Change comes one step at a time — and William Dunbar hopes Democratic voters in the 177th District will take that first step and vote for him in the upcoming primary.
“One step at a time, one seat at a time,” he said, explaining his campaign philosophy and a broader political goal of returning the state House to a Democratic majority. “I’m just one individual, but if we succeed, we can at least get control of the House back.”
Dunbar is seeking to unseat state Rep. John Taylor, a Republican who has represented the district since 1984. He characterized the race as a microcosm of the political landscape across the state and nation.
“We need some new blood, some new energy,” Dunbar said. “This race is at the fabric of America. This race represents exactly what America looks like.”
The 27-year-old’s first step is to secure a spot on the ballot. Tuesday is the first day candidates can circulate petitions to get their name on the ballot. Potential candidates can collect signatures until Feb. 14.
As a Democrat running unopposed in the April 24 primary, Dunbar doesn’t anticipate problems securing the signatures he needs.
But, his next step — wresting the seat from an incumbent — will be much harder.
“Some people say, ‘You’re committing suicide,’” he said, admitting he had a lot of work to do. “A lot of my work is getting people to care. You have to vote if you want change.”
This election presents candidates with an unusual complicating factor — redistricting.
The boundaries of the 177th District, which hugs the Delaware River — includes portions of Fishtown, Kensington and Frankford, but meanders west with two fingers extending into Mayfair, will shift.
Redistricting maps are being challenged in court, and so the final boundaries are not yet clear.
Dunbar said the 177th boundaries are likely to jut farther into Mayfair, a predominantly white neighborhood, something Taylor plans on using to his advantage.
“What he’s banking on is the race card,” said Dunbar. “Mayfair has just as many Democrats, but they’re Caucasian Democrats. He’s banking on the fact that they won’t vote for an African American.”
Though he’s had never held elected office, Dunbar is well acquainted with politics, he said,, pointing out that he worked for two years as a special assistant to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and more recently with state Rep. Tony Payton, as his director of community engagement. He’s also worked for a number of education related non-profits, including a stint as director of Children and Youth Programs at United Communities Southeastern Philadelphia.
“I obviously have tons of energy,” he said. “What I have promised people when I go door to door is that this is not the only time you’re going to see me.”
His priorities, if elected, would center on education in an effort to boost the number of jobs available for his constituents and ultimately lower crime as well.
“The biggest piece is education,” he said, adding that jobs and lowering crime were also at the top of his priority list. “All of that is tied back to educational opportunities. We have to have an educated workforce in order to convince any type of employer to come back to Philadelphia.”
But what the entire campaign will boil down to the basic differences between Democrats and Republicans.
“It comes down to what I believe versus what John Taylor believes,” he said.
Dunbar, who grew up in Overbrook and graduated from the Bartram Motivation High School, has lived in the 177th for the last four years. He has a wife and three children.
A graduate of Lincoln University, Dunbar has a degree in political science and a master’s from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.
Queen Mother Falaka Fattah marked her 80th birthday with a special celebration.
Politicians, community and business leaders, and clergy turned out on Wednesday evening to celebrate the occasion at the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall.
Fattah and her husband David Fattah are known for founding the House of Umoja, a safe haven for gang members. Umoja was established in 1968, at a time when gang violence was claiming the lives of young Philadelphians.
During her birthday celebration, Fattah was lauded for impacting the lives of more than 3,000 young men who, at various points, lived at the house, located in the 1400 block of Frazier Street.
“She took it upon herself to take gang members off the street, invite them into her home and change their lives,” said Manwell Glenn, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“People in life cause ripples. Everyone’s life causes a ripple. Queen Mother Falaka Fattah — your life has created tidal waves and tsunamis.”
Celebration host Councilman Curtis Jones said if it hadn’t been for Fattah, he would not have become a politician. Jones was one of the young men whose lives were touched by Fattah back during the early ’70s. He gave an overview of Fattah’s tactics in bringing peace between the city’s warring gangs.
“Today it is my job to acknowledge a living legend — a living legend who made a difference in the history of the city of Philadelphia,” said Jones.
Jones noted that in 1973, two-thirds of the homicides that occurred in Philadelphia were attributed to gang violence.
