation to pet owners who then falsely identify pets as service dogs or emotional-support animals — a move that, while justified, also holds risks. Critics of these websites rightly note that this type of documentation can be useful for someone who is living in an apartment building with no disability, but wants to skirt their building’s no-pet policy or its monthly or annual pet fee. Tenants and plane passengers can’t be charged for their emotional-support animals, though regular pets can incur a fee. Cultural fears abound of individuals taking advantage of these sites. One New Yorker article from 2014 identified that the “National Service Animal Registry,” which sells certificates and badges for helper animals, signed up 11,000 emotional-support animals in 2013, up from 2,400 in 2011.

While disability advocates agree that using phony documents to bypass pet rules and faking a disability is wrong, they also caution that there is no concrete evidence of widespread fraud. Still, this is a talking point that industry groups use. “By our count, there are 20 websites that spread misinformation about who should really qualify for an emotional-support animal, and they’re also providing access to a mental health professional and it’s not clear they’ve been licensed anywhere or from where they’re providing treatment to that patient,” said Upano, who noted that sometimes the letters come with a money-back guarantee.

Morgan Williams, general counsel of the National Fair Housing Alliance, cautioned in an interview last year that not everyone who seeks out online documents lacks a legitimate need or even knows that they’re wrong to use.

“Just because someone uses one of these websites doesn’t mean they don’t have a disability,” Williams told The Intercept. “They may have no concept that they’re using a website that other people might deem problematic.”

Walden said he and other advocates have tried to stress to HUD that while there may be a cottage industry of pay-for-play licensing, at the same time, technology has advanced and many people truly do have online and remote relationships with medical providers, especially in rural areas. Outlawing all online verification, they warn, would go too far.

Upano said her organization would not argue with the perspective backed by the American Psychiatric Association that telemedicine is a low-cost, affordable option for people who need mental health services. Still, she said, housing groups would like clearer guidelines on how to verify the documentation they’re presented with.

“We understand this is a sensitive issue; we understand the housing provider shouldn’t be asking any questions about diagnosis, medical records, but being able to ask the person if they did in fact write the note, and getting that very basic information, is what we heard from our members is the best deterrent to parse out legitimate and illegitimate requests,” she said.

Upano acknowledged that there can be gray areas, in which a doctor will say someone doesn’t need an animal, but they could benefit from having one. While Farías’s team looks at this issue, the federal housing agency has continued to go after landlords who deny tenants their legal accommodations. That’s where HUD’s energy should be focused, advocates say, even if they debate whether the agency has been aggressive enough.

If HUD publishes a guidance that advocates think goes too far, Rosenberg says there are a number of ways to challenge that.

“Depending on what the guidance says, we could look and say, well, this should have gone through rulemaking,” said Rosenberg. “Or we can see if what the guidance says conflicts with what the actual Fair Housing Act and associated regulations say, which hold more weight.”

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This Ward 8 High School Had Its Charter Revoked. Now It’s Fighting Back

Originally published in DCist on March 14, 2019.
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When the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted in December to initiate revocation proceedings for National Collegiate Prep, a Ward 8 charter high school founded 10 years ago that educates about 250 students, few could say they were really surprised.

The PCSB has closed 26 charter organizations or campuses/programs across the city between 2012 and 2018—primarily for academic reasons. Given that National Collegiate Prep has one of the lowest graduation rates in D.C., and ranked as a Tier 3 school for the last three years on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, the decision to shutter the school was heartbreaking for its families and staff, but not exactly unexpected. In January, the PCSB board members voted officially to revoke the school’s charter, with NCP set to close for good at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The PCSB promised to have its staff assist students and families in finding new schools to attend.

But now, in an unexpected turn of events, National Collegiate Prep has launched a new campaign to fight its closure, and to fight the PCSB, which organizers say is unfairly targeting black-led charter schools in the District. Under the banner of “Save Our Students, Save Our School, Save Ourselves” and backed by local clergy, community organizations, and Ward 8 City Councilmember Trayon White, National Collegiate Prep staff and students have taken the unusual step of refusing to accept the PCSB’s decision.

The school is making several arguments to bolster its case against closure: its 100 percent graduation rate in 2018, that there’s no history of fiscal mismanagement, that it’s the only charter school east of the river to offer the International Baccalaureate program, and that it’s a safer, more academically distinguished school than the traditional public schools in the area where NCP students will likely go. And while NCP staff acknowledge they have some work to do, they argue the school hit eight of its nine performance goals, put forth a reasonable turnaround plan to address its weaknesses, and deserve the chance to see it through.

The campaign kicked off at a press conference organized at National Collegiate Prep on Wednesday. “Community-based schools, schools started by people located within our community for the benefit of those who have been the most underserved and the most underrepresented, are the very same schools that are being target by the Public Charter School Board for closure,” said Yohance Maqubela, the former executive director of Howard University Middle School and a current charter consultant. “Now is a chance for the community to say we will not be looked over anymore, our voices do count, and from this day forward we’re going to take a stand.”

Rev. Graylan Hagar, the senior pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ, and Pastor O. Jermaine Bego of Centerpoint Baptist Church pledged to rally their faith-based leaders and constituents in support. And Councilmember Trayon White, who noted he has several family members who attend NCP, said he also stands in full solidarity with the school.

“Is the school perfect? No, but to my judgment about where we are, we’re in a good place,” White told the audience. “I’m concerned about other schools like this, especially schools of color [that] are facing closure, or reprimand without just cause.”

Jennifer Ross, the founder and CEO of National Collegiate Prep, said her school has been wrongfully accused, and that they have appealed to the city council and the mayor. She says she knows they could face repercussions for the campaign, but characterizes the effort as standing up to intimidation.

“Back in 2015, we had a meeting as black school leaders to say we were very concerned with the direction of the black-led schools,” Ross told DCist. “That was held at Kent Amos’s house, and right after that, Amos’s school was closed.” Amos’s charter network, the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools, was closed amid allegations that Amos illegally diverted funds to a private company.

“You know, I’m sure there are things most charter leaders will only tell you off the record, but everyone is very afraid and bullied, and I just realized it was up to me to say something,” Ross continued. “The charter school board is led by a lot of ego and personality and things are very personal.”

The D.C. Public Charter School Board did not respond to allegations that it has unfairly targeted small, minority-led charters, but in a statement provided to DCist, PCSB Chairman Rick Cruz said, “We closed this school because it was the lowest performing public charter high school and declined year after year. No one ever wants to close a school, but we’re focused on the quality of education for all students.” The PCSB board is comprised primarily of people of color, and its staff executive director is white.

As part of its campaign, National Collegiate Prep is working to highlight what makes the school unique, including its international trips, focus on STEM, and a formal cotillion offered during students’ senior year. The school also invests in restorative discipline and trauma-informed teaching.

In a report released in December, PCSB staff charged National Collegiate Prep with low performance in math, a low re-enrollment rate of 71 percent—re-enrollment is a measure the PCSB uses to gauge family satisfaction—and noted that no student who took the school’s IB courses actually earned an IB diploma. The school dropped to Tier 3 status during the 2015-16 school year, and the PCSB says it gave National Collegiate Prep ample warning over the last few years that its declining status could be grounds for closure.

National Collegiate Prep disputes many of the PCSB’s conclusions, and defended the benefit of giving students exposure to advanced curriculum offerings, insisting it can help instill confidence and success in college regardless of if they earned the IB diploma. NCP said its already hired a new math department to drive improvements in that area, and is working with Blueprint, a charter consulting firm based in Boston, to help craft a school turnaround plan. PCSB board members said NCP’s proposed interventions seemed like too little, too late.

Supporters of National Collegiate Prep acknowledge the fight ahead won’t be easy. According to the PCSB, the charter board does not even have the authority to reverse its January decision, and NCP would have to apply for a new charter, or appeal the decision in court.

At the press conference, Kamilah Wheeler, a parent, urged the NCP students to make their voices heard. “You need to get your friends together and stop this madness,” she said. “You may not understand it now but I promise you it’s going to make a difference.”

