The time Bernie Sanders stood up to Teach for America

Morgan Harper rakes it in, and a fight over sexual misconduct data in D.C schools

This week I have a story up at The Intercept looking at a little-known part of Bernie Sanders’s education record in the Senate, that reflects a lot of how he’s served — staking out positions, regardless of popularity, because he believes they are just right and reasonable.

In this case, there was a whole battle linked to the No Child Left Behind Act about who should be considered a “highly qualified teacher” (HQT) under federal law. No Child Left Behind said all students were entitled to HQTs, defined as educators in core subjects who have bachelor’s degrees, demonstrate content knowledge, and obtain state teaching certificates or pass state licensing exams. The goal was to ensure all educators were sufficiently prepared before running their own classroom.

School districts could still hire non-certified teachers — but the deal was if they did that, then parents had to be notified that their child was being taught by such a teacher, the school district had to make sure it wasn’t concentrating all their non-certified teachers with low-income students and students of color, and the school districts had to develop plans for how they would reach the goal of 100 percent HQTs in the future.

Sounds fair enough, except Teach for America — the national organization that recruits students from competitive colleges to teach in public schools for two years — didn’t like the idea of their participants not being deemed “highly qualified” from day one. So TFA, an influential organization in D.C., lobbied to get a change to the law, and in 2002 the U.S. Department of Education issued a regulation that said “highly qualified” teachers could now also include unlicensed teachers for up to three years if they were making progress toward their certification. Problem solved for TFA.

But civil rights groups later sued over this regulation, leading to a court battle, and eventually a fight in Congress, where Bernie Sanders played a leading role. Read what happened here.

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Remember Morgan Harper? She’s a 36-year-old progressive running for Congress in Columbus, Ohio and Ryan Grim and I were the first to give her race national coverage over the summer. Last week she released her first-quarter fundraising haul, raking in a whopping $323,000.

Harper is challenging Rep. Joyce Beatty, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2013. It’s a safe blue district, so a Democrat will be winning that seat no matter what.

I wrote about Harper’s recent fundraising, along with some other primary challengers who are showing that small-dollar donations can really add up.

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And lastly, for education folks and local D.C. readers: today I have a piece at Washington City Paper on a strange, developing situation about efforts made by D.C parents and local transparency advocates to learn which schools have had “substantiated” allegations of sexual misconduct between students and adults. (The city confirmed in August that there have been six such incidents since January 2018, but has declined to share where.)

One of the strangest aspects of the story is that city officials are saying not only will they not share which schools have had “substantiated” allegations of sexual misconduct because they fear disclosure could harm past and future victims, but also that they don’t even have any records that would reveal the names of the schools. Despite investigating the allegations? Hmmm.


Thanks as always for reading, subscribing, and supporting this work!

A labor win for 40,000 childcare workers

Temps at GM & Nina Turner's education shift

Happy Friday! It’s been a busy, hectic time in Washington with impeachment blowing up and the primary season kicking into full gear. I apologize for falling a little behind on this newsletter.

I have a few new stories to share:

At The American Prospect I wrote about a big win in California for more than 40,000 childcare providers, who this week won the right to collectively bargain. They’ve been fighting for this to pass for the last sixteen years, and California now joins eleven other states in granting bargaining rights to childcare workers. I talked to some providers about what this means for them, and looked at why it took so long to pass in a state that’s typically been at the forefront of expanding labor rights.

At The Intercept I looked at Nina Turner’s role as an Ohio state legislator pushing education reform in Cleveland. Turner is now co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s campaign, and was previously president of Our Revolution, the spinoff group of his 2016 race. Sanders has long opposed private school vouchers and has taken a critical position on charters during his presidential campaign, but back in 2012 Turner was seen as a national hero to charter and private school voucher advocates. I looked at what was going on back then in Ohio, the changing positions of many Democrats around these issues, and talked to Turner.

And lastly, today marks Day 19 of the General Motors strike, which some analysts have said may have cost GM more than $1 billion so far. Last week at The Intercept I looked at GM’s desire to maintain its two-tiered labor system, one with full-time permanent employees, and another with “temporary workers” who are more easily disposable, and receive less pay and benefits. The striking UAW workers want to end to this dual system, and it’s been one of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations so far. Nobody knows at this point how it will end.

Thanks a lot for reading, and have a good weekend!

Capturing carbon, and a huge week for strikes

Yesterday over four million people, on seven continents, in over 150 countries, took to the streets for a youth-led global climate strike. Next week world leaders are meeting at the United Nations headquarters for a big climate summit, and the strike is one way activists hope to put pressure on countries to make big environmental commitments.

I went to the climate strike in D.C., where we marched down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol building and called on Congress to take this crisis seriously.


There was a lot of sign love (rightly) for Greta Thunberg.

Another remarkable thing that’s been going on this week is an effort by over 250 news outlets to focus a week of dedicated coverage to the climate crisis, in advance of the UN summit. (Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation helped spearhead this, and you can read more about the #CoveringClimateNow project here.)

My contribution is this story on carbon-capture technology for The Intercept. Carbon-capture, at first blush, can sound like dark science fiction: A suite of technologies to capture carbon dioxide from industrial processes and power generation before it’s released into the atmosphere, and to suck out CO2 from the air that’s already been emitted. And backed by oil and gas companies to boot.