Flanked by his children, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah gave a tribute to his mother.
“We are here to thank this woman for what she’s done while she can smell the roses — while she can hear and see the appreciation of a grateful community,” said Fattah.
“We’re here to say happy birthday. It’s not so much about her birth, but more about her life,” said Fattah.
“We all are born, and we are all going to expire. It’s what is done with that dash in between that date of birth and the date of expiration. For these 80 years, this is a woman who did so much that we all have to just pause and say thank you.”
Mayor Michael Nutter was also on hand to acknowledge Fattah. He recalled the difficulties of navigating the streets of Philadelphia during the ’60s due to gang violence.
“It took a strong woman to have to stand in the middle of the street to tell these growing — getting stronger, getting bigger — young men to stop doing what they were doing, to calm things down. She was a stand up person then who saved lives — and she’s been a stand up person ever since,” said Nutter.
After thanking various individuals for assisting her over the years, Fattah took the occasion to highlight Umoja’s “Think Green Peace” initiative. Under the initiative, Umoja residents and volunteers have turned vacant lots near its West Philadelphia compound into thriving “peace gardens” of growing vegetables.
Fattah said the peace gardens are places where people can come to bury their grievances.
“This is what I see for the future — these gardens all over Philadelphia — burying grievances so that people don’t feel like they have to fight it out,” said Fattah.
During the celebration, City Council members Bill Green, Jannie Blackwell and Jones presented Fattah with a city citation.
The third day of Kwanzaa was also marked during the celebration. Guests were entertained with performances from singer Denise Tisdale and the Universal African Dancers and Drum Ensemble.
Despite the campaign finance scandal that’s broken over her head, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown seems secure in her leadership position on city council — for the moment.
Earlier this week the city’s Board of Ethics released a settlement agreement with Brown, in which she agreed to pay a record $48,834 fine for financial improprieties — including using campaign funds to repay a personal loan.
The embattled councilwoman — once considered a strong possible candidate for mayor — could be stripped of her leadership post by a vote of council. Published reports have suggested that her council colleagues are discussing the possibility.
But none would say so on the record.
“Not that I know of,” said council President Darrell Clarke, when asked Thursday if there was a movement afoot to remove her as majority whip, a post Clarke once held.
Majority Leader Curtis Jones was among those who declined, on Thursday, to speak on the matter publicly.
Earlier in the week, he told reporters that the Ethics Board report was not grounds to remove Brown.
“I don’t see where her leadership within council, as whip, which is defined as the ability to garner votes, being able to move legislation, is impacted by the findings of the board,” he said Tuesday.
Speaking off the record, another council member said that council might be spurred to action if the report resulted in any more allegations, criminal or civil charges.
Brown admitted that she used campaign funds to pay back a personal loan from Chaka Fattah Jr. — the son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah — using the money to stave off foreclosure after she fell behind in mortgage payments.
The news prompted almost immediate calls for her to resign from her council seat, and even spawned a website urging Philadelphians to recall her in a special election.
Speaking to reporters after Thursday’s council meeting, Brown said she did not have any indication that her colleagues intended to strip her of her post.
“No,” she replied tersely when pressed by reporters.
Council leaders were aware that she was the subject of an Ethics Board investigation, she said, adding that now everyone on council was aware.
Asked if she was concerned, Brown added, “I feel good that I will be measured on the totality of my work product. I feel good in knowing that consistently, in my 13 years here, I’ve made not good choices but very good choices. I feel good in knowing that I was very honest, I was very forthcoming [with the Ethics Board.]
She referred reporters with more questions back to a statement her office released Tuesday.
“I will do everything in my power to make amends,” she said in a statement released by her chief of staff David Forde.
In a statement, the councilwoman admitted to a number of “errors.”
“It is clear that there were a number of errors that occurred during the last campaign,” she said in the statement.” I take full responsibility for the conduct of my campaign and have taken corrective steps to ensure that future reporting is clear and accurate.”
The headline grabber was the loan from Fattah Jr. — known as Chip — which came in December 2010, just after Brown made a phone call to his congressman father seeking assistance in the effort to save her home. Shortly after the phone call, Fattah Jr. loaned Brown $3,300 — the final chunk of money she needed to stall bank action against her home. The loan was later repaid by the Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown committee.
