An Ethiopian Jew’s Journey

— by Hannah Lee

I met Barak Avraham, known as Malaku in his native Amharic, during his 2-week tour of the United States on behalf of AMIT, which supports a network of 108 schools and programs in 29 cities in Israel. Avraham’s personal story is a marvelous case study of how AMIT schools turn around individual lives and whole towns. His trek began at age 9 when he walked, with his mother and four siblings, for three weeks from their village of Abu Zava to the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. Sleeping outdoors at night, they were at the peril of anti-Semites, who recognized them as Jews and strangers. (His non-Jewish father, already divorced, stayed at home.)

More after the jump.
Back in their village, his maternal family dreamed of going to Jerusalem, a place like Paradise where people wear white garments and they do not have to work. After waiting eight months, they were accepted for flight aboard the covert Operation Solomon, which airlifted over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in a 36-hour mission in May, 1991. Before boarding, Avraham’s mother buried their remaining Ethiopian money, birr, because she thought they would not need money in the Promised Land.

Avraham’s memories of his childhood in Ethiopa included Pesach, when they eagerly anticipated the gift of matzot delivered by shluchim (emissaries), homemade soccer balls fashioned from old socks and electrical wire, and a world without television or cars, just as life was lived 200 years before. The transition from a traditional society to a modern one was especially hard for the elders, such as his grandparents who arrived later. His family spent a year in an absorption center, merkaz klita, learning to adjust to Israeli ways, including eating with forks and knives. Ethiopian foods, such as teff and injera, are eaten with the right hand.

Growing up in a rough neighborhood and with a single mother, Avraham lost his way when he was in his “foolish teen years,” tipesh esrei, when he was expelled from one school after another. No one wanted him any longer. This was a painful period for his mother, who cried in shame and sadness. “I decided that I was going to change. That if my mother was going to cry because of me, it would be with pride, not from sorrow.” On the advice of a friend attending school at the AMIT Kfar Blatt Youth Village in Petach Tikva, he wrote a letter of appeal to the director, Amiran Cohen. A visionary educator, Cohen had him sign a pledge of changes he would make in his life.

Cohen, who became a special friend, and the support network of surrogate parents, teachers, and social workers helped Avraham focus his intelligence. He had always been told that he had “much potential.” Upon passing the bagrut, matriculation exams, he was accepted into an elite intelligence unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and served with distinction as an outstanding soldier. His mother cried with pride and joy at this completion ceremony.

The IDF taught him discipline and it broadened Avraham’s horizons. He listened as his army mates of different backgrounds from all over the country shared their dreams for the future. He knew then he had to get an education, which was assisted by an IMPACT scholarship from the Friends of the IDF. He was the valedictorian and the top Ethiopian student graduating with a degree in government diplomacy from The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Later, when he earned a master’s in public service, also from the IDC, he gave a speech before an audience of 4,000 and his mother cried again from joy.

Now 30, Avraham is an entrepreneur and founder of an Internet start-up company and manager of a teen community house in Petach Tikva. He is also coordinator of a new program at the AMIT Rambam Elementary School in Netanya. Rambam was a failing school. The Ministry of Education appealed to AMIT to rescue this school, and AMIT now plans to designate it a magnet school, an innovative model that brings together in one school the top-achieving students with the most needy ones. Avraham’s program includes football (soccer to Americans), mentoring, and parent support. Coming from the same poor neighborhood and background, Avraham gives the children confidence that they, too, can succeed.

Avraham’s newest dream is to join the Knesset in the next election. A Social Democrat, he parts ways with the older Ethiopians who tend to vote Likud, although “it’s capitalist,” and they’re poor but they vote for the country’s security needs. His mother, for one, cannot bear to hear anything bad against Israel. (The Yesh Atid party, which won 19 seats in January, has two Ethiopians in its cabinet.) Barak Avraham’s future was paved by the caring leaders and staff of the AMIT schools.

Social Consequences of Food Allergy

— by Catharine Alvarez

A recent study published in Pediatrics reported that over 30% of children with food allergies say they have been bullied about their allergies. Previous studies have also found that having a food allergy puts a child at risk for bullying. I’d like to share my experience with raising two children with food allergies and examine why bullying is such a problem for this group.

