In New York, Rich Disabled Kids Get the City to Send Them to Private School. Poor Disabled Kids Get Screwed. School choice is about extending the privileges of the upper middle class to everyone else.

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New York City is home to some of the world’s worst public schools for children with special needs, places that warehouse students in chaotic and unsupportive environments. A growing number of affluent families have successfully sued the city on the grounds that these schools are so bad that taxpayers should pay to send their learning-disabled children to elite private institutions instead. It’s a de facto private voucher system that is largely inaccessible to poor families.

What if the city were to provide all families with school choice, so that even disabled kids from poor homes could get an excellent education?

The status quo is the source of enormous inequities: Upper-middle-class parents are able to work the system to get the very best for their kids. But who can blame them?

Faith Retali, who asked that we use a pseudonym in this story to protect the privacy of her family, is a single mother of three boys. She lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the third grade, her oldest son was diagnosed with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and severe anxiety.

“From second to third grade, he was vomiting every single morning before going to school,” she says. The city recommended that she send him to a public school that specializes in serving children with disabilities. When she took a tour, she was horrified.

“You could see the students in the back of the classroom talking, disrupting,” she says. “One teacher came out in the hallway and started yelling.”

Although she couldn’t afford the tuition, she enrolled her son in one of Brooklyn’s premier private schools for children with learning disabilities. To cover the annual cost of about $45,000, she sued the city on the grounds that it had failed to provide him with an appropriate public option as required under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

When her second son also turned out to have learning disabilities, Retali again sued the city to cover private school tuition. Now she’s about to do it again for her youngest.

Annual city spending on private school tuition for learning disabled children was $244.1 million last school year, according to data obtained from the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) through a Freedom of Information Law request. That’s up from $103.6 million in the 2009–2010 school year.

The city spent $55,049 on tuition for each of the 4,435 learning disabled children attending private school on the city’s dime last year. That figure is likely to keep going up because settlements between parents and the NYC DOE have become more generous since Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014.

David Bernstein, a publishing executive who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, toured some of the special education programs within the public system after his then-12-year-old daughter started experiencing crippling anxiety.

“These are places where they no longer send kids who are on an academic track,” says Bernstein. “And they’re no longer on a therapeutic track.”

So he and his ex-wife sued. Now his daughter attends a boarding school for kids with emotional and psychological difficulties, and the city covers the entire tuition bill of $138,000 per year.

“I guarantee there are kids sitting in some of these warehouse schools who would benefit from being in the same environment my daughter is in,” says Bernstein.

Though it works out well for the minority of parents able to sue, the city simply can’t afford to send every learning disabled kid to private school at an average cost of $55,000 per pupil.

“It is draining hundreds of millions of dollars from classrooms that desperately need those resources,” says Eric Nadelstern, who served as the second-highest ranking education official under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent whose administration fought back against families suing for private school tuition.

Though Nadelstern acknowledges that the city’s special education offerings are lacking, he says that “diverting resources to a few is not a solution to the problem.”

“This is not an option that parents are just happily deciding to do, they’re doing it because they really feel their children need this,” says attorney Alexandra Hindes, who works at the Law Offices of Neal Rosenberg, a firm that handles about 1,000 cases a year of this sort.

She says that if the system did a better job educating kids with special needs, her clients would gladly send their kids to public schools. But in the 15 years she has worked on this issue, “there haven’t been significant changes that would bring parents back to the system.”

Although a handful of nonprofits, such as Advocates for Children, can help needy families navigate this process pro bono, suing is out of reach for most parents without resources. “It required the ability to navigate this legal maze of stuff,” says Bernstein. It cost money to hire “high-powered” lawyers and consultants. Many families don’t even know such suits are an option.

The biggest obstacle is that the process often involves fronting the money for private school tuition while waiting for the lawsuits to be settled or adjudicated. Bernstein had to put up about $40,000 before the city started reimbursing him.

“It had to be borrowed and scraped together from pennies in the couch,” says Bernstein. “Most people don’t have the ability to raise one-tenth of that amount of money.”

Suing school districts to pay for private school for learning disabled kids happens all over the country, and it’s a practice that’s been affirmed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in cases originating in Burlington, Massachusetts; Florence, South Carolina; and Forest Grove, Oregon.

