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Est. April 5, 2002
July 20, 2017 - Issue 708

Teachers, Unions, and Allies
Need to Get Ready
2018 Midterms

"Everything will be on the line for
public education in 2018 as the
U.S. House of Representatives and
the U.S. Senate are presently constituted
with Republican majorities, in addition to
having a Republican President; all are
perched to strike its death knell."

Preparations for voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections should have begun in earnest as this could be a watershed year for teachers, unions, and citizens. The public sector, public education in particular, will be in harm’s way as America’s corporate elite continues turning public education upside down. Under the Trump Administration, agency fees, school vouchers, corporate charters, and the further loosening of public accountability are being queued up to transform K-12 education into a private entity. If this effort is to be pre-empted, it will be imperative that teachers, unions, and their allies develop and begin implementing strategies to enable them to elect candidates who will serve as advocates for public education. They need to double-down on the following tactics.

Candidate Evaluation: It is essential that incumbents in and new candidates for office be carefully vetted at every level of governance impacting public education - at school board, county, state, and national levels. Far too often, these individuals, especially incumbents, are given cursory reviews as to their stances on critical issues for students and professional educators, school funding, class size, education support personnel, and pensions and benefits. What has become apparent in recent years is that many Democrats, who are viewed as being the stronger supporters of public education of the two major parties, have endorsed numerous school privatization schemes, vouchers, corporate charter schools, education savings accounts, etc. by signing on to resolutions and legislation that are undermining K-12 education.

Explaining Political Issues: Inadequate time has been allocated by teachers, unions, and their allies to effectively communicate their political positions to their members. Even more troubling is the fact that many teachers and local union participants have had limited input into determining those issues that unions back. Thus, when the union positions are presented to the rank and file membership, there is often limited buy-in to those stances, often resulting in a near majority of the membership voting against their best interests. Moreover, the corporate education reformers have done and are doing a masterful job in encouraging teachers and their natural allies to support candidates who have consistently aligned with an agenda to privatize the public schools.

Public education stakeholders must do a better job of shoring up their ranks. Solid evidence should be presented that will affirm the outcomes that are proffered as the results of the political action and aspirants for office being promoted. Teachers and other union members are frequently not involved until a rally day, meetings with legislators, and other political events have been scheduled. Those who do attend are often just going through the motions.

Creating a Culture of Political Involvement: As soon as teachers join the union, a key part of their professional development should be their involvement in a culture of political activity. Workshops, speakers, and the dissemination and explanation of current and ongoing proposals for public school privatization should be presented on a regular basis. After this induction process, new teachers ought to be provided opportunities to participate in political activities/organizing in their respective locals and communities so that they have practical experience in fighting for their students and their professional interests.

But what is increasingly important is for teachers, other union members, and their allies to reach out to the grassroots, business, clergy, and broader civic communities to make the case for public education. Because of the wide-ranging backing that K-12 education has long enjoyed, too many educators and citizens overlook the fact that corporate education reformers have made inroads into their traditional bases of support - parents, who have been seduced with slick marketing tactics to enroll their children in charter and voucher schools as funding for public education has been deliberately reduced; churches that have been given voucher and charter schools, allowing them to create education empires; and businesses that have invested in vouchers and charters and other privatization arrangements to earn profits.

Teachers and unions need to advance a social justice agenda that includes pushing back against large cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; advocating for the minimum wage; recruiting academics and intellectuals to make the case for the sustenance of public education; reinforcing the federal civil rights program; and taking a stance on the unnecessary and excessive police shootings of minority (and some majority) males and females which has principally emerged in urban majority-minority and surrounding communities. The latter issue has particular resonance in communities of color from which the predominance of today’s K-12 student population originate. In expanding their numbers of adherents, these public education stakeholders can build a powerful coalition as they head into the 2018 midterm elections.

Everything will be on the line for public education in 2018 as the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are presently constituted with Republican majorities, in addition to having a Republican President; all are perched to strike its death knell. All three political entities have already publicly committed to privatizing K-12 education and turning it into a corporate profit center, and they will be aided by the 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Therefore, there needs to be aggressive and strategic initiatives to flip the House and/or the Senate in order to slow down this initiative. Democrats, teachers, and unions also must reclaim some of the state legislatures and governorships that Republicans have acquired during the past decade if public education is to survive in its present form.

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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