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Est. April 5, 2002
September 21, 2017 - Issue 712

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Years for Decisions
Teachers and Unions
2017 to 2018

"Since the early 1990s, voucher and charter laws
were systematically passed by state legislatures
across the nation.  They were funded in part by a
Cartel of corporate education reformers who conspired
to turn public education private and to make it a new
corporate profit center as the U.S. public schools became
increasingly populated by low-income students of color."

Political Updates: The 2017 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia are must wins for the teachers and unions backing the Democratic candidates. Although both candidates are currently ahead, there are obstacles on the horizon.

In New Jersey, Phil Murphy is receiving lukewarm enthusiasm from his minority base as a result of their perception that he supports a bill mandating that K-12 students, primarily minorities, be instructed in how to interact with the police in a one-sided way. It was written, without minority community input and unanimously passed by the Assembly, to address the excessive and questionable police assaults and shootings of minority males and females. It is slated to be implemented in 2018. Moreover, police organizations have been recruited to help write the curriculum.

Many ministers and other minority community leaders view this legislation as “victim blaming” and question why there has been limited funding and enactment of the Amistad Act that was passed in 2002 which was designed to infuse African American culture into K-12 classes. At a campaign stop (with modest attendance) in Trenton on September 9th, Murphy and his Lt. Gov. running mate refused to give a clear answer when asked about the proposed statute, and they have not publicly condemned it.

Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam, is being ‘slow walked’ by his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, who has a strong ground game to cultivate and turn out Trump voters in a state that Hillary Clinton won by less than six percentage points. Gillespie nearly upset U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in the 2012 election, has solid name recognition, and the backing of Trump.

Decision time is at hand as we near the end of 2017. Teachers and public-sector unions have been under increasing attack since the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. Presidency on November 8, 2016. This is when the decades-long waves for privatizing public education began to align, setting up the perfect storm. Since the early 1990s, voucher and charter laws were systematically passed by state legislatures across the nation. They were funded in part by a Cartel of corporate education reformers who conspired to turn public education private and to make it a new corporate profit center as the U.S. public schools became increasingly populated by low-income students of color. Since then, there has been a corresponding growth of related public school privatization initiatives—e.g., education savings accounts, special education vouchers, and charter school conversions to voucher schools. Teachers, unions, and public education, in general, will face extraordinary pressures during the next two years via the Cartel, Governors, and Trump administration hurricanes for school privatization (see Figure 1).

Presidential administrations ‘greased the skids’ directly and indirectly for private-sector alternatives to public education from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. However, Donald Trump is the first President to run a campaign with public school privatization as the centerpiece of his policy for public education. He promised to commit more than $4 billion to fund charter and voucher schools. In addition, he appointed Betsy DeVos to serve as his Secretary of the Department of Education (DOE) to carry out his proposals, and she is off and running to achieve those objectives. Over the past two decades, DeVos has been America’s foremost advocate for the private reform of public education, primarily through publicly-funded, private school vouchers although she embraces any substitute for public schools.

Trump has been backed by a Cartel of private-sector education reformers who have pushed school privatization at the national, regional, and state levels through a number of think tanks, political action committees, and grassroots organizations comprised of diverse participants who reach out to their ethnic constituencies. Eli Broad, the most prominent Cartel leader for running school districts like businesses, has established his own academy to train school superintendents and other school district central office personnel. He has also funded the political takeover of school boards with pro-school choice and privatization majorities in cities from coast to coast. Most notably, last spring, after spending millions of dollars with fellow Cartel colleagues, Broad pulled a coup on the pro-public education Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board after earlier announcing, unilaterally, that he would convert fifty percent of its schools to charters by 2023. Since the election, the new board members have begun implementing his charter school initiatives.

The Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Suzy Walton, and Laura Arnold have also spent billions of dollars on school privatization advocacy and on funding elected officials at every level of government to carry out their Cartel agenda for charter and voucher schools. They have also elected Republican governors and/or Republican-controlled legislatures to expand private sector options to public education and right-to-work (RTW) laws to erect greater barriers to union organizing.

As also seen in Figure 1, there are a number of Republican governors, some who were elected in 2016, Eric Greitens in Missouri, Matt Bevin in Kentucky, and Eric Holcomb in Indiana (who followed current Vice President Mike Pence) who have championed these anti-public education efforts. They joined the ranks of other Republicans who have been school privatization activists—Christie in New Jersey (working hand-in-hand with a Democratically-controlled legislature), Snyder in Michigan, Haslam in Tennessee, Walker in Wisconsin, and Deal in Georgia. In New York, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has been a strong ally of the Cartel while newly elected Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Copper is surrounded by a veto-proof Republican Assembly and Senate. Together, these hurricanes are overwhelming unions: reducing their numbers, raising the costs of their members’ pensions and benefits, and decreasing funding for public education. At the same time, teachers are being held to tougher standards with fewer fiscal and material resources. Therefore, teachers and unions need to recalibrate their response to this new paradigm.

However, the most urgent issue for teachers and unions is to develop a strategy to counter the impending Janus v. AFSCME case (see Figure 1) challenging union agency fees which is currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The 1977 Abood decision, which upheld the maintaining of a union shop in a public workplace, will likely be reversed. In a 2016 review of Janus, the eight Justices remaining after Justice Scalia’s untimely death deadlocked in a 4-4 tie. This time around, Justice Gorsuch will almost assuredly provide the four SCOTUS conservatives with the deciding vote. This will possibly result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of union members unless they develop a comprehensive plan to motivate members and former agency fee payers to voluntarily continue paying their dues.

The above-mentioned problems will necessitate that teachers and unions make critical decisions between now and December, when the Janus decision will probably be rendered to strike down Abood and the beginning of the 2018 school year if they are to remain significant players in K-12 public education.

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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