But it’s a deeply flawed system. How can we provide poor families the same quality services without bankrupting municipalities?

One approach would be simply to give parents the money for private school without requiring that they sue. There are currently 13 states with special education voucher programs, some of which base the amount students receive on the severity of their disability.

Charter schools are another solution. While private vouchers are anathema to New York’s progressive political establishment, the city has a robust charter school movement, and there’s a push within that sector to better serve learning disabled students.

Democracy Prep Pathways, a charter school program in Harlem that serves 32 middle-school kids with learning disabilities, is part of that effort. The school has a 3-to-1 staff-to-student ratio and a full-time speech and language pathologist. And it serves students at a price point where the city could afford to serve many more learning disabled students—not just those lucky enough to come from families with the wherewithal to sue. Per pupil spending at Democracy Prep Pathways last year was about $33,590, compared to the $55,000 the city spends to send the average learning disabled student to a private school.

“I’m not saying there’s no private institution that would be able to deliver what Pathways has delivered, but what I’ve seen is tremendous,” says Richard Charlton, the father of a 12-year-old named Rachel whose learning disabilities stem from the fact that she was born at just 23 weeks. Charlton and his wife, Shakeria, had no idea that they could sue the city for private school tuition.

Whether it’s through the real estate market or through hiring top-notch lawyers and consultants, middle-class parents have always managed to get great options for their kids. What the school choice movement is really about is extending that same privilege to everyone else.

By Jim Epstein/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist


The Roots of Mass Incarceration

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Two hundred young Black and brown men hauled into Southern District of New York Federal District Court in Manhattan on federal conspiracy charges, 70 brought into Eastern District of New York Federal District Court in Brooklyn, 60 indicted in Federal District Court in Detroit. This is what happens today in federal and state courts across America to young Black men.

Just visit any local federal or state prosecutor’s website and you will most likely read a press release reporting a multi-defendant gang conspiracy takedown. Long gone are the days of multiple-defendant mobster prosecutions, when the targets were organized criminal organizations that had lots of resources, structure and clout. They have been replaced with young Black and brown alleged gang members and their associates.

In many of these indictments, the young men are charged with low-level drug possession and sales, and in many instances, there are no allegations of violence. The indictments all have the same elements: Title 3 wiretaps, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, rap videos as motive or gang affiliation, and so on and so on. What’s missing in many of these cases are large sums of money, property and the recovery of large amounts of narcotics.

The results, however, are the same — multiple young men removed from the community, privileged Ivy League prosecutors and judges all too willing to prosecute and sentence another Black and brown person to an amount of time that most Americans simply can’t fathom.

It’s very clear though that federal money will continue to trickle down to police and prosecutors for the continued policing and apprehension of these young men. There will be no similar initiatives for the illicit drugs sold to white males through electronic and digital means in areas like Wall Street. Indictments in the Black community will keep coming as they did under the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration. In fact, rumor has it that the new Attorney General and the DOJ have already sent memos to all the U.S. Attorney General Offices across the country instructing federal prosecutors how to identify gangs and prosecute them more zealously and aggressively.

Throughout American political history, both political parties have toed a “tough on crime” line as a way to get elected. “Tough on crime” is the dog whistle to continue incarcerating and policing Black and brown people. That is the American narrative. No matter who is in office, somehow the Black community suffers job losses and unemployment, defunding of schools and cutting of social programs at a much higher rate than the rest of America. At the same time, police presence and funding increase and opportunity decreases. Our communities are left without the resources and structure necessary to sustain a community and are left to rely on the government and corporations for everything, much like colonial times.

Look at the current progressive attitude held by law enforcement, politicians and media toward the opioid epidemic, which seems to be disproportionately affecting white communities. Compare it to the attitude held by the same entities when Black and Brown neighborhoods and their children were being destroyed by heroin and crack cocaine. White people as criminals does not fit the American narrative.

The Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and the Safe Streets Act of 1968 represented how the federal government would respond to any civil unrest in Black communities. Programs like this provided federal resources and funding for local law enforcement in their efforts to address the unrest that in their view was caused by civil rights agitators. These programs failed to address segregation, economics, and poverty but focused on the Black communities as individuals.

