Train Wrecks and Teachers: victims of greed and corruption

How is the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia related to the financial disaster in Illinois that is being blamed on active and retired teachers along with other public employees?

Both are legislatively created disasters which have horrific potential consequences for all involved. This is no exaggeration.

The inexpensive, low-tech requirement called positive train control is already used worldwide. There is no doubt that positive train control could have prevented the train wreck and the accompanying deaths and crippling injuries. Human error or no human error, probably no accident would have occurred. This specific safety regulation was required for America’s trains this year in spite of the fact that train industry lobbyists and political donors had already watered down the regulations concerning the scope of this public safety requirement.

The bill’s main sponsor, Senator Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, received nearly $300,000 from the railroad industry. One senator in one key position.

The Obama “administration” as part of a court proceeding in 2011 had already successfully limited the scope of the financial costs the train industry would have to pay for the simple safety feature of positive train control. But when corporate masters want all the money they can grab immediately, well…

A relatively few dollars were spent on politicians and their employees to assure the train industry short term big bucks for industry execs and their cronies. To hell with the risks and consequences for all other human beings.

DemrocracyNow and David Sirota

In Illinois the ex-Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and both supermajority (D) legislative bodies signed a pension cutting bill; according to them, teacher pensions caused the financial ruin of the state. Those greedy teachers expected the pension debts to be paid by the state as legally contracted. Politicos instead paid huge amounts to incentivize their donors. (There actually is no crisis except for the propaganda that claims there is. Even Senate President Cullerton admits that no actual pension crisis exists.) Present Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) wants even greater pension theft to occur. The bill would have stolen wages from active teachers and other public employees while stealing earned compensation (pensions) from retirees. These innocent scapegoats would have been ravaged except that the state Supreme Court declared the bill unconstitutional.

Gov. Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made millions personally as private equity managers. Rauner made more millions by managing these same teacher retirement funds; he knows precisely how to drain them for personal and crony’s profits. Both Rauner and Emanuel have super wealthy investors who make millions and millions of dollars by having the bond ratings for Chicago or Illinois lowered into junk status. The lower the city or state rating, the higher the interest charges are. A win-lose situation. Wealthy investors win; everyone else suffers and loses. These two guys are dealing cards from their own stacked deck.

Train wreck coverage by national media for one city are more photo worthy and dramatic than career teachers who cannot afford to pay for their families’ necessities and healthcare. The foreclosed homes and rapid deterioration of retired teachers whose pension checks are used for food and medical coverage make for few photo-ops. Many Illinois retirees were not allowed to pay their mandated 9.4% of gross pension payments into Social Security or Medicare. Pension checks are all they have. Health coverage still comes out of their pension checks as it did for their active years. The state healthcare cost can easily cost a married couple over $1,200 per month from each pension check. Of course, the photos are not going to be very instant or dramatic, nor will they induce viewers and readers to tune-in or purchase the media coverage. No matter; the suffering would be real enough for the victims.

What do the two events not have in common?

The train wreck was indirectly caused by paid politicians and had questionable time and degree outcomes. The gory media coverage brings more viewers and media profits.

What do the two events have in common?

Legalized bribery of politicians by insanely wealthy greed masters who make fast-money for short-term profits with long-term horrendous results are guaranteed.

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Below is the excellent analysis by DemocracyNow of the causes and effects of the Amtrak train crash. In particular, David Sirota’s commentary is insightful.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The death toll from Tuesday’s Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia is now at seven and is expected to rise. About a dozen passengers are still missing. Some 200 people were injured, several critically. Seven cars derailed, with sections of the train so mangled people had to be rescued with the aid of hydraulic tools. Authorities now say the train was traveling at about 106 miles per hour, more than double the speed limit, as it headed into a steep curve. National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said yesterday the accident was preventable…

The positive train control technology prevents trains from going faster than the speed limit. It was not installed at the site of Tuesday’s crash. Federal rules require the national rail network to have an operating positive train control system by the end of the year, but in March the Senate Commerce Committee voted to extend the deadline for implementing the new technology until at least 2020. 

DAVID SIROTA: Well, there’s a technology called positive train control, which is a pretty, by our standards, low-tech technology. I mean, it’s logistically—it’s a logistical challenge to implement it, but it’s not anything—it’s not rocket science. In 2008, Congress passed a bill mandating that positive train control be implemented on the nation’s rails by the end of this year, 2015. That seems like a long time, but what happened a few weeks ago was, under pressure from the private rail industry, the Congress began moving forward a bill to delay the deadline for the implementation of positive train control. So a couple weeks ago—again, before this crash—senators, in a bipartisan fashion, on the Senate Science and Commerce Committee pushed through a bill to delay the rule. The NTSB has said that if positive train control had been implemented on this stretch of railway, which it wasn’t, that this crash would have been prevented.