Les Misérables food allergy parody “One Grain More” the story of a “Food Allergy Party” by Michael Bihovsky with Dena Blumenthal, Megan Ermilio, Lily Bayrock, Michael DeFlorio, Bernie Langer, Matthew Dorsch and Liz Sanders.

More after the jump.
Food sharing is one of the most basic social constants in human culture.  We use food as our social glue. When a group shares food, we are saying we are a family, a team, a tribe. Many cultural traditions and religious rituals involve the sharing of food. We use it both as an offering and as a way of increasing our status within the group. We use it as a way of connecting with one another. So what are the consequences when an individual cannot participate in these most basic of social interactions? Asking this question can help us understand the social stigma of food allergies.

I have two children with anaphylactic food allergies who experienced this stigma during the time they were in public school. When I was new to the world of food allergies, I didn’t understand why many people seemed so resistant to accommodating the needs of my children. Why did they feel so angry about restrictions placed on bringing treats to class for holidays and birthdays? To me, it seemed obvious that a child’s safety should be placed above custom, and yet there were a few parents and teachers who intentionally circumvented the rules, and others who obeyed, but grudgingly. I learned that they viewed the safety rules as arbitrary barriers preventing them and their children from participating in the food sharing traditions they felt were vital for their own and their children’s social connections and standing.

Now let’s look at the same situation from the perspective of a child with food allergies. Whenever cupcakes were brought to class, my son was not able to eat one. Yes, we did provide him with some other treat, but the deeper message was that he could not share what the others were eating, and was not part of the group. Every event based on food sharing was a reminder of his separateness. It was also a reminder that the adults in charge did not think he was important enough to be included.

An example of the kind of food sharing interaction we all take for granted:
A parent comes to the class bringing cupcakes. Each student is offered a cupcake and enjoys the sweet treat. The students’ trust and liking for this parent is increased. The birthday student is a celebrity for a day, and when the other kids have their birthdays, they ask their parents to bring cupcakes.

What happens when there is a student with a food allergy in the class:
A parent brings cupcakes to class. My son is offered a cupcake, but he must say, “No thank you, I have food allergies.” He is allergic to egg, and these cupcakes almost certainly contain egg. This is the first moment where the food sharing ritual breaks down. The food allergic person is forced to refuse the offer of food. In many cultures, refusing an offer of food is considered rude. Even though he gives the reason (food allergies) this is often not accepted. People become defensive, and don’t believe that the allergy is real or serious. They offer objections: Their friend’s child is allergic to egg but can tolerate baked goods, so this cupcake is okay. A little bit won’t hurt. They are pretty sure the item doesn’t contain eggs, and so on. To them, his rejection of the food feels like a rejection of the person offering it.

Children with food allergies are put in the difficult social position of having to stand up to adults who are determined to give them unsafe food. My son tries to mollify them by saying, “It’s okay, I have my own treat.” Or he will take it and “save it for later,” but trying to avoid the stigma of the food allergy by saying that he is not hungry is not very effective because this is also seen as a rejection of the person offering the food. Eating his own treat does not serve the same symbolic social function as sharing what everyone else is eating. In fact, it carries the opposite meaning: he is separate, and not part of the group. Having to refuse the offered food sends the message, “I don’t trust you, and I don’t want to be part of your group.”

Even if the food allergic student’s parents try to compensate by bringing safe food to share with the whole group, the inability to reciprocate by accepting food from others creates stigma. When the parent of a food allergic child overcompensates by bringing multiple offers of food to the group, that is often met with resentment from the other parents who feel they are not given equal opportunities to share. This is a no-win situation, and the resentment of the group is expressed as ostracism of the allergic child and his family.

Many times, excluding the allergic child is rationalized:

  • He needs to get used to being left out because food allergies are a fact of his life.
  • Kids shouldn’t feel entitled to special treatment; the world isn’t going to change for them.
  • She’s used to being left out; it doesn’t bother her.
  • This child’s parents are overprotective; this level of caution is unnecessary.
  • Other people with food allergies can eat this, so this should be good enough for her, too.

