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Est. April 5, 2002
June 08, 2017 - Issue 702

Slashing Public School Budgets
Eliminating Teachers

"In addition to the funding declines,
public school teachers are being battered
by the rapidly increasing number of charter
and voucher schools which largely reject
teacher unions, further eradicating teaching
positions in public schools as individual
schools’ budgets are reduced to pay for them."

The reduction of the nation’s public education teaching force is a silent tsunami that is insidious to K-12 education. Many of the warning signs are being ignored and/or teachers themselves are being held responsible—a classic case of “blaming the victim.” School budgets have systematically suffered massive cuts during the past decade which have parallel Republican takeovers of state legislatures (32) and governorships (33) in the 50 states. States with the most egregious decreases include Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, New Jersey, and North Carolina. These cutbacks have been coupled with a corresponding increase in the number of teaching evaluations employing students’ standardized test scores, placing teachers between the virtual rock and a hard place; both approaches have led to significant year-end teacher retirements and resignations across the country.

But even more interesting, as has been recently revealed, is that in the Washington, D.C. public schools, an unprecedented number of teachers have quit in midyear. Approximately 200 of them have left the classroom since the beginning of the school year. One of the schools hit hardest is Ballou High School where more than a quarter of the staff resigned since beginning work in August. Principals have struggled to find replacements, the vast majority of whom lack the necessary credentials to effectively teach the students in their charge. As a result, numerous students have complained about inadequate instruction, and seniors are worried that they will not be adequately prepared to apply for or succeed in college. Still more disturbing is the fact that a number of the departing teachers are in the science and math fields, positions that are difficult to fill in the summer before school starts and even harder to replace during a school year.

The primary reasons cited for these early teacher exits are: lack of support in their efforts to manage disruptive students, inadequate supplies for their classrooms, and the escalating number of teacher evaluations to which they are subjected while struggling to overcome the aforementioned challenges. This situation was further exacerbated by former Superintendent Kaya Henderson’s violation of the D.C. lottery for students’ school assignments. Daniel Lucas, D.C.’s Inspector General “… found Henderson had misused her authority by giving preferential treatment to seven of 10 people who requested special school placements for their children during the 2015 lottery season.” On its face, this violation would appear to be minor in the overall scheme of things.

However, there appears to be a pattern across Superintendencies, starting with Henderson’s predecessor and mentor, Michelle Rhee. In 2010, Rhee replaced a popular principal, Patrick Pope, who founded the arts and music program at Georgetown’s Hardy Middle School that attracted a majority African American student population from across the city. At that time, it was alleged that Rhee was trying to make room for the majority white students in the school’s service area since the overall demographics of the area were also majority white. Henderson’s objective appeared to be to aggregate students from poverty backgrounds, who had demonstrated disciplinary problems and low achievement, in a select number of schools using her discretionary authority to give city officials and her friends’ preferences in spite of the lottery, even when their applications were late.

In addition to the funding declines, public school teachers are being battered by the rapidly increasing number of charter and voucher schools which largely reject teacher unions, further eradicating teaching positions in public schools as individual schools’ budgets are reduced to pay for them. Examples of the impact are the Indianapolis, Indiana, Camden and Newark, New Jersey, New Orleans, Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee school systems, and other urban districts, where teacher union membership has shrunk by a third to more than eighty percent and growing with impending layoffs. Moreover, the Kansas State Supreme Court recently ruled that Governor Sam Brown’s cuts to education funding were unconstitutional.

Charter and voucher schools have even greater teacher turnover since more than 80 percent lack collective bargaining agreements, are at-will employers, and terminate teachers for a variety of non-performance reasons: school closures by their public overseers, arbitrary firings, and teachers deciding to leave for the same reasons given by D.C. teachers. This situation is unlikely to improve in the near future given the privatization-oriented reform of public schools being emphasized by Republicans, who control the majority of state legislatures and all branches of the federal government; conservative foundations and donors also fund their campaigns.

This Cartel of education reformers is constantly devising new strategies to undermine public school teachers and throw them overboard: creating Achievement Districts where low-performing public schools are corralled into a special district and given to corporate charter school operators to administer (e.g., Tennessee and North Carolina) with limited oversight and having a U.S. President and Education Secretary who are committed to the privatization of public schools at all costs. The Cartel is currently subsidizing the the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation to argue the Janus v. AFSCME case that could end forced union dues payments in the public sector as a condition of employment (the request for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court was made on June 6th), leading to further reductions in the number of public school teachers and union membership.

Thus, public school teachers are facing a massive two-pronged attack—aggressive public school privatization on the outside and lessening financial support on the inside.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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