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Team Obama continues union busting agenda as former top aides rush in to help lawsuits challenging tenure

Team Obama continued its attack on the nation's public school teachers in June 2014, on the eve of the conventions of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), while a dwindling handful of union officials continue to hope that the President of the United States is not the major union busting privatization pushing reactionary that his administration has proven to be. While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continues to bash the nation's real public schools and force charter schools on districts wherever he can, Barack Obama himself continues to lead a team that has been attacking public schools and teachers since he lied to the American Federation of Teachers a few months before his election in 2008.

Team Obama has been part of the reactionary attack on teacher unions for a long time, and not just since former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (above left) signed on to support the anti-tenure lawsuits that are about to sweep the nation. As long ago as the 1980s, when she was a substitute teacher at a West Side Chicago Elementary School, Obama pal Valerie Jarrett (above center) helped try and promote the Marva Collins school and its attack on the Chicago Teachers Union until Substance proved that Collins's claims were a hoax. Within a month after his 2008 election, Obama declared war on public schools and public school teachers unions when he appointed Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education and launched both the Race To The Top program and the national push for the expansion of charter schools. On June 22, 2014, Politico reported that two of Obama's top aides had signed on to help bring anti-tenure lawsuits modeled on the "Vergara" case in states across the country. Tenure is a state matter, so it has to be addressed in each of the 50 states.

REPORTS:

DIANE RAVITCH REPORTED ON HER BLOG ON JUNE 24, 2014:

Stephanie Simon reports at politico.com that former high-level Obama advisers will help the fight against teacher unions and due process rights. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who is highly antagonistic to teachers' unions, is creating an organization to pursue a Vergara-style lawsuit in New York against teachers' job protections. Her campaign will have the public relations support of an agency led by Robert Gibbs, former Obama Press Secretary, and Ben LaBolt, former Obama campaign spokesman.

Simon writes:

"Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

"The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead role in the public relations initiative."

Campbell Brown achieved a certain notoriety or renown for articles she wrote in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere insisting that the unions were protecting "sexual predators" in the classroom.

POLITICO ARTICLE

Obama alums join anti teachers union case

• http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/robert-gibbs-ben-labolt-legal-fight-teachers-union-incite-agency-108243.html16

• Robert Gibbs will lead the national public relations campaign along with Ben LaBolt.

C

By STEPHANIE SIMON | 6/24/14 1:32 PM EDT Updated: 6/24/14 8:14 PM EDT

Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead in the public relations initiative.

The involvement of such high-profile Obama alumni highlights the sharp schism within the Democratic Party over education reform.

Teachers unions have long counted on Democrats as their most loyal allies. But in the past decade, more and more big-name Democrats have split with the unions to support charter schools, tenure reform and accountability measures that hold teachers responsible for raising students’ scores on standardized tests.

The national legal campaign is being organized by Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who told POLITICO that she has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months to get the effort off the ground. She intends to start with a lawsuit in New York, to be filed within the next few weeks, and follow up with similar cases around the country. Her plans for the New York lawsuit were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Brown’s campaign will be modeled on the recent Vergara v. California decision, which dealt a major blow to teachers unions. In that case, a state judge earlier this month struck down California’s tenure system and other job protections embedded in state law, ruling that they deprived students of their constitutional right to a quality education because they shielded even the most incompetent teachers from dismissal. Teachers unions have said they will appeal.

The Vergara trial cost the plaintiffs’ team several million dollars, most of that bankrolled by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Welch.

Brown said her campaign will be far less costly because she’ll be relying on free legal representation. The New York case will be handled by attorney Jay Lefkowitz, a former deputy assistant for domestic policy to President George W. Bush. He will take it pro bono.

Obama has bucked the teachers unions on many occasions, though they poured resources into electing him in 2008 and again in 2012. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, hailed the Vergara ruling, writing in a blog post that “it took enormous courage for tenth-grader Beatriz Vergara and her eight co-plaintiffs to stand up and demand change to a broken status quo.”