The reality is that kids with food allergies get plenty of practice at being excluded. Far from feeling entitled to special treatment, they internalize the message that their food allergies are a burden to others. Children with food allergies do not take inclusion for granted. This is especially true for children with multiple food allergies, or who are highly sensitive to the allergens. They are at the greatest risk for stigmatization because the necessary precautions seem unusual to people. In addition, there are many people with food allergies who are not aware of best practices for food allergy management, and their casual approach to the risks involved is seen as more socially acceptable.

Modeling exclusion

My daughter’s teacher once decided to bring candy to the class for Easter. Since it was a last minute decision, the teacher didn’t take the time to ask me which candy was safe for my daughter who is allergic to peanuts. She gave the candy to all the children, including my daughter who tried to refuse it. When my daughter wouldn’t eat the candy, she was told she could eat a leftover part of her sandwich from her lunchbox while her classmates enjoyed the candy. My daughter was six years old.

When adults exclude the child with food allergies, they are modeling exclusion for everyone. They are sending a message to all the kids that it is okay to exclude the allergic child, and a message to the allergic child that they are not worth including. Many kids with food allergies are bullied at school because of this social stigma. Allergic children deserve to feel safe and that their well-being is important to the adults in charge. They deserve to have their basic needs for safety and inclusion met.

Take a moment to look at this diagram. If it looks familiar, that is probably because it is based on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Notice that the need to belong is part of the base of the pyramid. We are all social beings, and belonging is a basic, human need. The power of that need is probably greatest in adolescence, and that is reflected in the fact that teens are at a greater risk of dying from their food allergies than younger children. Years of social stigma take their toll, and teens may place a higher priority on inclusion than safety. And in the school context, when kids’ basic needs are not being met, their ability to learn is compromised.

If we can bring awareness to these very human reactions, we can choose to respond differently. We can choose to include kids with food allergies. This is going to require effort because accommodating food allergies means conscientiously checking ingredient labels and carefully cleaning cooking utensils and surfaces. It means talking to the child’s parents to find out what is safe. It means accepting that those parents may not feel comfortable trusting their child’s life to home baked cupcakes, and choosing to center a party around non-food activities instead. It means remembering that families with food allergies live with those inconveniences every day. Most kids take being included for granted. Imagine what it means to a child with food allergies.

What can you do?

As a parent of a child with food allergies you can:

  • Advocate for inclusion at school, and help raise awareness
  • Mitigate some of the exclusion by volunteering to share safe food
  • Support your child’s self-advocacy efforts

As a teacher you can:

  • Choose to use non-food items for class projects, manipulatives, and incentives
  • Promote celebrations that focus on activities rather than food
  • Support the self-advocacy of children with food allergies

As a parent of a child without food allergies you can:
Choose to send non-food treats for holidays and birthdays
Make an effort to include the allergic child in social events outside of school
Model compassion for kids with food allergies to your own children

Catharine Alvarez, PhD studied applied mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently home schooling her two children while independently studying psychology and game theory.

She writes about education, food allergies, advocacy, and mathematics, and moderates online interest groups for food allergies and math education.

Film Chat: From Swastika to Jim Crow

— by Hannah Lee

On Monday, the National Museum of American Jewish History again waived its admission fee and opened its doors on a day when it is usually closed to the public, and hosted a full day of programs in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The museum’s new exhibit is “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow,” about the experiences of Jewish refugee scholars who were driven from Europe by the Nazis who found teaching positions at black institutions in the American South of Jim Crow laws. And, in keeping with the spirit of the day, the museum organized a screening of the documentary film that inspired the exhibit, as well as a discussion with one of the filmmakers, Steven Fischler, of Pacific Street Films. Up to 900 people visited that day.

More after the jump.
Soon after Adolf Hitler took leadership in Germany in January, 1933, the Nazi Party issued laws to ban Jewish scholarship and pedagogy. These restrictive laws had huge support in the ivied walls of academia. According to Dr. Ismar Schorsch, the former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, students were amongst the most rabid of Nazi sympathizers. By 1940, some 2,000 German and Austrian academics had been dismissed. These members of the intelligentsia, called “mandarins” for their revered status in society, were cast out in a world where few spoke fluent English and fewer probably had manual skills.

Limited assistance came from the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, founded in New York in 1933, which offered one-year grants to colleges to partially subsidize salaries of the refugees. While the Committee did rescue over 300 scholars from Nazi-run Europe, they were the ones with established reputations such as philosopher Martin Buber, physicist James Franck, and writer Thomas Mann.

