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Est. April 5, 2002
June 15, 2017 - Issue 70

Unions and Teachers
Where They Need to Go From Here

"It is time for unions and teachers
to take specific actions for their survival!"

Within the past month, unions and teachers have experienced political ups and downs that may be precursors to the battles in the upcoming 2017 and 2018 elections. Democrats prevailed in a district Trump carried by a landslide in the 2016 presidential election. In New York State, Christine Pellegrino, a Baldwin school teacher running as a Democrat, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate last year, won an Assembly seat in a special election in the Republican-controlled Ninth Assembly District. She beat her opponent by a margin of 58-42 percent of the vote. Shortly after, two charter school advocates upended the pro-public education, long-term Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) majority: Nick Melvoin whipping school board president, Steve Zimmer, 57-42 percent and Kelly Gonez narrowly edging out Imelda Padilla, 51-49 percent, resulting in 4-3 control of the board.

It should be noted that both Melvoin and Gonez were endorsed by Obama’s former Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, and that Gonez was an education policy advisor in the Obama administration. Thus, Trump-DeVos school choice policies are a continuation of the Obama education policies on steroids, with the addition of school vouchers. As we head into late 2017 and 2018, unions and public school teachers must put their shoulders to the wheel and make every effort to maintain and increase their representation on school boards, in state legislatures, in governorships, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and in the U.S. Senate. The first opportunity will occur on November 7, 2017 when the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey will be on the ballot.

The Democrats currently hold the governor’s office in Virginia and are looking to hold on. Current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a mainstream Democrat, handily defeated Bernie Sanders-backed, former Rep. Tom Perriello, a progressive, in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary. In New Jersey, the Democrats are primed to regain the governorship after the eight-year reign of Chris Christie who won twice with the strong support of state Democratic leaders. Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Ambassador to Germany in the Obama administration, leads his Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, by more than 25 points in early polls, due in large part to the scandal-ridden Christie administration. But the election is far from over as Guadagno is making inroads among the African American clergy that put former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman over the top in her 1993 upset of Democratic incumbent, Jim Florio, 50 to 49 percent.

In addition, Murphy has given mixed messages in his support for charter schools, although he has been endorsed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), and New Jersey’s key Democratic political boss, George Norcross, who has also established a corporate charter school empire in South Jersey. He was the political puppet master behind Gov. Christie’s expansion of corporate charter schools and other public school privatization initiatives from 2009 to 2017. But Murphy’s Achilles’ heel could be his support for legalizing marijuana which is intensely opposed by the majority of the African American religious community. These educational and social issues could prove pivotal in the outcome of the general election, and outside Republican groups are already gearing up to exploit Murphy’s stance on marijuana.

In addition to political matters, teachers and unions need to upgrade their get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts for their natural constituencies - minorities, young people, women, and the working class heading into the 2017 and 2018 elections. Hillary Clinton did not aggressively target minorities in 2016, instead relying on the Obamas, minority elected officials, and entertainers (Jay-Z and Beyonce in Cleveland, Katie Perry in Philadelphia, and Jennifer Lopez in Florida) to do the political work to reach young people and people of color that she should have done. She never made a direct appeal to their concerns as did Donald Trump throughout his campaign. Hillary also refused to distribute GOTV street money in the critical urban centers - Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine-Kenosha, Wisconsin; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Detroit, Lansing, and Flint, Michigan - where she could have garnered enough minority votes to overtake Trump on election day.

An effective Democratic ground game will be essential on November 7, 2017 in Virginia and New Jersey and on November 6, 2018 in the midterm elections. A lesson can be learned from the charter takeover of the Los Angeles school board in May 2017 funded by the Cartel of conservative education reformers, led by corporate leaders Eli Broad, the Walton family, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, Gap founder Doris Fisher, and other pro-charter billionaires. They basically won the race with mail-in ballots when 60 percent of that vote went to the charter candidates, and their GOTV on-the-ground turnout on Election Day was unprecedented.

The Cartel is also upgrading its operations for a rematch between Marshall Tuck, former president of a charter school network, and Tom Torlakson, the 2014 Democratic union-backed winner, in the California State Superintendent’s race in 2018. It plans to double down on its phone banks, TV ads, and field workers after analyzing its failures in the 2014 race. The Cartel has the money, marketing strategies, and the long-range commitment to its school choice agenda and has been able to recruit independents such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to its cause.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to recruit in minority communities. Last week, it held the National Sponsored Programs Administrators Alliance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Conference in New Orleans where Atty. Emily M. Dickens, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Chief Relationship Officer for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) which represents public HBCUs, lauded charter schools and encouraged HBCUs to establish them on their campuses. This may be a result of the TMCF having received a $25 million grant in 2016 from the Koch Bros., ardent charter school enthusiasts.

In summary, it could prove beneficial for unions and teachers to pursue the following tactics as they attempt to increase their influence during the 2017 and 2018 elections:

  • Carefully vet Democrats before endorsing and funding them (even if they have done so in the past) to make certain the candidate’s voting records and current votes line up with their programs for public schools;

  • Demand that regular and progressive Democrats reconcile their competing platforms before the forthcoming elections (the Republicans are banking on the continuing conflict to enhance their electoral chances);

  • Develop a coherent and targeted message to win back the Democrats who voted for Trump and other Republicans in 2016; and

  • Educate and energize current teachers and public education stakeholders about the escalating assault on the public schools, many of whom have voted against their own interests in recent elections.

It is time for unions and teachers to take specific actions for their survival!

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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