Jeffrey Russell

Candidate Name:  Jeff Russell

Office Sought:  United States Senator

Party: Green  Home Address:  Box 174, E. Glastonbury

Best Phone number for contact:

Preferred email for contact: k1xu@juno.com

Past and/or current elective office:  ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­No past or current public office experience

Occupation: Disabled

  1. Why are you running for elected office and what are your three top priorities for education once elected?

I am running largely because I believe it is extremely beneficial to have a Green voice in the campaign (and no other Green is willing to do it.)

As for education, the visible effects of “no child left behind” and “common core” convince me my first impressions are correct; these federal policies are primarily intended to open up the huge revenue stream that has traditionally supported free, compulsory, public education.

As far as I see them, they have generated no benefit to our young people, and have done demonstrable harm.

I would scrap them both.

On the federal level, I would advocate the support for programs that enhance the capability for critical thinking in our young people.  As an example, teaching the basics of logical argument in primary school by federal mandate with federal funding.

We are never going to solve the problems we face today, or those likely to crop up in the future if we do not teach our children to think.

  1. Do you believe that the public education system in America is broken and in need of reform? Do you believe that the public education system in West Hartford is broken or in need of reform?

I do not have enough specific knowledge of the educational system in West Hartford to comment on that system directly.  In general, I see an educational system in the United States that fails to provide education up to the potential of individual students in far too many cases.  In other words, there is immense room for improvement.

There was a time when the students themselves were a much higher priority than test scores.  We need to move our schools back in that direction until students are the highest priority.  School should be a place for education, not indoctrination.  School should never be a place where violence or abuse of any student is tolerated at any time, no matter who is perpetrating the violence.

  1. ECS Funding

The state of Connecticut provides funding to towns through the ECS grant (Education Cost Sharing) to help towns deal with poverty.  For years, some towns such as West Hartford, have been receiving far less than they should and some have been receiving more.  By some estimates, West Hartford is the most underfunded town in the state, receiving approximately 30 million dollars per year less than we should.

A recently compiled list of the most underfunded and overfunded towns in the state shows West Hartford as 67% underfunded.  Only two other towns are more underfunded percentage-wise .  In terms of dollars, West Hartford is shorted $36,876,796.00 (per year.)  The list of towns is included in this mailing and can be found at this URL:

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/1680159/lprac-ecsoverfunding-2014to2015.pdf

The ECS issue received a lot of attention in April of 2015 at the capitol when Senator Bye proposed a bill (SB 816) that would require that towns receive at least half of what they are supposed to be receiving.  Although the bill did not pass, Senator Bye was able to secure a few million more dollars for West Hartford.  With an annual Board of Education budget of around 140 million dollars, this was a significant step in the right direction.

Most recently, on September 7th of this year, the verdict in the CCJEF vs. Rell case was rendered.  Superior court judge Thomas Moukawsher called for sweeping changes in the way education is funded in this state.  He also called for a linkage between student test scores and teacher salary, and for changes in teacher and administrator evaluation.  He also made reference to West Hartford as being one of the “rich towns” that is receiving more than it is due.

If you are seeking a state office representing West Hartford, how would you move forward into such an uncertain and dramatic educational/political environment:

As I am not running for state office, I will briefly comment from a federal perspective.  The property tax system that the majority of municipalities in the country rely on to fund education basically guarantees inequality in education.  Federal funding could do a lot more to “level the playing field” with support, not only in funding, but equipment.  There is a lot of surplus equipment that could be of use to schools that goes out as surplus.  There are many huge federal purchases that, if increased by, say, ten percent, could supply huge quantities of equipment and supplies to districts that can’t make those purchases on their own.   And, if a school  district is too poor, or too miserly, to cover the costs of basic classroom supplies then any expenses covered out of the teachers’ pockets should be a full income write-off until federal support can be brought in to alleviate this problem.

What would be your priority or first steps in dealing with this issue?

How would you deal with the misperception that West Hartford is a “wealthy” town?  How would you help people like Judge Moukawsher understand that the image projected by Blue Back Square does not match the reality found in our student population (20% and steadily rising on free and reduced lunch, 12% students  with disabilities, high numbers of English language learners) and in old school buildings (many over 50 years old)?

I lived with these problems when I was a public school student 55 years ago.  It galls me to see these are still problems today.  I would certainly work to find solutions on the federal level.