On Friday afternoon, National Collegiate Prep students plan to protest the decision at the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

Senate Bill Proposes Smaller Class Sizes for High-Poverty School Districts

Originally published in Next City on March 14, 2019.
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Following a year of teacher strikes where educators in West Virginia, Los Angeles, Denver and beyond called for wage increases and reduced class sizes, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced a new bill to incentivize smaller class sizes in kindergarten and first, second and third grades. The legislation, which would allocate $2 billion for competitive grant funding, primarily to high-poverty school districts in the United States, is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ) and Michael Bennet (CO). The bill is also endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and First Focus Campaign for Children.

Merkley says his bill is not a direct response to the teacher uprisings, but rather a reaction after discovering his son’s surprisingly large first-grade class. “My memory of my first-grade class was there was about 20 kids in it,” he says. “When I saw my son’s class I thought, how is the teacher ever going to be able to do this with 34 5- and 6-year-olds? We are the wealthiest nation on earth and can afford to do better.”

Class size reduction has long been a popular policy among parents and educators, but in state and federal government, interest in the issue has waxed and waned over the last two decades.

To fund smaller class sizes, states and school districts have been able to use Title II-A money, which is an annual pot of federal funds available for teacher quality initiatives. In the early 2000s, 57 percent of all Title II-A funds indeed went for this purpose. But by 2015, just 25 percent of those dollars were going to class size reduction, with far more dollars now spent on things like professional development.

One reason cities and states began to turn away from class size reduction was basic purse-string tightening. Nineteen states began eliminating or loosening their class size limits following the 2008 recession to save money. But class size reduction also began to fall out of favor with policymakers and education wonks, as interest in alternative reform policies, like evaluating teachers based on student standardized test scores, ticked up.

Advocates for class size reduction as an evidenced-based reform point to studies showing a link between higher academic achievement and fewer students per class. The most reputable study, known as Project STAR, is from the mid-1980s, when researchers randomly assigned students and teachers in Tennessee elementary schools to classes with an average of 15 students or 23 students. The study found students in the smaller classes tested better, with the improvements particularly significant among disadvantaged children. Later research found that the smaller class sizes also increased the probability of attending college, with the effects more than twice as large among black students.

Other influential research has suggested that setting the class size cap below 20 students will yield the greatest benefits, and Merkley’s bill caps class size at 18.

Some experts object to class size reduction — arguing it’s a cover for district bloat, and less effective than other reforms for similar or even lesser costs. Prominent critics include journalist Malcolm Gladwell and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Others point to implementation challenges: In California, when the state legislature passed a $1.6 billion measure in 1996 to incentivize reduced class sizes in grades K-3, it was universally adopted very quickly. Researchers later found that the rapid statewide reduction in class size led to an influx of new, inexperienced teachers, and many teachers working in poorer schools in Los Angeles and Oakland left to fill the new vacancies in wealthier districts. While the researchers found that smaller classes boosted student achievement when all else was held equal, the rollout of the policy was tumultuous, and appeared to negatively impact some students and schools it was aimed to help.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that advocates for smaller classes, says Merkley’s bill is “very important” and targets a major problem in public education. “As the teacher strikes reveal, and data shows, class sizes have increased across the country since the recession, and even though we’re a decade past that point, school budgets and class sizes still haven’t recovered,” she says. “Increases in class size have severely damaged the quality of education for all children in affected schools, but especially disadvantaged students and students of color, who see twice the benefit from smaller classes than the average student.”

Haimson praises Merkley’s bill for its requirement that districts report how smaller class size affects teacher retention and turnover rates, as well as student discipline and chronic absenteeism. Haimson says the bill could be improved by more explicitly defining how grant recipients should report the number of new teachers hired, how many new classes are added and by how much class sizes went down. “In the past, state and city audits have shown that at least half of the districtwide class size reduction that the New York City Department of Education claimed was a result of a state grant class size reduction program was due instead to falling enrollment,” she explains.

Regarding policy criticisms around class size reduction, Merkley says he agrees “other things need to be done” to improve schools, but he emphasizes his conversations with child experts lead him to believe that investments in smaller class size for the early grades can “make such a profound difference for everything that goes forward.”

Would he want smaller class sizes for middle and high school, too? While most studies have focused on K-3, conceivably fewer students per class would have an impact in more advanced courses as well.

“The studies we’ve looked at say K-3 is where it matters the most, but if we start here, we can evaluate the impact and decide,” he says. “If we do this right, evaluate it, and find out it doesn’t have an impact, then that will be information worth having and can change how we allocate our resources.”

New Bill Would Subject Charters to Same Transparency Rules as D.C. Public Schools

Originally published in Washington City Paper on March 13, 2019.
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On Wednesday morning, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen led a press conference for a bill he will introduce next week, the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. This bill would bring D.C. charter schools under the same transparency requirements as traditional public schools, and comes on the heels of the DC Public Charter School Board proposing its own transparency reforms for the charter school sector. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman have joined Allen in co-sponsoring the legislation.

Allen’s new bill would subject all D.C. charter schools and their boards of trustees to public records requests and open meetings laws, and require that the DC Public Charter School Board help individual charters comply with these new rules. The charter sector currently receives more than $800 million in taxpayer dollars annually.

“This is not exactly a cutting-edge idea,” said Allen on the front steps of the Wilson Building. “Thirty-nine states already include both our traditional and public charter schools under their open government laws. D.C. is frankly playing catchup with the rest of the country.”

He pointed to California, where just earlier this month, the state’s new governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would subject all of California’s 1,300 charter schools to open meetings laws and public records requests. Allen also pointed to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, which both endorse charters complying with these rules. Last month a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools told the Washington Post that D.C’s charter sector was unusual on this front compared to the rest of the country.

Allen said one of the most common arguments he hears from charter schools is that complying with FOIA would be a significant administrative burden. In light of this, he wrote into his bill that the DC Public Charter School Board would serve as a resource to help individual schools handle requests, and the legislation would also require the PSCB to report to the Council how many FOIA requests were received by individual charter schools, and how much it cost them to comply. Allen emphasized the bill could be adjusted in future years if schools do in fact encounter major challenges. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re respecting that concern and understanding that,” he said.

As it stands now, the DC Public Charter School Board is not being flooded with FOIA requests. Between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, according to the city’s annual FOIA report, the DC Public Charter School Board received 74 requests for information, with 59 processed within 15 days, eight processed in 16 to 25 days, and two processed in over 26 days. The total cost for the agency to comply with FOIA requests last year was $22,600.

Other items in Allen’s bill include requirements that a charter school’s annual report include the amount of money donated by anyone who contributes more than $500, that schools publish all employees’ names and salaries, that each charter school include two teachers on its board of trustees, and that a student representative serve on the board of a charter high school or adult learning charter. Lastly, the bill would require a charter’s annual report to list all contracts awarded by the school, regardless of amount, as is required for D.C. Public Schools.

The bill was developed in close consultation with EmpowerED, a D.C. teacher activist group, which has been leading, over the last nine months, a campaign on public school transparency and increasing teacher, parent, and student voice in school decision-making. In January, EmpowerEd launched an online petition to bring charters under the same transparency requirements as D.C. Public Schools, which as of Wednesday had garnered 545 signatures. Scott Goldstein, the executive director of EmpowerED, says the majority of those signatures have come from D.C. charter school teachers and charter school parents.

“Nothing in this bill should be controversial,” says Goldstein. “Far from being a burden, community engagement is what makes schools stronger and more sustainable.”

Allen’s bill is likely to face opposition from some leaders in the charter school sector.

Last month, Irene Holtzman, the executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a local charter advocacy group, testified before the Council against the kind of measures proposed in Allen’s bill, and defended the level of transparency currently existing in the charter school sector.

Josh Henderson, the executive director of the D.C. chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, tells City Paper that Allen’s bill “prioritizes paperwork over performance” and notes that D.C.’s charter sector is “already one of the most tightly regulated, and importantly, highest-performing in the country.” He says he hopes the Council will focus on issues like mental health supports and suitable facilities, “rather than adding additional layers of bureaucracy.”

DFER DC, Henderson adds, would support new measures like the Council requiring charters to hold at least two open meetings per year, “including the meeting at which they set their budgets and any meeting that would close, shrink or otherwise reconfigure a school’s campuses.” He also says his group would support requiring charters to report data about teacher tenure and attrition, which is currently only reported on a voluntary basis.

