In much the same way that I habitually go back and forth with my lesson plans, I spent some time being indecisive with the title of this post. It is well-known that public education is a complicated issue. How much testing is too much testing? Should the school day start later then it currently does? Is homework viable in a society that is backsliding to a time where children are expected, and needed, to help families make ends meet for a multitude of reasons? Those are all topics that have been and will continued to be discussed in detail but that is not what I will be focusing on.
No, today the focus will be on the politicians who support public education, or so we think, and how discovering who those politicos are is not as simple as looking at the letter of the political party beside their name on a ballot.
My interest in this topic was piqued when reading about the strike that was conducted by the teachers in Los Angeles this month. Similarly to many urban areas across the United States, the LA area is liberal, voting for Democratic candidates by overwhelming margins. How is it then, that the teachers of Los Angeles felt so disrespected and unheard that they had to resort to a strike? Strikes are not something that occur lightly, and any teacher will tell you that they hate doing anything that could harm the education of their students.
We first have to look at the Superintendent in Los Angeles, Andrew Beutner. Beutner was pushed through by the charter school lobby in a vote by the School Board that featured the swing vote being cast by a member that had already plead guilty to a variety of charges including money laundering. Shortly after the vote he resigned, leaving the board deadlocked between members who were funded by the charter school lobby and those who were not. A wealthy individual, Beutner has donated predominately to Democratic politicians. Beutner is not the only individual in blue California to have seemingly supported charter schools to the detriment of the public schools in California. Back in 2016, then California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased charter school accountability and transparency.
Moving on to my home-state of New Jersey and we see once again Democrats involved in the movement to privatize education in cities. While NJ Senator Cory Booker has become a darling of Democrats in the Age of Trump, he had a decidedly… uneasy relationship with public educators while Mayor of Newark, with the Newark Teachers Union even opposing him in his 2010 re-election bid. Charter school enrollment in Newark skyrocketed from 2008-2018, from approximately 10% of students to 33% and is project to reach 44% by 2022. While it is true that charter schools perform better than the public schools in Newark by approximately 25%, the public schools also serve a significant higher amount of English Language Learners.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, despite all this evidence I was surprised this week to see on Facebook a post from the Democratic mayor of my town here in North Carolina, Chet Mann. As a relatively rural district in central North Carolina, it appears (from this teacher’s view) that we are struggling for funding and this was even before this charter school opened this year. Two-thirds of my school is dealing with class sizes averages approaching or over 30 students. We also are no longer 1:1 with technology and some classes are not even 2:1. It was for that reason I was shocked to see this post. As a constituent, of course I commented on the post saying in part, “Everything this charter school has our traditional public schools deserve. To celebrate this while the majority of Lee County students are expected to do more with less seems shameful.” The comment was deleted from the Mayor’s post within five minutes of it being posted. To rub salt in the wound, the next morning, I awoke to find out that another charter school will be opening within the county in 2020.
You see, educators, it is easy for us to fall into a trap, that all Democrats support public education and that we must vote against Republicans because they do not support public schools. You can draw your own conclusions from this post, but the hope is that you will realize the importance of doing your own research on candidates for public office, just as we would want our students to do.
Ignore the letter next to the names on the ballots and vote the issues. Our kids deserve it.