  1. Charter Schools

Regarding charter schools in general, there are obviously a lot of differences of opinion.  Some praise the fact that they provide motivated students and families a way out of school systems that are low performing.  Others are concerned that the selection process that charter schools use to accept students leads to a “brain drain” on the public schools, further segregation, and invalid comparisons between charters and public schools.  Some are concerned about the qualifications of charter school leaders and the ability to closely track any money that flows from the state to these organizations.  What insights about the charter school movement would you bring to the table as an elective office holder?

Too much of the “charter school” movement is about economic profit.  There is little transparency or accountability.  I would push to mandate both on the federal level.  As well as push for greater enforcement of PL93-112 (The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973) and the ADA.  Charter schools have been getting away with diverting special education students with the con game of “Your child would be better off in the public school” as the excuse for failing to provide, as required by law, services for such students who otherwise qualify.  If they can’t do the job, they should not get the benefit of federal support.

 

  1. Charter School Funding

What is your position on charter school funding?   Do you feel that the number of charter schools in the state should increase, decrease, or stay the same?

That can only be determined when they are actually brought up to the point where they are doing the job.

  1. Money Follows the Child

State and local Charter schools in Connecticut clearly have a unique role to play.  First conceived as laboratories for reform, there have been lessons learned.  The most current research shows that Connecticut state charter school performance is generally parallel to that of all public schools — some are successful and some need improvement.  However, since state charter schools continue to be selective in their student populations and spend significantly more per pupil than regular public schools, investment in strong neighborhood public schools that serve all children should be the ultimate goal.

In recent years there have been legislative proposals by advocates of wholesale state charter school expansion to implement a new school funding scheme that would divert money from local neighborhood schools to state charter schools.  One such scheme is referred to as “money follows the child.”  In 2012, for example, there was a proposal to divert $1,000 for every child who attended a state charter school from the local education budget to the state charter budget.  This proposal was soundly defeated, as municipalities, particularly those with the tightest budgets, were unwilling to lose dollars from their already underfunded education budgets.

Proposals such as “money follows the child” would redirect local tax dollars outside the district and thus risk doing irreversible harm to students in classrooms already starved for adequate resources.  Proposals which exacerbate already inequitable funding simply run contrary to the state’s obligation to equalize education funding based on each town’s ability to pay.

WHEA Position:

WHEA opposes proposals that promote so-called “money follows the child” schemes designed to redistribute funding from local neighborhood schools and school districts to state charter schools.

What is your position?

“Money follows the child is just another attempt to “balance the budget” on the backs of children, because, well, children don’t vote.

Rather pathetic , in my opinion.

Having a strong public education system has served the greater good everywhere it has ever been available.  In just about every aspect of human activity.  From having more knowledgeable soldiers to repel invaders, to having a population better able to see through the machinations of a potential demagogue.  Having a population with knowledge and thinking capacity has always been a benefit to the community of that population, and to all its neighbors.

  1. Collective Bargaining

The right to be a union member is a fundamental employee protection under state and federal laws.  America’s labor unions have led the fight for working families, winning protections such as the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week, overtime rights, and access to healthcare and retirement security.  Today, the fight continues both to retain these vital rights, and to ensure safe and healthy workplaces.  For teachers, collective bargaining allows their voices, ideas, and advocacy for students to be heard without fear of reprisal.

WHEA Position:

WHEA opposes proposals to weaken or eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers and all other public employees.  WHEA also opposes any unilateral moves by any elected officials attempting to infringe on teachers’ rights as bargained.

Will you as an elected official, support the right of public employees to collectively bargain?  Will you support all negotiated agreements and arbitration decisions?  Will you protect the funds that teachers have contributed to Connecticut’s teacher retirement fund and oppose any efforts to move that money into a general state fund?

Collective bargaining has bestowed so many benefits on our society as a whole, that I, and the Green Party wholeheartedly support collective bargaining.

  1. Please share with us any other issues or positions that you think may be relevant or of interest to the WHEA.

We need to get religion out of the classrooms.  “Creation science” is not science at all.  We need more science in our schools, not pseudo science.  Climate denial needs to be addressed in history classes, as it is the same movement that generated doubt about the link between tobacco smoking and lung disease.

Children need to be taught to recognize fallacy when they see it.

We need to do a lot more to teach our children to be critical thinkers.  That will be the most important tool we can give them to solve the enormous problems we are dumping on them.

  1. Would you be opposed to WHEA posting your responses on our website? If you prefer that we not do that, we will respect your wishes.