Education Committee Chairman David Grosso was not at the press conference and his spokesperson says Grosso does not have any comment on the bill at this time.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who announced in late December that he would be joining Grosso in leading oversight on the Education Committee, tells City Paper that he understands charter schools are not in support, and that he plans to “look at the bill carefully and understand why we have always treated the charter schools differently.” He says he does worry that FOIA can be a burden on agencies, noting that the amount of money the Council had to spend on answering FOIA requests jumped significantly last year.

In 2015, some local advocates tried to push for greater charter school transparency measures, but charter leaders successfully blocked their efforts, and the Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act included only modest reforms. Allen said at Wednesday’s press conference that he’s hopeful the Council will have a hearing and pass this bill, and he hopes even more co-sponsors will join them in the next few days.

The DC Public Charter School Board, meanwhile, has been deliberating on some of its own transparency policy changes. The PCSB first opened its transparency rules to public comment in December, and extended the comment period for another month given the high volume of feedback it received. In February during the extended public comment period, this reporter submitted a comment in favor of bringing charters under FOIA and open meetings laws, and publishing board meeting minutes online.

On March 18, board members will be voting on the DC Public Charter School Board’s proposed transparency changes, which would require individual schools to publish, among other things, which meetings are open to the public, board meeting minutes, the salaries of the five highest-compensated individuals, employee handbooks, and funding plans for at-risk students. Some of the information that the DC Public Charter School Board is proposing schools publish on their own websites is already available on the DC Public Charter School Board’s so-called Transparency Hub, which launched last April.

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, calls Allen’s legislation “misguided” and says it “fails to take into account the extraordinary transparency measures already taken by the Public Charter School Board.” Pearson criticized the bill for not addressing issues like closing the achieving gap, reducing the number of students living in poverty, or reducing truancy.  “We support a smart, reasonable approach that provides the transparency parents need, but does not divert school efforts, attention, and funds away from educating students,” he says. “We urge the D.C. Council to include parents, local board members, students, and school leaders in this process.”

Strategies for a Post-Roe America — and for Post-Roe American Women

Originally published in The American Prospect on March 11, 2019.
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Independent journalist Robin Marty, one of the nation’s top reporters covering reproductive rights, has published a new book—Handbook for a Post-Roe America—with practical advice for women who might actually need to terminate a pregnancy in the future and for people who support abortion rights. While reproductive choice is at risk regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, there’s little question in Marty’s mind that the landscape will soon look different in a world where Roe is overturned. The faster people accept that, she argues, the faster people can start preparing. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Rachel Cohen: So, to get started, do you think we are headed for a post-Roe America?

Robin Marty: I am so certain at this point that I will even tell you it will be overturned in 2021. Abortion opponents already have all the cases they need, I’m fairly certain at this point it will be a case on banning D&E [dilation and extraction, a surgical abortion procedure typically performed during the third trimester or the later part of the second trimester] and that will be the case they use to overturn Roe. We know the Fifth Circuit is looking at it right now, and we’re pretty sure that court is going to say it’s not unconstitutional for Texas to do a D&E ban. And that would leave a split circuit decision, which would let the Supreme Court weigh in.

The Supreme Court will pick a case where lawyers can be extraordinarily gruesome. Abortion opponents love D&E bans because they’re so grotesque and no one can defend them without saying you have to pull out a limb.

I expect 2021 because they won’t have a case before the next presidential election, they know that’s the only way they can get the same evangelical voters out to get Trump re-elected. Once the election is over, they will go ahead and move as quickly as possible.

You’ve notably said you think the end of Roe would be a good thing.

I’m quite excited. Roe being overturned is the best thing that could happen to our movement. We’ve been treading water since 2010, we’ve seen all these red states that have been chipping away at access, but it took until Trump was elected and Roe was in honest-to-God jeopardy for all the really privileged and white people to understand that abortion could be cut off for everyone, not just the people who have already lost access. Ending Roe will put everyone on the same level.

Does that mean you supported Gorsuch’s and Kavanaugh’s confirmations?

Oh God, no! They are such a disaster for civil rights and more, even beyond just abortion.

Don’t you think privileged women in states like Massachusetts, New York, and California will continue to feel like the rollback in access doesn’t mean much for them personally?

But they will still be able to see the impacts more directly. Just being able to see people put in jail for accessing their own care—I mean people will get abortion pills, people will get caught, and there will be stark consequences—I think that will be the turning point. It’s like [in 2012] in Ireland when Savita [Halappanavar] died from a septic miscarriage after having been denied an abortion. That was a turning point for the country.

When we go post-Roe, what we’re going to have to decide as a movement, and as activists in general, is what is our new standard? What is accessible? Why does it have to be at a clinic? Why does it have to cost $500 out of pocket at a minimum? We’ve been so busy trying to protect this right that honestly isn’t that great. Is it worth protecting anymore? I don’t know that it is.

Would you say this is a mainstream view among pro-choice leaders?

It’s not a mainstream view, per se, but it’s something that I’ve been talking to audiences about as I’ve done my book tour. Everyone’s first thought is: How could you say Roe coming to an end is a good thing?! And then we talk about it, how now everyone will be in the same position as these marginalized communities that have one clinic in their state and a 72-hour waiting period, and once people understand that abortion is already inaccessible, and maybe it’s time to just get rid of Roe and start fighting for the human right to decide, people get it.

National organizations don’t like any of this, it would be dismantling the power of national organizations and effectively redistributing those resources to local groups. A lot of my work is about why we need to take abortion outside of clinics.

You mean to do more abortions at home?

Yes. In some way, what we’re seeing is the same debate we saw around home births and midwives. This isn’t very different from that, but there’s a resistance to the idea that we don’t need to do this procedure at a clinic, that we don’t have to have formal medical intervention. A lot of this can be left up to us. If we’ve already proven it’s not dangerous—which we have at this point, over and over—then we should be more forceful in pushing for that.

Your book was very practical and concrete. Can you talk about some of the specific suggestions you laid out for emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception was actually how the book started. As soon as [Justice Anthony] Kennedy announced his retirement, I saw a ton of people saying online they were going to give money to Planned Parenthood and stock up on emergency contraception. And my first thought was, “Whoa, now.” That led to Huffington Post piece where I tried to say how you can do things like that in a more responsible way, which turned into this book.

Sterilization came up in your book as one way women could prepare for a post-Roe America. I was a bit surprised to see that. In your research, are you finding that’s already happening?

Yes, I am finding that women who have already decided they would not be interested in having children, or more children, are looking at this. The problem is it’s quite difficult to get sterilized—doctors don’t like to do it. It’s kind of a paternalistic thing, like saying you surely haven’t met the right man, or you’ll regret not being a mother. There are also a lot of rules—like you have to give consent for the procedure two weeks before you get it done. I have kids and I’ve also been sterilized.

In a chapter focused on organizing, you urged readers to focus on city councilmembers. I feel like the conversations around abortion restrictions has been focused heavily on state legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The reason this book exists is to help take our attention off the bigger picture—which we’ve been paying attention to for a really long time. But national solutions are just not the best place for us to use our resources right now. My book is about drilling down as local as you can get, investing in your state, in your city, and in your local clinics.

One thing we’ve noticed about how power works is the more directly you’re involved in the area in which you can have real power, the more exponentially powerful that is. So for city councils, we’ve seen they are often the last bastion of protecting or ending access to abortion. We saw that when Whole Woman’s Health was trying to open a medication abortion clinic in Indiana. At first it was the city council that tried to block it, then the mayor overrode it, and then the city council tried to block it again. It’s now still going through lawsuits.

City councilmembers have say over things like zoning and noise ordinances, ensuring that buffer zones can be upheld. If there is a city council that is friendly toward abortion rights, that often impacts how the police will deal with people who protest and attend clinics.

Can you talk about the Pregnant Women’s Dignity Act?

The one thing we really need to do is get abortion out of the criminal code. One way to do that is through this law, the Pregnant Women’s Dignity Act, which is promoted by the Public Leadership Institute. It says if a person has any kind of poor birth outcome—it’s not her fault, it’s not something that should be investigated, this is not something that has a place of blame. It doesn’t matter if she did it on purpose, if it was by accident—it’s just a personal medical thing that has occurred and it does not involve the police or the courts.

