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Est. April 5, 2002
November 29, 2018 - Issue 766

A Thanksgiving Break
Teachers Must Get Back
to the

"Teachers held the advance of public school privatization
at bay in the 2018 midterms, but the battle will become
fiercer as we approach 2020 when everything will be on
the ballot - public schools, democracy, and our way of life."

After the Democrats’ state and federal legislative triumphs during the recent midterms, one thing became abundantly clear, teachers were who “we thought they were.” Collectively, they were the keys to Democratic victories in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other red, blue, and purple states where teachers flipped seats in Congress, governorships, and state races to boost support for public education, even when Republicans were able to hold on to power.

One of the most interesting upsets was the loss by Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), who spent $50 million compared to his opponent Tony Evers (D-WI) who only raised and spent $14 million. Walker who was running in his fourth straight race since 2010 (one a recall in 2012) had been heavily backed by the education reform Cartel that is primarily funded by the Koch Bros., Eli Broad, the Walton and Bradley Foundations, and the Wall Street financial lobby. He was the political darling of the public school privatization alliance when he initiated and passed right-to-work legislation at the behest of his Wisconsin billionaire contributor, Diane Hendricks, and eliminated collective bargaining for teachers with Act 10.

After the latter legislation was passed in 2011, teachers launched a recall against Walker in 2012, but he prevailed over the same candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom he had narrowly defeated in 2010, by an even larger margin. After that victory, he went on an educational rampage - quadrupling the number of voucher students, opening significantly more corporate charter schools, and further reducing funding for K-12 public education. In 2018, Tony Evers, a former public school teacher, principal, and sitting Wisconsin State Superintendent rose to challenge Walker for governor.

After being trampled over by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature for nearly a decade, teachers organized and fought him district by district with sweat equity, rather than money, and turned out their members and supporters in huge numbers. It was instructive that voters in Milwaukee and Madison - Wisconsin’s largest cities and largest school districts - voted against Walker by more than 2:1 along with substantial turnout. In addition, Evers ran with an African American Lt. Governor, Mandela Barnes, a former Milwaukee legislator, who energized black and minority citizens throughout the state. The Republican Michigan governorship also changed party hands with a similarly diverse ticket - a white female for Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and a black for Lt. Governor, Garlin Gilchrist - who led the Democratic ticket.

As states become more racially diverse, as noted in the November 15th column, state - and federal-level candidates, who are reflective of the ethnic makeup and/or values of their constituents, are increasingly likely to be elected to office. Teachers, as a major block of voters, are representative of the aforementioned factors and are motivated by the continuous attacks on themselves as individuals and as a profession.

Thus, they were at the barricades to defend themselves during the midterms. Teachers were the key to the Democrats in Arizona and Nevada winning U.S. Senate seats and breaking Republican super-majorities in state legislatures in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Michigan which will loom large in 2020 as districts are redrawn for state and federal legislative districts. In addition to Wisconsin and Michigan, Democrats gained governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico where teachers were the political engines behind these wins. In Florida where Republicans prevailed in hotly contested gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, voters still raised taxes to fund education in Hillsborough and seven other counties.

Although some Republicans are rethinking their rabid opposition to supporting public education, it is imperative that teachers keep their “pedal to the metal.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is still funneling money to corporate charter school and voucher initiatives and trying to implode the Me Too movement by promulgating rules that make it more difficult for rape victims on college campuses to have a fair hearing and to receive justice. With all the controversy surrounding the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court and the ongoing racist, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant vitriol of President Trump, we have taken our attention away from the anti-public education activities of DeVos.

California teachers and their unions have turned an already blue state a deeper shade of blue, wiping out most of the state’s Republican officeholders in the U.S. House of Representatives. In a cliffhanger, they also powered Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D) to victory in the race for state superintendent of public instruction over Marshal Tuck (R), formerly head of a California corporate charter school network. Tuck was poised to be the inside man for Eli Broad, who has raised more than $400 million to convert 50 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUS) to charter schools by 2023. With Tuck in the superintendent’s seat, California would have become a cash cow for corporate charter schools.

Teachers held the advance of public school privatization at bay in the 2018 midterms, but the battle will become fiercer as we approach 2020 when everything will be on the ballot - public schools, democracy, and our way of life.

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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