Monday, April 26, 2010

American Federation of Teachers Funded ACORN After Video Scandals Hit

Union officers who are "shocked and angered" over proposed budget cuts in N.J. that will supposedly harm young students have thus far failed to find their voice where the spending habits of their respective national organizations are concerned.

A good starting point would be with the $352,510 The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) funneled to ACORN in 2009 just as the organization's employees were caught on videotape describing to uncover investigators how they can arrange for legal loans, set up brothels, advance child prostitution and human trafficking.

"It looks like the AFT essentially outsourced ACORN to do the union organizing work," Nathan Mehrens, a counsel to Americans for Limited Government (ALG). "This is incredibly ironic given that many unions consider outsourcing evil and almost criminal. It might also be worth asking a rhetorical question of why does the union need to outsource work to shady operatives? If the union's services were so desirable then the teachers would be beating a path to their door and not the other way around."

The AFT, which is part of the AFL-CIO, is not alone here in its support for ACORN.

In fact, U.S. Labor Department financial disclosure forms show that the teachers unions as whole have contributed over $1.3 million to ACORN and its affiliates for political activities and representational activities, since 2005. Some of the larger donations include $100,000 from the National Education Association in 2008 and $200,000 in 2007 for political activities. The Teachers AFL-CIO Local Union 2 contributed $406,730 in 2008, $457,778 in 2007, and $346,300 in 2006 for representational activities.

The mission statements and public pronouncement of the AFT and NEA are instructive here in that both organizations posture as strong advocates for school children, teenagers and their families.

“Since its beginning, the National Education Association (NEA) has been ahead of its time, crusading for the rights of all educators and children,” the union declares on its web site. Not to be outdone in children caring department, the AFT’s vision for community betterment transcends national boundaries.

“The mission of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, is to improve the lives of our members and their families; to give voice to their legitimate professional, economic and social aspirations; to strengthen the institutions in which we work; to improve the quality of the services we provide; to bring together all members to assist and support one another; and to promote democracy, human rights and freedom in our union, in our nation and throughout the world.”

As it turns out, ACORN has its own international vision.

ACORN staffers in Baltimore were caught on video instructing James O’Keefe, the undercover filmmaker, and his partner Hannah Giles how they could falsify documents and obtain benefits for 13 “very young girls” from El Salvador.

Former ACORN insiders who have formed their own alternative whistleblower group in response to financial scandals claim that funds are misappropriated and that there is no guarantee a particular donation will actually be used for its stated purpose.

Corporations and foundations that have funded ACORN in the past have said that they are longer supporting the organization as a result of the on-going scandals. House and Senate members also moved to cut off funding albeit temporarily.

Up until 2009, it was plausible for supporters and financial backers to claim that they were unaware of criminal activities. But the 2009 LM-2 form available through the Department of Labor shows that the AFT’s support for ACORN continued even as the videotapes were being released.

Meanwhile the teachers unions have turned their ire on N.J. Gov. Chris Christie for imposing spending restraints they claim are “irresponsible” and damaging to the future of education. Here is a statement from Barbara Keshishian, president of the NEA’s N.J. affiliate:

“We are shocked and angered that Gov. Christie has taken his attack on public schools to an irresponsible new low,” she said. “After cutting $1.5 billion from education in the first three months of his administration, he is now calling on local residents to make his cuts even deeper and more harmful to students by voting down their local school budgets.”

“Gov. Christie apparently has no qualms about robbing New Jersey's 1.4 million students of their chance at a quality public education,” she continued. “But to do so while insisting on a significant tax cut to New Jersey residents who earn over $400,000 per year is an inexplicable and unconscionable position to take.”

Whatever the merits or defects of Gov. Christie’s budget proposal, union officials who are genuinely concerned about the young people they claim to champion should re-evaluate their own internal financial transactions.

Although ACORN announced that it has officially dissolved as of April 1, an internal memo from Bertha Lewis, the CEO and Chief Organizer, made it clear the organization and its national apparatus still exists under new names and are soliciting continued support. Moreover, Brooklyn prosecutors have also cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing after a four month investigation that has come under criticism. But it’s evident the organization has thus far managed to sidestep serious investigations.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that said it was unconstitutional for Congress to cut off funding for ACORN. But even allowing for this setback, the renamed affiliates remain well positioned to receive continued support from foundations, corporations and individual donors. In fact, public funding is only a small percentage of its financial base.

The lead ACORN organization registered in Arkansas and New Orleans has received $3 million from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, $821,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation, $595,000 from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and $65,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, according to the Capital Research Center (CRC). That’s not an exhaustive list.

Apparently, the organization formerly known as ACORN could remain a potent force through the 2010 elections and beyond. But should self-described child advocates be part of this coalition?

