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Federal Judge Puts Desantis’ “Stop WOKE” Law to Sleep, Again.

Florida governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate, Ron Desantis, wants to regulate classroom speech in the name of freedom.

Dystopian is the word for it, and (thank goodness) a federal judge agrees.

Specifically, the Desantis-promoted legislation, originally called the Stop W.O.K.E. Act and later finessed to a more palatable title, the Individual Freedom Act (IFA), became Florida law in April 2022. IFA is comprised of eight prohbited concepts.

To date, three lawsuits have been filed against Desantis’ speech-stifling legislation, including one concerning Florida’s K12 classrooms. All three fall within Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s Tallahassee jurisdiction.

To date, Judge Walker has ruled on two of the three suits.

First of all, in August 2022, Walker granted plantiffs a preliminary injunction to block the law from taking effect in Florida’s private-sector workplace even as he refused to place a stay to keep the law in place during appeal.

The August 2022 ruling was one of the three and was filed in June 2022 by the private sector, representing two Florida companies and a social activist.

Below is part of Walker’s wry opening to that August 2022 ruling:

Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down. Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.

That statement captures a key issue for those of the extreme right-wing when it comes to language:

I can say and do what I want, and what I want is for those who do not agree with me to be limited in what they speak and read, all while branding my muzzling others via some top-shelf American term, like *freedom* (or *liberty*…).

From page 22 of Walker’s August 2022 ruling:

In short, the IFA does not target trainings because they are mandatory; the IFA targets trainings because of the speech delivered at them. Indeed, without violating the IFA, an employer could fire an employee for refusing to attend a training condemning the covered topics. Because the IFA targets only those viewpoints with which the State disagrees, even assuming Florida could ban mandatory employee trainings in toto, the IFA still triggers strict scrutiny as a viewpoint-based restriction on speech.

From page 42 of Walker’s August 2022 ruling:

In the end, Defendants suggest that there is nothing to see here. They say the IFA does nothing more than ban race discrimination in employment. But to compare the diversity trainings Plaintiffs wish to hold to true hostile work environments rings hollow.

Florida state strategy: 1) When questioned, paint the slant as level. 2) Equate expression of non-state-sanctioned viewpoints with workplace hostility.

Judge Walker was having none of it.

According to Reuters, Florida officials’ justification for IFA’s so-called “individual freedom” is that the state has the right to regulate the speech of its employees, including all teachers, K12 and beyond. Of course, such a position falls through when it comes to the state also positioning itself to regulate speech in the private sector, but the state of Florida tried to have it both ways: Blanket censorship because one is employed by the state and even if one is not.

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is stength.

One of the three suits noted above was brought by the board of governors of the Florida State University System; on November 17, 2022, Walker blocked the Desantis Dystopian Law from taking effect in Florida’s postsecondary classrooms.

Two out of three rulings thus far, one in August 2022, and one in November 2022.

Below, I offer some excerpts from Walker’s 139-page, November 2022 ruling. For ease of reading, I have removed in-text cites and have also incorporated a couple of footnotes.

Walker’ begins his November 2022 ruling by quoting Orwell:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of “freedom.” (Footnote: “In this case, Defendants’ ‘argument is like the thirteenth chime of a clock: you not only know it’s wrong, but it causes you to wonder about everything you heard before.’”) “To confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be, the State of Florida passed the so-called “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act in 2022—redubbed (in line with the State’s doublespeak) the “Individual Freedom Act.” The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy “academic freedom” so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian. It should go without saying that “[i]f liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Continuing a bit further in the ruling (page 8), in which the state maintains that it owns its employee’s words:

Defendants respond that the First Amendment offers no protection here. They argue that because university professors are public employees, they are simply the State’s mouthpieces in university classrooms. As a result, Defendants claim, the State has unfettered authority to limit what professors may say in class, even at the university level. Alternatively, Defendants suggest that even if this Court is required to balance the State’s interests against the professors’ First Amendment rights, the State’s interests always trump the professors’ rights. According to Defendants, so long as professors work for the State, they must all read from the same music.

This Court pauses to offer an example of what this challenged law means if you accept Defendants’ position. At oral argument, Defendants conceded that concept six—as mentioned above, that “[a] person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion”—is another way to describe affirmative action. When asked directly whether concept six is “affirmative action by any other name,” defense counsel answered, unequivocally, “Your Honor, yes.” Thus, Defendants assert the idea of affirmative action is so “repugnant” that instructors can no longer express approval of affirmative action as an idea worthy of merit during class instruction. (Footnote: “According to
Defendants, the State is prohibited from compelling speech in the classroom, but it has absolute authority to limit expression.”)

Defendants further assert that this prohibition extends to guest speakers if they are invited to participate within a course. As a result, according to Defendants, university professors cannot even organize an in-class debate between guest speakers about the merits of affirmative action if one of those speakers were to espouse, promote, advance, inculcate, or compel students to believe, or otherwise
endorse, the idea of affirmative action. It’s worth keeping in mind that the State has chosen affirmative action as one of its eight concepts because the State has deemed it to be repugnant and “noxious to the people of Florida.” Stated otherwise, you can discuss affirmative action as a historical fact, and you can certainly condemn it as a failed policy, but because the idea of affirmative action is so odious, so repugnant, so vile, and so dangerous that it offends the basic principles of common decency, you cannot have a guest speaker submit their views in favor of affirmative action, even to a class of law students.

To the right of the state to regulate the content of its universities but not the viewpoints of those delivering the content (page 18). The state tried to argue viewpoint regulation based on case law; however, Walker writes that the state’s interpretation is off base. (Citing all of the case law is beyond the scope of this post. Readers who wish to delve into those weeds should see Walker’s original, 139-page ruling. My purpose in this post is to offer pointed yet manageable excerpts.):

At the hearing on Plaintiffs’ motions, both sides recognized this authority of the State to prescribe the content of its universities’ curriculum. Indeed, this makes intuitive sense. Of course the State has a say in which courses are taught at its public universities. … (“A State is entirely free, for example, to decide that the only foreign language to be taught in its public school system shall be Spanish. But would a State be constitutionally free to punish a teacher for letting his students know what other languages are also spoken in the world? I think not.”) …

But Defendants take it a step further, arguing that the State—though constitutionally barred from compelling professors to express the State’s chosen belief—has an unfettered right to prohibit professors from expressing viewpoints with which it disagrees. Thus, according to Defendants, the content of university curriculum may include the State’s preferred viewpoint on the subject matter of
prescribed courses and certainly excludes (at the State’s discretion) any viewpoint the State chooses to prohibit. Defendants ground this argument in the notion that anything professors utter in a state university classroom during “in-class instruction” is government speech, and thus, the government can both determine the content of that speech and prohibit the expression of certain viewpoints.