You explore the idea of creating a new kind of infrastructure of housing, transportation, safety, and financial support for women who need to travel to get abortions in a post-Roe America.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Say that Roe is overturned and in Kentucky the state makes abortion completely illegal, and there’s just one remaining clinic. What happens to that clinic? Would that be a good place that you can then set up a hostel for women who need to then travel out of state to get an abortion? If Roe is overturned there will be no abortion in the entire Gulf area, no abortion in most of the Rust Belt. We’re talking about humongous chunks of the country. People are talking about how to make states like New York and Colorado these safe havens where people can go, but what’s the best way we can get people together so they can actually do it efficiently?

Can we bring all the people in the state of Kentucky together so they can all take a bus to Chicago together? Then none of them will have to worry about needing to drive. We have to think about how to work with systems that will be left, and how best to use it especially for those who aren’t going to have the funds to do long-distance travel.

Do you think we’ll increase the number of clinics in the future?

I’ve heard some people say, “Okay, we should build abortion clinics next to airports, so people can get off, get the procedure, and go right back home,” and my first thought was: Have these people tried to open a clinic lately?!

Just last [month] there was a piece in The Austin Chronicle about Whole Woman’s Health losing their Austin office, and they had spent months trying to find a new place they could move into. And this is in liberal Austin! There’s just so much pressure, no one wants to sell or lease their property to an abortion clinic.

I think for the most part what we have for clinics is as much as we’re going to get. And I don’t think that matters—I don’t think we should need as many abortion clinics. If people could just do it at home, as they should be able to especially with telemedicine, then we just need to have enough clinics that people can do follow-ups for later abortion or for people who can’t do it.

But haven’t studies shown that women prefer surgical abortion if they have the choice?

I totally understand why people would choose surgical abortion—you don’t have to worry about the follow-up, you don’t have to see the procedure, but if you look at Iowa, they had an extraordinarily successful telemedicine abortion program until [legislators] took it down. And what they discovered in Iowa was it didn’t increase the number of people having abortions, they just were able to have them earlier.

Your book also looks at the question of civil disobedience and direct action in a post-Roe America.

Yes, I think we’re going to see a lot more civil disobedience. There was a Mother Jones article recently about a woman who sold medication abortion online for years, and that finally got shut down by federal agents. The only thing that made the police finally get involved was because a man used the medication he bought from her to commit a crime.

As I was reading it I thought, how many people would need to start online websites, offering medication abortion for sale, before the FDA threw up their hands and said I can’t keep up with them all? That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about. What’s the critical mass where so many people are breaking the law that it’s no longer feasible for authorities to keep up? And who are the right people to do it and how do we organize en masse?

What are some other examples of civil disobedience that you can imagine?

There’s a bill that was just reintroduced in Congress, and it comes up every year, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Actor CIANA, which would make it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to get an abortion without parental consent. One of the best things NARAL ever did was they dubbed this the “Jail Grandma law.” They brought to mind a picture of a young girl who goes to a different state to get an abortion, and for some reason her parents couldn’t take her so her grandma takes her across the border. Are we really going to throw grandma in jail? That ground everything to a halt, and that is a perfect example of why we need old white ladies to do civil disobedience.

So the last thing I wanted to ask you about was surveillance, and why being conscious of that will be important in a post-Roe America.

One of the reasons it’s really important to pay attention to what you’re saying over open phone lines, over what you’re searching on Google, over text messages, is that when Purvi Patel was arrested in Indiana for allegedly inducing her own abortion, the state went back and forth on is this murder? Is this feticide? A lot of what they used against Patel were texts in her own phone. We need to be aware that if we do decide that it’s time to organize outside the legal bounds, or if someone is going to try to do an abortion outside of a legal clinical setting, that person will need to be really careful about what they put down in writing.

I’m someone who generally hated being pregnant, I did not have comfortable pregnancies. I don’t know how many times I texted someone saying, “God, I wish I wasn’t pregnant.” If I had had a miscarriage, what would stop some suspicious doctor or some overzealous prosecutor to say, hm, she had a miscarriage, I wonder if she induced her own abortion, and then found that text?

 

The Charter School Movement Weakens in California

Originally published in The American Prospect on March 8, 2018.
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Charter school politics in California have been changing very quickly.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles held a special election for a school board seat that had been vacated in 2018. Ref Rodriguez had been elected in 2015 with the support of the charter school movement, and in 2017, two more pro-charter advocates won seats on the seven-person school board, giving charter supporters a slim majority for the first time. Their victory was short-lived, however, because Rodriguez was soon charged with money laundering, and eventually pled guilty to conspiracy and resigned.

The contest to fill Rodriguez’s seat was, thus, high-stakes: Would someone like Rodriguez replace him on the board, and thereby keep the board’s pro-charter tilt?

While the election is not over, the answer increasingly looks like it will be no. In a crowded field of ten candidates, 74-year-old Jackie Goldberg emerged with 48 percent of the vote, and heads into a May runoff with a strong likelihood of winning. The next-highest challenger received only 13 percent. Goldberg, who was endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles, did not hide that she was running for the seat mainly to prevent charter advocates from controlling the board. “I don’t want four votes for the charter people,” she told me in January. “I’m not anti-charter, but I’m anti the current charter law.”

Goldberg has been a well-known figure in local progressive politics for decades. A veteran of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley and later a public schoolteacher, she was elected to two terms on the Los Angeles school board from 1983 to 1991. After that, she served six years in the state assembly and eight as the first openly gay member of the Los Angeles City Council, where in 1997 she authored and passed what was effectively the nation’s first living-wage ordinance. This earned her the reputation as a real darling of the progressive left in the city. Goldberg was also a strong supporter of the recent Los Angeles teachers strike, and the teachers union spent roughly $660,000 to elect her.

The politics around charter schools in California has evolved in ways that stretch beyond the composition of L.A.’s school board, too.

In late December, before the strike, UTLA called for a moratorium on new charter schools. (L.A. has 224 charters, more than any other city in the country.) California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, and its new state schools superintendent, Tony Thurmond, have also both said they support temporary moratoriums on new charters.

Following UTLA’s six-day strike, where opposition to charters was a central point of the teachers’ advocacy, the L.A. school board approved a nonbinding resolution in support of an eight-to-ten-month moratorium on new charter schools, pending a study on California’s charter laws. The vote was part of the bargaining agreement between UTLA and Los Angeles Unified School District chief Austin Beutner. Getting the board to even take such a vote was a huge win for the union, let alone receiving a unanimous vote, including from the board’s charter supporters.

public opinion survey of Los Angeles County residents taken during January and the first two weeks of February found that 75 percent of respondents said they wanted to focus on improving existing public schools, and just 25 percent said the focus should be on giving families more school choices. The results were similar when broken down by race, though black and Latino families were slightly more likely to favor school improvements than other groups.

Further north in California, teachers in Oakland went on strike in late February, ending with an agreement that included, among other things, a moratorium on charter schools. Oakland currently has 44 charter schools, enrolling more than 15,600 students.

Keith Brown, president of Oakland Educators Association, said teachers will push for further regulation of charter schools on the state level, and already some bills have gained traction. Last week, the California Assembly approved a bill that would subject all charter schools in the state to the same open meetings, public records, and conflict-of-interest laws that traditional public schools are subject to. The transparency bill passed on a 63-to-9 vote and Governor Newsom is expected to sign it.

And that’s likely not all. Other bills that have been introduced would place a cap on charter schools, limit where charter schools could open, and create new ways to deny charter school applications. About 10 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public-school students currently attend charters.

Eric Premack, the executive director of the Sacramento-based Charter Schools Development Center, told CalMatters that the new bills are “the policy equivalent of an extended middle finger.”

California’s charter advocates are still reeling from two major political losses last year. In the gubernatorial primary, charter supporters spent $23 million backing Antonio Villaraigosa in a failed bid, and more than $36 million on another candidate’s unsuccessful run for state superintendent of public instruction.

After losing those statewide races in 2018, the California Charter Schools Association, the movement’s main political arm, took a gamble, announcing in late December that it would not be endorsing a candidate in the school board special election in Los Angeles. (The lobbying group declined to answer questions in January about whether it would run any independent expenditure campaigns or financially support any pro–charter school board contenders despite not giving an endorsement.)

Given the many candidates vying for the seat, most political observers suspected the CCSA would jump into the fray with an endorsement for the anticipated runoff, where they had been successful in the past.