In campaign filings, the settlement found, Brown lied about the repayment, listing it as a payment for printing services. Additionally, the report noted that Fattah Jr. was employed by a for-profit school that relied on city council approval for its funding, which came through the school district. At the time, the school had a $4.5 million contract with the district.
“I … must take full responsibility for an error in judgment regarding the repayment of a loan, through campaign funds, for a personal matter,” Brown said in the statement. “I have subsequently made the Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown whole through reimbursing that amount with my personal funds.”
Fattah Jr.’s phone number was no longer active. The congressman did not respond to requests for comment.
The loan from Fattah Jr. was not the only mistake Brown made.
Documents released by the Ethics Board — 25 pages in all — showed Brown’s campaign finance reports contained more than 170 “errors,” which the board broke down into 165 “material omissions” and six “material misstatements.”
A cursory accounting of the omissions and misstatements showed that Brown collected but failed to properly account for at least $46,600. She also inflated account balances for campaign accounts.
Among the omissions outlined by the settlement was a $4,000 donation from the Friends of Marian Tasco, and in the next reporting cycle a $4,000 debt to the Friends of Marian Tasco. A $2,500 gift from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was also on the list of donations that were not reported. Brown also failed to report a $150 donation from former SRC chairman Robert Archie and $250 from Evelyn Smalls, the president and CEO of United Bank.
The settlement, announced late Monday, also included a number of other incidents where Brown admitted to playing fast and loose with campaign funds. In several instances, she pocketed campaign contributions; in others, her campaign took amounts over the legal limit from a campaign related political action committee.
In one example, Brown took a signed, blank check from entrepreneur Sid Booker, then made it out for a $1,000 and deposited it in her personal bank account. Similar incidents, where Brown took campaign money and put it in her personal account, happened on four different occasions netting her $1,400.
Ethics officials noted that Brown voluntarily disclosed some of the transactions.
The report has already resulted in the firing of one city employee named in the settlement documents. John D. McDaniel was fired Tuesday from his job at the airport, where he was employed as an assistant director with a salary of more than $87,000. In 2010, he was Brown’s campaign manager.
McDaniel had also worked for Mayor Michael Nutter, who, after firing him, issued this statement.
“I have known John McDaniel for a long time, and certainly I’m disappointed by his actions and admissions as outlined in the Ethics Board report,” said the mayor. “The dismissal was “imperative to ensure the integrity of our government and our personnel,” he said.
$20M complex provides community needed building space, jobs
North Philadelphia is now home to the new Beech International Complex at Temple University.
Located at 1520 Cecil B. Moore Ave., the $20 million, four-story, 80,000 square foot building features 100 housing units, a Mugshots café, conference space, an international market place and space for lectures, meetings and theater.
The modern green structure was designed to accommodate 200 international students, students studying international affairs, visiting scholars and international researchers.
The complex, which was completed September 2011, created 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.
Elected officials, Temple University representatives and community leaders packed the complex’s central garden plaza to mark its official opening on Friday morning.
Beech Companies President and CEO Ken Scott opened the ceremony by recalling when they broke ground on the complex on October 1, 2010.
“Imagine that just one year ago, we were standing on a cloudy, rainy day in a bunch of mud having a dedication,” Scott told attendees. “The building is completed, which a lot of people don’t believe. It’s open and ready.”
“This is a wonderful enhancement to the community, to Temple, to the city. It’s something of which we can all be very proud,” said Richard L. Bazelon, Beech Interplex chairman, board of directors of the new complex.
Mayor Michael Nutter hailed Temple University for its investment in the community.
“This university continues to invest, not only in its own infrastructure but in the community — putting people to work, educating young folks and revitalizing this part of North Philadelphia,” Nutter said.
“I could not be more excited about this development. It is in fact beautiful, but it also is functional and will support the goals of Temple University.”
The complex was lauded as a facility that not only houses Temple international students, but also serves to help revitalize North Philadelphia.
“We’re very excited to have our students here in an organized way, where they can learn and grow together,” said Ken Lawrence, Temple’s senior vice president for government, community and public affairs of the new complex.