To the extent Defendants urge this Court to determine that university professors’ in-class speech is always pure government
speech, the weight of binding authority requires this Court to decline the invitation.

In short, these cases support the general proposition that the State is, of course, permitted to determine the content of its public school curriculum. A professor cannot decide to teach something entirely different or do an end-run around the prescribed curriculum by paying lip service to the subject they are supposed to teach and then spend the rest of class time instructing on something else. Defendants, however, ask this Court to read these cases to conflate the State’s right to make content-based choices in setting the public school curriculum with unfettered discretion in limiting a professor’s ability to express certain viewpoints about the
content of the curriculum once it has been set.

But that is not what these cases hold, nor does their reasoning extend so far.

Next comes a shift in perspective to how withholding viewpoint affects a student’s right to receive information (page 30):

The Student Plaintiffs claim that the IFA infringes on their First Amendment right to receive information and ideas, arguing that the IFA’s viewpoint-based restrictions on professors’ in-class speech unconstitutionally limit the information they can receive from professors during class instruction. Both sides agreed at the hearing on Plaintiffs’ motions that the Student Plaintiffs’ right-to-receive information claims are coextensive with the Professor Plaintiffs’ free speech claims, given that the information the students claim the right to receive is the same information that their professors wish to share with them. Thus, in the context of this case, a university student would not have an independent First Amendment right to receive information that a university professor does not have a
First Amendment right to share. This Court agrees with the parties and concludes that the Student Plaintiffs’ right-to-receive-information claims are coextensive with the Professor Plaintiffs’ free speech claims….

It logically follows that a university student’s First Amendment right to receive a professor’s viewpoints should flow from that professor’s First Amendment right to express those viewpoints, for the former cannot be said to exist without the latter. If both claims were viewed and analyzed independently under facts such as this, that analysis could potentially lead to an illogical result—namely,
that university students have an independent right to viewpoints that their professors do not have a right to share.

Dozens of pages of the August 2022 ruling concern whether the professors have standing. On page 69, Walker concludes “that all Professor Plaintiffs, save [one], have demonstrated an injury in fact at the preliminary-injunction stage.” On page 72, Walker finds that these injuries could reasonably be traced to the defendants (e.g., board of governors, board of trustees). On page 77, Walker details which professors have standing and how the standing is connected to specific components of Desantis’ IFA.

Next comes student standing (beginning on page 79). I will leave readers to delve in if they so wish. Details about professor standing concerning their “Fourteenth Amendment vagueness challenge” is on page 84. Then dozens more pages of case law, resulting in some more notable, wryly-written conclusions from the judge regarding violation of the First Amendment:

But here, in these cases now before this Court, Plaintiffs’ free speech claims present an interest in academic freedom of the highest degree. Professor Plaintiffs are not attempting to alter the permitted curriculum. Instead, they seek to prevent the State of Florida from imposing its orthodoxy of viewpoint about that curriculum in university classrooms across the state. According to the State of Florida, so long as professors avoid promotion of one side of a particular idea—or do the State of Florida’s bidding and condemn those ideas that the State has deemed unworthy— professors need fear no consequences from the State. But to step out of line during class and utter a single expression of approval of one of the State of Florida’s disfavored ideas is to risk discipline or even termination. In other words, the State of Florida says that to avoid indoctrination, the State of Florida can impose its own orthodoxy and can indoctrinate university students to its preferred viewpoint. This extravagant doublespeak flies in the face of “the invaluable role academic freedom
plays in our public schools, particularly at the post-secondary level . . . .” As the Supreme Court has previously announced, “[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.”

The IFA is antithetical to academic freedom and has cast a leaden pall of orthodoxy over Florida’s state universities. Neither the State of Florida’s authority to regulate public school curriculum, nor its interest in preventing race or sex discrimination can support its weight. Nor does the First Amendment tolerate it. In this case… the interest in academic freedom weighs heavily in
Plaintiffs’ favor.

…the IFA unreasonably burdens the Professor Plaintiffs’ speech. Defendants cannot, through the IFA, prophylactically muzzle
professors from expressing certain viewpoints about topics that the State of Florida has deemed fair game for classroom discussion. Doing so in the name of reducing racism does not insulate the State from the First Amendment’s reach.

“The college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’ ” and the State cannot allow its
universities to only package its merchandise in the State’s favorite color. “The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues, rather than through any kind of authoritative selection.’ ” Having balanced the context, the State’s asserted interest, and the strong predilection for academic freedom in the context of these cases, this Court concludes that the State of Florida, as an employer and educator, cannot restrict university employees from expressing a disfavored viewpoint about a matter within the established curriculum while instructing on that curriculum. Such viewpoint discrimination “is poison to a free society.”

Regarding the Fourtheenth Amendment vagueness of Desantis’ IFA’s “eight concepts”, one really steps into nonsense. From page 119:

Defendants further displayed their nonsensical reading of “objective” during the hearing on Plaintiffs’ motions. When asked whether a professor who wished to instruct on one or some of the eight concepts in an “objective” manner would run afoul of the challenged provisions by inviting knowledgeable guest speakers to discuss both the pros and the cons of one of the concepts, defense counsel argued that the “statute is very clear,” and you would have to analyze the two guest speakers “apart from each other, not necessarily in conjunction with each other.” In so doing, defense counsel suggested that a guest speaker who promoted one of the eight concepts as part of a classroom debate where all sides of the issue were represented would still run afoul of the law. See id. Thus, according to defense counsel, “objective” instruction allows for only one side of the debate in Florida’s public universities—or for no debate at all.

All this is to say that the plain meaning of the “objective” instruction provisions is utterly ambiguous. Assuming, arguendo, that this Court construes “objective” to mean “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudice or interpretation,” the term loses that meaning when paired with the adverbial phrase “without endorsement of the concepts.” Simply put, “objective” instruction allows for the most zealous condemnation of the eight concepts—motivated by an instructor’s own personal prejudice or biases—but apparently permits not a single classroom debate between instructors or guest
speakers who wish to promote the merits of their position, so long as one of their viewpoints falls on the list of specified concepts. The State of Florida has redefined “objectivity” in a manner that does not comport with common sense. No ordinary person would understand “objective” instruction to allow for this imbalance.

…Defendants construe the challenged provisions such that even presenting multiple perspectives may still run afoul of the “objective” instruction savings clause if the instructor happens to “promote” or “endorse” one of the concepts in the process. These attempts to
reconcile the challenged provisions with their own policies on academic freedom demonstrate the disconnect between this new notion of “objectivity” and the institutions’ common-sense understanding of the term.