But now it looks like their strategy failed, and their prospects to take back control of the board are slim. Not only did Goldberg command a formidable lead, but the next two candidates to trail her aren’t reliable charter advocates either. The most outspoken charter proponent in the field—Allison Bajracharya—finished fifth, earning less than six percent of the vote. That catastrophic mistake by the charter school movement could precipitate its further slide into political irrelevance.

Labor Unions Are Skeptical of the Green New Deal, And They Want Activists To Hear Them Out

Originally published in The Intercept on Feb. 28, 2019.
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Deciding whether to sign onto the Green New Deal resolution is not an easy call for many members of Congress. They have to contend with the usual opponents: coal, utilities, oil companies, and other big-pocketed interests who like today’s economic order just fine. But even on the left, coalition-building can be complicated.

After signing onto the Green New Deal as an original sponsor, one House Democrat felt that acutely when he traveled back to his district and met with two top local labor leaders. The congressperson, who asked not to be named, said he faced harsh criticism from building trade representatives who worried the plan would put their members out of work. He pushed back, arguing that their members will actually fare better with a green infrastructure plan that can drive up wages for blue collar work, pointing to jobs like retrofitting buildings and constructing renewable energy infrastructure.

Recent polling has found strong bipartisan support for a Green New Deal, but unions, a key constituency, have been less than enthused by — and in some cases, downright hostile to — the ambitious proposal to tackle climate change.

Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, denounced the Green New Deal the day it was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. In a blistering statement, O’Sullivan said it was “exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality” and “exactly how not to win support for critical measures to curb climate change.”

For many observers, the construction union’s opposition was not too surprising. LIUNA had ardently supported the Dakota Access pipeline and said in 2016 that the labor organizations who opposed the project were “self-righteous” and “display[ing] a truly amazing level of hypocrisy and ignorance.” In January 2017, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, LIUNA was one of several building trade unions to meet with the president, later praising Trump’s “remarkable courtesy” and affirmed that LIUNA “look[s] forward” to partnering with the White House on infrastructure.

Some climate activists have said that support for the Green New Deal should be a litmus test for progressives. Writing for The Intercept, Naomi Klein argued recently that the labor movement should “confront and isolate” LiUNA over its opposition. “That could take the form of LIUNA members, confident that the Green New Deal will not leave them behind, voting out their pro-boss leaders,” she wrote. “Or it could end with LIUNA being tossed out of the AFL-CIO” — the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the country’s largest umbrella group for unions — “for planetary malpractice.”

As advocates of the Green New Deal work to gin up more support for the resolution, they face the challenge of parsing out bad-faith criticisms from legitimate critiques by those whose livelihoods would be impacted by a transition to green jobs. The way they straddle that line and respond to those concerns could make all the difference in getting the critical mass of support needed for the Green New Deal to pass.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s nonbinding resolution includes explicit language backing union jobs that pay prevailing wages and a commitment for “wage and benefit parity for workers” affected by the energy transition. The Green New Deal also calls for “strengthening and protecting” the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain, and for “enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments” with strong labor protections.

Despite those promises, only one big union, 32BJ SEIU, has come out swinging in support of the Green New Deal. The majority of labor organizations have so far stayed quiet or voiced skepticism or criticism. The opposition, particularly for those in the building industry, is rooted in concerns about jobs and wages, as well as the approaches favored in the resolution for decreasing carbon emissions. There is also a political thread, with Trump-voting Republican coal miners, for example, hesitant to embrace a policy that has been sponsored only by members of the Democratic caucus.

Evan Weber, political director at Sunrise Movement, the youth advocacy organization credited with putting the Green New Deal on the political map, suggested that his group is not too worried about labor’s early response. “Since the resolution launched, a few [unions] have put out negative and less-than-enthusiastic statements about the Green New Deal,” he said, “but most are remaining silent and choosing to view this as a potential opportunity.”

Two weeks ago, seven unions representing workers in the building industry sent a letter to the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and its ranking member, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., saying they “have grave concerns about unrealistic solutions such as those advocated in the ‘Green New Deal.’” The unions have also used the letter — which outlines their climate legislative priorities — in meetings with House members and senators since January, according to Phil Smith, spokesperson for the United Mine Workers of America.

Despite advocating their position in Congress, the signatories have not yet made public statements on the Green New Deal. Mark Brueggenjohann, spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which signed the letter, told The Intercept that his union is not commenting now on the resolution, but “will be better prepared to do so” when actual legislation is available.

One climate strategy that many unions have said is important is investing in carbon capture technology and storage — a conceivable, if yet to be realized, way to prevent most of the carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel plants from entering the atmosphere. This method has already generated a bit of controversy in the rollout of the Green New Deal. 

In November, the Sunrise Movement called for a Green New Deal Select Committeethat included “funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases.” This language appeared to endorse research and development in carbon capture technology, something many climate experts say is necessary to keep the planet from overheating. But in January, as Robinson Meyer from The Atlantic reported, the drafters of the final version of that resolution quietly removed any reference to “capturing” greenhouse gases. Meyer noted that the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last fall warned that a failure to make major changes to reduce global warming in the next 12 years will be catastrophic for the planet, “has not produced any projection that shows us hitting that [necessary decarbonization] target without massively deploying carbon-capture technology.”

Carbon capture technology is somewhat polarizing. Critics say it’s risky to bank on pricey technology that does not really exist yet, and they say that the fossil fuel industry uses the prospect of carbon capture as an excuse to avoid reining in their environmentally harmful businesses.

Supporters, however, argue that investing in carbon capture is scientifically necessary for reducing emissions globally and vital for maintaining economic stability. “Our union does not question the science about climate change, and we’ve been working for some time on ways to mitigate it,” said Smith, the spokesperson for the mine workers union. “The answer, to us, is not quit using coal, but to spend the kind of money that needs to be spent on carbon-capture technology, on a commercial scale in this country and across the world. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t do that, you’ll never solve the global crisis.”

The Green New Deal resolution doesn’t explicitly rule out carbon capture technology, but in a section that deals with removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the authors endorse “proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage,” like protecting land and planting new trees. Other vaguely written sections of the resolution, however, could open the door for carbon-capture technology. The resolution endorses “creating solutions to remove” emissions, and endorses the international exchange of technology, products, and services to address climate change.

The resolution is nonbinding, so the inclusion or exclusion of a provision does not dictate how future legislation will be written, but it does suggest some hesitancy to embrace carbon capture technology and storage.

The Sunrise Movement does not see “a heavy role for carbon capture and storage,” said Weber, the group’s political director, though he said it could be worth investing in some research and development for so-called heavy industry like steelmaking and shipbuilding. He noted that carbon capture technology is “pretty expensive compared to just reducing emissions by moving toward alternative forms of energy.” Ocasio-Cortez’s and Markey’s offices did not return requests for comment.

As an alternative, Weber said photosynthesis should be seen as an optimal way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “We think there’s a lot of upward potential here in the U.S. to do ecosystem restoration and preservation,” he said. “A number of studies have shown that that can really help us get toward our climate goals and we’re most interested in investing in those proven solutions.”

Laborers are also skeptical of what the Green New Deal’s promise for a “just transition” would mean in practice. “We think it’s very important to find out what a ‘just transition’ actually means and who gets to define it,” said Smith of the mine workers union. “And will people be paid what they’re earning now, with the same level of benefits? None of that has been clarified.”

Members of the United Mine Workers of America earn an average of $30 an hour, along with employer contributions to a 401(k), paid sick leave, paid vacation, and ample health benefits, according to Smith. “I think, frankly, if you’re able to say to these folks, here’s a $30-an-hour job with all the rest of the stuff you’re used to, and you’ll pretty much work the same hours, you’ll have folks say, ‘OK, I’ll consider this,’” he said. “But that’s not what anyone is saying. And it seems to us there’s a very naive view about what this is going to cost and where the money is going to come from.”

Saikat Chakrabati, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, responded to early criticisms of the Green New Deal by saying that they envision future legislation that would provide economic security to miners who would find a switch to a new career challenging.

When asked if his members see an urgency to address climate change, Smith said they haven’t done formal polling, but that “anecdotally, our membership is very split on that issue.” He noted that plenty of miners voted for Trump and tend to agree with his perspective on climate change.

Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, or NABTU, told Reuters that his members were skeptical of promises of “green jobs” and noted that “renewable energy firms have been less generous” than the oil and gas sector when it comes to paying their workers. Renewable jobs, notably, are generally safer than fossil fuel jobs and can be done anywhere in the country, unlike jobs that are dependent on the location of a mine or an oil rig.

Like the mine workers, when it comes to NABTU and other critics of the Green New Deal, members’ political orientations are relevant.

In 2016, NABTU, along with LIUNA and a handful of other unions, sent a letter to the AFL-CIO, calling on the federation to cut ties with Democratic billionaire donor Tom Steyer, a vocal critic of the Keystone oil pipeline. (Since Trump’s election, Steyer has also frequently called for the president’s impeachment.) Despite their agreement over Keystone, the groups’ partisan leanings are a bit divergent. In the 2018 cycle, NABTU gave 41 percent of its political action committee contributions to Democratic candidates and 59 percent to Republicans. More than 75 percent of LIUNA’s contributions, by contrast, went to Democrats in the last election.

NABTU and LIUNA did not return multiple requests for comment.

Weber, the Sunrise Movement’s political director, said some of the concerns unions have raised about needing more specificity are “completely valid,” though he accused LIUNA of lying about what the resolution contains and misrepresenting climate science. “It’s always kind of disappointing to see potential allies resort to tactics that we see the right wing and our common enemies using,” he said.

With respect to labor issues, Weber said, the Green New Deal is “leaps and bounds ahead of previous climate proposals.” From his group’s perspective, if energy workers cannot find new jobs that pay them equal to what they’re currently earning, then “the government should step in and make up that difference,” he said.

“I think the job guarantee is a really critical element of the Green New Deal,” he said. “It doesn’t say if you’re a coal miner, you’re now going to go work on installing solar panels, it asks what are the jobs that make sense for your community and have this transition be something that’s locally determined.”

The union that has offered the most enthusiasm for the Green New Deal has been 32BJ, which represents 163,000 doormen, security officers, cleaners, and airport workers along the east coast. On February 6, the Joint Executive Board of 32BJ passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal and “reaffirm[ed] its commitment to a 100 percent clean and renewable energy economy.”

In an interview with The Intercept, 32BJ’s New York City-based president, Héctor Figueroa, proudly noted that his union was the first to come out in support of the Green New Deal. “We can build unity in labor if we can recognize the urgency of the climate crisis” and effectively link the fight for climate justice to economic justice, he said.

Figueroa’s rhetoric is similar to that of Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise activists. He emphasized the need to take action “in a big, bold way” that addresses climate “concurrent to the problems of income inequality and declining labor standards.” He noted his personal connection — his family comes from Puerto Rico and has been dealing with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria — and he said two-thirds of their membership was born outside of the United States. “They know the impact of climate change back in their home countries,” he said. “They understand this is a global problem.”

32BJ’s February resolution on the Green New Deal “marked a new phase” in the union’s engagement on climate change, as for the past two decades, they’ve focused primarily on advocating for green jobs and energy efficiency standards, Figueroa said. “Now we’re taking another step, which is to very clearly and categorically say we need to build a future without fossil fuel,” he explained.

Their next task will be to pressure their national union, SEIU, to support the Green New Deal. “We are very passionate about it, and we believe it’s the right place for labor,” he said.

Other locals may also play a role in pressing their parent unions for support. Out in California, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, of which an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local is a member, issued a resolution in support of the Green New Deal.

Aside from that, most unions have stayed silent — even those that have contributed to the discourse around climate change in the past. The AFL-CIO, for example, passed a resolution in October 2017 on “Climate Change, Energy, and Union Jobs.” The resolution affirmed the labor federation’s commitment to passing “energy and environmental policies with a focus on ensuring high labor standards, the creation of union jobs and environmental sustainability,” and also affirmed its support for enacting “comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates good jobs and addresses the threat of climate change.” In 2009, the AFL-CIO worked to shape the House’s cap-and-trade bill. The American Clean Energy and Security Act — the name of which is conspicuously missing the term “climate change” — died in the Senate without a vote.

While the AFL-CIO has yet to issue a statement on the Green New Deal, in September, the federation’s president, Richard Trumka, gave a speech on fighting climate change that is telling of the group’s perspective. He said that “strategies that leave coal miners’ pension funds bankrupt, power plant workers unemployed, construction workers making less than they do now … plans that devastate communities today, while offering vague promises about the future … they are more than unjust. … They fundamentally undermine the power of the political coalition needed to address the climate crisis.”

The BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of 14 unions and environmental organizations — including the Sierra Club and United Steelworkers — backed the cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but has not commented on the Green New Deal. (Spokesperson Abby Harvey declined The Intercept’s request for comment.) Critics have noted that BlueGreen Alliance tends to avoid weighing in on more controversial issues, like the Keystone XL pipeline. (LIUNA, which supported the pipeline, quit the alliance in 2012 over related disagreements.)

David Foster, the former executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, wrote an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, urging the public to study the lessons from a decade ago, the last time leaders called for a global Green New Deal. “Unless the transition to a clean energy economy is based on unifying politics, this next iteration will also prove another adventure in pyrrhic rhetoric,” Foster warned. A decade ago, unemployment was high and the price of oil was also skyrocketing. While neither are true today, he noted, inequality remains terrible and working conditions throughout the entire economy feel even more precarious.

The Sunrise Movement plans to launch a campaign in March to build more support for the Green New Deal, with events planned in states like Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. “We’ve been working to get a lot of support from the grassroots and the grasstops,” Weber said, “and we’re going to keep doing that going forward.”

Bridges Public Charter School Dismisses Well-Loved Teacher Who Spoke Out

Originally published in Washington City Paper on February 17, 2019.
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Last week, Kay Elaster, the principal at Bridges Public Charter, told Liz Koenig, a preschool teacher who has worked at Bridges for the last five years, that she was “not a good fit” for the school and would not be welcome back next year. This is Elaster’s first year.

Koenig, one of the most highly-regarded teachers at her school by both parents and colleagues, says administrators told her they made the decision not based on her teaching quality or her dedication to students—both of which they acknowledged were strong. In 2016, Koenig was voted by Bridges teachers as “Best of Staff.”

In the past year Koenig has started speaking publicly about working conditions, both within her school and across D.C. charters as a whole. In October, at a conference organized by the teacher activist group EmpowerED, Koenig spoke on a panel with four educators and this reporter about increasing transparency in the charter sector.

In her speech, Koenig talked about learning two years ago that their pre-K classes were going to be increased from 18 to 20 students in order to boost their school’s per-pupil funding. Four Bridges teachers mobilized in response. “My fellow educators and I wrote a letter detailing our concerns about this change to the board, including that our ability to deliver quality instruction would be hampered,” she said. “In response to our letter the board told us this type of instructional decision was not in their purview, even though we know this was discussed at a board meeting from someone who was there, and moreover, inaccurate information about our pre-K program had been presented in support of the increase [in class size].” The board told the teachers to take their concerns to the school’s leadership team. Koenig says they were soon reprimanded for going outside the chain of command. In the 2017-18 school year, pre-K class size at Bridges increased to 20 students.

“It was demoralizing to have our voices shut down so completely,” she says. “It was defeating to realize that I had no tools to investigate the leadership team’s and the board’s decision to make money off my classroom at the expense of instructional quality.”

This experience motivated Koenig to become an activist for charter school transparency. She notes that in most other cities, the public can review board meeting minutes, attend the board meetings themselves, and file Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about decision-making within the publicly-funded, privately-managed schools.

In October, Koenig also joined Twitter with the handle @dcteachersunite, where she has posted frequently about the importance of increasing transparency in the charter sector—particularly subjecting individual schools to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act. In November, she filed her first FOIA request with the D.C. Public Charter School Board, and shared the results publicly online when she got the documents the following month.

In late January Koenig testified at the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s monthly meeting about the need to increase transparency in the charter school sector. “I am both a parent of a child in a charter school and a teacher at a charter school in the city,” she said. “As a parent and as a teacher I’ve learned that the best schools are built on trusting relationships—between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, and between teachers and their schools … Transparency builds trust.”