Groups on the environmental left have long opposed carbon-capture technology, seeing it as yet another misguided subsidy for the fossil fuel industry, and something that would also detract from moving the planet away from harmful energy sources once and for all. One issue critics are running into, though, is the growing consensus by the International Panel on Climate Change (largely understood as the world’s science referee) that we’re not going to meet global climate targets by midcentury if we don’t remove some of the carbon that’s already been released into the atmosphere. The climate jargon for this is “negative emissions.” There are debates going on right now over how much negative emissions could come from “natural carbon-capture” strategies like planting trees, and each approach brings different limits and tradeoffs.

Aside from that, another political issue for skeptics and opponents is that some allies the environmental left will need to pass any sort of Green New Deal — like organized labor — broadly support advancing the technology. While U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’s recently released climate plan includes outright opposition to carbon-capture tech, calling it a “false solution”, some groups on the left have been warming to the idea under certain conditions, and I look at those dynamics.

You can read The Intercept story here (and the rest of The Intercept’s #CoveringClimateNow coverage compiled here.)


Besides the climate strike, this has also been a major week for labor strikes. Yesterday 6,500 nurses across four states launched a one-day strike calling for improved working conditions and higher pay. Also going on right now is the largest strike against a US business since the financial crisis. It began on Monday, as autoworkers with the UAW went on strike against General Motors, an auto company which earned $11.8 billion in profit in 2018. The last time the UAW workers went on strike was in 2007, and their labor stoppage lasted two days. We’re on day 6.

I wrote about the UAW strike earlier this week for VICE, and focused specifically on the fights workers are having with GM over proposed healthcare cuts. You can read some history about how we got employer-sponsored health insurance in the first place, and how in the 1980s some workers went on strike for nearly three years when their employer asked them to pay more in healthcare costs. Read the VICE story here.


For those in DC, I will make one more plug for a panel I’m moderating Tuesday night at the Black Cat on public school transparency. We’ve got five great speakers joining me, and I think it should really interesting. Register here.

Thanks for reading and supporting this! And if you’re not currently a paying subscriber and inclined to help me do more of this work, please do consider subscribing. Have a great weekend.

Cover story: K-12 Street

I am proud to share my new investigation published this week in Washington City Paper. I’ve written about charter schools on and off for the past five years, and over that time I’ve realized that the charter sector in Washington D.C. commands a lot more power than charter sectors in other cities and states. I didn’t really understand why, I just knew in terms of resources, and degree of legal independence, it looked pretty different compared to some other cities I had reported on.

The more local stories I did here, the more I grew curious to understand why D.C. is so different. I knew enough to know that there were some influential groups working in the advocacy space, but the details were fuzzy. In February I submitted a proposal to the Fund for Investigative Journalism, asking for their support to help me report this story out. The Fund for Investigative Journalism is a 50-year-old organization that awards grants to freelance writers and nonprofits. In the past half-century, they’ve awarded 1,443 grants for reporting projects and in March I was very happy to learn I’d be one of them.

One cool thing about the opportunity was they asked if I wanted to be paired with a journalism mentor. I said yes, and they asked in what area I would like mentorship, and I said if is anyone available with expertise in lobbying that would be very helpful. FIJ paired me with James Grimaldi, a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his reporting on the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. I felt really grateful lucky to have his guidance as I went through this project.

What makes something “investigative reporting” vs. reporting? I think sometimes the term can be unnecessarily intimidating, or off-putting, to otherwise capable journalists who could definitely do great investigations if given the time and support.

If I were to try and explain it — I would say an investigation is a pursuit you can take when you have a lot more time than is typical. You have more space to chase down different leads, to try out different methods of uncovering information, coax sources into leaking information. Normally that time just isn’t available at all, especially for a freelancer. With this story, I had the time to file a lot of different public records requests (and then fight for those to be complied with), interview a lot of different people, hunt down obscure records, read books, and do the kind archival research that normally journalists just can’t justify undertaking. Investigative journalism also tends to come with some greater risk. You are more likely to be investigating the claims made by people in power, digging around to see how well they stand up. Verifying information is a staple of regular reporting too, of course, but the means to corroborate can be different, simply because they’re more constrained.

Read it here: How Charter Schools Won D.C. Politics

If you’re in the DC area: you can grab a free print copy around town for the next week. Also if you’re in DC, mark your calendars for 6 PM on September 24th! I will be moderating a panel at the Black Cat on school transparency, hosted by City Paper. Event info here.

On "Solidarity for Climate Action"

And what it could mean for a Green New Deal

In 2006, a number of labor unions and environmental groups formed a national coalition under the banner of the BlueGreen Alliance. It was meant to serve as an example of how climate groups and unions could work together to tackle global warming. In practice though, it was mostly a “green jobs” initiative, and it steered clear of a lot of the more controversial climate fights over the last decade.

But this past summer the BlueGreen Alliance took a big step forward, and released an eight-page document outlining their concrete vision to tackle both climate change and inequality. It’s a fascinating and important development, especially given the clout and influence of some of the coalition members, like the Sierra Club, the SEIU, the League of Conservation Voters, the Communications Workers of America, the National Wildlife Federation and others.

The platform also brings into relief some of the competing visions for climate action that leaders, and perhaps especially Democrats, will have to navigate going forward. For example some aspects of the BlueGreen Alliance platform stand directly in opposition with parts of Bernie Sanders’s climate plan, released last week.

As I write in the piece:

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. “We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy—to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

Here’s what a top official at the BlueGreen Alliance had to say about the story:

You can read the full In These Times story here.

And thank you for your support! And if you like this story, please consider subscribing to keep this sort of reporting going:

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