Sunday, September 07, 2014

November elections: high stakes for teachers and students

  • November elections: High stakes for students, parents, education voters
A vital election between Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction-  a teacher himself who has opposed the Vergara decision.  And, Marshall Tuck, a Wall Street banker who has been hired as CEO of a charter school company.  He took no position on Proposition 30 which has now restored funding to California schools. 
    In the nation. 
    by Amanda Litvinov and Colleen Flaherty/image courtesy of Stu Spivack
    A relatively small group of elected officials at the local, state and federal levels determines what educators are expected to accomplish in the classroom each year and the resources they’ll have to pull it off. This November, most of those offices are up for election, including the seats of 36 governors, 6,048 state legislators, 31 state attorneys general, and 468 members of the U.S. Congress.
    Education voters got low marks in the 2010 midterm elections. Our presence at the polls was dismal, which opened the door to scores of candidates who put the desires of wealthy corporations and CEOs before the needs of the 80 million students who attend America’s public schools and universities. The results proved devastating.
    It’s not just who we elect for president — local elections like school board seats and state elections have the most direct effect on education funding, says Beary Clark, a high school custodial worker from Erie, Penn.
    “Governor [Tom] Corbett cut a whole lot from our budget since he came into office in 2011, which left us short on resources as basic as the books we need, and it directly affects kids,” Clark says. “Our district alone closed two elementary schools to make up for an $8.8 million deficit and a lot of people lost their jobs — all because voters weren’t paying attention to who was getting into office.”
    Similar scenarios played out across the country after the 2010 elections.
    Since then, billions of dollars have been cut from state education budgets; federal education funding is lower than it was three years ago, despite the fact that public schools now serve a million more students; and educators’ ability to advocate for their students through bargaining has been severely diminished in some states and is under constant threat in others.
    Education voters are getting ready for one of the high stakes tests of their voting-eligible lives. If you’re not convinced that elections matter—or you need to convince those around you that they do—borrow our notes to review how the roles of elected officials determine what happens in your district, school, and classroom.

    Can change education policies and programs and create new ones via executive orders, executive budgets, and legislative proposals. May veto bills, or sign them into law, and appoint state officers (in some states that includes the attorney general and superintendent of instruction). Influences public understanding of critical education issues such as vouchers, school privatization and education spending, and can play defense for schools if legislators pass potentially damaging legislation. A governor who doesn’t value public education can push an agenda that strips away resources, punishing struggling schools.

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
    “My students are absolutely not better off since Governor [Scott] Walker took office. Class sizes are increasing, teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians and the arts have been eliminated due to catastrophic budget cuts,” says Rachel Swick, a South Milwaukee kindergarten teacher.
    Walker campaigned as a job creator, and promised to add 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin’s economy with his “business friendly policies.” Turns out, giving corporations millions in tax handouts doesn’t inspire them to hire workers. Wisconsin has plummeted to 42nd nationwide in job creation.
    Walker pummeled workers in late 2011 by attacking their ability to organize, which diminished educators’ ability to advocate collectively for the best learning condition for students. In response, more than a million residents signed a petition for his ouster, and as many as 60,000 people protested in and around the state Capitol.
    Gov. Walker and his allies in the state legislature cut $1.6 billion from public education — the largest cuts to education spending in Wisconsin history — to offset their sweeping tax cuts and a $300 million voucher scheme to send students to unaccountable private schools.
    Swick sees the expansion of the voucher program as a way for Walker to reward his rich donors, not help Wisconsin families.
    Voucher expansion has been opposed by superintendents, school boards, teachers and a majority of families in our state. The only reason this program continues is because Governor Walker and his financial supporters want to privatize education in Wisconsin.

    A vital election between Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction-  a teacher himself who has opposed the Vergara decision.  And, Marshall Tuck, a Wall Street banker who has been hired as CEO of a charter school company.

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