Lacking explicit standards to circumscribe enforcement of “objectivity,” Defendants can weaponize this term to further discredit the eight concepts in the “marketplace of ideas,” which now permits endorsement of only one side of the debate. Accordingly, because this “objectivity” savings clause commands the entire statute, the IFA is impermissibly vague on its face in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

…As articulated above, the challenged provisions of the IFA unconstitutionally discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in violation of the First Amendment and are impermissibly vague in violation of the Fourteenth.

Bringing it home. Page 127:

First, absent an injunction, Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable injury because an ongoing First Amendment violation—which the IFA inflicts—constitutes irreparable injury. Second, weighing Plaintiffs’ First Amendment injury against Defendants’ interest, the scale tips decisively in Plaintiffs’ favor. This is because the state “has no legitimate interest in enforcing an unconstitutional ordinance.” Third, an injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. After all, as noted above, “[t]he public has no interest in enforcing an unconstitutional ordinance.” And as the Supreme Court has recognized, “[t]he First Amendment, in particular, serves significant societal interests.” Plus, the portions of the FEEA (Florida Educational Equity Act) that the IFA did not amend remain in effect to protect Floridians from discrimination in education.

In sum, because Plaintiffs have carried their burden as to all four of the preliminary injunction factors, this Court finds that they are entitled to a preliminary injunction.

As was true in Walker’s previous blocking of Desantis’ IFA in the private sector, there will be no stay (that is, to keep Desantis’ IFA in effect in Florida’s higher-ed classrooms) prending appeal:

Finally, having determined a preliminary injunction is warranted, this Court addresses whether it will stay that injunction pending appeal. … Because no exceptional circumstances justify staying this Order pending appeal… this Court refuses to do so.

And now, Walker’s closing remarks (page 132):

The people of Florida have weathered many storms in recent years. But thetensions giving rise to the Individual Freedom Act are not unlike those tensions from another tumultuous era, one “that roiled the country during and after the First World War.” A prescient example of this fraught time comes to mind—namely, the resignation of Columbia University Professor Charles Beard.

Given the pressing issues of the day, “we stand on the threshold of an era which will call for all the emancipated thinking that America can command.” Such was the conviction of Professor Beard, in October 1917, when he wrote those words in his resignation letter to the President of Columbia University. At the time, Professor Beard resigned in protest of the firing of two anti-war professors. Notwithstanding his own view that the United States should declare war with Germany, Professor Beard recognized that “thousands of [his] countrymen do not share this view” and that “[t]heir opinions cannot be changed by curses or bludgeons.” Instead, he asserted that “[a]rguments addressed to their reason and understanding are our best hope.”

In decrying the Board of Trustees’s decision to fire his anti-war colleagues, Professor Beard urged that “[s]uch arguments . . . must come from men whose disinterestedness is above all suspicion, whose independence is beyond all doubt, and whose devotion to the whole country, as distinguished from any single class or group is above all question.” He asserted “the question of academic freedom” is also “the question of intellectual and spiritual leadership in American democracy.” Echoing this belief 35 years later, Justice Frankfurter opined that “[i]t is the special task” of our professors—the “priests of our democracy”—“to foster those habits of
open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens.”

In this case, the State of Florida lays the cornerstone of its own Ministry of Truth under the guise of the Individual Freedom Act, declaring which viewpoints shall be orthodox and which shall be verboten in its university classrooms. Borrowing from Professor Beard’s comments—which are equally applicable here—under the State of Florida’s control, those “who love the smooth and easy will turn to teaching,” so long as “[p]erfunctory performance of statutory duties . . . bring[s] the paycheck.” But educators “of will, initiative, and inventiveness, not afraid of falling into error in search for truth, will shun such a life of futile lubricity, as the
free woman avoids the harem.”

Striking at the heart of “open-mindedness and critical inquiry,” the State of Florida has taken over the “marketplace of ideas” to suppress disfavored viewpoints and limit where professors may shine their light on eight specific ideas. And Defendants’ argument permits zero restraint on the State of Florida’s power to expand its limitation on viewpoints to any idea it chooses.

One thing is crystal clear—both robust intellectual inquiry and democracy require light to thrive. Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, and the State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all. If our “priests of democracy” are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness. But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.

The preliminary injunction binds the above-listed Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys—and others in active concert or participation with any of them—who receive actual notice of this injunction by personal service or otherwise.

There’s more detail regarding the injunction, but the above sums it up.

Freedom isn’t slavery, after all.

It’s a shame Floridians need a federal judge to combat Desantis Dystopia.


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SC: Moms for Liberty School Board Fires Superintendent, Opens Itself to Litigation

The newly-elected Berkeley County (SC) school board (BCSB) was sworn in on November 15, 2022.

Follwing swearing in, that same board fired both in-house counsel and superintendent in short order.

The majority of the new board was endorsed by the conservative, right-wing group, Moms for Liberty (M4L), known for its efforts to restructure school curricula into its conservative image (see this Hechinger article for more details). To achieve its ends, M4L, which is able to proliferate due to hazy-yet-apparently-ample conservative funding, seeks to have its members permeate school boards.

M4L has achieved that end– at least for now– in Berkeley County, SC.

BCSB’s published agenda for November 15, 2022, begins with approval of the minutes from the October, 25, 2022, meeting and then shifts to going into executive session (out of public view) for “Discussion of Evaluation, Employment, Appointment, Assignment, Demotion, Discipline, or Release of an Employee(s), as Needed.” This language appears to be general stock for BCSB meetings, as is approval of minutes from the prior meeting and beginning in executive session before holding the public meeting.

What is not par-for-the-course is the board emerging from executive session to fire both board counsel Tiffany Richardson and superintendent Deon Jackson without warning, only to immediately turn around and vote to appoint replacements without first following any semblance of a democratic process, including publicizing any candidate search, let alone allowing the two individuals fired to know that their potential dismissals were being discussed behind close doors that very night.

In doing so, the M4L-led board made quite the sensation. The firings hit the news, and on its Facebook page, M4L bragged about its backed board members “clean house the first night on the job.”

This blindsided sweep is not “liberty”; it certainly is not democracy, and its legality is also highly suspect, to say the least.

Indeed, in their morally-twisted arrogance, the M4L board members could not have put their ignorance on greater display.

