October 18, 2014

Charters in Chicago Underperform Traditional Neighborhood Schools Says New Report

In his new book, Losing Our Way, journalist Bob Herbert traces in broad strokes several trends that he believes define our society. He examines the decay of our infrastructure; the collapse in employment—especially for young adults; the wars we fight—who does the fighting and how we care for the injured; and our evolving approach to educating our more than 50 million children and adolescents. You can read excerpts from Herbert’s book here and here and listen to Bill Moyers interview Herbert about his book.

Tracing the development of public policy in education, Herbert declares that charter schools have not fulfilled the promises of their proponents: “Charter schools were supposed to prove beyond a doubt that poverty didn’t matter, that all you had to do was free up schools from the rigidities of the traditional public system and the kids would flourish…. President Obama praised charter schools as ‘incubators of innovation’ and made their expansion a central component of his Race to the Top initiative. States that did not make it easier to increase their stock of charter schools could not share in the Race to the Top billions. Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers, and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools. None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools.” (Losing Our Way, p. 210)

Bishop T.D. Jakes: Mobilizing Churches to the Polls on 10/26

FRB Is Pleased to Announce New Overseas Programs in Asia and Africa

FRB's India-Namkum Program with Mennonite Central Committee is training farmers in Jharkhand State on rainwater harvesting, organic farming, livestock management, and local leadership development. Increased water efficiency will enable participants to grow a second crop each year.

Mennonite Central Committee also leads FRB's new Vietnam-Tan Son program. This program is helping formerly nomadic people in 7 villages transition to farming through Ag training, animal husbandry and improved fertilizer use.

FRB's Myanmar-Chin program with Catholic Relief Services aims to increase the availability of maize through improved planting, harvesting and storage techniques. The program will provide training, demonstration and follow-up, seed selection and the use of air tight grain storage systems.

Thanks to successful community development, The Mozambique- Cattle Cluster Program is complete and World Hope International is now working with the same communities to establish kitchen gardens for improved nutrition. FRB is pleased to be able to support this new focus through the Mozambique -Gardens program.

October 17, 2014

Richest 1% of People Own Nearly Half of Global Wealth

The richest 1% of the world’s population are getting wealthier, owning more than 48% of global wealth, according to a report published on Tuesday which warned growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.

According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.

“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.

The report, which calculates that total global wealth has grown to a new record – $263tn, more than twice the $117tn calculated for 2000 – found that the UK was the only country in the G7 to have recorded rising inequality in the 21st century.

Coalition On Human Needs: Guide To Voting Early

With voter id laws suppressing voters and the voices that need to be heard the most, educating and encouraging voters to register and vote early is key. We are counting down to election day and need you to promote early voting. See below for helpful resources compiled by Non-Profit VOTE and please share.

For more on laws and tactics that are contributing to voter suppression see our latest blog post and don't forget to take the pledge to vote November 4:

Pentagon Warns Climate Change Will Intensify Conflict

Natural disasters from climate change will intensify global instability, disease, poverty and conflict, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

Global warming will worsen many of the challenges the U.S. military already is grappling with, the department said in a report yesterday.

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today -– from infectious disease to terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a blog post. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

The report underscores the seriousness of the risks as seen by the military, which handled flooding and tsunami relief efforts in Asia in recent years and is now responsible for setting up treatments centers for Ebola victims in West Africa.

The Teacher Gap: Strong Gains but Large Jobs Gap Remains

In September, public-sector employment increased by 12,000 jobs, with the majority of that growth coming from local government education—an increase of 6,700 jobs. Local government education is largely jobs in public preK-12 education (the majority of which are teachers, but also teacher aides, librarians, guidance counselors, administrators, and support staff).

While this is clearly a positive sign, unfortunately, the number of teachers and related education staffers fell dramatically in the recession and has failed to get anywhere near its pre-recession level, let alone the level that would be required to keep up with the expanding student population. Since 2008, public preK–12 enrollment increased by 1.5 percent. The figure below breaks down the teacher gap. The dark blue line illustrates the level of teacher employment. While the most recent positive trend is obvious, the longer term losses are also readily apparently.

Walmart Workers Demand $15 Wage in Several Protests

As retail workers step up demands for higher wages and more stable working hours, a trade organization has warned that many retailers cannot afford to pay more, intensifying a debate over fair pay in a struggling industry.

Labor activists have long denounced retailers like Walmart for employing an army of low-wage, part-time workers to staff their stores. As retail sales flounder in an uncertain economy, those activists — and even a growing number of retailers — are linking those sluggish sales to the retailers’ own low wages.