One need look no further than Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” better known as the “Moynihan Report” for the rationale behind many of these programs. His report, adhered to by liberals and conservatives alike, ultimately blamed the victim for conditions created by government structure. It promoted the ideology that the condition in the Black community was the result of individualism and “Black pathology,” not America’s racist foundation, society, policies and legislation. The report and those who supported it ignored America’s established caste system, a social order that alienated an entire race of people.

Programs like the Law Enforcement Assistance Act and the Safe Streets Act increased police personnel, militarized the police, allowed the use of electronic surveillance and promoted the use of undercover officers. These programs also allowed law enforcement to work hand in hand with domestic and social programs like truancy and welfare programs to share data and information. The data collected was used to justify more over-policing in Black neighborhoods and the paramilitary stance of law enforcement that continues today.

The phenomenon of the urban ghetto began with the Great Migration from the South by millions of Black people. The migration was born out of survival, hope, fear and the search for progress in America. Millions left their homes to escape domestic terrorism and a callous, indifferent system. These new urban cities came with the close attention of the federal government and local police. To prevent independence and any form of Black nationalism in the Black community, the federal government instituted programs like COINTELPRO. Black people were not only put under a microscope out of fear of uprisings, but the community was set upon by its own government. By way of politics, propaganda, media and economics, America made Black men public enemy No. 1, while systematically continuing to alienate the community politically, socially, economically and academically. It was a study in hypocrisy as America ignored its own behavior and said the cause of our condition was our propensity for poverty and crime.

America’s biggest threat during the 1960s and 1970s were 15-to-30-year-old Black men influenced by Malcolm, Martin and the Black Panthers. According to programs like COINTELPRO, these young men were a threat and needed to be monitored. This is the toxic ideology that is in the DNA of America. It follows her in all of her dealings when it relates to the descendants of those who were the cogs in the wheels of American capitalism and wealth, the cogs that helped solidify and secure white America’s privilege.

There will be no worthwhile or substantive efforts by the American government to create jobs or fix the broken school-to-prison pipeline in our communities. History tells us that education and social programs will continue to be cut and more policing will continue, particularly in an age where crime is continuing to decline and gentrification and development is increasing.

Today, we “COINTELPRO” ourselves in the name of entertainment, music, culture and social media. We fail to realize that unless we are entertaining America, America simply want’s us to vanish. Social media is simply social control for law enforcement and corporations. Black street and prison culture are a part of American capitalism. This only changes if the community becomes nationalistic, critical minded and committed to action and self-determination.

Those principles, which are essential for community building, simply can’t come from external forces. Think about the amount of music, fashion, entertainment, sports, and corporate products that are sold through Black men. Those platforms serve to entertain and distract, and they function as inculpatory evidence for law enforcement. Corporations and entertainers increase their profit at the expense and exploitation of Black and brown young men whose circumstances are commodified and sold. Everyone plays their part, including us.

Just yesterday, I was in the Eastern District Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn to represent a client charged in one of these multiple-defendant gang indictments. If one wants to study race and power in America, federal criminal court is a great place to start. All of the federal marshalls and court staff except the deputy clerk were white. The judge and the judge’s law clerks and interns were all white. The federal prosecutors were all white. All of the defense attorneys except me were white. As the defendants — all of them Black and shackled by hands and feet — shuffled toward the cells, one of them, with a smile on his face, loudly yelled out to a loved one present in the courtroom to support him, “What up, ya black ass nigga?” Instances like this are a common occurrence in the courthouse and display just how broken we have become.

Taking control of the educational and cultural process of our young men is a matter of survival and evolution. Education has always been the key to true liberation and freedom. Our young men are inundated with imagery and content that convinces them that criminality is a viable option, while still being alienated in America. Our education should include a curriculum unique to our presence and contribution to the world. Mentoring, academic and apprenticeship programs should be a staple in our community. Coding and writing academies. Film and legal academies. Engineering and architecture academies. Domestic and international exchange programs. Stem and Steam programs. The list goes on.

As a community, we have to introduce our young men to this early and often to wean them off of the toxicity of American culture. The young men on all of these indictments are doing their best impression of making it in America at all costs, unable to realize that they are simply presenting white nationalistic and capitalistic principles. They are totally unaware that they are prey to a predatory system.