And we looked at some of the campaign contributions. The chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, has taken $290,000 from the railroad industry. You know, it’s not to say that if the rail—if the bill had passed, or didn’t pass, it would have solved everything, but it shows that Congress has not been really pushing the rail industry to get this implemented. And I should add that in 2011 the Obama administration, in a court proceeding, limited the scope of the amount of tracks that positive train control should apply to under that rule.

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The Supreme Court won’t let him hurt teachers this way, so here is a new (old) attack.

Hypocrite and IL Senate President John Cullerton, faced with a unanimous decision last Friday by the Illinois Supreme Court that the pension cutting bill signed by him, the Senate, the House and the governor was unconstitutional, offers a new attack. He knows no shame.

“Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday facing renewed pressure to overhaul the state’s employee pension system after the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a law aimed at sharply curbing benefits, with Senate President John Cullerton proposing an updated version of a plan he floated two years ago.”
Chicago Tribune

A failed Cullerton re-run.

Remember? Cullerton admitted aloud on the Tribune’s WGN radio station that there is no pension crisis and that no real financial help to Illinois would come from cutting teacher and other public pensions.

Cullerton WGN radio

Read the Tribune article from 10/20/13. Listen to his WGN interview. Read about how and why the “pension crisis” was set up to hurt active teachers by stealing 9.4% of their gross income via their paychecks and by stealing money from retiree pensions.

This is the way domestic terrorists work – the Shock Doctrine. Select victims. Steal from (underfund and damage) pension and education funds to reduce the teacher scapegoats to sacrificial victim status, a status undeserving of their earned income. Empty the teaching profession and destroy any possibility or desire by dedicated people who might wish to become career teachers. Frighten away potential, future career teachers before they even major in education at the college level. Redistribute pension and education funds to the incredibly wealthy campaign donors who pay you to do this. Call their payoffs “incentives” or anything but payoffs. (In Chicago and all of Illinois these robber barons belong to the super-wealthy, private Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.)

Hey, Cullerton! Go suck a lemon. This didn’t work before, and it won’t work now.

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What can retired teachers do? Help win a Supreme Court decision.

“A hero is a man who does what he can.”
– Romain Rolland

What can retired teachers do?

Bob Zahniser, John Dillon, Bob Lyons, Fred Klonsky and Glen Brown. Old guys celebrating the pension victory in Illinois.

Dillon Klonsky Brown

The Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously declared the state’s pension (cutting) reform law unconstitutional.
Friday’s decree puts new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly back at the starting line.”

For years the legislators, while indemnifying themselves from prosecution, have taken money for pensions and used it for whatever sweetheart contracts their political donors wanted. Yes, many legislators were and are thieves.

Today these same elected officials claim that “Illinois Is Broke” and can survive only by raiding pensions while spreading lies via corporate media outlets. Yes, many legislators are liars.

What receives little if any corporate media attention are the immense legislative give-aways of hundreds of millions of tax dollars per year to corporate political campaign donors. Last year alone over $197 million dollars was given to nine corporations in Illinois by letting them keep the 5% state income taxes paid by all of their employees. These nine corporations, in addition to their profits and tax breaks, got to keep all of their employees state income taxes – money that was supposed to pay down state debt. Yes, a few corporate honchos were given millions that were siphoned out of tax revenues never used for state debt – and this is a tip of the tax give-away iceberg.

Who kept track of this injustice as they formed grassroots groups of people in addition to alerting, networking, goading, and educating while contacting unions and government agencies and media sources and legislators and social networking organizations?

Among others, these five retirees.

Bob Zahniser – teacher pension activist and social networker

John Dillon – blogger,  political activist, social advocate and community volunteer.

Bob Lyons – Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees member

Fred Klonsky – activist, advocate and blogger who networks via “posts from a retired public school teacher who is just looking at the data.”

Glen Brown – activist, adjunct teacher at the college level,and a “poet/musician/blogger”

Yes, there were others who worked long and hard to network and seek justice for active and retired teachers. Lots of others.

Without these five men, who knows where things would be regarding pensions in Illinois? With them, justice won the day.

“A hero is a man who does what he can.”
– Romain Rolland

This is what these retired teachers did and do.

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MOMS and dads: teachers “in loco parentis”

On Mother’s Day it seems right to celebrate all MOMS – biological, adoptive, guardians, step-mothers, grandmothers, etc.

