Skip to Content

Stormy Weather

Our Forecast for anti-public Education activities in Washington, D.C., and around the nation

A big storm brewing in Washington, D.C., has the potential to level our public schools when it hits our communities. A vortex of for-profit charter schools and vouchers could divert state and federal funding from already-strapped public schools, leaving the most vulnerable students with no protection. 

When public schools are defunded, neighborhood schools close and students lose critical resources. Private schools and for-profit charters have no responsibility to provide desperately needed services for students with special needs, English language learners, or those living in poverty. Public schools have always fought for at-risk students. They welcome everyone, not just the most elite. We need to help them weather the storm.

What’s more, if schools close, educators lose jobs. They’ll be forced to find new careers or seek employment at bottom-line-driven charters or private schools, where they typically earn less, have fewer benefits and protections, are evaluated by little more than test scores, and work with others who have few to no education qualifications.

Here’s where our storm trackers are predicting severe weather: 

The White House

Fulfilling its campaign promises, the Trump administration has proposed a bill to allow families to “choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them,” even though new research shows that the nation’s three largest voucher programs—in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio—are hurting students. We need to stand together to defend our public schools from a voucher vortex. Funding for existing education programs is already limited. Diverting billions of dollars to vouchers or for-profit charters, instead of helping the more than 50 million students who attend our public schools, will be catastrophic to our communities.

Department of Education

How will the White House pay for the voucher schemes? Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, has no public education experience, yet she has campaigned to slash funding from public schools to support unaccountable for-profit charters and vouchers. DeVos wants to let corporate America make tax-deductible donations to religious schools, which would then offer those funds to students as “scholarships.” That’s just another way of using private schools—and students—to weaken the public schools that enroll most of America’s students. Making matters worse, those schools could then reject students based on economic status, academic achievement, disability, or even gender, leaving huge populations of kids out in the storm.

Neither DeVos nor her children ever attended a public school, but it’s not too late to give her an education. Now is the time to show her the tremendous value public schools bring to our country.

Congress

Storm clouds are forming over Capitol Hill where the U.S. Congress will vote on the Trump administration’s school voucher bill. A Republican-led Congress could support diverting billions of federal education dollars unless we stand together and tell our representatives to reject privatization and invest in strong and inclusive public schools that ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed.

The Supreme Court

The publicly funded vouchers supported by DeVos and the Trump administration could also be used for religious schools, although that might violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause or the religious clauses of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of vouchers in 2002, but many state constitutions still have what are called Blaine Amendments, which prohibit spending public dollars on religious schools. This year the Court will hear arguments about the Blaine Amendment in Missouri. With a new, conservative Supreme Court justice on the bench, it could strike down Missouri’s constitutional provision and require states to fund religious schools along with public schools.

The storm clouds are gathering on Capitol Hill, but ground zero will be the towns and cities around the country where damage to school communities will be disastrous. Read on to find out how some communities have already been hit and what educators are doing to repair the damage and to prevent further destruction.

 


The Outlook in the States

Many educators are worried about the changes in Washington, D.C.—especially those that affect the U.S. Department of Education. Its new secretary, Betsy DeVos, has never worked in a public school, doesn’t have the qualifications of most educators, doesn’t hold a degree in education, and is a charter school and voucher advocate. 

Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, writes in a recent Detroit News editorial that DeVos’s “lobbying on behalf of the for-profit corporate charter school industry has been harmful to all of Michigan’s students and schools. And now, we are on the verge of seeing that damage spread nationwide.”

A massive charter movement, and President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to publicly fund a national voucher program, would open the floodgates to more botched initiatives that divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, and more unregulated for-profit charter schools. 

The damage to students, educators, and public schools will vary across districts and will affect urban and rural areas differently. Here’s how it could play out in your state: 

Charter Chaos

A common theme among many charter schools in big cities is that they continue to grow despite showing mixed results—and some drops—in student performance. Charters in New Orleans, for example, have shown disappointing results for several years, and those taken over by the state have been deemed “failing” by local experts.

Detroit hasn’t fared well either. The city has been hard hit with an overflow of unchecked charter schools. Last year, a New York Times article described the situation as having “lots of choice, with no good choice.”

This expansion has led to a reduction in enrollment and funding for Detroit’s public schools, which has pushed many toward insolvency. 

But these kinds of reductions may be the goal. In 2015, The Great Lakes Education Project, an organization founded and funded by DeVos, urged legislators to eliminate Detroit’s public school system, an idea promoted through a Twitter hashtag, #endDPS.

Last year, in a Detroit News editorial, DeVos wrote, “Rather than create a new traditional school district to replace the failed [Detroit Public Schools] we should liberate all students from this woefully under-performing district model and provide in its place a system of schools where performance and competition create high-quality opportunities for kids.” 

But this barely scratches the surface. Other issues born of unregulated, for-profit charter schools include an increase in school segregation, double dipping for funds, wasteful spending, fraudulent record keeping, and a shift from serving students to catering to corporate executives.

If this happens in major cities, it’s expected to be much worse in rural towns.

Darker Days Ahead   

Public schools in rural communities have a unique set of circumstances. They’re usually the only educational resource in town and have strong ties to their community. Additionally, they go well beyond their primary mission of educating students and serve as the social, recreational, and cultural core of their areas.

But many rural schools often struggle with sparsely populated towns, shrinking budgets and deficits, and drastic drops in student enrollment.

Take Freemont County, a small farming town in Iowa. In 2016, the town lost its last remaining school, Farragut High School. “This was a heartbreaking experience,” says Pat Shipley, a former Farragut teacher who since 1994 has been the UniServ director for the Iowa Education Association. “The high school was the lifeblood of the community,” Shipley says.