Duncan’s positions have so angered some teachers that the Badass Teachers Association, a more militant offshoot of the two major teachers unions, recently publicized a vote of no-confidence in the secretary.

But LaBolt said he joined Duncan and other Democrats in embracing the idea that “the best way we can ensure that every child has access to a quality education is to provide strong teachers in every classroom.” He praised the “courageous parents” who have agreed to become plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit.

While LaBolt wouldn’t tip his hand about his strategy, Brown said the public relations campaign will most likely be modeled closely after the Vergara lawsuit.

The communications team there painted teachers unions as selfish and obstructionist forces, more intent on protecting their members than serving needy students. The team also highlighted poignant stories from students who said they badly wanted to learn but were stuck with incompetent teachers who couldn’t even maintain basic discipline in the classroom, much less challenge them academically.

“The PR piece of this is essential because for the first time, we’re having a dialogue in this country about anachronistic laws and how we revamp our public education system for the modern world so it serves children first and foremost,” Brown said. “Having that conversation is as important to me as the litigation itself.”

Brown said she sees a parallel to the fight for gay marriage, noting that the legal fight around California’s Proposition 8 sparked a public conversation that she credits with changing attitudes and increasing acceptance of same-sex unions. “It entirely changed the dialogue,” she said.

Though the unions decisively lost the Vergara case in California, Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, said he believes they will have more success defending job protections in New York.

California law allows teachers to get tenure after less than 18 months in the classroom. In New York state, they must teach for three years before they’re considered for tenure. New York also has a stringent new evaluation system in place — which the teachers union has fought vigorously — that lets districts move quickly to fire teachers who are rated ineffective for two consecutive years. Just 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective this past year.

The New York trial will also take on seniority laws that protect veteran teachers and put rookies first in line for layoffs, regardless of job performance. Korn said seniority is “the fairest, most objective way of laying off teachers” and noted that other public-sector unions, such as those representing firefighters and police, often use similar systems.

Korn blasted the Partnership for Educational Justice, which will be organizing the legal campaign, as an “astroturf” group funded by right-wing “extremists.” He noted that Brown’s husband, Dan Senor, a former policy adviser to Mitt Romney, sits on the board of StudentsFirst, an education reform group that has long pushed to weaken or abolish tenure — and that has attracted donations from extremely wealthy individuals.

“Campbell Brown ought to disclose her donors who are funding this attack on working people and the rights of teachers,” Korn said. “We will vigorously defend due process and seniority rights against these attacks by billionaire hedge fund managers.”

Brown declined to name her donors, saying only that they come from both parties.

Lefkowitz, the attorney who will be leading the New York case, has successfully litigated other cases that pitted him against teachers unions.

He won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court defending Wisconsin’s voucher program, which gives eligible parents public funds to pay tuition at private and religious schools. He also successfully defended the for-profit public school management company K12 Inc. against a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Teachers Union. And he worked pro bono to help enact a “parent trigger” law in California, which allows parents to seize control of a failing public school and bring in new management or staff.

Lefkowitz is a senior litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis in New York.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/robert-gibbs-ben-labolt-legal-fight-teachers-union-incite-agency-108243.html#ixzz35e9PHe00



Comments:

June 25, 2014 at 3:22 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Obama assault on teachers

As I noted on my blog, The New York Times called Gibbs "the president's political compass," indicating that after leaving his White House post, "Mr. Gibbs will continue to have a direct line to the president from the outside. . . an outside defender of the policies he helped to shape while on the inside." In addition to his work for Obama, Ben Labolt was communications director for Rahm Emanuel's campaign for Mayor.

And so on.

http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=1830

June 25, 2014 at 9:11 PM

By: John Kierig

while i remain..

...a strong supporter and defender of the president, i've never understood his penchant for sticking his finger in the eyes of his strongest allies.

June 25, 2014 at 9:11 PM

By: Nate worthy

Concerned

George,

The last two articles have been critical of Dems (Vallas and Obama). What gives?

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