The younger and lesser known academics arrived with tourist visas, desperately seeking work on their own. Walter Fales worked as a butler and cook until he landed a position in 1946 as Associate Professor of philosophy at Lincoln University, a traditionally black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Some 50-100 of these refugee scholars found haven in these black colleges, where the facilities were ramshackle but where the students had a keen thirst for knowledge. These professors became beloved on their campuses, despite their formal European customs such as insisting that their students wear jacket and tie.

Former students testified on the film to the pivotal role these Jewish mentors had on their lives. John Biggers arrived at Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia with a work-study scholarship for plumbing, but Professor Viktor Lowenfeld opened his eyes to the world of artistic creativity. Biggers became an artist, professor, and founder of the Art Department at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Civil rights activist and author Joyce Ladner recalled that she couldn’t afford the application fees for graduate school, so her professor at Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS, Ernst Borinski, a former judge and law professor in Germany, paid them with his own money. When she reported the successful defense of her doctoral dissertation four years later, he sent a telegram with his congratulations and $100 for her to celebrate the milestone with her friends.  The telegram is in the exhibit.

How were these Jewish refugees received in the American South, where Jim Crow laws (the name taken from a minstrel routine) isolated blacks physically and culturally? Were they considered white or not? Donald Cunnigan was a former student and now a professor of sociology at the University of Rhode Island, and he recalled the unusual status of these highly educated Jews in the South. While they were not accepted by the whites, they were regarded by the off-campus blacks as either non-white or even black — one told him that Jews were mentioned in the Bible and any people who’d suffered as they did in ancient Egypt must have been black!  Karen Brodkin, professor of anthropology at UCLA, addressed this topic in her 1998 book, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America. In the nineteenth century, there were hundreds of races; most, including Jews, being considered neither black nor white.

The film does not address the Jewish life of these refugees, but the exhibit has a quote from John Herz, professor of international politics at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who recalled that the Düsseldorf rabbi came to visit his mother about religious instruction for her children.  His mother replied, “That decision I leave entirely to my children; music is my religion.”  However, Georg Iggers, professor of history at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, AR grew up in a religious family in Hamburg and he recalled that Jews could be culturally German and yet be observant of Jewish tradition.

An audience member asked the filmmaker Fischler if the rise of the black nationalist movement (“Black Power”) set back black-Jewish relations. The film referred to people who decried the role of whites on a black college, such as Professor Borinski who’d created a curriculum on race history. No, said Fischler, because the refugee professors were close to retirement age in the 60s and no one lost their positions for it, unlike earlier movements of xenophobia.

The catalyst for the film came from a letter by Professor Herz to The New York Times about the anti-semitic comments of speakers at Howard University and other black colleges in the late 90s. He referred to the 1993 book by Gabrielle Edgcomb, From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, which inspired the filmmakers to make their documentary.

I noted how all the interview subjects were so articulate and highly accomplished and I asked if the filmmakers had conscious choice in their selection. They didn’t eliminate any potential candidates, said Fischler, and maybe only the students with the strongest memories and the closest relationships stepped forth. Only three of the refugee professors were still alive for the film.  Furthermore, many of the black students of the time did become prominent in their fields, noted Fischler.

In the 12 years since the release of the film, an audience member asked, what would they add to a sequel, if one were to make one? This traveling exhibit is their sequel, responded Fischler, making the material more accessible to a greater public.

“Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges,” originally from the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is on display at the National Museum of American Jewish History until June 2.

Mitt Romney Debates Mitt Romney On Israel, Taxes, Education, Healthcare and Abortion

Foreign Policy Speech …

Finally, I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.

Private Fundraiser …

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way … the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish … [S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

Israel quotes courtesy of Josh Marshall and Mother Jones. Videos courtesy of DailyKos and Talking Point Memo.