Since the vast majority of teachers are women, and since all teachers are, by law, “in loco parentis” (Latin – meaning “in place of the parent.”), please celebrate all the wonderful MOMS who  nurtured and taught you every year of your childhood.

smiles_90

As a male teacher who is now retired, on Mother’s Day I gladly refer to them as MOMS while designating myself as one of the (lower case) dads. It was delightful to be surrounded by all of those wonderful women who willingly took on MOM responsibility and privilege by being “in loco parentis” to all of our kids.

Yes, every year we had more and more kids – our kids. Career teachers have a right to call them our kids. After years of teaching, we MOMS and dads were struck by the awesome awareness that all children are our children.

On Mother’s Day and every day, please celebrate all MOMS. They love you and remember you as their little darlings who were as different as snowflakes and as uniquely human as human can be.

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The Big Lie: No money for children, the elderly, the disabled, our infrastructure.

Nine corporations get to keep the state income taxes paid by all of their employees. No money for children, the elderly, the disabled, our infrastructure?

Yes. Nine of the largest corporations in Illinois get to keep the state income taxes they collect from their employees. Elected officials approved this.

Illinois claims that it is too broke to pay for:

  • mental health clinics
  • Medicaid extensions for the poor and disabled
  • public schools and career teachers
  • special education services
  • infrastructure repairs
  • contracted earned compensation to retired employees (pensions)
  • and more – many more – necessary services.

The state is also cutting the state income tax from 5% to 3.75%. Yes, cut state revenue because the state lacks sufficient revenue as the state declares that the state is broke.

While this self destructive activity is going on, the largest Illinois corporations will continue to keep the state income taxes that their employees pay.

Democratic Gov. Quinn began this theft and the Democratic super-majority House and Senate legalized this. Tea Party darling and billionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner continued this revenue draining process after his recent election.

Best friends and reciprocal-political supporter Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) made the historical and amazing invitation to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) to address a Chicago City Council meeting to tell them that Chicago will NOT get the state money it has previously received. This isn’t reaching across the aisle to show bipartisan support; it is legalized theft by legislative thieves and liars. Collusion of shock and awe tactics. Read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

Why would Gov. Rauner (R) and 30 year Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D) knowingly destroy the state’s financial standing while claiming they are saving the state?

Lower bond ratings make higher interest rates for investment firms and private equity money managers. These investors (Democrats, Republicans, multinationals and even non-Americans) get the money -our tax money. These investors paid (donated) to “support” their buddies (D&R) who in turn pay (incentivize) them. The lawmakers made laws to make this process (supposedly) legal.

Illinois income tax(Note: The graph is from Crain’s calculations from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.)

The $197 million+ of one year of employee taxes that nine corporations get to keep – well, the money certainly could have been used as taxes to pay for what governments are supposed to collect taxes for.

 

Imagine working for Navistar International Corporation and working in Illinois as your music loving daughter receives no music in school, your mentally ill brother-in-law has no place to receive treatment, your teacher wife has her pension threatened, your disabled mother has even less medical care available, your son receives reduced special education services, your commute takes half an hour longer and your car alignment has been repaired twice due to road infrastructure damage, etc. Imagine that your corporation gets to add an additional $24 million per year by keeping your state income tax that will not be used for the necessary services you work so hard to fund. Imagine being invited to a corporate all-expenses paid party celebrating the corporation’s financial success.

By the way, this is merely one example in one state of one technique of intentional public crisis creation to further enrich the super-wealthy from middle class public tax funds. New Jersey, Florida, New York, Kansas, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Colorado etc. supply similar examples of legislative thieves and liars. This is actual redistribution of wealth – not the media hype that claims the opposite is occurring.

This is all very personal to me since my sole means of support is my teacher’s pension which was attacked by legislators who violated the state constitution by intentionally using the money elsewhere than what was supposed to, by law, be paid into the pension funds. They then claimed the state was broke because of greedy teachers and greedier retirees. Blame the victims. Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the state constitution and acknowledged that the state legislators themselves had caused this crisis.

We used to call this corruption and graft. Today, we need to begin recall movements to get these guys out of power and to demand criminal investigations on a federal level that jail these liars (D&R) and thieves (D&R).

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Teachers Celebrate! The Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously declared unconstitutional the state’s pension cutting law.

“The Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously declared the state’s pension reform (cutting) law unconstitutional.
Friday’s decree puts new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly back at the starting line.”
The State Journal-Register

IMG_20150508_173554816_HDRa

‘The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and . . . it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible,’ the unanimous opinion states.”
The Chicago Sun Times

“Justice Lloyd Karmeier writing for the court. ‘It is our obligation, however, just as it is theirs, to ensure that the law is followed. That is true at all times. It is especially important in times of crisis when, as this case demonstrates, even clear principles and long-standing precedent are threatened. Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law.’
(This) violates the state’s constitutional clause that pension benefits ‘shall not be diminished or impaired,’ the Supreme Court affirmed Friday.”
Pensions & Investments Online

 

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Opt-Out Movement and Teachers: Opportunity Lost?