 


And most recently, Koenig spoke on the record for a City Paper story on charter school teacher pay, bringing to light the challenges educators face when trying to plan for their financial futures in a sector that doesn’t make detailed salary information publicly available. She also pushed back on the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s suggestion that posting average teacher salaries, as opposed to a more detailed breakdown that could illuminate disparities and even discrimination, was enough. “What does average teacher salary tell me about how teachers are compensated for experience, credentials, and education?” she asked on Twitter. “What does it tell me about how TAs are compensated vs. leads? What does it tell me about parity in pay for different demographic groups of teachers?”

Principal Elaster and School Director Olivia Smith did not return City Paper’s request for comment, including for further explanation on what a “good fit” means, and whether Koenig’s termination was related to her recent activism around transparency and working conditions.

Mikey Weidman, who has had two of her children go through Koenig’s class, tells City Paper that Koenig has “been the best teacher we’ve seen” at Bridges. “She’s fantastic, smart, creative and incredibly energetic,” Weidman says. “She’s devoted to her families, she gives a lot of individual feedback, and she speaks Spanish and developed fantastic relationships with some of the Spanish-speaking families.”

Weidman requested that her son have “Ms. Liz” after seeing their daughter have such a positive experience in her class. “Our kids love her, and having watched her stay with the school for much longer than most people do, and all the while continue to grow her expertise and serve families who come back to her over and over, it’s hard to look at this decision as anything that’s not retaliatory.”

Weidman and her wife have sent a letter to Elaster and Smith, and say they intend to write to  the board of directors, too. “When you have an excellent teacher being fired for nothing to do with her teaching, it sends a message to other teachers that they need to be quiet and comply,” says Weidman. “And what I hear loud and clear from this as a parent is it’s more important to the administration that no one is rocking the boat than a highly exceptional teacher be able to continue in the school, and I find that profoundly upsetting.”

Jamie Boese was another parent who personally requested that her daughter be placed in Koenig’s class. “She was the best teacher in the entire building,” says Boese. “She frankly taught me how to be a better parent. To say she’s not a ‘right fit’ really makes me question what kind of staff they’re trying to cultivate.”

Koenig plans to finish out the school year at Bridges.

“What I do every day is my absolute dream job,” she says. “Goddammit, I love those kids.”

Even for Washington, The Fight Over Online Gambling Has Been Unusually Shady

Originally published in The Intercept on February 15, 2019.
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C., talked to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “several times” about changing the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law that banned interstate betting, he told The Intercept. A 2011 Justice Department analysis of that law effectively legalized online gambling; last month, the department reversed that opinion.

“I’ve been pushing this from the day it came out under the Obama administration,” Graham said. “Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein and myself have been asking for them to change this absurd interpretation because it leads to the Wild Wild West.” Asked whether he’d spoken to then-Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had recused himself from the issue, about it, Graham, in a brief interview in the Capitol, said, “I don’t know.” (On Thursday, the Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general, replacing Whitaker.)

In 2011, the Department of Justice issued a legal opinion clarifying that the Wire Act, a federal law passed in 1961 to stop interstate betting, applied only to sports betting and not other forms of gambling. This announcement opened the doors for states to begin legalizing online gambling — now an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Last week, The Intercept reported on the Justice Department’s recent reversal of its 2011 stance, a long-sought cause of Sheldon Adelson, the Republican billionaire casino mogul. The new Justice Department interpretation was released in the middle of the government shutdown, on January 14, the night before U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr’s confirmation hearing.

Graham himself has been the Senate sponsor for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, or RAWA, legislation that would effectively ban all forms of online gambling, since 2014. His advocacy on the issue coincided with an increase in political contributions from Adelson. In 2015, when Graham announced that he would run for president, it was widely understood that Adelson’s largess would be key to his campaign strategy.

In 2017, Graham and Feinstein, a California Democrat who had previously co-sponsored Graham’s RAWA legislation, wrote to Rosenstein urging him to overturn the Justice Department’s 2011 opinion.

As The Intercept previously reported, the deputy attorney general had wanted little to do with the gambling brouhaha, according to people close to him. “We’ve checked in over the last two years with Rod Rosenstein, and he’s consistently said he has no interest in this issue, that there’s more important issues going on,” said one gaming industry executive who opposes the ban. The Justice Department did not return a request for comment on Rosenstein’s involvement.

Several hours after The Intercept’s story was published last Friday, Whitaker appeared before the full House Judiciary Committee to testify on Justice Department matters. At the hearing, Whitaker, who had been acting attorney general since November, hotly denied having any influence over his agency’s new Wire Act opinion. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., specifically grilled Whitaker about whether Adelson had influenced the reversal.

“Your inferences on how that process was corrupted or corrupt is absolutely wrong,” Whitaker said. “And the premise of your question, I reject.” He also said that he has never met with Adelson or spoken to any of his lobbyists about online gambling.

Raskin’s line of questioning stood out in a hearing that focused primarily on the Trump-Russia probe. Raskin himself has received more than $38,000 since 2016 from individuals associated with law firms that represent national and international online gambling companies.

Before Whitaker came to the Department of Justice, he directed the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an organization that formed in 2014 to purportedly hold Democrats accountable for ethics violations. Whitaker was its sole employee, and he earned more than $1.2 million over three years. In November, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that a single six-figure donor “accounted for 100 percent of funding”raised by Whitaker’s old organization.

At Friday’s congressional hearing, Raskin asked Whitaker if he knew the identity of that sole donor and suggested that the money had come from Adelson. Whitaker said it was from Donors Trust, a conservative donor-advised fund, but that he has “no idea” who specifically donated the money.

WHILE RASKIN EMPHATICALLY defended the 2011 Justice Department interpretation of the Wire Act, saying that the statute’s language “plainly prohibits only sports betting,” the 2011 opinion actually has its own set of critics who say that it was issued on corrupted grounds. Eric Holder was the U.S. attorney general at the time, and despite having previously represented companies with ties to the gambling industry, according to a former U.S. attorney who dealt with him on those issues, he did not recuse himself from gambling matters.

Michael Fagan, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri for 25 years, told The Intercept that he personally worked with Holder and his Covington & Burling colleague Lanny Breuer in the early 2000s while prosecuting forfeiture cases related to illegal offshore gambling.

“I can’t remember who they represented, some big multinational company, but I would say on at least two different occasions, they came to St. Louis to meet me and work out an agreement, and I had phone calls with both of them about this too,” said Fagan. “In the end, they agreed their client would forfeit a substantial amount of money in the hundreds of thousands or millions, I believe.”

As U.S. attorney general, Holder brought on his old partner Breuer to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. It was Breuer who then asked the Office of Legal Counsel to revisit the agency’s position on the Wire Act, citing inquiries from New York and Illinois about selling online lottery tickets. Like Holder, Breuer did not recuse himself, despite his past involvement with companies tied to the gambling industry. Eventually U.S. Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz quietly issued an opinion changing the Justice Department’s long-held stance. Holder, Breuer, and Seitz did not return requests for comment.

Seitz’s Wire Act interpretation hinged on a close reading of the punctuation of the law, as well as the fact that on the same day the Wire Act was originally enacted, Congress passed a separate statute regulating other forms of gambling. She said this suggested that the Wire Act was exclusively targeting sports betting.

Though the Office of Legal Counsel opinion is dated September 20, 2011, it was released on December 23, 2011 — the Friday before Christmas as lawmakers were leaving D.C. and one day after Nevada approved the first-ever state regulations for online poker. (Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was then Senate majority leader, would say later that legalizing online poker on the federal level “may be the most important issue facing Nevada since Yucca Mountain.” Reid’s 2010 re-election campaign was strongly backed by Caesars Entertainment Corp. and MGM, both of which wanted to establish national online poker sites.)

Seitz was an Obama appointee who had previously worked in the president’s old Chicago law firm, Sidley Austin. She returned there after leaving the Justice Department in 2013 and still works there. Newsweek reported in 2014 that Sidley Austin expanded its business operations in the gambling space after the 2011 Justice Department decision came down. Other Obama alumni got involved with the gambling industry too, with 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina joining the American Gambling Association in 2014 to work on “grassroots initiatives” that included online gambling. “Jim is as politically astute as they come and he will be a great resource for us,” AGA President Geoff Freeman told The Hill at the time. Today, Holder works as a partner at a law firm that represents MGM casinos.