New OFA Web Video: The Real Mitt Romney

Just weeks before the election, Romney isn’t being honest with the American people about his severely conservative positions, and a new video from OFA allows voters to see this dishonesty laid bare. Romney will say anything to win, even if it’s not true. Over the past few years, the real Mitt Romney has consistently committed to overturning Roe vs. Wade and denying women the right to choose. He’s been promising a tax cut including “the top 1 percent,” that is mathematically impossible to pay for without higher middle-class taxes, higher deficits or both. And he has committed to a plan that would put at risk health coverage for millions of Americans living with preexisting conditions. He can try to hide these far-right positions, but voters simply won’t be fooled when he cynically and dishonestly tells voters the exact opposite of what he’s run on.

Texas Republican Party Platform Opposes Critical Thinking

The Republican Party of Texas’ recently adopted 2012 platform contains a plank that opposes the teaching of “critical thinking skills” in schools.

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The “American Dream” video on the right from George Carlin might explain why…

The 2012-2013 Pennsylvania Budget: Areas to Improve

Daylin Leach— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Since the state’s fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30th of each year, May and June are always a busy time when everyone in Harrisburg is scrambling to put together next year’s budget. We’ve had tough budgets for the past four years because during a recession, demand for government services goes up while revenues coming into the state coffers go down. Unlike the federal government, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget each year, so every dollar we spend must come from a revenue source.

There are really only two ways to eliminate a budget deficit: you can either cut expenditures or raise revenues. Actually, the smartest approach is to use a balanced approach that does both prudently. Unfortunately, for the past several years — due to the political realities of Harrisburg and the fact that Governor Corbett has pledged to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, that he won’t increase revenues in any way — the budget has been balanced exclusively through cuts.

It is important to remember that there are many areas of the state budget that can’t be cut, either due to federal or state law or contractual obligations. In some cases, if we tried to cut money from a given program, we could be sued and required by a court to spend the money with interest. In other cases, our laws force additional spending. For example, Pennsylvania’s criminal code creates about 2,000 new net prisoners per year (the second highest number in the nation). This requires us to build a new prison, which costs about $300 million to build and $50 million per year to operate, every single year.

All of the cuts we can make must come from a relatively small sliver of the budget that is discretionary. This includes money for first responders, education, libraries, human services, health care for our citizens, transportation improvements and our safety net for the very poor. We have continued to go back to these same areas of funding when making deeper and deeper cuts each year.

As a result, we have now reached the point at which we are in real danger of abandoning basic government services and the citizens who rely on them. You may have read about how some of our poorer schools literally would have had to close their doors if the federal courts had not intervened and ordered us to provide additional funds. Tens of thousands of people have lost their access to healthcare, childcare facilities have had to close, and libraries are either closing or drastically cutting back their hours and programs. Schools are eliminating art and music programs, guidance counselors and tutoring; and we are opening 30,000 new natural gas rigs across the state while drastically reducing the funding for environmental inspectors charged with making sure the drilling is done safely. In short, the picture is very bleak.

Following the jump below, I am going to try to give you a fuller picture of the cuts we are facing and provide you with the alternatives for which I am fighting. In my view, we could easily raise sufficient revenue to avoid most of the worst cuts without burdening a single Pennsylvania family. We could accomplish this by, among other things, enacting a reasonable tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction that is giving energy companies billions of dollars and closing the “Delaware Loophole,” which allows 70% of Pennsylvania companies to avoid paying their fare share to help our state prosper.

These and other ideas will enable us to continue providing basic services to our citizens and will ensure that Pennsylvania is a state with the educational, economic and environmental quality of life that will attract businesses and families for decades to come. I hope you find this information helpful.

A list of programs funding to be restored and funding mechanisms follow the jump.
As I noted above, I would like to stimulate an open and honest dialogue about the current budget’s shortcomings. There are a number of cuts that I believe will be extremely harmful to our state. I will first enumerate some of the
worst of the many troubling cuts in the budget proposed by Governor Corbett.

If I want to restore the funds for these important programs, I obviously have an obligation to identify where the necessary revenues would come from. So I will provide some suggestions along those lines as well.

Top 5 most destructive cuts in the budget proposal.

  1. Higher Education
    Governor Corbett has proposed cutting higher education by 30 percent this year, on top of the 19 percent cut passed last year. These draconian proposals represent not cuts, but an abandonment of our commitment to make college affordable for all Pennsylvanians. These cuts would result in dramatic tuition increases in state related universities and put college out of reach for many of our citizens.
  2. Basic Education
    Last year, over my “no” vote, the legislature and governor enacted a budget that cut over $850 million from basic education. These cuts came disproportionately from poor school districts, but hurt all public schools. The governor
    has proposed hundreds of millions in dollars of additional cuts, including eliminating the No Child Left Behind Compliance grants and the Charter School Reimbursement grants.