“Temple University looks forward to continuing working with Beech Companies, working with our elected officials. There’s great things happening in North Philadelphia. This is just one of them.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah highlighted the link between Temple students and the impact of a global economy.
“To see the growth in international students, I think, will really allow our students from Philadelphia and nearby suburbs to engage with people who come from places which will play a role in their lives. The reality is that our young people are going to have to live in a global economy,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
Second District Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Phila. /Montco) caught up with young Philadelphia car builders at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., Convention Center on April 27. Fattah took a brief break between votes on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives to meet with the teens. The students were part of the EVX Team at the Sustainability Workshop at The Navy Yard and attend West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia and Furness High Schools.
Promising that it won’t happen again, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown this week gave a detailed explanation of the circumstances surrounding the missteps that led to her agreeing to pay a record fine for violating city campaign finance laws.
“You have to face the music,” Brown said. “I have a daughter looking at me, my mother and other young women. Part of leadership is saying, ‘I messed up.’”
Brown sat down with The Philadelphia Tribune for an exclusive interview to discuss the circumstances surrounding her agreement to pay more than $40,000 in fines for ethics violations.
In addition to discussing her role in the violations, Brown assured her constituents – voters all across the city – that she has put safeguards in place to insure that something like this never happens again.
“We are expected to conduct ourselves to a higher standard,” she said. “I fell down, and I’m more disappointed with myself than anyone else could ever be. I asked to do this work, and you take the hits that come with it and you don’t complain.”
As an example of her resolve, the councilwoman noted that she will file her next round of campaign reports Friday -- a week late thanks to an extension -- because she and her staff are going over them with a fine tooth comb. They will be correct and include every detail, she said.
“I am in the weeds in a very meticulous way,” Brown said. “This time, I’m going through every single page.”
Brown herself is financially responsible for personal violations. Her campaign will pay fines related to her committee. In total, she will pay in eight $5,000 installments until the end of 2014.
“I have to go out and raise the money, ask people to invest in me again,” she said.
In sitting down with the Tribune, Brown said she wanted to present the facts in a broader context.
It is not the first time the suddenly embattled councilwoman has been the subject of an ethics investigation. She faced a similar problem, though on much smaller scale in 2011. Then, as now, she agreed to pay a fine for violating city campaign finance rules.
In both cases, political operative John McDaniel was involved. And Brown, while taking full responsibility for actions detailed in the 25-page settlement agreement, said McDaniel was at the core of her troubles.
To outsiders the two incidents may seem separate but they are related, said Brown - all part of a hazy year or so of personal tumult that started with her divorce.
“My life was stupid for a year and a half,” she said.
Her current difficulties started in August 2010, when Brown learned that her ex-husband had stopped making mortgage payments on the home she shares with her daughter and mother. The bank was threatening to foreclose – its second effort apparently – and Brown owed more than $40,000 in back payments, penalties and interest for payments not made since January.
The news sent her scrambling for cash.
“In a move of desperation, I had to figure out how I could come up with $40,000 to save my home,” she said. She tapped her pension, her daughter’s college fund and took loans from friends.
By mid-November she’d raised most of the cash, she but remained $3,300 short. She turned to a longtime friend for help. That friend happened to be U.S Rep. Chaka Fattah.
“That was a misjudgment, because in the eyes of others he’s not a longtime friend – he’s the congressman,” said Brown.
Fattah in turn asked his son, Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr., to give Brown a check, which he did.
Brown got caught up on her mortgage payments. And then, aside from asking McDaniel, who was her campaign manager, to pay back the loan from a campaign account, which he did in December, she forgot about it.
Looking back now, Brown realizes that she should not have told McDaniel to pay back the debt out of campaign funds.
“When you’re going through that sense of desperation and crisis you do a lot of things that don’t make sense,” she said. “I did not think through, adequately and clearly, that this was inappropriate. I was not thinking through a lot of things clearly.”
Brown said she didn’t realize that McDaniel had cut the check and recorded it as a payment to a printing company.
It was almost two years later, when Brown heard about an FBI investigation into Fattah Jr. that the loan re-entered her mind.
