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Wisconsin Ruling Proves Voting Rights Act can still be Effective

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After suffering a major setback last year in the Supreme Court, voting rights advocates are buoyed by a decision last week by a federal judge in Wisconsin striking down the state’s voter ID law as racially discriminatory.

John Ulin, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and trial counsel, said that U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s opinion in the case made clear that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still has teeth, even after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case, which sharply limited application of the landmark law.

“The court understands the reach of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to extend beyond challenges to legislative redistricting and to apply to both denial and practices that prevent people from registering and casting their ballot,” said Ulin. “The evidence in the case was critical and the opinion makes that clear.”

Last summer, a majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court gutted the VRA of 1965 by invalidating Section 4 of the law requiring any covered jurisdiction with a history of voting discrimination to pre-clear any voting changes with the Justice Department or a federal court before implementing the proposed changes.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman found enough evidence that Act 23, the law that required voters to present photo identification was unconstitutional under the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In his opinion, Adelman cited research conducted by Marc Levine, an urban studies and economic development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Levine said, “There’s little question that across the gamut of indicators that I’ve looked at that Milwaukee, and to the extent that I have indicators on Wisconsin, reveal the sharpest, most pervasive, most persistent, and most entrenched racial and ethnic socioeconomic disparities of virtually any region of the country.”

Levine testified that residential segregation and housing discrimination are major causes of the socioeconomic disparities between Whites and minorities in Wisconsin.

Research also showed that Black voters were “1.4 times as likely as White voters to lack a matching driver’s license or state ID.”

Writing in his opinion, Adelman said: “I find that the plaintiffs have shown that the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination. Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel), and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities.”

Meanwhile, state attorneys presented little credible evidence that in-person voter impersonation fraud had even occurred in any recent, major elections in the state and the two cases of “unexplained” votes cast were likely because of poll worker error.

“If it is occurring in Wisconsin to any significant extent, then at trial the defendants should have been able to produce evidence that it is,” said Adelman. “The absence of such evidence confirms that there is virtually no voter-impersonation fraud in Wisconsin.”

Ulin said that other cases challenging voter ID laws under Section 2 of the VRA didn’t have the factual record that they needed to find that the laws disproportionately affect Black and Latino voters.

Ulin told the story of Bettye Jones, a Black senior citizen and political activist from the Ohio, who moved to Wisconsin to be closer to her family. Jones was born in the South at time when 1 in 4 Blacks were born at home and not in a hospital where she would have received an official birth certificate, one of the documents necessary to receive a state-issued ID in Wisconsin. Jones and her daughter, Debra Crawford trekked to Tennessee, where Jones was born and attended school, searching for any records that would satisfy Wisconsin’s photo identification laws, enacted in 2011. After several failed attempts, the Division of Motor Vehicles offices in Wisconsin issued Jones a photo identification. Unfortunately, Jones died shortly before the 2012 elections in November.

In a press release issued after the judge’s ruling, Ulin said that the court victory belonged to witnesses like Bettye Jones and Lorene Hutchins, who also suffered a great burden in obtaining a Wisconsin photo ID, and refused to be silent.

“Sadly, neither Mrs. Jones nor Mrs. Hutchins lived to see this day, but their voices have been heard,” said Ulin.

Katherine Culliton-González, the director of voter protection at the Advancement Project said that it’s kind of a myth that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is only for vote dilution cases and the kind of cases that have to do with redistricting.

Culliton-González said that the Wisconsin case is absolutely a blueprint for other voters’ rights advocates to be successful in challenging restrictive voting laws that attempt to block, the poor and minorities from casting a vote.

“We’re involved in litigation against a voter ID law in North Carolina, which is also a more comprehensive voter suppression law, which includes cuts to same-day registration and cuts to early voting both of which also have a very severe impact on Black and Latino voters,” said Culliton-González.

Culliton-González continued: “This is a blueprint, not only with regards to voter ID claims in North Carolina and Texas and perhaps in other states, but also to other types of voter denial cases like cuts in early voting.”