  3. Department of Environmental Protection
    At a time when we are opening over 30,000 new fracking wells in Pennsylvania, the DEP budget is being cut, which will result in many fewer inspectors and enforcement agents ensuring that this new and controversial fracking technology is being used safely and responsibly.
  4. Human Services
    The governor proposes to cut human service funding by 20 percent ($168 million). These services cover needs including Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Drug & Alcohol, Intellectual Disabilities, Child Welfare, Homeless Assistance and what remains of the Human Services Development Fund. These cuts will obviously have a devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  5. Child Care Services
    If this budget passes, we will have cut childcare services and assistance by almost $140 million over the past two years. Without these services, parents may be unable to get back on their feet, receive training, or go back to work if they have to turn down a job or opportunity because they can’t afford or find childcare. Also, this lack of funding could mean the elimination of “Keystone Stars”, a nationally-recognized program that provides resources and professional development to the educators who prepare children for school success.

In addition, the governor has rejected the recommendations of his own hand-picked commission to raise money to fund much needed road and bridge repairs.

How to pay for the restoration of these funds:

  1. Levying a Marcellus Shale Impact Fee
    Imposing an impact fee on drillers would go a long way toward helping recoup the loss of natural resources taken from our state, as well as toward helping us balance the budget. Going further, imposing a tax on those drillers would do even more to help us. Consider that a 6% tax on producing wells would generate about $312 million in 2012-13 and $396 million in 2013-14. This rate is consistent with what virtually every other state in the nation charges for the extraction of natural resources from its soil.
  2. Closing the Delaware Loophole
    The Delaware Loophole, a way under the law for corporations to evade paying taxes, is an issue that has needed fixed for years. For some reason, this has yet to happen. If we closed the Delaware Loophole, our state would be able to bring in $550 million in just one fiscal year.
  3. Ending the Vendor Discount
    Under the Vendor Discount, Pennsylvania pays private businesses millions of dollars each year just to handle sales tax receipts and remit them to the state. This program was conceived many years ago before the advent of computers, and since there’s no longer a valid need for it, it’s time to end it. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states with an unlimited sales tax vendor discount. If we stopped providing this unnecessary discount, our state would save nearly $75 million per year.
  4. Taxing Smokeless Tobacco
    Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not tax smokeless tobacco. This would be an easy solution that would garner $50 million per year, simply by imposing a tax of $1.35 per unit — the same tax that is levied on cigarettes.

Philadelphia Teachers Grill Mitt Romney on Class Sizes

When Mitt Romney went to a charter school in Philadelphia today, it’s safe to say he didn’t get the reception he hoped for.

Counter to all logic and evidence Romney claimed in his book No Apology that larger class sizes will improve education.

In The United States, then, the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps. [page 216]

However, the Philadelphia teachers in attendance today offered him a reality check, questioning how exactly he could believe that to be the truth. Media coverage of his event centered on this exchange: MSNBC,  WBOB Philadelphia, ABC, The Hill, AP, LA Times, Politico, CNN, CBS

Transcript follows the jump.
TRANSCRIPT OF EXCHANGE:

MR. MORRIS:  I would like to bring up two concerns, in terms of the way you opened your introduction. These are things that I think about as a teacher in the classroom all the time, like one is class size, and the other is testing. I think, kind of like when I was driving to school today, I heard your position on class size and testing, and apparently it’s a platform, and education is a topic right now. You know, I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over ten years, thirteen years, who would say that they would love – more students would benefit them.

ROMNEY:  Right, right, of course.

MR. MORRIS:  I can’t think of a parent that would say, “I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.” So, I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from, it’s like, and another thing, researchers, you’re looking at the test scores. You’re saying big class sizes doesn’t affect the test scores.

[…]

It concerns me, the testing, and it concerns me, you know, the class size. I can’t think of any teacher – Mr. Bennett, would you want more kids in your classroom?

BENNETT: No, it’s large enough. It’s actually too large.