By Kenneth Montgomery/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Thousands of life jackets have been laid outside the British Parliament to commemorate refugee death

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Image: Quartz

As the United Nations summit on migrants and refugees begins in New York, campaigners in the UK have created a”life jacket graveyard” on Parliament Square in London to raise awareness of the ongoing crises. The installation by Snappin’ Turtle productions is to commemorate those who died trying to get to Europe. Almost 7,000 people died…

via Thousands of life jackets have been laid outside the British Parliament to commemorate refugee deaths — Quartz

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Proposes Bill To Restore Voting Rights To Ex-Felons

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NY  Rep. Hakeem Jeffries discusses his proposed bill that will restore the right to vote to ex-felons who have served their time.

Chart of State Felon Voting Laws


The premise of Rep. Jeffries’ bill is that “as the nation moves towards criminal justice reform, reducing mandatory minimums and improving opportunities for people to reenter society, we have to look at the holistic individual in terms of their participation and their reentry.”

Jeffries continued, “Part of that is regaining their franchise as it relates to someone’s ability to vote, to participate, to have their voices heard.”

When asked how felony disenfranchisement started, Rep. Jeffries said the effort to disenfranchise felons “is largely concentrated in many of the deep South states.”

“I would argue that it’s a legacy from slavery and Jim Crow and a consistent effort to disenfranchise individuals. You see it in other context in terms of trying to prevent people on the front-end from being able to vote, along with these harsh voter ID laws and efforts that are underway in many of the Southern states and other parts of the country,” said Jeffries.

More from News One

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Escaped Murderers Sweat and Matt Remain on Run for Third Day

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Image: Twitter

Cops and canines painstakingly searched early Monday for any sign of two escaped murderers whose brazen prison breakout triggered an around-the-clock manhunt and unusual reward offer.

As the hunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat entered a third day, questions swirled over how the duo managed their daring Hollywood-style escape. Officials pledged they would not rest until the two were back behind bars.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who has called the escape a “crisis situation” for his state — said the killers “definitely had help” breaking out.

“We’re looking at everything, primarily from the inside,” he told NBC’s TODAY. “They definitely had help, otherwise, they couldn’t have done this on their own, even from the equipment point of view.”

Cuomo announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the inmates’ recapture, saying Sunday it was “an unusual step for the state but given the severity…appropriate.”

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Tear down the ‘blue wall of silence’: New York Dem destroys sheriff who blames police violence on blacks

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Image: Raw Story

A New York Democrat shut down a black conservative Wisconsin sheriff who blamed police violence on black criminality.

David Clarke, the Milwaukee County sheriff, described “black-on-black crime” as the “elephant in the room” Tuesday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the rising tensions between police officers and African-Americans.

“The conversation should be about transforming black underclass subculture behavior,” said Clarke, who frequently appears on Fox News. “The discussion must start with addressing the behavior of people who have no respect for authority, who fight with and try to disarm the police, who flee the police, and who engage in other flawed lifestyle choices.”

“Bashing the police is the low-hanging fruit,” the sheriff added. “It is easier to talk about the rare killing of a black male by police because emotion can be exploited for political advantage.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) agreed that black-on-black crime was a problem – but he pointed out that 83 percent of white homicide victims were killed by other white people.

“Is white-on-white violence also a problem that we should have a robust discussion about?” the lawmaker asked the sheriff.

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Seventh death confirmed in Harlem gas leak explosion

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Rescuers combing the rubble of two collapsed East Harlem apartment buildings discovered a seventh victim early Thursday as they continued to search for more missing people.

NYC Explosion

Image: WABC video still via AP

Fire Department spokesman Danny Glover said Thursday morning the body was the fourth found overnight. Three bodies were found Wednesday following the massive explosion at the East Harlem address at Park Avenue and 116th streets.

Fire officials say at least 60 people were hurt in the fiery blast that erupted about 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling natural gas.

Crews used generator-powered floodlights and thermal imaging cameras to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire — at the site where two 5-story apartment buildings were reduced to bricks, splinters and twisted metal.

“This is a difficult job, a challenging job,” Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said. He said it was “a very terrible and traumatic scene.”

Police said two women believed to be in their 40s were among the dead. Hunter College identified one as Griselde Camacho, a security officer who had worked for the college since 2008.

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