Part of the M4L idiocy-on-display stems from fired superintendent, Deon Jackson, having the BCSB unanimously rate him as “proficient” only weeks earlier, in its October 25, 2022, meeting. The notable difference between that meeting and the next was the change in the composition of the BCSB to a majority M4L BCSB, which points to a political motive. Moreover, apparently neither Jackson nor the public was given any specifics for the shocking about-face regarding Jackson. On the contrary, new board chair Mac McQuillan says he “expects to share our (the board’s) rationale in the future.”

So, let’s get this straight:

Jackson receives a unanimous board vote of “proficient” in October 2022 and is unceremoniously fired only weeks later by a board just sworn that very day. No explanation provided to Jackson or to the public, but new board chair says we’ll explain “in the future.”

Well, no surprise McQuillan also adds that his “in the future” comment is also tempered by “the prospect of litigation.”

I think it is safe to say litigation will ensue since Jackson responded to ABCNews’ request for comment by stating that he “can’t speak at this time.”

Here is yet another problem for the M4L-BCSB firing idiocy:

The planning and recruiting of replacements did not happen in the public eye.

If the BCSB emerged from executive session ready to appoint replacements for Jackson and counsel Tiffany Richardson, then the board must have formed its plan out of the public eye, whch is a no-no. According to SC state law, “The members of a public body may not commit the public body to a course of action by a polling of members in executive session.” Furthermore, according to BCSB policy, the board may “act only when a quorum is present at a legal meeting of the board.” The question becomes one of whether a quorum of board members met (in person or virtually), out of the public eye (in executive session or elsewhere) to so neatly have a specific counsel and superintendent nomination handy and ready to go following the Jackson and Richardson firings.

And the replacements– Anthony Dixon as superintendent and Brandon Gaskins as counsel– seemed prepped and ready to assume their new roles as if already offered to jobs prior to the Jackson/Richardson firings.

Moreover, it seems that the non-M4L board member minority was kept out of the loop.

On November 15, 2022, right out of the gate, M4L’s BCSB members demonstrated that they are willing to run roughshod over the liberties of others as they forcefully pursue their curriculum-scouring agenda.

Let the wrongful termination litigation begin.


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Jennifer Berkshire: Conservative Attacks on Public Ed Sour the Public

On November 04, 2022, the site, A More Perfect Union, tweeted a 5-minute video about Republican attacks on public education, including defunding public schools and replacing public schools with privatization via school vouchers. My colleague, Jennifer Berkshire, freelance writer and co-author (with Jack Schneider, no relation) of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, narrates this clip, which is excellent in capturing the breadth of the issue in a brief space.

At the end of this post, I link to the video, which as of this writing is on Twitter but not yet on the Perfect Union site. Moreover, because I think that public awareness of the content is critical, I have transcribed the entire video clip, as follows:

After decades of attacks on public education, there’s a backlash brewing.

Announcer: “This is the Republican playbook on education now: to whittle away at public schools until they’re all but gone.”

While much of the national attention is on inflation and abortion rights, in Oklahoma and other conservative states, the fate of public education could swing the election in Democrats’ favor.

In Oklahoma, a state where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by a two-to-one margin, the race for governor is in a dead heat. Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, is a big supporter of school vouchers, which take money from public schools and hand it over to religious and private schools.

Stitt: “And I pledge to support any legislation that gives parents more school choice.”

He tried– and failed– to pass a massive expansion of the voucher system this year, and he has promised to try it again if reelected.

His Democratic opponent, Joy Hoffmeister, is currently the state school superintendent.

Hoffmeister: “Here’s the problem: This governor (points to Stitt) has a school voucher scheme that is a rural school killer. You kill the school (Stitt interjects, ‘It’s not true’), you kill the community.”

She opposes the plan, and crucially, so do many rural Republicans. That’s because in rural parts of the state, there aren’t a lot of options besides the public schools. Those schools also happen to be the largest employers in a lot of small towns, which makes school privatization a hard sell. Polls show that more than 80 percent of Oklahomans think the state should spend more on public education– which means the candidates pushing plans that will result in cuts to school spending have an uphill battle.

The backlash may be enough to get a Democrat elected governor in this ruby-red state– and it could also put another Democrat in the publicly-elected superintendent seat.

In that race, Democrat Jena Nelson is leading her Republican opponent, Ryan Walters. She’s running as an avowed public education advocate who wants to boost teacher pay. He’s running as a culture warrior and a proponent of private school vouchers.

Walters: “We are going to reject calls from the teachers’ union to push ‘woke,’ left-wing indoctrination in our schools.”

And, according to polls, a fair number of Republicans plan to cross over to vote for the Democrat.

And it’s not just Oklahoma where public education has emerged as a key issue. In states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New Hampshire, Republican candidates are running on school privatization. Take Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. He is best known for being a Christian nationalist and an election denier, but his education platform is just as extreme. Mastriano wants to slash school spending by half then give what’s left to parents via vouchers.

The catch?

With such deep cuts, parents will end up having to cover much of the cost of education themselves.

In Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor (Darren Bailey) wants to cut billions in school spending.

Announcer: “At a recent campaign stop, Bailey again promoted his plan to use public funds for private schools.” Bailey: “And, friends, that means educational vouchers. It is a must.”

And Bailey wants the state to fund religious schools like the fundamentalist Christian school he founded, one that uses a controversial curriculum that teaches that the majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well and that women are inferior to men.

Then there’s Michigan– where the issue of public education will likely determine who occupies the governor’s office. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is being challenged by conservative media commentator, Tudor Dixon.

Dixon is running as a culture war candidate. She says that Michigan’s public schools are indoctrinating kids.

Dixon: “Sexual content. We’re talking about pornography in schools. That’s the biggest concern that I’m hearing about.”

Dixon also has some serious money behind her.

Whitmer: “She’s bankrolled by Betsy DeVos. She has endorsed Betsy DeVos’ plan to drain half a billion dollars out of our public schools.”

The DeVoses think that Dixon is their best shot to bring private school vouchers to Michigan– something they’ve been after for decades.

DeVos: “I personally think the Department of Education should not exist.”

Poll after poll shows that voters across party lines are turned off by Republicans’ education policies. Ever since Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia last year, we’ve been hearing that parent outrage equals electoral gold for Republicans, but there’s just one problem with this argument:

It doesn’t seem to be true.

As we see in Oklahoma, Michigan, and plenty of other states, the GOP platform of dismantling public education and restricting what kids learn isn’t attracting voters but pushing them away.

The GOP’s education agenda these days is essentially that we shouldn’t have public schools. That’s an extreme position that’s out of step with voters in both parties.

So, don’t be surprised if public education turns out to be a deciding issue in Democrats’ favor on November 8th.