When Lily Eskelsen Garcia (NEA) and Randi Weingarten (AFT) both turn their backs on parents who oppose the corporate education scam of mandated high stakes testing, it is time to question why they are doing this.

Randi Weingarte and Lily Eskelsen

The National Opt-Out Movement is the single greatest grassroots opposition to corporate education ever. Hundreds of thousands of parents and their children have refused this attempt at a corporate attempt, in collusion with politicians they own by legally (?) financially supporting them. Many of these parents staunchly support their children’s teachers.

At the 2015 Network for Public Education National Conference both Lily and Randi mentioned the importance of the parental support of teachers. To push away from supporting parents in their efforts to stop and do away with corporate commanded high stakes testing is self destructive for both NEA and AFT as well as all of the teachers they are supposed to represent.

Randi said, “Every parent should have the right to opt out or not to opt out.” Huh?
Lily said, “
The opt out movement will not end toxic testing.” Huh?
Listen and view both of their comments HERE.

A short time later during the same NPE Conference, Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union President, proudly and thankfully told Diane Ravitch how parents with their supportive presence during the Chicago Teachers Union rallies played a vital role.
Listen and view HERE.

Since the vast majority of teachers are parents themselves, and since all teachers realize that all children are their children, this wonderful support should be no surprise.

The superb founders of United Opt Out National are parents and teachers. What this small band of good people began is astonishing. Separate local opt-out and refuse movements have flourished and multiplied.

Why won’t the two leaders of NEA and AFT return the favor?

Lily wants the mandated high stakes tests to continue in lessened numbers at state levels and on grade span testing. She made no mention of what private corporations will get these juicy contracts with money taken from public education tax funds.

Randi also wanted less testing and was even vaguer in her euphemisms.

Carefully listen to their very carefully worded comments.

This is precisely the corporate ploy being used by legislative cronies in state after state. By promising to beat children and teachers less often, somehow or other the beatings become acceptable.

As noted Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes so clearly stated in the early 1900s, “If it’s a bad rule, there is no reason for making a bad exception to it.”

High stakes testing and all of its accompanying abuses must end.

Teachers who legally act in loco parentis (in place of the parent) and parents are partners. Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Randi Weingarten know that. Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Randi Weingarten are in favor of CCSS which is used to fire teachers based on CCSS compliant tests which have no proof of being either valid or reliable. This is unconscionable. (Mercedes Schneider explains this in detail.)

Randi also went to the UK to grovel before Pearson as she recognized their right to power over American children, parents and teachers. OMG! (Mike Klonsky gives details and video footage of this.)

Lily claims that teachers should not ally with parents but must “change the world.” OMG! (Fred Klonsky gives his inquisitive opinion.)

As leaders of their separate teachers unions, there is no valid reason for this.

As individuals with separate power structures that form the basis for their social positions and incomes, there are indeed reasons for their behavior.

The cause of public education is larger than their personal positions. NEA and AFT need leaders, not egos with smiles and carefully selected words that preserve their personal careers.

Support the National Opt-Out Movement. Unite with parents. Serve the needs of all children.

It is not too late. The opportunity need not be lost. The teachers Lily and Randi serve know and want this. Unite with parents and serve the needs of our children.
Karen Lewis did.

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NPE Lessons LIVE and the Raw Truth: What do we need to do?

Viewing the LIVE coverage of the Network for Public Education Conference is an enlightening experience to say the least. The vast differences of experiences from teacher to teacher, age category to age category and location to location exposes an overview of the corporate education reform plan to treat teachers and teaching as mechanisms to be cheaply reproduced.

The end product has nothing to do with helping children to grow and become well educated, fulfilled adults. It’s all about corporate (Foundation) power, control and money.

Coincidentally, one letter from a teacher in Massachusetts in this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine lays bare a slice of raw truth.

Sisyphus2a

Letter of response to the Esther Kaplan article “The Spy Who Fired Me” [Report, March issue of Harper’s Magazine].

 

 

 

As a teacher in Massachusetts, I have witnessed a trend toward “accountability” prompted by Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core. Like UPS or Starbucks workers, teachers are now being electronically tracked by state education departments. Through PowerSchool, a program used for planning and grading, teachers are required to show that every lesson pertains to the assigned strand of the Common Core. If grades don’t meet expectations, teachers must provide research-based and data-driven strategies for improving them. In programs like TeachPoint, an elaborate, time-consuming self-evaluation, I have to provide evidence for twenty-five standards of instruction.