States Making Choices that will Hurt College-Bound Students

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During the recession, states’ education expenditures—like everything else—took a substantial hit. But a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that even as the nation recovers, most states are still funding their public colleges well below pre-recession levels, with eight states continuing to make cuts.

The divestment is feeding a two-pronged stumbling block to success for today’s college students, especially those of color and/or from low-income homes, who are more likely to attend in-state public institutions.

First, these budget cuts are affecting the quality of education at public colleges and universities.

“States (and to a lesser extent localities) provide 53 percent of the revenue that can be used to support instruction at these schools,” the report states. “When this funding is cut, colleges and universities generally must either cut educational or other services, raise tuition to cover the gap, or both.”

These cuts often result in the loss of full-time, expert teacher positions in favor of switches to adjunct (contracted) instructors, the disintegration of entire departments and majors, truncated access to resources such as computer labs and libraries, and more.

For example, in 2011 the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill eliminated 16,000 course seats, four of its computer labs and two distance education centers. In 2012, Louisiana State University eliminated 1,210 full-time positions, including more than 220 faculty members. The University System of Georgia has merged independent state schools five times in the last two years. Nationwide, the number of faculty per student has declined.

In addition to the decline in educational quality, the decline in state investment is resulting in long-term financial instability for today’s students.

There’s the national trend known as the Great Cost Shift in which students and families, particularly low-income households, are shouldering more of the cost of keeping public colleges afloat. According to the report, enrollment fees, tuition, and other student charges accounted for 24 percent of state schools’ revenue in 1988. Today, schools rely on student charges for 48 percent of their revenues. Stated differently, in 1988 schools received 3.2 times as much in revenue from state and local government as they received from students in 1988—today, it’s just 1.1 times as much. In fact, at that time only two states—Vermont and New Hampshire, both very affluent—had average tuition amounts larger than state expenditures. By 2008 that had grown to 10 states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both have significant poverty. In eight states (including a few with large Black populations, such as Louisiana, Alabama, California, Georgia, and Florida), average tuition has jumped by more than 50 percent in six years.

The Great Cost Shift is directly feeding swelling student debt.

According to a 2012 report from the Center for American Progress, 81 percent of Black students who earned a bachelor’s took on debt to do it—and 27 percent of these students are on the hook for $30,500 or more. Earlier this year, the United Negro College Fund, the largest and oldest private minority financial aid organization, called for emergency aid to supplement the weakened public financial aid system. By the end of 2013, student loan debt had surpassed car and credit debt, with American students borrowing more than $1 trillion to pursue degrees.

“As students are asked to shoulder a greater burden, they resort to borrowing,” says Michael Mitchell, co-author of the report. “Over 2008 to 2012, there’s been a major increase in debt, especially for low-income families, because financial aid is no longer covering the costs.”

And the financial indebtedness extends well past college.

In an effort to mitigate costs, students, especially low-income students, are choosing less competitive and less selective intuitions, despite being academically qualified for more prestigious institutions.

“Where a student decides to go to college has broad economic implications, especially for disadvantaged students and students of color,” the report states, citing a 2011 study which found that, “students who had parents with less education, as well as African-American and Latino students, experienced higher postgraduate earnings by attending more elite colleges relative to similar students who attended less-selective universities.”

There are the students who aspire to attend college but are deterred by the rising cost and even their family’s ineligibility for loans. As of 2008, only 44 percent of high-scoring students in the bottom 25 percent of household income enroll in college, compared to the 80 percent of students in the top income bracket. According to research cited in the report, 65 percent of all American jobs will require at least some college by 2020.

Ultimately, this widespread disinvestment and its results have implications for the future of the American economy. which makes it difficult for recent college graduates to enter the middle class. This debt deters many from even attending college. Those who do attend and graduate go into repayment and cannot afford homeownership, advance degrees that qualify them for highly skilled careers, or full participation in the economy as a consumer.

“College attainment has grown increasingly important to long-term economic outcomes for states and the nation. Research suggests that states should strive to expand college access and increase college graduation rates to help build a strong middle class and develop the skilled workforce needed to compete in today’s global economy,” the report stated.