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Moms for Liberty Enlists Sheriffs in Criminal Pursuit of Freedom

Right-wing Moms for Liberty (M4L) (see here, also) is looking to enforce their version of liberty at the expense of the liberties of those with whom they disagree. The group, which originated in Florida, opposes mask mandates and what it considers as “woke” ideology, including Critical Race Theory, which seems to translate into banning books and shaping school curriculum into M4L’s preferred image.

To do so, the strategy of this “seriously-GOP-connected” group in pursuing book censorship is to enlist sheriffs with right-wing sympathies to try to bring criminal charges against librarians.

Fortunately, this tack has not worked– yet.

On November 04, 2022, Slate Magazine published an excellent article about M4L and its efforts to file charges for “criminal” books, “Angry Right-Wing Moms Are Trying to Have Librarians Arrested by ‘Constitutional Sheriffs.'” Below, I offer excerpts from the article, but the entire piece is well worth a read for understanding efforts branded as “liberty” but skirting ever closer to what occurs in fascist regimes.

In March, special counsel to the sheriff of Hamilton County, Tennessee, Coty Wamp, was campaigning for district attorney when she met with a group of parents calling themselves Moms for Liberty. Wamp said afterwards that she had facilitated a meeting between the “parents’ rights” group and the sheriff’s office because she thought law enforcement could help the group in its goal of banning books. “I think that there’s going to come a time with some of these books where it crosses a criminal line,” Wamp said. “It’s called contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Wamp won that promotion to district attorney and was one of the earliest law enforcement figures to begin to establish a frightening new alliance between far-right sheriff’s offices and the radical right-wing parent’s group seeking to upend America’s educational system.

After Wamp’s meeting, she did not shy away from the possibility of filing charges for “criminal” books, although she later told Jezebel that she did not intend to suggest she was going to go about arresting librarians. Whatever her actual intentions, the alliance Wamp sought to foster is a dangerous one and one that is spreading.

Across the country, members of Mothers for Liberty, a far-right group focused on banning library books and whitewashing school curricula, have appealed to sheriffs as allies in these goals. Much like the partnerships between sheriffs and militia members, or sheriffs and election deniers, this alliance is another example of how sheriffs have become the arm of the law willing to enforce the radical agenda of the far-right. It also shows how determined groups like M4L are to be seen as having legal legitimacy—and how willing sheriffs are to provide it.

While M4L has been accused of various direct actions like harassing local school board officials with emails, calls, and threats, it has lately begun to approach county sheriffs as a way to legitimize its grievances and gain actual traction in criminal courts. Granted, it hasn’t been too successful yet. But these alliances suggest that should it not achieve its goals via democratic means, M4L is perfectly willing to find its own firepower.

One strategy has been to bring criminal complaints to sympathetic sheriffs, which become “sex crime” investigations, further spreading the QAnon-influenced anxieties that children are being recruited or brainwashed by sex predators presenting as progressives. In the spring, Jennifer Pippin, who is an M4L chapter chair, filed a criminal complaint against a school library in Indian River County, Florida, for failing to remove dozens of books flagged by the members as inappropriate. …

The six-week investigation resulted in a 74-page report, which concluded that “no crime occurred.” Whether patently unconstitutional charges are ultimately filed in cases like these, though, is not the issue. The chilling effect of the threat is.

Other sheriffs—especially those in Florida, where M4L began and has garnered support from Gov. Ron DeSantis—have conducted similar investigations into so-called dirty books, and while no criminal charges have resulted thus far, they indicate that going to the sheriff is an accepted strategy. 

Approaching a sheriff to investigate of the appropriateness of reading material in school libraries– and having the sheriff actually do so– is becoming “an accepted strategy.”

A sheriff investigating a librarian for some sort of crime related to the presence of books on the library shelves.

Shall we succumb to fear and purge the shelves of anything that could offend the anybodies with the power to summon the book sheriffs?

“Liberty,” huh?

America is walking a dangerous line with this foolishness:

Finally, sheriffs are a natural extension of the M4L ideology. In a recent survey published by the Marshall Project, a significant number of sheriffs (as well as citizens) said that they fear the loss of the “traditional American way of life” enough to justify violence. This easily translates into helping M4L ban Toni Morrison from school libraries or trying to police how teachers talk about their partners. As of now, the only thing stopping these sheriffs has been the limits of criminal laws and courts. Given the state and national political and legal landscapes, the question is quickly becoming: How much longer will those limits hold?

Please read the entire Slate article.


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Man Without Test Score Thinks Critically, Helps Stranded Motorist

My starter is going out on my car. When electrical parts are on the way out, the exact moment at which they will finally fail is a crap shoot. I have an appointment to have the part replaced, but not for a few days. I care for my mother on weekends, and since my car started on Saturday morning, I took the hour-plus drive to her home to help her, happy to know if my car failed to start when I tried to leave that she would have been cared for and ready to face another week.

I planned my weekend and early week so that I only needed my car to start once more– just once more– and that upon leaving my mother’s house on Saturday.

Well. After numerous tries, I could not get it to start. The starter would frequently engage, but just shy of getting the engine to turn over.

I called my brother, who is a commercial fisherman and quite skilled with engines, and asked if he might try to get my car to start.

It took an hour and 40 minutes, and he and my nephew did get that starter to engage just enough to make my engine turn over just once more.

His idea? Connecting jumper cables from his truck to my battery to try to boost the juice in the battery to compensate for the weak starter response. He thought to try this because he could not reach the starter, which on my vehicle is situated right in the center of the engine.

Regarding his battery-jolt idea: “It could take a long time,” he told me, “but that *&^% is so close to turning over.”

A lot of time passed.

After over an hour and a half of trying to no avail, I was on the phone with a wrecker service to two my car roughly 65 miles to my mechanic in my town of residence.

While I was on the phone, my nephew continued trying to crank my car.

I had just hung up. And then, it happened.

My car started Just Once More.

I canceled the wrecker and ran the remainder of my errands getaway-car style, leaving the engine running at purposely-selected locations (to best avoid car theft), until I finally parked it in my hometown at my mechanic’s shop.

The brother who helped me in this very practical and critical way hated going to high school. Hated it. It was hard enough to get him to graduate at 19 years old.

There is no way he would care about taking an ACT, or Work Keys test, so that a school could get points toward its letter grade.

He would not have cared that graduating in four years would have garnered more points toward a school grade than graduating in five years. He was on the edge of not caring about graduating at all.

And yet, he runs his own commercial fishing business, and when it comes to engines and construction, he has a critical-thinking sixth sense.