ROMNEY: How many students do you have?

BENNETT: It varies between classes, but anywhere from 23 to 28, somewhere in there. You can give more of a personalized – more personalized attention to each student if you have a smaller class size. I would have to agree with Mr. Morris, and I teach technology over here.

Jewish Day School Grants and Scholarship Now Available For All Ages

The Kohelet Foundations’s Jewish Day School Collaborative will award a limited number of tuition grants and scholarships Jewish day school students in nursery, elementary, middle and high school for September 2012.

These grants and scholarships ensure that more children realize the dream of an education rich in Jewish values and responsibility, where they achieve academically, while connecting to the world through a Jewish lens. Engaged, passionate and committed, they are tomorrow’s leaders.

Each student will receive up to 33% of tuition at day schools throughout Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey, up to $5,000 for lower and middle school and up to $8,500 for high school.

These grants and scholarships are multi-year and are offered to new and existing day school students of all denominations. Qualifications and details vary based on grade level.

Don’t wait another minute to give your child a Jewish day school education.

A limited number of grants and scholarships available at all day schools in Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey:

Dear GOP: Why do you hate me? An Open Letter

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

Dear GOP:

What have I ever done to you to make you hate me so much? 

I was born female and somehow you want to deny me, and all the other women and girls, things you consider sacrosanct for men. Oh wait, not all men, just those that are straight, white and Christian. But I digress. I look at the abominations of legislation you are trying to pass in state after state, and ask myself what would have become of me had you passed those things when I was a girl.

Luckily for me, I was born into a family that valued education for both sons and daughters. My dad paid for his college education with help from the GI bill. As adults, with children, both my parents earned graduate degrees: a Masters for my mom, and Masters and a PhD for my dad. From the day I started school, it wasn't a question of whether I'd go to college, but where. Same for my brother. And in our generation we too have a slew of degrees. 

One of the reasons I was able to get an education, and make great use of said education was because I had access to birth control. If you, as a party, had your way, I wouldn't have educational opportunities: I'd be home raising kid after kid, home-schooling them (how, I don't know since I wouldn't know anything).

I admit, I have trouble sticking with a specific career path, but I've succeeded in a number of avocations. Things I learned in one area have led to accomplishments in another. I used my education to build large-scale transportation projects for the FAA, the FWHA, and in Europe, I built pollution models for the EPA, I've done defense work, and designed, developed and delivered training programs in the fields of medicine, logistics and manufacturing. Above all, I became a doctor and I've saved lives. On the side there has been a slew of volunteer work with functional illiterates, and I was even a Mensa officer. Accomplished, for a blonde girl. And yet, you want me barefoot and pregnant. Why would you condemn me to have either spent my life unaccomplished, or completely devoid of love and sex. I don't get it.

To add insult to injury, now your presidential candidate front runner, Rick Santorum, has decreed that ALL public funding for ALL education should cease. Really. Watch:

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So I guess what you're saying is that not only should I have been denied birth control, but my mother should have had to give up HER career to stay home and school my brother and me. And what of my mother's mother, who is currently rolling in her grave after having been a suffragette and having worked with Margaret Sanger on the whole birth control thing back in the teens and twenties. 

So let's move this a few decades into the future under the Republican doctrine. Here I would be, an uneducated mother having poorly schooled my children while my husband worked two jobs because in this economy that's pretty necessary. Likely, he would die young from overwork. I wouldn't have a bunch of friends (many of those friendships forged in elementary school and still vibrant today), I'd have no skills, I'd be 75 years old, with no Medicare, no Social Security, having never made a decent contribution to society and I'd be toothlessly pushing a shopping cart around downtown Philly looking for something to eat, an indoor bathroom, and a safe place to sleep at night. 

And that IS the logical outcome of a Republican idea set that evokes more the 1850's then anything else. I can only conclude that you hate me, or you'd never want to put me, and all the other women, in that position. Your position shows a lack of foresight, and a lack of character. Character matters.

I stand with Andrew Shepherd. I stand with Barack Obama. I stand with every other American who wants to continue our rise from the economic mess you Republicans put us in, who believes in education, birth control, climate change caused by humans, science, evolution and all that this country stands for. You want to lead this country into darkness. I stand with the light.