On Thursday, organizers of a group called Our Walmart took to the streets in New York, Washington, and Phoenix to draw attention to their campaign to change labor practices in retailing and other low-wage industries like fast-food restaurants. By not paying their workers a living wage, the activists say, such businesses squeeze the very people they hope to sell to.

“I can’t afford anything,” said LaRanda Jackson, 20, who earns $8.75 an hour working on the sales floor at a Walmart in Cincinnati. “Sometimes I can’t afford soap, toothpaste, tissue. Sometimes I have to go without washing my clothes.”

International Debate over Recognition of a Palestinian State Intensifies

On October 13th members of the British Parliament voted 270 to 12 to support a non-binding motion calling on the British government to “recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.” Prime Minister David Cameron and other conservatives of the 650 member House of Commons abstained from the vote. While the vote is largely symbolic, it reflects a significant shift in public opinion since the breakdown of US sponsored peace negotiations and the Gaza war last summer. Conservative House of Commons foreign affairs committee chairman Richard Ottaway said, “[I] stood by Israel through thick and thin [and] under normal circumstances [would] oppose the motion; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.” 

October 10, 2014

IMF, World Bank Annual Meetings Propose Debt Restructuring

Proposals to improve debt restructuring were aired during the IMF and World Bank annual meetings on Thursday, October 9. Representatives of banking and investment communities met with UN and IMF staff to discuss the recent debt restructuring efforts by Greece and Argentina.

Brett House, a Senior Fellow at the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation pointed out the how the “attempts to reform the way we write down the debt of insolvent governments has been the third rail of international financial politics…The problems encountered recently by Greece and Argentina have added urgency to efforts to improve our non-system of sovereign debt restructuring.”

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious anti-poverty coalition, called the event “an opportunity to advance real solutions to help countries with unsustainable debt burdens avoid protracted austerity and stop unsavory behavior by a small group of speculative investors.”

The meeting follows the September ruling by the UN General Assembly to open dialogue about the flawed global bankruptcy process and predatory investor behavior.

Ebola is an Inequality Crisis

In the past few months, the world has witnessed the worst outbreak of Ebola since the disease was first identified in 1976 — it has already claimed the lives of more than 3,400 people. But while the first cases in the U.S. and Spain have stirred fears over the past week, we don’t need to fear an unstoppable epidemic in developed countries. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim aptly put it in a piece for the Huffington Post:

The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.

Congress Pauses for Elections but Leaves Full Plate of Work

Congress has been in and out of Washington a lot lately. Legislators returned from their August recess to work for about two weeks and then left again to campaign in advance of the midterm elections on Nov. 4. While in session in September, Congress took care of some business related to hunger and poverty. Here’s the lay of the land from that session and what will be on Congress’ agenda when it returns after the elections.

Budget and Appropriations

Although there was little fanfare, the most important piece of general business that Congress attended to was passing a continuing resolution to extend funding for the government through mid-December. This prevented a shutdown of the type we saw last fall, when the government was closed for 16 days during a partisan budget impasse. Last month’s funding extension was modified to include additional funding to arm Syrian rebels but did not include funding to address the poverty that is driving children to flee Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States, which Bread had been pushing for. Lawmakers did include instructions allowing certain federal agencies to spend at higher rates to address the surge of child refugees at the border.

Staff & Volunteers Gather For Immigration Roundtable

This September National Justice For Our Neighbors brought together representatives (staff, volunteers and board members) from each of the 17 JFON sites to our annual Roundtable gathering. This experience enables everyone in the network to learn from each other’s challenges and successes and to share in our compassion for working with our immigrant neighbors. This year's gathering of 70 JFON folks in the Washington, D.C. area incorporated an advocacy day into to meet with legislators about issues of concern.

The first two days of training concentrated on best practices in nonprofit immigration legal services management, including strategic fundraising, board development, partnering with law firms, and utilizing technology. We also addressed JFON’s ongoing commitment to unaccompanied minor immigrants with an information and strategy session.

CANADA: Upcoming Demonstrations To Eradicate Poverty

Take to the Streets this October 17 for Chew On This!

If we truly want to eradicate poverty in Canada, we need to go beyond band-aid solutions.

October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year, you can be part of calling for real solutions by participating in a Chew on This! demonstration in your city or town. Chew on This! is one way for Canadians to express to the Canadian public and policymakers that charity is not enough.

Participating in Chew on This! is easy. Our organizers are bringing people together in communities across Canada to hand out paper bags to passers-by during the October 17 lunch hour. They’ll also pass out a postcard to Prime Minister Harper (calling for a federal plan to address poverty) along with an apple.