Ah, but as for planning: My brother is not a planner. In fact, it makes him nutty that I am so organized, but even that has its place. My strategic planning is how I organized my errands to require the fewest starts for my unreliable car until it could be repaired. So I, who loved school and who scored the highest on my ACT and held the second-highest GPA in my high school class, had made a complicated situation as streamlined as possible with needing that Just One More Start.

Both types of individuals are necessary for making this journey through life as smooth as possible.

Neither one should be used in the objectifying, dehumanizing, and, frankly, asinine task of “grading” schools.


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St Tammany (LA) School Board Candidates– Union Endorsed

Some of my St. Tammany Parish Public Schools (STPPS) (LA) colleagues have asked me about my thoughts on the upcoming school board elections.

The short answer is that I endorse the slate promoted by the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees (“the Federation”).

Below is the Federation press release, including candidate endorsements as well as a brief explanation of the endorsement selection process and the Federation’s desire that the election results in a well-functioning board.

(Click image to enlarge.)

For any Louisiana voters uncertain about the school board district in which they reside, this voter portal link from the Louisiana Secretary of State can help voters easily find concise info about all districts, including school board districts. Simply enter name, zip code, and birthday, then click the “my districts” link.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 08, 2022 (a school holiday). Louisiana’s early voting begins on Tuesday, October 25, 2022, and ends on Tuesday, November 01, 2022 (closed on Sunday, October 30, 2022).

One can also sign up for Louisiana election reminders/alerts using this link.


Federal Student Loan Forgiveness App is LIVE

Just filled it out myself:

Jabbia Delays ESS Sub Contract, But He Still Really Wants It.

On September 18, 2022, I posted about how the St. Tammany Schools (STPPS) (LA) superintendent Frank Jabbia and members of the school board are pushing to contract with a third party, Education Solutions Services, LLC (ESS), to address STPPS’s sub shortage.

Instead of addressing the issue head-on by following sensible courses of action that STPPS HR could approach without paying a third party to (at best) do what it could have done without the added layer of expense (see suggestions at end of thos post), instead, it seems that Jabbia would rather throw money at a company that makes no promise in writing to solve a staffing shortage “or your money back.” (Prove me wrong by showing me such a contract.)

What could very well happen is that such a move would cause chaos, as all subs currently contracted with STPPS would be dropped and have to choose to become employees of ESS. Furhtermore, if STPPS decides to end its business relationship with ESS in the future, STPPS could owe ESS a fee ($2,500 seems to be the standard) for each sub contracted by ESS to work in STPPS during the contract period. And that assumes, once again, that subs would choose to transition from ESS to STPPS, even as it assumes that if this Great Idea goes bust, subs originally with STPPS and forced to switch to ESS would not become frustrated with having to once agan make an employer switch from ESS back to STPPS.

In my original post, I included a contract between ESS and Thomasville City Schools (NC) for 2021-22. I will add here a second contract, this time between ESS and Tangipahoa Public Schools (LA) for 2020-23. The language in both appears to be ESS boilerplate.

What I have learned since my initial posting on September 18, 2022, is that a few days prior, on September 15, 2022, Jabbia decided to forego an immediate push to have STPPS conntract with ESS for subs, not in favor of making any notable changes for active recruitment of subs by STPPS’s own HR, but in favor of collecting more data and proceeding how he wants to anyway in his *unwavering support* and *strong feelings* for contracting with ESS in the future, anyway.

Below is Jabbia’s September 15, 2022, email to STPPS board members, Associate Superintendent Steve Alfonso, and Secretary to the Superintendent, Christy Coakley.

From: Jabbia, Frank J.
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2022 1:02:12 PM
To: STPSB Board Members
Cc: Coakley, Christy R.; Alfonso, Steve E.
Subject: ESS Update

Board Members:

After further consideration of multiple factors, we have decided to table the recommendation for the acceptance to partner with ESS (Educational Management and Staffing Solutions).  Additional time will allow the district to access the impact of our new hourly substitute rates relative to the recruitment and retention of subs in the teacher, para, and custodial job classes.  The percentage of daily fill rates for each job class will be reviewed and compared to the previous years.  This information coupled with a more stable work environment first semester post-Covid should reflect an accurate picture our progress.  We look forward to the opportunity to share these findings with you in the Spring.

We do not waiver in our support of ESS and feel strongly that this partnership is a viable option for our school system.  As mentioned in our initial discussion, ESS’s services are dedicated solely to K-12 school districts, they can provide incentives to substitutes not allowed by school systems, they have a presence in multiple states, and recently contracted with St. Charles School System, East Baton Rouge School System, and Tangipahoa School System. 

As always, thank you for your input and for sharing the questions and concerns of your constituents.

Mr. Alfonso will provide an update for all at CAW (Committe as a Whole) in October.


Frank J. Jabbia


St. Tammany Parish Public School System

Phone: 985.898.3216

www.stpsb.orgFacebook | Twitter | Instagram


The superintendent does not seem interested in collecting data on how often ESS has actually contributed to solving a staffing crisis for a school or district, or how much ESS’s services cost when comparing projected cost to actual cost, or if any districts were actually worse off after contracting with ESS for staffing issues (in what contexts and to what degree).

He does seem invested in *feeling strongly.*

STPPS does have its own HR department, and rather than passively wait for some data to roll in, perhaps the superintendent and board might actively invest in some of the following efforts in house before placing taxpayer dollars at Third Party feet. The ideas below were sent to me by a friend who has HR experience with a major corporation.

These are not new ideas. They are good, solid, and largely ignored by those with the power to even pilot them.

Creative ways to handle substitute issue…

1. Look at hiring permanent substitutes. Our parish has long been a place teachers want to teach. We turn away hundreds every year at job fair. Why not look at permanent subs? Set it up to pay them somewhere between a para and a first year teacher. Assign them to a group of schools in a geographical area (Slidell, Mandeville, Abita, etc). Exempt the position from state retirement. Market it as a chance to get in the system; allow them to attend the transfer fair. This alone would get us qualified teachers in the classroom and be a recruiting edge for us in June to draw even more people to our career fair. Many systems across the nation do this…we should look at the feasibility of this.

2. Money helps. Our subs get paid less than if they are working as a cashier at [corporation]. Consider boosting daily pay by $35 for both certified and non-certified substitutes. Here’s an idea as well…offer a monthly bonus of maybe $200 if a substitute works 14 or more days. There are only about 22 working days a month, so a sub working 2/3 of the month gets a bonus, which would incentivize them to work more and the more they work, the more they feel part of the system. But pay HAS to be addressed in one form or another.