She knew that McDaniel, who faced questions about ethics violations in 2003 in an unrelated matter and, in yet another incident, agreed to pay back $13,000 to a nonprofit from which he had allegedly stolen the money, had a questionable history when she hired him.
“I believe in second chances,” she said. “Our relationship goes back to 1984. I always had faith and trust in John.”
McDaniel, however, continues to attract the attention of authorities, who are less forgiving. He was named Wednesday in a federal investigation in which U.S. officials allege he stole $100,000 from a political action committee linked to Brown.
“I don’t take responsibility for John McDaniel,” she said, declining to comment on that investigation. She stuck to recounting her own story.
After learning that Fattah Jr. was under investigation in the spring of 2012, Brown called McDaniel to make sure he had done as instructed.
“I said, “Please tell me you recorded that $3,300 transaction on my expense report,’” she said. “He told me no.”
It was then that Brown, as noted in her recent settlement with the Ethics Board, decided on her own to confess to ethics officials.
Though the incident involving the Fattahs has been the center of the brouhaha, the ethics report also noted numerous other violations. In a few, Brown took checks and deposited them in her personal account.
Sloppy bookkeeping is how the councilwoman explained that, telling the Tribune that the checks were made out to her personally, and she endorsed each of them over to her campaign committee – Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown.
“It was sloppy paperwork. Period,” she said.
A non-disclosure clause in the settlement agreement forbids Brown from criticizing its findings but her mood turned sour when she discussed those checks. In addition, the councilwoman pointed out that the subjects of ethics investigations are free to refute allegations in a report until it is released.
After that they must remain silent.
Ultimately, Brown is determined to avoid getting mired in the scandal. Her position as council’s majority whip appears safe - as does her seat on council. She’s looking forward.
“I’m not fretting about it,” she said. “You have to work hard again to rebuild your reputation. I want to get back to the work that gives me a lot of personal and professional joy.”
She hopes that her constituents can do the same.
“I would hope that they would look at my record, and ultimately I hope that’s what people measure me by. This politics stuff comes and goes.”
When it comes to unemployment, unfortunately, Philadelphia is the local leader.
According to statistics released by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Philadelphia led every local municipality with a 10.3 percent unemployment rate in March. Only Salem County, New Jersey, ranked higher, with 11.3 percent. And considering that the nationwide unemployment average is at about 8.4 percent, it would be easy to point to the lack of training and opportunity as two of the culprits.
The labor department also reports that 57 percent of people who work in a trade-related field in Pennsylvania have only a high school diploma or equivalent, and nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s trade workers are 40 to 60 years of age.
The outlook is even bleaker for younger Philadelphians. The department’s data for April shows that 16.4 percent of all Philadelphians aged 16 to 24 are unemployed — exactly double the nationwide average of 8.2 percent.
Community College of Philadelphia is looking to change that trend by offering free training programs in the critical sectors of advanced manufacturing, energy conservation and health care.
The 10 to 12 week programs are designed specifically for Philadelphians 18 and older who hold either a high school diploma or GED, and have proof of being either currently displaced or unemployed.
“Our challenge will be to help laid-off and underemployed workers to understand that short-term and long-term planning is essential,” said CCP President Stephen M. Curtis, “if they are to meet labor demands. Pennsylvania employers … have made it clear that they prefer candidates with career-specific skills.”
With everyone from tool-and-die machinists to high-level educators and international business organizations decrying America’s lack of science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) training — these programs are critical, especially for able-bodied individuals willing to put in the course work.
And the course work promises to be intense. CCP is currently enrolling students for the Advance Manufacturing and Energy Conservation classes. In the 75-hour healthcare program, students would start off with basic math and learn the nuances of working in a pharmacy; they’d move on to taking have advanced classes in math, hospitality, home infusion and training in mail-order pharmaceuticals and prescription certification.
The healthcare program usually runs 6–8 weeks, and provides a solid introduction to the healthcare field for students with little or no experience. These classes begin in late August and early September.
Other examples of the challenging class work can be found in the Energy Conservation course, where students will be trained and certified by both the Building Performance Institute and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — LEED — standards. Those classes are enrolling now and begin on June 11.