While these cutbacks in higher education funding were undoubtedly caused by the recession, current state tax and budget decisions are perpetuating the decline.

“While some states are experiencing greater-than-anticipated revenue growth due to an economy that is slowly returning to normal, state tax revenues are barely above pre-recession levels,” the report explains. “To bring higher education back to pre-recession levels, many states may need to supplement that revenue growth with new revenue to fully make up for years of severe cuts.”

The report also highlights Florida as an example of poor budgeting. According to the report, Florida’s higher education funding is 30 percent below 2007 levels, while tuition at its public four-year schools is up 66 percent. Despite this, the legislature has cut taxes by $400 million, making it financially impossible for the state to adequately reinvest in its college students.

“I cant stress enough how much the source of these problems are policy choices, not income,” says Mitchell. “Essentially state law makers are making decisions today that will have serious economic significance for students later in life.”

Federal financial aid has significantly increased since the recession. Between 2007 and 2013, need-based Pell grants have doubled, allowing the government to not only award students, but also increase the individual award from $2,975 to $3,704, on average. The report also cites College Board data, which finds that this and other federal measures have offset 73 percent of the tuition hike paid by the average American student.

The extra federal funding is also largely a stopgap measure. According to the report, the approved House of Representatives 2015 budget proposal calls for a $125 billion cut in Pell grants over the next decade, plus new eligibility restrictions and a cap on grant amounts.

However, the funds have already gone a long way at community colleges, where out-of-pocket cost for the average student is on the decline.

“It’s impossible to overstate the impact of the recession, but states had the option of taking a balanced approach over the course of the recession,” Mitchell explains. “As revenues start to come back to pre-recession levels, state legislatures really have a choice to make now to rebuild their states’ higher education systems.”

Obama Administration to Grade Teacher Training

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Teachers have always graded students. The Obama administration feels the time has come for someone to grade teachers.

Teacher training programs—from colleges and universities, to for-profit certification courses and non-profit preparatory programs—have few, if any, external evaluation systems to check for and improve quality. In fact, only five states (Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida) gather data on quality among their in-state programs.

“We have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other,” said Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said when announcing the new federal initiative.

The Department of Education plans to build upon existing strategies, and guide every state to develop its own evaluation systems. The plan also intends to create a “feedback loop” by making the information gathered available to aspiring teachers, schools and districts, and the public.

Teachers beginning their careers feel especially ill-equipped.

Darryl Green worked as a salesman before coming a teacher in Baltimore County 16 years ago – and he is glad that he did.

“I was not prepared at all,” he recounted. “My content analysis was fine, but…entering the classroom setting is totally different than portrayed in the books. It was my first career that really helped me with my second. With sales you have to educate a person, then you can sell them on something. With teaching it’s the other way around.”

Green was not alone.

Newly-released data from the Department of Education show 62 percent of new teachers don’t feel prepared when they enter the field. Yet, 96 percent of teaching candidates pass their licensing exams.

And the students who suffer from teachers without proper training are the students who need the very best instructors.

“From my observation, it seems new teachers are placed in low-performing schools. Even if the school is not underperforming, new teachers are given classes with the most challenges,” said Adrian Layne, a veteran teacher in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public School system. “Some teachers are not ready for the schools in which they are placed.”

Some, such as non-profit training program, Teach for America, welcome the federal intervention.

“We are very pleased that the administration is taking action to help us identify and learn from top-performing teacher-preparation programs,” said co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard. “We stand with our colleagues across the education community in our commitment to ensure that all teacher preparation programs are supported in producing capable teachers for our nation’s children.”

Green also welcomes the program—but for different reasons.

“We most definitely need these standards. I’m seeing too many new teachers coming in at different levels, depending on what school they come from,” says Green, who was his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2012 and is preparing to earn a master of arts in teaching. “If the teachers don’t know what to expect, how can the students know what to expect?”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, offered partial praise for the plan.