3. We need to let retired educators know we need their help. Send out a personal letter asking them to be a sub for their old school or if possible, other schools in the area of their residence. Make them feel appreciated and cut the red tape. If we have a former teacher that wants to be a sub, then we should not have to make that person go through training and a long wait time to get them in the classroom. Sign up with personnel, have them in the room within the next week. He limitations on retired teachers working as subs is ridiculous and should be eliminated.

4. We need to be recruiting in at least 4 areas that we are currently not. First, senior citizens. Yes, some people are worried about COVID, but there are many seniors who would love the chance to be active, useful, and get paid. Second, recruit college students. Whether at Northshore Tech or someone commuting to SLU, UNO, Tulane, Southern NO, etc., these are people looking to become professionals and would have energy, could use the money, and would be motivated to do well to help their resume. Next, what about policemen and fire department workers? Firemen work 24 on and 48 off. Plenty of days they could earn extra money in their community. Both police and firemen would have no issues with background checks, work well under pressure, and command respect in the classroom. Finally, the military. We should be aggressively recruiting anyone that served in the military to join the sub list for the same reasons as police and fire department workers.

5. The entire process needs to be streamlined and fast-tracked. First and foremost, WAIVE THE $50 application fee. Really? Who pays to apply for a job? Think about it…we are asking someone to pay to apply and at present rates, will take them 2/3 of a day to earn it back. Ridiculous.

Background checks are a must, but our current process takes way too long. There should not be a “screening” process by someone in central office to determine who can or cannot be a sub; word is that is happening right now in Covington. If someone has applied, their resume/application should be treated the same as any job. There should be an established and made-public rubric as to what qualifications are needed and ANYONE that meets the criteria gets moved on. It should not be put on the principals to have potential subs go through them; it should be done at both the central office in Covington as well as a location in Slidell to make the process more efficient at both ends of the parish. Applicants should be allowed to sub for as many schools as they wish to be on the list for…this is 2022 and people have to many flexible options for work. Limiting them to 3 schools is antiquated. If someone checks the boxes, a background check is done at that point. Needs to have results within 48 hours. If that passes, then they should receive PAID training; should take no more than 2 days. If it is a former teacher, train them only on whatever modified system (see #8) we have for sub use and they’re ready to go.

6. Require teachers to leave DETAILED plans for when they will be out and a minimum 2 days of work. The last thing we need is to have substitutes with not enough work to give kids. Also, there needs to be a periodic visit by an administrator to the class during the day to show support and ensure no discipline issues are happening. Students that act up in a subs class need to receive serious accountability or subs will not return. They should be removed immediately and put in ISS the rest of the day and/or next day.

7. Don’t make subs cover other classes when they have a “planning” period. Allow the sub time to relax, regroup, and prepare as needed for the next class. Ensure the sub has a break.

8. There should be a system the sub can log into that has some basic information about the students and an electronic roll to make that easier for them. We cannot expect them to want to come back if we treat them as if we don’t trust them or want them there in the first place. We have the technology…they should be able to see a kid’s schedule, overall grades, and if there are any issues. We do a background check…if a sub violates and privacy issues then they are held accountable as a teacher would, but we need to put trust in them or they won’t trust us.

9. Subs need to feel valued. We give free lunches to thousands of kids each day. Why not subs? There should be assigned parking in a place up front for subs. ANYTHING we could do to make them feel wanted should be our goal. We do a terrible job as a parish in making our employees feel valued. The more you value your employees, the less turnover you have, the more professionalism you have, and the fewer issues you have in the classroom.

10. FORGOT THIS ONE…this is something we used to do at [corporation] to get associates to recommend quality POSSIBLE EMPLOYEES. There should be a bonus given to ANY current STPPS employee who refers someone to become a substitute and that sub works a minimum number of days in their first semester. For instance, a bus driver recommends Matt. He works a total of 50 days in his first full semester as a sub. The bus driver should get a one-time bonus of say, $150. It would incentivize current employees to refer/recommend someone AND they would probably remind them to continue to sub so they could get the bonus. Worked well with [corporation].

As for the last idea, I spoke with St.Tammany Federation of Teachers (StTFed) president, Brant Osborn, who said that StTFed is in the process of setting up a referral bonus for union members who refer an individual as a substitute; once the referred individual completes a certain number of days as a sub, the person referring the new sub woud receive $100. For more information on this, contact Brant Osborn.

Our district can do more in-house to recruit and retain substitute teachers. The real problem is that they simply won’t.

ESS is not a magical solution, but it sure is a way to defer responsibility, to enhance the appearance of trying to do something even as one ignores pursuing numerous more logical, practical, cost-effective, and efficient courses of action.

Prove me wrong.


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James Kirylo: We Saw the Teacher Shortage Coming.

The following is a guest post by friend and colleague James Kirylo. I know Kirylo from his many years as an education professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. He is the author of The Thoughtful Teacher: Making Connections with a Diverse Student Population. Kirylo currently resides in South Carolina.

James Kirylo

We Saw the Teacher Shortage Coming: Here’s Why

James D. Kirylo

We saw it coming. Despite educators repeatedly sounding the proverbial school alarm bell about the possibilities of a teacher shortage crises, these warnings were often ignored or dismissed by policy-makers. As a result, the alarm alerts came to a palpable head in 2018-2019, captured in the book Slaying Goliath by Diane Ravitch.

A historian of education and former assistant secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration, Ravitch highlights an unusual moment in the history of the U.S. when tens of thousands of teachers across the country took to the streets and marched to respective state capitols.

As former long-time K-12 teacher and currently a professor of education with a research focus on teacher education, I was in that number in Columbia, SC.

What were we protesting? The obsession with a test-centric schooling environment, punitive evaluation systems, low pay, overcrowded classrooms, school buildings wrought with neglect, outdated textbooks, poor working conditions, ill-informed attacks on tenure, the ongoing defunding of public education, the undermining of teacher professionalism, and the constant assault on public school teachers, among other concerns, which Ravitch captures in her text. In short, the profession finds itself in unprecedented space with teacher satisfaction at an all-time low.

And despite that worrisome space, many teachers have heroically pressed on, even during the most difficult dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, still numerous others have understandably called it a day and have left the profession, coupled with a significant drop in applicants to teacher preparation institutions. Hence, the teacher shortage is real. But make no mistake, this shortage is a symptom, a manifestation of a metastasized malignancy: the eroding of the profession itself through a political climate that disrespects educators.