The Advanced Manufacturing Training program is also currently enrolling for classes that begin on July 9. Those students will receive hands-on electrical and mechanical system training, as well as receiving preparation for Advanced Manufacturing Integrated Systems Technology (AMIST) level 1 certification.
The training programs offered by CCP are sponsored by a three-year, $20 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant. This grant is divided among the state’s 14 community colleges, and academic officials involved in the grant hail its potential.
“Fields like advanced manufacturing (mechatronics) and energy are expected to add more than 16,000 jobs to the Pennsylvania economy by 2018,” said Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges and of the Community College of Allegheny County President Alex Johnson in a statement released by CCP. “And we are really pleased that this grant will help us to respond to these workforce needs.”
According to CCP, U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah hailed the $20 million TAACCCT grant that Pennsylvania received as the largest grant in the nation under the program. Fattah called it a way to “jumpstart capacity-building in the curriculum, particularly focused on training for advanced manufacturing, energy and healthcare related jobs.”
One day ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, Vice President Joe Biden was in Philadelphia on Monday hosting a roundtable discussion advancing the administration’s gun control proposals.
The discussion, which was held at Girard College, took place as Delaware State Police were investigating a deadly shooting that happened inside the lobby of the New Castle Delaware Courthouse in Wilmington, Biden’s home state.
Biden was joined by Mayor Michael Nutter, local law enforcement officials, members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Congressmen Chaka Fattah, Bob Brady, Senator Bob Casey and Rep. Allyson Schwartz were also in attendance.
“As mayors of major cities, many of us do all we can to reduce gun violence, but our efforts are too often thwarted by trafficking from other areas and states,” Nutter said following the administration’s outlining of their proposals in January. “The president’s plan would institute background checks nationally and crack down on those who buy guns for the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. It will be an enormous help to us.”
The Obama administration has been pushing for new gun control laws since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Twenty-six people, mostly children, were murdered in the mass shooting.
“How much more bloodshed are we willing to tolerate? There is no need for assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips to be a part of the American civilian stockpile. I wholeheartedly support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and I also support universal background checks for all those lining up to buy weapons of what should be termed weapons of mass destruction,” Brady said at an earlier press conference.
Last week during the House Democratic Issues Conference Biden said that the federal government has a duty to take the lead on this important issue.
“I can't imagine how [the parents] deal with it," Biden said in a published report. “But I can imagine how we will be judged as individuals, judged as a Congress, judged as a nation, if we do not. It's simply unacceptable. The ability, because of all this happening, to misrepresent our positions no longer exists as it did in 1994. The world has changed. The American public has changed. You can go into areas you're told you can't go and politically survive. I'm telling you, the times have changed.”
The Obama administration has outlined several key points in the gun control debate. Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstituting the federal ban on assault weapons and a ban on high capacity magazines, a federal gun trafficking law and giving law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crimes.
Head Start programs nationwide will now have to compete for federal funding under new rules announced by President Barack Obama in a brief speech Tuesday in Yeadon.
“Under the old rules governing Head Start, there just wasn’t enough accountability,” said Obama, speaking at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center. “If a program wasn’t providing kids with quality services, there was no incentive to improve. Under the new rule, programs are going to be regularly evaluated against a set of clear, high standards. If a program meets these standards -- and we believe the majority of Head Start programs will -- then their grants will be renewed. We’re not just going to put money into programs that don’t work.”
New rules will force every program to be a top performer, said the president. “Every Head Start child deserves to be enrolled in an excellent program,” he said.
He spoke to a crowd of local bigwigs who applauded enthusiastically – including U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah, Bob Brady and state Sen. Anthony Williams.
Just before his announcement, Obama visited a classroom at the Head Start center.
“Hello everybody!” said Obama, entering the bright yellow room where 16 kids aged 3 to 5 were working and waiting.
“We’re going to keep playing,” their teacher said. The kids’ names were written in chalk on the blackboard, and there were colorful posters, including a “weather bear.”
One girl in the class was wearing a sparkly red T-shirt that said “Black President” and featured a silhouette of Obama’s face. She seemed worried her peers did not understand the momentousness of the occasion.
“Everybody just be quiet!” she said, to little avail.