THE CRITICISMS OF online gambling extend beyond Adelson’s vested interest in shutting it down. Les Bernal, the national director of the Washington-based Stop Predatory Gambling, a group that advocates against commercialized gambling, told The Intercept that there is “no grassroots movement” for online gambling. In March 2017, he sent a letter on behalf of his group’s members to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging him to reverse the 2011 Wire Act opinion. “The error of the OLC opinion is conclusively established by the carefully-researched, well-reasoned law review article ‘Understanding the Wire Act: Why the Department of Justice Missed the Mark When It Overturned Fifty Years of Interpretation of the Act,’” Bernal wrote in his letter, referencing an article co-authored by Darryl Nirenberg, an attorney and longtime registered lobbyist for Adelson. In April 2017, Nirenberg delivered a legal memo to a top-ranking official at the Justice Department, outlining reasons to reverse the 2011 Wire Act opinion.

Bernal told The Intercept that his organization takes no money “directly or indirectly” from the gambling industry, does not work with Adelson, and opposes all forms of commercialized gambling. “I know Nirenberg is a lobbyist for Adelson, but on that specific law review article, his opinion was correct,” Bernal said.

Fagan, the retired assistant U.S. attorney who now teaches a course on international money laundering and corruption at Washington University School of Law, said he also was quite impressed by the Nirenberg article, despite the author’s ties to Adelson. “It’s quite good and shows very convincingly why the 2011 opinion is wrong,” Fagan said.

In 2015, Fagan spoke before Congress at a hearing for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act and submitted testimony criticizing the 2011 Justice Department opinion in detail. He called it “rushed, biased, and flawed by reliance on intuition rather than careful analysis.” Fagan also argued that Seitz’s opinion was worded to “favo[r] moneyed corporate interests” and that she had taken up this action less than 90 days after having been confirmed for her Justice Department job. He pointed out that Seitz, Breuer, and Holder all had “represented — and, presumably earned substantial fees from — huge clients, either to advocate for increased Internet gambling or to avoid liability for the client’s role in facilitating and promoting Internet gambling” and that none had disclosed those histories beforehand.

Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling said many people were advocating for the Justice Department to reject its 2011 interpretation, though “certainly” Adelson’s voice helped boost the effort. He noted Americans lost $118 billion in personal wealth to government-sanctioned gambling schemes in 2018, with another trillion dollars projected to be lost over the next eight years. “A lot of people were outraged at how Holder’s Department of Justice acted in 2011,” Bernal said. “I think Adelson’s voice was influential but that he was the lynchpin is a phony narrative that the gambling industries in this country are pushing to try and get the new opinion flipped.”

Teachers’ Strikes Are Rattling Washington. This Hearing in the U.S. House Is Proof.

Originally published in In These Times on February 14, 2019.
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As Denver public school teachers head back to school, ending their first labor stoppage in 25 years, it’s hard to dismiss the impact the nation-wide teacher strikes have had on American politics. As Democratic presidential candidates rush to voice support for the Colorado educators, Denver’s strike marks the ninth major teacher uprising in the last twelve months, with the anniversary of the very first—West Virginia’s—coming up next week.

Survey after survey has shown the striking teachers have gotten their message across: The majority of Americans agree teacher pay is a real problem. The annual PDK poll reported in September that two-thirds of people say teacher salaries are too low — a new high in its data since the poll started in 1969. Another national poll released in April found 78 percent of adults think schools don’t pay teachers enough, and 52 percent supported those going on strike over wages.

As further evidence of how the teacher protests have shaped the national conversation, the House education committee convened this week for its first hearing on K-12 schools in the new Congress, and the topic of teacher pay was front and center. Republicans and Democrats both agreed that teacher salaries were simply too low.

The House Education and Labor Committee hearing, chaired by Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, lasted three and a half hours, and was entitled, “Underpaid Teachers and Crumbling Schools: How Underfunding Public Education Shortchanges America’s Students.” Topics explored throughout the convening included more than just teacher compensation and school infrastructure. Legislators and witnesses also discussed adequate funding for students with disabilities, turnaround strategies for low-performing schools, and civil rights protections for students who attend private schools.

While lawmakers from both parties agreed public-school teachers are not earning enough money, the two parties had vastly different explanations as to why.

Witness Benjamin Scafidi, an economist and fellow with EdChoice, a national school choice advocacy group, said that while inflation-adjusted spending on public schools increased 37 percent between 1992 and 2016, real teacher salaries declined by one percent in that same period, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Scafidi said this was due to the “tremendous increase” in non-teacher staff working in public schools—referring to a 52 percent jump.

Republicans seemed content to embrace the idea that the teacher salary problem was not due to their failure to fund schools properly, but because of school districts’ wasteful hiring decisions.

“It scares me when I hear people in education coming up and asking this completely broken federal government for more money when [states] are running surpluses,” said Republican Representative Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin. “Why do people think the federal government should give more money?”

Yet, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2015, 29 states provided less total school funding per-pupil than they had spent before the recession.

Democrats and some witnesses pushed back on the idea that schools are chock-full of superfluous staff, noting many workers included in this category are bus drivers, cafeteria staff, paraprofessionals, nurses, custodians and special-education aides.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, testified that the increase in school staff spending also overlapped with the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. That legislation obligates schools to provide students with disabilities with additional support services. If the federal government did an audit, Weingarten said, “you’d see that most of the non-teacher increase in schools across America was because of the needs in IDEA.”

Democratic Representative Joseph Morelle also noted the growing movement to provide wraparound social services in schools, since that is where students spend the bulk of their days and where it can be easier for parents to access. That sort of increased investment in community schools, he suggested, is not wasteful spending.

Some of the hearing was dedicated to discussing the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, legislation recently reintroduced by Representative Scott and Democratic Senator Jack Reed. The bill would invest $100 billion in K-12 public school infrastructure, and create an estimated 1.9 million jobs for local workers. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington and the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, spoke of schools where students and teachers are forced to hold their feet over hot plates to keep warm. Even Representative Ron Wright, a Republican from Texas who voiced skepticism for new spending on education, admitted he never had an air conditioner in his overly warm Texas public schools until he reached high school; he said he’d be open to support air conditioners at least for Texas schools.

One 2016 report on national school infrastructure needs estimated it would cost roughly $145 billion annually to maintain and modernize school buildings to the point where all were in safe condition. While federal spending accounts for about 10 percent of school operating budgets, the feds currently spend virtually nothing on school infrastructure. The bulk of those facility costs fall on local governments, which results in a system where wealthier communities can afford to have nicer school buildings, and can more easily make necessary building repairs.

At the hearing, Chairman Scott noted his school infrastructure legislation would create more jobs than the Republican tax bill did, and at 5 percent of the cost. The last time Congress came close to authorizing federal school infrastructure spending was in 2009 as part of the stimulus bill. But Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said she wouldn’t support Scott’s legislation, arguing that school facilities should remain exclusively a local responsibility. As a result, communities across the country lost out on billions of dollars to fix their crumbling schools.

The Republican tax bill made two other appearances during Tuesday’s hearing. Residents who live in areas with higher state and local tax burdens had previously been able to deduct those costs on their federal taxes, so as to avoid paying twice. But in the legislation President Trump signed in 2017, individuals can now only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes, and freshman Democratic Representative Lauren Underwood noted at the hearing that residents in her home state of Illinois have been very anxious about their skyrocketing tax bills. “We want our money to go to schools, not tax cuts for corporations,” she said. Other states feeling the brunt of the new SALT cap are California, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The second time the GOP tax bill came up was in reference to so-called “Opportunity Zones,” which are federal subsidies directed toward investment in distressed areas to supposedly revitalize the areas. Ranking committee member Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, said while she’d like to see teachers take home more money, she’s not interested in increasing federal investment in school budgets. Noting the expansion Opportunity Zone funding in the new tax bill, Foxx suggested that community development could perhaps somehow lead somehow to increased teacher pay.

“Time will tell if Opportunity Zones and other new initiatives will finally help us solve the problems of teacher pay and poor school facilities, but time has already told us that higher price tags and more bureaucracy in Washington won’t deliver results,” she said. “The answer is not more money.”

As federal lawmakers continue to bicker over how we got to this point, teachers aren’t waiting around. Earlier this month, 95 percent of Oakland teachers voted to authorize their own strike, and they too could walk out of their schools within days.