Instead of attentively responding to the alarm bell and working toward building up the profession, policy makers all over the country have intensified the problem by questioning whether educators actually need a college degree; have relaxed state certification requirements; have long encouraged speedy, minimal training before one enters the classroom, exacerbating the attrition rate; have allowed for dictatorial, mayoral control of school systems; have appointed unqualified, unprepared, and unfit individuals for U.S. Secretary of Education; have allowed the persistence of overcrowded classrooms and outdated facilities to persist, disproportionally affecting the poor; and have fostered the politicization of education in such a way that attacks teachers, ultimately threatening the future of public education.

I often wonder of those who have worked to decay the teaching profession if they would rationalize having an underqualified, and-not-yet an MD performing major surgery on one’s child, or employing a non-licensed, inexperienced attorney to take the lead in a grave legal proceeding, or requesting the services of a fast-track-schooled, unproven mechanic to work on the faulty brakes of an automobile.

Consider the upcoming November general elections in South Carolina when voters will elect a new state superintendent of education, one of few states in which this is an elected position. Ellen Weaver, who appears to be a leading candidate, holds no degree in education, has never been a teacher or school administrator, and does not possess an advanced degree that is required by law to be SC state superintendent. She is literally unqualified. Enter in historically controversial Bob Jones University where she hurriedly enrolled in April and just a few short months later, Weaver purportedly will have a master’s degree in hand by election time.

Weaver’s campaign coffers run deep with support from very wealthy philanthropists. She refers to herself as a “Rush Baby,” meaning as a child she listened to the late conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh, who influentially indoctrinated his large audience by manipulating truth, spreading disinformation, and irresponsibly promoted conspiracies.

As part of her platform, however, if not ironically—with a fear-mongering tone—Weaver aims to make sure schools are not places of indoctrination, rejected mandated mask wearing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ardently supports the public funding for private education, and purports a desire to listen to the voices of educators.

While all politics is local, national implications always hover. Educators across our country have spoken loudly—for years. Time after time, whether it is in South Carolina or any other state, educators are tired– very tired– of the hubris that rationalizes, whitewashes, and make excuses for the non-qualified, non-credentialed, inexperienced, unproven, and unprepared to teach our youth, to lead our schools, and to lead entire systems.

It is that hubris that has led us to the teacher staffing crisis our nation faces today.

Wanted: Teachers. No Training Necessary.


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What a Contract with Ed Staffing Solutions (ESS) for Subs Looks Like

In its September 08, 2022, board meeting, Louisiana-based St. Tammany Parish Public Schools (STPPS) introduced the idea of contracting to a third party, Education Solutions Services, LLC (ESS) to provide substitute teachers to St. Tammany’s schools.

ESS’s main office is in Knoxville, TN, but it has branches in several states.

Some details from the September 05, 2022, on the issue:

School administrators want to bring on an outside company, Educational Staffing Solutions, that would recruit, vet, and train new subs who would be employed by them rather than the school system. ESS would provide health care insurance and retirement benefits as well as incentives that include $100 referral bonuses. After an onboarding process, current subs would transition to the new employer. 

“They can offer benefits that we cannot,” said Steve Alphonso, the school district’s supervisor of human resources. “This is going to help our employees if they need to take off, if they get sick. We’re trying to get the kids covered in the classroom, that’s the ultimate goal.” 

Terri Prevost, the school district’s chief financial officer, said the projected cost for substitutes without using ESS is $3.6 million annually. Bringing in the agency would cost the district $4.2 million, which includes the salaries and benefit packages for a larger pool of substitutes.

Prevost added that overall it would be an increase of $582,000. But if the district kept the status quo and tried to grow the number of subs itself, it would cost the district about $900,000, she said. 

Jabbia reiterated that in addition to the benefits and incentives an outside agency can provide, subs will want to come to work because they will be treated like a full-time employee, rather than a part-time employee.

Jabbia has to draw up a contract that will be vetted by the district’s legal team. The board will vote on the motion at a later date.

Of course, what matters are the details in that ESS-STPPS contract that does not yet exist.

It is all about the contract.

Since St. Tammany has no contract yet, I searched online to find an example of a contract with ESS for substitute teacher services, and I found this one between ESS and Thomasville City Schools (NC) for 2021-22.

Even though the document is not St. Tammany’s contract with ESS, the ESS-Thomasville contract does provide a glimpse into what might be in a future contract between STPPS and ESS, so let’s just say it provides a furrowed-brow heads-up, if you will.

I encourage readers to pore over the entire document.

Some issues that stand out to me:

  • All subs are employees of ESS.
  • Sub training for this particular district will be provided by ESS and billed to the district at “a fee equal to the actual cost.”
  • District is still responsible for notifying ESS of “all Substitute staff on-site changes.”
  • District is responsible for assisting ESS in the “process the daily record keeping and other tasks necessary for the Company to administer and track Substitute Staff.”
  • Here’s something notable and certainly not like “being treated as a full-time employee”: “The Company normally hires Substitute Staff as part time employees who will work on average less than 30 hours per week such that they are not eligible for healthcare benefits under the ACA.” Continuing: “However, should the LEA in its discretion employ Substitute Staff to work directly for LEA in addition to the hours worked for Company (example: after school program director or coach), and the combined work hours of the Substitute Staff cause the Substitute Staff to be deemed eligible to receive healthcare benefits under the ACA, the LEA agrees to reimburse the Company’s cost of providing the minimum plan healthcare insurance coverage under the ACA.”
  • Here’s another: If ESS (Company) provides a so that district (LEA) hires full time, then district owes ESS a fee: “If LEA hires Substitute Staff as a full-time employee of the LEA during the term of this Agreement, LEA shall pay to Company the sum of $2,500.00. This payment is to reimburse Company for recruitment expenses and lost revenue. This fee shall not be due if the Substitute Staff was a ‘district original’, i.e. previously working for the LEA at the start of this Agreement, or if the Substitute Staff has worked Sixty (60) or more days of assignments as Substitute Staff for the LEA.”

Know what is not in this contract?

Any guarantee that ESS will resolve any substitute staffing shortage.

Will Frank Jabbia and his board include such language in an ESS-STPPS contract?

Isn’t that the point of this attempted sell to the St. Tammany public– to contract with ESS to resolve the sub shortage?

Now, we could first try something sensible, like ridding St. Tammany of this convoluted non-process of having would-be subs first find a STPPS school principal willing to sign off and submit names to HR and instead create an online portal for subs to apply directly to HR and not be restricted to sub in certain St. Tammany schools at the exclusion of other St. Tammany schools.

ESS recruits online.

Before the rush to toss half-a-mil-plus at a non-guaranteed outsource, couldn’t STPPS first create an efficient means for subs to apply online directly to HR?

Just asking for someone with basic critical thinking capabilities.


Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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