Gone are the ball games, band concerts, dances, and graduation ceremonies. The student population has been fragmented and parceled out to several neighboring school districts. For alumni, there are no more class reunions, which have spanned three generations. The county’s Main Street usually sits empty. The town is now working to reinvent itself as a bedroom community, but its identity has been shattered.

Add charter expansion and voucher programs that shrink student enrollment and resources to this already complex mix, and the nation could see a downward spiral of public schools.

Vouchers: ‘Not a Viable Solution’

Vouchers have been proven ineffective, even harmful, in many urban and rural areas. In Indiana and Ohio, student achievement has dropped dramatically. The same is true for Louisiana. There, researchers found that public school students who used a voucher to transfer to a private school went from the 50th percentile in math to the 26th percentile in just one year.

In Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida—which created a statewide voucher plan—and other locales, vouchers have created a two-tiered system that holds students in public and private schools to different standards. When vouchers take dollars from public schools to fund private schools that pick and choose their students, they often take opportunities from students of color and students with disabilities. 

As for vouchers in rural areas, the Center for American Progress recently profiled Hot Springs County School District #1 in Thermoplis, Wyo., to describe their impact.

The Hot Springs district serves 650 students who are spread among one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. The closest school district is 30 miles away.

The state has no voucher program in place, but if one were to start, Neil Campbell and Catherine Brown, authors of “Vouchers Are Not a Viable Solution for Vast Swaths of America,” say it could have severe consequences.

The authors say that “Even if just a handful of students utilized the vouchers, a district such as Hot Springs County—which covers a wide geographic area with one school in each grade span—would face difficult decisions such as reducing classes and course offerings, cutting activities, or reducing student supports to compensate for the reduced funding when students leave.”

NEA has continuously pushed back on these corporate approaches to school reform. Students, educators, and public schools have suffered at the hands of corporate charter networks and vouchers. Educators know they don’t work. And while a massive storm may cause severe damage, educators would rather prevent problems in advance than clean up afterward. 

—Brenda Álvarez

 


Can You Hear Us Now?

In town hall meetings with lawmakers, protests to protect public education, marches for women’s rights, and rallies for refugees, immigrants, and transgender students, educators have taken center stage.  

“My job for my students doesn’t end at 3:10 p.m. when school is over—it’s just getting started,” says Utah teacher Chelsie Acosta, who recently went to a town hall meeting with her U.S. representative to ask him how she should respond to her students who are scared by the latest refugee ban and anti-immigration actions. “I am an educator, activist, and advocate for my students. I show up,” Acosta told NEA Education Votes.

She’s not the only one. For many educators and parents, the nomination of the utterly unqualified Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was the tipping point that forced them to pick up the phone or take out their Sharpie poster pens. Here is somebody with zero experience as a public school student, parent, teacher, or volunteer—and now she’s in charge of them?

More than 1.1 million emails and phone calls were made to Congress, urging them to reject the DeVos agenda. Classroom teachers, education support professionals, moms and dads, including many who had never before “been political” were organizing rallies, starting Facebook groups, sharing online petitions, and dialing daily their members of Congress. 

“Something about DeVos stuck out to me. The more I read about her, the more baffled I became…I didn’t know that someone so unqualified could even serve in a Cabinet position,” wrote one Virginia resident to The Washington Post. “So I started to act.... I began calling and emailing my elected officials, something I’ve never done in my life.... Knowing that I was part of a huge wave of people...made me confident.”

DeVos may have been seated, but educators felt the power of their voice. And they understand that their place on the front lines of public education makes them uniquely qualified to fight for students.

In Whitefish, Mont., a kindergarten teacher recently organized a “Love Not Hate” rally that took aim at local neo-Nazi groups. Teachers in Sylvania, Ohio, drew 300 people to listen to local refugees’ stories during their “One Sylvania: Rally for Refugees.”

“Rather than plant our heads in the sand and ignore the needs of our changing community, we [are planting] the seeds for tolerance in our schools and our homes,” says Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association president.

— Mary Ellen Flannery

 


Oppose the Trump-DeVos Agenda 

9 Things You Can Do

  1. Add everyone who represents you to your mobile contacts. Include all elected leaders—from your district school board members to your members of Congress—with their D.C. and back-home office numbers! Be ready to hold them accountable, and thank them when they do right by public schools.
  2. Attend your next school board meeting. Invite a friend or colleague to see firsthand how decisions are made. Request to speak on issues important to educators and students. 
  3. Sign up at EducationVotes.org to stay informed on political and legislative issues that affect education. You’ll find loads of opportunities to take action!
  4. Strengthen school-community connections. Invite an educator to speak to your faith or community group. Bring local community leaders into your classroom so they can learn about your students, and vice versa.
  5. Create a public school defense team in your neighborhood. Establish several means of communication—email, phone, and a closed group online—and provide updates on local school issues. If your district comes under attack, alert the entire network! When the time comes, this group can spread the word about pro-public education candidates at every level of government.
  6. Once you’ve established your public school defense team, work together to host a community teach-in on the dangers of turning over public school dollars to private schools.
  7. Participate in the next “walk-in” event sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (reclaimourschools.org). At these positive events around the country, community members gather at local schools and enter the building with students in a show of support. If one isn’t planned in your area, organize it!
  8. Invite an educator who is not a member to join NEA. Activist voices are stronger together, and your Association is advocating for students and educators at the local, state, and federal levels.
  9. Contribute to your state affiliate’s PAC or NEA’s PAC to support leaders who champion public schools and fight for all students.            

—Amanda Litvinov                           

Published in:

Published In

1-Apr-17

Advertisement

Advertisement