When a public education system that serves 50 million children is not even really discussed in a national election, that says something about the problems in this political season, doesn’t it?
And this is at a time when rapid growth of school privatization has been extremely controversial, when we have been punishing the schools in our poorest communities and their teachers but when at the same time we have neglected to increase support for the public schools that serve communities where poverty is concentrated. I’ll just remind you—in case Donald Trump’s misogyny, racism, xenophobia, failure to pay his taxes, and propensity to cheat the people who have provided services for his businesses aren’t enough to turn you off—that Trump has announced his education plan would expand vouchers and charters—nothing beyond that. Trump came to a very low-performing charter school in Cleveland, Ohio in early September to announce his plan: “The Republican presidential nominee used his appearance at the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy to announce that his first budget would redirect $20 billion in federal funding to create a state-run block grant that he said he hoped would help poor children in low-performing public schools to enroll at charter and private schools. ‘I’m proposing a plan to provide school choice to every disadvantaged student in America.'”
Hillary Clinton was endorsed early on by both of the teachers unions and she has consistently described education-related priorities including expanded child care and preschool, and relief from college debt. Clinton has been a little vague about plans for K-12 schooling, but she has promised that “(E)ducators will have a partner in the White House, and… always have a seat at the table.” That in itself is pretty radical language in these days when many people agree that current public education accountability has been done to, not done with, school teachers. Neither the federal No Child Left Behind Act nor its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, has added significant funding to help schools in the poorest communities. In fact the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently explained that between 2010 and 2016, the federal government reduced the Title I program by 8.3 percent; federal funding for programs under the Individuals with Disability Education Act fell by 6.4 percent (both adjusted for inflation). Blaming teachers has been the heart of federal policy since 2002. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers look for a significant change if Clinton is elected president.
At the state level, where much of education policy is controlled, there will be a lot of action in Tuesday’s election. In state legislative elections, voters would do well to consider whether their candidate of choice is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the corporate-dominated, matchmaking organization that pairs state legislators with corporate lobbyists to write model laws that can be introduced in any state legislature. ALEC is behind right-to-work laws and stand-your-ground laws and laws that promote the privatization of public education through vouchers, charters, and Education Savings Accounts. Legislators affiliated with ALEC can be counted on to promote privatization of public schools.
Then there are the statewide issues:
- Governor Nathan Deal’s Constitutional Amendment 1 would authorize a Georgia Opportunity School District to enable state takeover of so-called “failing” schools. Problems with state school takeover districts of the type Governor Deal has proposed in Georgia have been covered by this blog here. These posts specifically describe Governor Deal’s plan.
- Massachusetts Question 2 would lift a cap on the authorization of new charter schools to permit 12 new charters each year across the state. Opponents have emphasized that the plan will undermine school services for the majority of students in public schools by serving the few who attend charters at the same time that it threatens the fiscal stability of the Boston Public Schools, where most of the state’s charter schools are located. The campaign for Question 2 has been driven by out-of-state dark money organizations. This blog has covered Massachusetts Question 2 here, here and here.
- California Proposition 58 would roll back at least some of the restrictions of the punitive 1998, Proposition 227 that mandated English-only immersion as the only method public schools across California were permitted to use for teaching English language learners. Proposition 58 would allow school districts to design their own programs including research-based bilingual immersion programs. This blog covered California Proposition 58.
- Oklahoma Question 779 would raise the state sales tax by one percent primarily to ensure a raise for teachers. This blog covered Oklahoma Question 779.
- Maine Question 2, Education Week reports, would add an income tax surcharge of 3 percent when household income exceeds $200,000. These funds would be specifically earmarked for school funding.
In a column last week, Jeff Bryant covers other states where school issues are on the ballot including a sales tax increase in Oregon that, if passed, would increase overall state revenue and expand the budget including for public education. And Bryant reminds us that, “in Washington state… proponents of charter schools have spent hundreds of thousands to unseat two incumbent State Supreme Court judges… In this case, funders of the charter school industry—such as Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen and other major contributors to previous attempts to force charters on the state—have contributed over $500,000 to a campaign to unseat current Supreme Court judges who upheld lower court decisions ruling the method for funding charters in Washington unconstitutional.”
Finally there seems to be something of a pro-tax revolt in Kansas. Here is a November 1 explanation from John Hanna of the Associated Press: “Kansas collected nearly $13 million less in taxes than anticipated in October, with the latest disappointing report Tuesday coming a week before an election determines whether voter discontent with Gov. Sam Brownback will cost his fellow Republicans seats in the Legislature.” Brownback pushed through major income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 and promised that tax cuts would stimulate economic growth. What has resulted instead is a years’ long financial crisis accompanied by a state supreme court decision that found the state’s school funding unconstitutional and has demanded a remedy. This blog has covered Kansas’s tax-cut-driven education funding crisis here.
And at the local level, at least in Ohio, where our politicians have prohibited “unvoted tax increases,” voters must approve any added property tax millage for operating public schools. The school district in Cleveland and many of the state’s smaller communities will be on the ballot with urgently important local school levies to preserve class size, ensure enough counselors, prevent more shuttering of school libraries, and eliminate Ohio’s version of pay-to-play—fees parents must pay to enable their children to play football, run track, play the violin or be part of the debate team.