The President started to work the room.
“Hello. How are you? Nice to see ya. What are your names?” he said, bending down to and greeting the children at the car/truck table.
A boy showed him a fire engine, and pushed a police car down the street. “Blah, blah, blah,” an excited boy babbled.
“You sound like a politician,” Obama said.
He had harsh words for the Republican politicians in Washington.
“The Republicans in Washington have been trying to gut our investments in education,” said the president. “Earlier this year, nearly every Republican in the House voted for a budget that would have cut hundreds of thousands of children from Head Start. They’ve tried to cut Pell Grants for college students. They just voted against a jobs bill that would have put 400,000 teachers back in the classroom.”
Obama has been butting heads with Republicans for months, most recently over their failure to act on his jobs bill.
“If Congress continues to stand only for dysfunction and delay, then I’m going to move ahead without them,” he said. “I told my administration, I want you to keep on looking for actions that we can take without Congress –- steps that can save consumers money, make government more efficient and responsive, help heal the economy, improve our education system, improve our health care system. We want to work with Congress, but we’re not going to wait.”
Without action, he said, the American dream – the promise that each generation would do better than the last – was at risk.
“We can’t be the first generation of Americans to break that promise,” he said. “So we’ve got to prove that we are tougher than the times that we live in and that we’re bigger than the politics of the moment. We’ve got to meet the challenges today by preparing our children for the challenges tomorrow.”
Over the objections of Republicans, Obama secured a $340 million increase in the final 2011 budget for Head Start. When Congress did not enact his proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund, the administration set aside $500 million to create a Race to the Top for early learning.
Last month 35 states applied for that funding. White House officials said the winners would be announced next month.
President Barack Obama, long a proponent of education that will matter in a technology-heavy future, has set aside a portion of his budget to implement a national program that recognizes and rewards teachers that excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — and provides funds to assist these teachers in delivering educational content.
The National STEM Master Teacher Corps will initially enroll 50 top-level educators and deploy them in 50 sites across the country. The plan is for the ranks to expand to more than 10,000 master teachers in four years. The program will cost $1 billion to create and fund; currently, Obama’s budget is being debated in Congress. The U.S. Department of Education will assist in facilitating the plan.
According to the White House, the master teachers will be classroom-based educators who are highly effective in improving learning outcomes, model outstanding teaching, and will also share their practices and strategies with their professional colleagues. Master teachers know and are deeply interested in their subject, care about improving their craft and inspire both their students and fellow teachers.
The selected teachers will make a four-year dedication to the Corps, and in exchange, will receive up to $20,000 in stipends on top of their base teacher pay. The selection process and the assignment of sites will begin after Congress acts on Obama’s budget.
“If America is to compete for the jobs and industry of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”
Several reports show America is lagging behind other developed countries in terms of both teaching STEM-related coursework and producing students — future workers — who are immersed in the field.
Education-based organization Getting Smart recently released a study which found that globally, America ranks 31st in science and 23rd in math. The report also shows that more than 67 percent of physics students are being instructed by teachers who don’t have a physics degree. Nationwide, 61 percent of students are enrolled in chemistry classes that are led by a teacher who doesn’t have a chemistry degree.
The numbers are similar for biology — 49 percent — and math, where more than 31 percent of all students are being taught that core knowledge by a non-degreed instructor.
The STEM Education Coalition — a group of more than 50 science and engineering organizations — recently asked the Appropriations Committee of the United States Senate to support legislation that would strengthen STEM-related learning.
“Empowering U.S. schools to provide our children with the STEM knowledge and problem-solving skills they will need to land the best, most innovative — and highest paying and most secure — jobs of the future is a critical aspect in supporting an American economic recovery,” read the coalition’s position letter, in part. “We hope you will maintain STEM education as a continued bipartisan national priority, even in this time of great fiscal concern.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, has long been a proponent of increasing funding for STEM-related programs and supports Obama’s drive to increase American technological acumen.
“These master teachers — 10,000 strong within a few years — will be inspiring and shaping the next generation of young scientists and engineers,” said Fattah, who recently addressed more than 50 young attendees at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. “President Obama’s innovative plan will help our nation win the future in science, technology and innovation.”