Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ellen Lipton Beat Betsy DeVos In Lansing-- And Will Continue Beating Her In DC


Last month Digby introduced me to another extraordinary woman running for Congress, this one in Michigan, Ellen Lipton. Ellen's district is the 9th, from which Sandy Levin is retiring. This is a safe Democratic district in the suburbs north of Detroit (PVI is D+4 and Hillary beat Trump there 51.5% to 43.7%. Obama had beaten Romney by a much better margin: 57.2-41.9%.) The district is southern Macomb and eastern Oakland counties and includes Royal Oak, Fernadle, Warren, Eastpointe, Mount Clemens, Franklin and Bingham Farms.

Ellen raised two kids, worked as a patent attorney, helping universities and small businesses often in competition with large, powerful corporations. As a survivor of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), she became involved in public life when she joined the fight to allow life-saving stem cell research in Michigan. She ran for State Representative in 2008 and served three full terms, the maximum allowed in the state. As a legislator, she led the fight against Betsy DeVos’ efforts to destroy Michigan’s public-school system. After leaving Lansing, Ellen founded and was named President of the Michigan Promise Zone Association, which supports free community college tuition, technical training and certification to Michigan students in selected communities across Michigan, a blueprint for free college tuition across America.

Goal ThermometerShe's the only woman in a four-way Democratic Primary, a progressive through and through and her work with the Promise Zones and in holding DeVos at bay prompted me to ask her to share those specific experiences with DWT readers. Read this below and if you like what you hear, please consider contributing to the campaign of Blue America's newest endorsed candidate. Just click on the ActBlue congressional thermometer on the right. Let's make Michigan great again!

Guest Post
-by Ellen Lipton

Before Betsy DeVos became nationally reviled for her corporate education reform agenda as Trump’s Education Secretary, she spent years attacking public schools in Michigan, her home state. We were her political petri dish.

One of her most damaging proposals was the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), a program that would implement a statewide school district tasked with turning around “low performance schools.” Her metric for measuring performance was to look at standardized test scores, a highly flawed metric of school performance that by design discriminates against low income and minority students.

I served three terms in the Michigan State House, and for two of those terms I fought tooth and nail against DeVos and others like her who were intent on destroying public schools in Michigan. While I was in Lansing, a bill that would have codified the EAA into state law was being rushed through committee, backed by Republicans and even a few Democrats. None other than John Covington, a nationally infamous proponent of privatizing public education, came to our committee to testify about how successful an EAA pilot program had been in Detroit, and announced that we ought to just trust him to work his magic across the rest of the state. Needless to say, his record in Detroit was abysmal-- our schools in the city have been demonstrably worse off because of his work.

The problem with John Covington and Betsy DeVos and their one-size-fits-all, pro-privatization “solutions” to problems in education is that there are no magic bullets in turning around schools. Solving problems in education requires a lot of work, a lot of patience, and crucially, a lot of additional funding. During the committee hearing, I grilled Covington about his wild claims of success because the math just didn’t add up. When he couldn’t answer my questions, I sent an extensive FOIA request to the EAA, which they promptly ignored. It wasn’t until I threatened a lawsuit that they finally released the documents, which made it clear as day that the failed experiment of the EAA was riddled with abuses of power and misallocations of funds. Betsy DeVos’ dream of destroying Michigan’s public school system finally came to an end.

I’m proud of the work I did taking on Betsy DeVos in Lansing-- but being a legislator, whether in the State House or in Washington, isn’t just about stopping bad things from happening. It’s about reshaping the narrative around issues we care about, proposing bold solutions to those problems, and mobilizing the community around supporting a progressive agenda.

One narrative I hate the most is this idea that our schools are failing, and so our students are failing. Our kids aren’t failing at all-- they’re doing incredible work in the face of enormous challenges. And one of the greatest challenges they face is our nationwide crisis of college affordability. So many bright, hardworking students that want to attend college can not afford to go; those that do graduate often find themselves saddled with a lifetime of crushing student loan debt.

In Michigan, we’ve taken a stab at addressing this critical issue. Nearly ten years ago, the legislature created ten “promise zones” in economically distressed communities throughout the state. These promise zones guarantee two years of free college for every single student that graduates from public school in that district. As a legislator, I worked with community leaders in Hazel Park, a community that had been battered during the Great Recession, to establish the Hazel Park Promise Zone, and I am the current treasurer of the organization.

The results in Hazel Park have been incredible. Students who never thought they could go to college see a path to the future. The school district has been strengthened, the community has been brought together, graduation rates have improved, and property values have increased as young families are moving to Hazel Park because of the opportunities they and their children now have.

In addition to providing students with free tuition, the promise zones assist students with completing FAFSA applications and provide help with applying for other public and private scholarships, so that every student can attend college free from the burden of student loans.

After I left the legislature, I founded and became the President of the Michigan Promise Zone Association. I remain committed to my mission to strengthen what we have achieved in Hazel Park and communities all across the state. I am proud to say that just three years after I left Lansing, the number of promise zones in Michigan has grown from 10 to 15.

But my work is far from over. If Betsy DeVos had had her way in Michigan, the promise zones would never have come to fruition, and public schools would have continued to be degraded for the benefit of the wealthy few. If I am elected to Congress, I will do everything in my power to stop Betsy DeVos dead in her tracks once again, and prevent her harmful privatization agenda from destroying our public education system. I’ll also be a leader in solving the crisis of college affordability. What we’ve done in Michigan with the promise zones can happen on a national level. We need a tuition-free, debt-free path to college for every young person in this country, and I will work hard in Washington every day to make that dream a reality.

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