“We need a systemic approach to preparing teachers and a higher threshold to ensure that every teacher is ready to teach on his or her first day in the classroom,” Weingarten said. “This is what we’re looking for in any change to state or federal policy. Not a quick-fix, test-and-punish, market-based ranking of programs, but real solution-driven change that will support programs in preparing confident and competent teachers… but the devil is the details and we’ve got to get this right.”

Identifying those details—the factors that should be used to rate teaching programs—will be tricky.

Layne believes the measurements should consider basic statistics and demographic information, such as number of graduates who become teachers, but feels student performance should be off limits. .

Green believes that teacher performance should be one of the markers of program success; and that student performance, including standardized test scores, should be a part of that evaluation.

“Among other factors, yes; learning gains should be considered,” says Takirra Winfield, a senior media representative for Teach for America. “We must focus on increasing the diversity of our teacher candidates, especially in America’s highest need communities, to reflect the background and diversity of our students. Culturally-responsive teaching empowers our students and uses instruction that cuts across many disciplines and cultures to engage learners.”

The Department of Education 2015 budget proposal calls for more than $2.5 billion to cultivate effective teachers on a state level.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to standardize, but I don’t think a thing like teacher training programs can be standardized,” Layne said. “I hope if they do this, that it will help the quality of teacher education to make sure every student is learning.”

Head of NAACP’s L.A. Chapter Resigns Amid Sterling Fiasco

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP has resigned amid backlash over a plan to give beleaguered Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling an award for civil rights.

The NAACP’s national office said Leon Jenkins stepped down Thursday.

Jenkins was set to give Sterling an NAACP lifetime achievement award later this month but canceled those plans after revelations over the weekend of an audio recording that captured Sterling making racist comments about blacks, including his desire for his biracial girlfriend to publicly disassociate with black people.

“Please be advised that the legacy, history and reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the presidency,” Jenkins said a statement. “In order to separate the Los Angeles NAACP and the NAACP from the negative exposure I have caused the NAACP, I respectfully resign my position as president of the Los Angeles NAACP.”

Sterling ultimately received a lifetime suspension and maximum $2.5 million fine from the NBA, which also seeks to remove him as team owner.

Benjamin Jealous Joins the Center for American Progress as Senior Fellow

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By Roz Edward
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress announced that Benjamin Jealous, partner at Kapor Capital and former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, will be joining CAP as a Senior Fellow. Within his new role, Jealous will focus on tracking political trends impacting civil and human rights and will contribute to developing policy solutions that ensure equity and opportunity for all Americans.

“Ben has a long and outstanding history of dedicating his talents toward defending the civil rights of all Americans and is a proven civic leader and public servant,” said Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress. “Promoting social and economic fairness and opportunity should be a priority for policymakers across the political spectrum, and we are thrilled to welcome Ben to CAP and look forward to working with him to find innovative solutions to narrowing the gaps in opportunity and achievement for all Americans.”

“I am pleased to be joining the Center for American Progress,” said Jealous. “I look forward to focusing on the future – how America can maintain its position as the world leader in innovation and job creation, while expanding the culture of democratic and economic inclusion that has made the advances of the past 50 years possible.”

Jealous, who was appointed president and CEO of the NAACP in 2008, focused the organization on voting rights and criminal justice reform and oversaw the launch of several national programs focused on education, health, and environmental justice during his tenure as the organization’s president. The youngest person ever appointed to lead the organization, Jealous also expanded the NAACP’s capacity to organize around issues pertaining to the economy and voter registration and mobilization.

In March 2014, Jealous joined Kapor Capital, an Oakland-based firm that leverages the tech sector to create progressive social change.

Jealous’ career began in 1991, when he served as a community organizer in Harlem with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Among his many achievements and accolades, Jealous was named one of Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40? rising stars of American politics in 2010 and was recently named a young global leader by the World Economic Forum.

A graduate of Columbia University and Oxford University and a Rhodes Scholar, Jealous also served as the president of the Rosenberg Foundation and was the founding director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights Program.

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