Unfortunately, the disclosure requirements that have made it possible to connect ACORN with its labor benefactors are being rolled back under President Obama; a byproduct of lobbying efforts by union bosses.

Even if the teachers unions publicly distance themselves from ACORN, verification could be problematic. Why not call for greater transparency, openness and accountable “for the children” so concerned citizens can keep taps on the financial support for organizations that wink and nod in the direction of criminal enterprises?


More than 7,000 British parents hit by truancy convictions as courts punish soaring levels of school absenteeism

More than 7,000 parents a year are being convicted over their children’s truancy, figures show. The Government’s own statistics have revealed absenteeism is reaching record levels. They show the number of parents prosecuted and sentenced for their children skipping school has soared fivefold in just seven years.

But critics have accused Labour of failing to get a grip on the underlying causes of truancy, including low levels of academic achievement and poor behaviour.

Since tough truancy sanctions were introduced in 2001, more than 32,500 parents have been convicted, with nearly 100 jailed for up to three months. Yet figures show that truancy is still rising, with it hitting a record high during the last school year when 67,000 children skipped lessons every day – an increase of nearly 2,000 on 2007-08.

The most recent figures, released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal 9,506 parents were taken to court in 2008 for failing to ensure their children go to school. Of these, 7,291 were found guilty. The most common penalty was a fine of up to £2,500. A total of 391 were made to undertake community service, while 11 were immediately imprisoned. This compares with 2001, when just 1,961 were prosecuted and 1,595 found guilty.

Between 2001 and 2008, a total of 32,567 parents have been convicted. Figures for 2009, available in the autumn, are expected to show a continuation of the rising trend.

Figures released earlier this year by the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that in 2008-09, the truancy rate – the percentage of school registration sessions missed without permission from parents – rose to 1.05 per cent. This was up 4 per cent from 1.01 per cent in 2007/08.

It marks a 44 per cent rise since 1996-97, when the truancy rate was 0.73 per cent. Nick Gibb, Tory schools spokesman, said: ‘We need to address underlying causes of truancy – the fact that so many children still struggle with reading and poor discipline in schools fuels bullying.’

Ming Zhang, an education welfare officer from Kingston Council in Surrey, said: ‘What seems to be happening is councils are setting targets for the number of children they prosecute,’ he said. ‘I think this is dangerous. Performance should be based on the number of children in school and not the number of parents in court.’

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said a tougher approach had brought about the ‘slight rise’ in those punished for unauthorised absences.


Australia: One Victorian State high school enforces standards

NOT many people would figure that as school girls' skirts rise, education standards fall. Last week Ms Wade made headline news when it was revealed her state high school regularly checks the length of its girls' skirts.

Yes, that's right, headline news. This "back to basics" stuff sure did cause a fuss. This was a revolt against the slackness of the post-'60s decades and so was news.

And I was relieved to hear it. Until I checked what else the school is doing to warrant such gasps of shock. In fact, Bentleigh shows that our social pendulum may still have a long way to go before it's swung back to anywhere near where it was.

The school won praise for also insisting students line up in an orderly fashion before class and sign good behaviour contracts in the senior years. What's more, they risk failing subjects if they wag school too often. Talk about revolutionary. Or, as Ms Wade put it more demurely: "We are raising expectations".

I so don't have a problem with any of this. It's all the little things - the skirt lengths, the nose rings, the coloured beanies, the hooded jackets - that give a school an identity, or, rather, an oh-dear reputation.

Sometimes such fashion statements can be refreshing - or surly - assertions of individuality outside school. But in a school they can be signs the school is failing to teach the kids that individuality often has to be balanced with a sense of community if we're all going to get on with each other and thrive.

Such sloppiness also signals that the school doesn't dare to impose any expectations on children, who signal back that they owe the school no duty.

Same story with lining up, which is a basic acknowledgment that life can't be a me-first free-for-all if we want a civil, well-run school or any other form of society. Cracking down on wagging and bad behaviour is also basic stuff in socialising children, teaching them that some kinds of discipline are actually going to make their lives better, not worse.

I most certainly am not hankering for a shut-up-or-smack kind of teaching, but the fact that Ms Wade's very modest changes have made such news makes you realise many other schools must have given up insisting on anything at all.

No wonder there's been such a drift away from state schools to private schools, which for some years have insisted on the kind of things that in a state school seem so brave.

But I'm still worried, and not just because Bentleigh's new rules are not so much back to basics as plain basic, yet are seen as so new. Why do Bentleigh's students now need to sign "contracts" to behave well, when it should be a school's unchallenged right to insist they must?

Why are students under this "tough" policy allowed as many as seven unexcused absences a semester before they fail a subject? Why does the school make a boast of having just two assemblies a term at which the national anthem is played?

When all this is hailed as "tough rules", I'm reminded again how soft the rest must be.


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