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THE RIGHT 'CHOICE'

In the first statewide race since the presidential election, Wisconsin voters gave George W. Bush's education program a failing grade. They overwhelmingly rejected a State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate who echoed W's enthusiasm for educational vouchers, corporate "partnerships" and initiatives that weaken teacher unions. Linda Cross, who was backed by top conservatives in Wisconsin and nationally, was defeated by

Elizabeth Burmaster

About the Author

John Nichols
John Nichols
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated...

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A Dickensian year when food stamps were cut and bankers got everything they wanted

The USPS will deliver 15.5 billion pieces of mail this season. Yet it is threatened by devastating closures and cuts.

, a high school principal whose defense of public education earned enthusiastic support from

Wisconsin Citizen Action

, the

AFL-CIO

and progressives like US Representative

Tammy Baldwin

. Burmaster prevailed by a 60-40 margin, carrying seventy-one of seventy-two counties in the April 3 voting. Then she came out fighting. "Don't balance your budget on the backs of our children," she told federal and state officials. That brought a rebuke from the GOP chairman of the state Assembly Education Committee, who called Burmaster "too outspoken" and added, "I think it's time now that she quiets down the rhetoric." Burmaster replied, "There's more to this transition than just changing the name on the door. I will be an activist state superintendent."... On the same day Burmaster won, Milwaukee voters tossed out the conservative local school board president and elected a slate of four critics of private school choice experiments and other "reforms" promoted by the right-wing Bradley Foundation, Mayor John Norquist and ex-Governor Tommy Thompson, Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary. Among those elected was

Jennifer Morales

, a critic of corporate influence on public education who works with the

Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education

.

CONSTITUTIONAL LITERACY

Last year

Liz Armstrong

, a high school biology teacher near Richmond, Virginia, got a lesson on the rights of students--and teachers--in an era of "zero tolerance." She was fired for objecting when administrators entered her classroom without suspicion and searched students for drugs and weapons. This April at American University's Washington College of Law, Armstrong was honored by the

Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program

with the first

Mary Beth Tinker Award

, for the Person Who Most Courageously Defends the Rights of Students. Tinker's suspension from a Des Moines junior high school for wearing an antiwar armband led to the 1969 Supreme Court ruling extending free speech protections to students. Now a

Service Employees International Union

organizer, Tinker presented the award during a daylong session at which 200 students from Washington and Maryland were recognized for participating in a Marshall-Brennan constitutional literacy course. (A poetry slam was judged by

Cecilia Marshall

, widow of Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall

.) Says AU law professor

Jamin Raskin

, "In the Tinker case thirty-two years ago, Justice Abe Fortas said public schools cannot be 'enclaves of totalitarianism.' Yet too many schools are that today--as the Armstrong case illustrates."

BLACK HAWK DOWN

When Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation officials gathered in Washington to instruct lobbyists on pressuring Congress to increase the current $221 million allocation for purchases of the corporation's Black Hawk helicopters, used by the Colombian military, they were joined by six

Oberlin College

students. The women entered a National Guard museum conference room where the meeting was taking place, locked arms inside piping and then locked themselves around a pillar. Said

Kate Berrigan

--Phil's daughter--"We are here to let the Sikorsky Corporation know that they cannot profit off war and the suffering of the people of Colombia." Corporate officials hastily canceled the session as 100 activists--in town for a

School of the Americas Watch

lobbying day--gathered outside the building. The Oberlin students are members of the

Oberlin Peace Activist League

, which works with the

Colombia Support Network

to challenge US military involvement in Colombia. The six, who were arrested and charged with unlawful entry, are due back in DC for trial June 20. "We're going to do everything we can to put Sikorsky on trial," says

Laurel Paget-Seekins

, one of those arrested. "We want to see what a jury thinks about a corporation that lobbies Congress to intervene in another country so it can make a profit."

CAMPUS CRUSADES

Citing "social responsibility" concerns,

American University

administrators announced on April 11 that the school would drop its contract with Sodexho-Marriott Services. That's a big win for the

Not With Our Money Campaign

of the

Prison Moratorium Project

, which has taken on Sodexho-Marriott, provider of food service at 900 universities in the United States and Canada. The firm's French parent company is the largest shareholder in Corrections Corporation of America, the world's biggest for-profit prison company.

SUNY Albany

, Maryland's

Goucher College

, Washington's

Evergreen State

, Virginia's

James Madison University

and

Oberlin

have also dumped Sodexho-Marriott. "We've shown that student activists can hold prison profiteers accountable," says Adam Choka, an American University student.... At Yale, which holds the patent on the AIDS drug Zerit, 600 students and staff petitioned the administration to pressure Bristol-Myers Squibb to remove barriers to affordable production of the drug. The company did so in March, sparking interest in activism at other schools holding drug patents.

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