Teachers meet these new demands by disposing of creativity and flexibility. As a high school student, I wrote stories and plays in English class. Now kids learn to master the art of the state-mandated open-response question.

Charlotte Burns
Palmer, Mass.

Now is the time to learn the lessons presented by the speakers, panelists, and attendees at the NPE Conference.

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NPE and the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate has interfered with my being able to attend the Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago on April 25 & 26.

flying-fickle-finger-of-fate

I paid my fee, had my panel accepted, and then…

“Curse you, Flying Fickle Finger of Fate!” said I. (You may not be terribly upset by this news, but I am mightily miffed.)

If Fate has not kept you away, please walk, run, swim, cycle, drive, scooter, bus, choo-choo, fly or materialize to THE education conference filled with those who know the power and the promise of public education in America. (Details HERE.)

If for whatever reason Fate has denied you the opportunity to attend the conference –

“You can STILL watch the event unfold LIVE online, thanks to Vincent Precht at SchoolhouseLive.org. Just head over to http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org on Saturday morning at 8:30 am Central time and tune in. Almost like being there!”

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“Hah! Take THAT, you Flying Fickle Finger of Fate! I will watch the NPE Conference LIVE online, and my mind will soar.”
(Pass the message along to family and friends.)

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High Stakes Testing? It’s all about the power and the money – again.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature continue to play power games with high stakes testing while pretending to save the children and all of public education from testing harm.

This political posturing is similar to the man who murdered his parents and then claimed that he should not be jailed because he was an orphan.

Rick Scott plays for controlSince present Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to run for the U.S. Senate, he is posturing as being better than former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush – or tougher, or smarter, or anti-establishment, or whatever his PR department can claim. He is also planning to spend even more education funding to pay a private company to write some kind of review.

Gov. Scott Signs Bill to Limit Standardized Tests: The changes represent a departure for the Republican-controlled Legislature because it a step back from some of the reforms championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The new law caps statewide standardized testing at 45 hours a year. It would let school districts move up the start of the school year to Aug. 10.
The legislation would delay the release of this year’s school grades until an independent review of the new test can be performed. Other sanctions associated with annual testing would also be put on hold while the review is underway.
CBS Miami

Senate passes testing bill: The train wreck that is Florida’s accountability system was lambasted by Republican and Democratic senators, even by those who admitted to having voted for the ‘reforms’ over the years. “This is kind of backwards. What we’re doing is giving kids the test and then deciding afterwards whether or not we’re going validate the test,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, (D-Lake Worth). Sen. Lee called out Bush’s foundation for pushingto maintain the current level of testing for all the wrong reasons…
There are some provisions from the old version of the House bill included in this new improved Senate version and some new language for which we all lobbied. The new version includes: • Reduced impact of test scores on teacher evaluation to 33% (rather than 50%; • More detailed information about student performance on standards; • Validation of tests by an independent entity; • Elimination of the requirement of remedial classes in grades 6 -12; and • Local determination of progress monitoring. HB 7069 is far from perfect and does not do everything that parents and teachers wanted. The biggest problem is state testing requirements have not really changed and the much touted 5 % cap on testing seat time is frankly bogus as none of the state test related school disruption was addressed.
EducationVotesNEA – Florida

Rita Solnet, a major advocate for public education and students, politely states what common sense should have dictated to Scott and the legislature.


Rita Solnet, one of the founders of the group Parents Across America, said Scott should consider signing an executive order holding students harmless during the transition to new standards and exams.
“While we are pleased that the legislature dialed back some unattainable demands and that they engaged in a healthy discussion on how we must restore credibility to Florida’s accountability system, we are disappointed that children are still at risk of harsh penalties during this transitional period,” Solnet said in a statement.
No word yet on if Scott would consider taking that kind of action.”
Tampa Bay Times

Gov, Scott Signs Off on Earlier School Start, Testing Cuts: The law also relieves all students in the future from facing end of course exams in every subject that the state didn’t already have a written exam. The district also wins with this because it was district staff that was going to have to write what amounted to hundreds of such exams – but now won’t have to.
UPDATE: The law would put on hold using student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations – as previously planned. The FSA tests will undergo an evaluation to determine if the test is indeed valid – measuring what they’re supposed to measure. Promotion to fourth grade and graduation remains tied to the tests.
Palm Beach Post

Florida’s High Stakes Testing? It’s all about the power and the money – again.

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