Compassion in Action: Central America Drought

A drought associated with the "El Niño" phenomenon has caused severe impacts in Central America, where it has damaged a large part of the corn and bean crops. In El Salvador the government has declared a national state of emergency due to losses of up to 30% of the annual corn harvest and 90% of the annual bean crop. In Honduras, the government has declared a state of emergency in the dry corridor, where 76,712 families are badly affected by the drought. In Nicaragua, Estelí, Madríz, Chinandega, and Nueva Segovia are the most affected districts, nearly 75% of the corn crop has been lost. An estimated 100,000 families are most affected.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network calculates that losses in subsistence agriculture in the affected areas of the region reach up to 70%, causing severe difficulties in access to agriculture inputs and food for subsistence farmers. It is forecasted that the drought will keep the rain patterns at very low levels until the end of the year, thereby affecting the second harvest of basic grains. This aggravates food insecurity for the region.

CANADA: People of Faith Disappointed By Mining Oversight Bill's Defeat

KAIROS Canada is disappointed that the Extractive Sector Ombudsman bill, Bill C-584, did not pass second reading in the House of Commons on October 1. More than 90,000 Canadians voiced their support for such an Ombudsman through the Open for Justice campaign, which was launched by KAIROS and our advocacy partners in the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA). 

The campaign calls for the creation of an Extractive Sector Ombudsman to oversee the international activities of Canadian mining, oil and gas companies; and legislated access to Canadian courts for those who believe they have been harmed by such operations.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party leader Elizabeth May stood together in supporting an Ombudsman for the extractive sector, understanding that such an office will not hinder but rather enhance Canada’s efforts to promote responsible mining. All opposition parties rallied behind Bill C-584 but no Conservative MPs voted for it, resulting in a vote of 127 in favour and 150 against.

Baptists Encourage Observation of 'National Disability Employment Awareness Month'

American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) encourages congregations to observe October as “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” with new worship and advocacy resources.

Two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed—a number that has not changed since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

“The ADA mandates equal access to employment for people with disabilities,” notes Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, ABHMS managing director, resource development. “While our society is more open and accessible for people with disabilities than it was a generation ago, the doors to economic opportunity remain closed for too many. Employment remains the unfulfilled promise of the ADA.”

Happy Birthday to the Minimum Wage

“Before those days there were no wages... But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace.” Zechariah 8:10-12 October 24, 2014 is the 76th birthday of when the United States federal minimum wage first became effective. I/we celebrate what our God has done to sow peace and prosperity in our nation through the blessing of the minimum wage. I/we pray for a raise in the wage to $10.10 and for continued growth of God’s peace in our nation.

There was no such minimum wage at the start of the Great Depression. The disparity between the rich and the poor in our country had grown in the Roaring 20’s. Workers were less able to participate in the economy, helping to lead to the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

Editorial: In NYC, Farina Replaces 'Test-and-Punish' with 'Support-and-Improve.' Wow!

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign slogan last fall described New York as a tale of two cities. He was referring to alarming income inequality exacerbated by the policies of former mayor Michael Bloomberg. The metaphor of two cities also captures the contrast in philosophy between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations, a contrast that has never been exposed more plainly than it was this week.

On Wednesday, New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, went to P.S. 503/P.S. 506 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn to deliver her second major policy address. She announced a new philosophy of school improvement and the abandonment of letter grade ratings for public schools.

Then on Thursday, charter school diva Eva Moskowitz closed her Success Academy charter schools and led students, parents, and teachers at a rally in support of charter schools, a rally that was coordinated with a huge TV ad buy that cost nearly half a million dollars. The ads—that ran most of the week—malign the public schools and promote school choice.

National Benevolent Association Begins Prison and Jail Ministry Initiative

The National Benevolent Association (NBA) of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is excited to initiate a collaborative ministry addressing justice issues within America's prisons and jails. In particular, NBA will focus on supporting congregations as they engage in prison and jail related ministries and in connecting conversations across Disciples-related ministries in order to strengthen this work. 

As part of the NBA's strategic initiatives, Rev. Dean Bucalos has been contracted with the NBA as a part-time mission specialist for prison and jail ministries. Throughout the life of the Disciples church, ministries such as the Disciples Center for Public Witness, Reconciliation Ministries, and Disciples Home Missions have been engaged in advocacy efforts related to prison and jail ministries. Early discussions between the NBA and various Disciples ministries have been happening for information sharing and exploring opportunities for partnership.