Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

12/13/2018 – Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

THIS WEEK: Charter Politics Changing … Chicago Charter Union Wins … LA Teachers Next To Strike … For-Profit Collages Screw Students … DeVos Employees Hate Her

TOP STORY

Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

By Jeff Bryant

“A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics … The informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for … Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

New Democratic Governors Show Shift On US Charter Schools

Associated Press

“As Democrats flipped seven governor seats … the incoming governors in California, Illinois, and New Mexico have all said they want to take the rare step of putting a temporary halt on new charter schools. New governors in Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, and Nevada also are expressing less enthusiasm for charters than their predecessors … Democrats see opposing school choice initiatives as a way to resist DeVos and President Donald Trump. While existing charter schools won’t be touched … overall growth will stall and for-profit schools will be in peril .… In California … in the most expensive state superintendent race in U.S. history, in which Marshall Tuck, who previously led a charter school network, lost to union-backed state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a fellow Democrat.”
Read more …

The Nation’s First Charter School Strike Has Ended With A Union Victory

Education Week

“The Chicago Teachers Union announced … that the bargaining team for the educators at the Acero charter school network reached a tentative deal with management. The deal agrees to raise pay for teachers and paraprofessionals … The tentative deal also shortens the school year and reduces the teachers’ work day … Union leaders are now heralding the victory as the path forward for educators at charter schools. Just about 11% of charter schools across the country are unionized.”
Read more …

Protesters Shut Down Los Angeles Board Of Education Meeting

Los Angeles Times

“A group of at least 50 protesters shut down the Los Angeles Board of Education meeting early … Two major possibilities color just about everything in Los Angeles Unified — the growing prospect of a teachers strike and Supt. Austin Beutner’s still largely confidential plan for a massive district reorganization. The major theme of the protest, organized by teachers union allies, was support for the teachers, though student demands also were a part of it … District officials and the teachers union have been in negotiations for more than 18 months, and a January strike appears increasingly likely. The two sides are nearly done with fact-finding, the final step of a negotiation process.”
Read more …

What Do Students Do When A For-Profit College Closes?

The Atlantic

“More than 19,000 students [are] affected by the abrupt closure of Education Corporation of America, one of the country’s largest private for-profit college operators, which runs Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute, and Golf Academy of America. The for-profit operator had been in a precarious position for some time, given a pending loss of accreditation and access to federal financial-aid funds … When a college closes abruptly, students can often have their federal student loans discharged … Historically only a fraction of students who were eligible for such discharges have ever received them … Even though students may be eligible to get their loans discharged, Lee says, they are unlikely to get any credit for the work they’ve already done, and that doesn’t account for the money they spent out of their own pocket … All of this is happening to a student body not well equipped to weather major setbacks. Statistically, students at for-profit colleges are more likely to be low-income … and are less likely to have the resources to draw on to be able to come up with a good Plan B.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Gets Bad Reviews From Employees As Morale At Education Department Plummets, Survey Finds

The Washington Post

“The Education Department had a morale drop of 12.4 percentage points — from 59.7% in 2017 to 47.3% in 2018. It was one of the steepest declines among all federal agencies … Over the past year, career department employees have privately complained about DeVos’s leadership, saying their expertise has been ignored by her political appointees to top jobs. And they have expressed opposition to many of the positions she has taken. DeVos rolled back Obama-era civil rights protections for some marginalized students and made it easier for for-profit colleges to operate. DeVos has also limited the ability of employees to work from home and fought with the department’s union … The morale drops are hardly a surprise, given the hostility that Trump and many of his appointees have directed toward the agencies and their missions. DeVos has said she wouldn’t mind if the department closed, expressing her long-standing opposition to federal involvement in local education.”
Read more …

Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics.

At the time, Republican state governors and legislators were engaged in a withering assault on public schools to strip them of financial resources they needed to educate a population of students increasingly wracked by poverty, homelessness, and the traumas of widespread racism and economic inequity. A Democratic presidential administration led by Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was continuing its campaign to ratchet down more pressure on schools and teachers to conform to practices most educators objected to and increase standardized test scores or face punitive actions. Influential billionaires and private foundations were stoking the coffers of political candidates and think tanks to back charter schools and other market-based forms of competition to public schools. And education policy makers and influential media pundits seemed stuck in a consensus that the nation’s public schools had failed and bad teachers were the problem.

In the political arena, the progressive left had generally left the education battlefield to centrist Democrats and radical Republicans who more often than not agree on how schools should be governed. Public schools had virtually no prominent champions in the progressive faction on Capitol Hill, and progressive advocacy groups uniformly left education policy off their checklists of issues they cared about.

Faced with this bleak landscape, the informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for.

Beginning with a bold “Education Declaration to Rebuild America,” EON set out a principled agenda based on the progressive ideals of public education as a primary vehicle to provide opportunities for individual advancement, promote social mobility, and share democratic values. The declared goal was to ensure all who envision a more just, progressive, and fair society joined in the fight for the public schools the nation deserves.

Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.

Teachers are engaged in massive protest actions to call attention to the lack of resources in schools and the needs for increased funding and relief from the obsession with standardized testing and harsh accountabilities. Grassroots advocacy by students, parents, and community organizers is starting to stymie the steady march of privatization in some communities and bring back democratic governance to school districts that had been deprived of voting rights for years. Prominent news outlets have gone from unfairly bashing classroom teachers to portraying their struggles with empathy. A new slate of Democratic governors has pledged support for traditional public schools and openly expressed skepticism of charter schools and other forms of privatization. And many of the progressive candidates who helped Democrats take back the US House of Representatives this fall vowed to support public schools rather than shutting them down and pledged to put the emphasis back on making neighborhood schools the best they can be rather than funding more alternatives that rarely live up to their promises.

With the holidays approaching, EON will take stock of this transformation and take an extended break to reflect on where this project has been and where it should go from here. Your input in the comment section is welcome, or please leave a comment on the EON Facebook page where today’s newsletter is posted. Here’s wishing you the best of the season and seeing you back here in the New Year.

12/6/2018 – Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

THIS WEEK: Corporations Screw Schools … HW Bush Was First Reformer … GOP: Defund Public Schools … Color Of School Closings … Social Disruption Hurts Kids

TOP STORY

Here’s Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“The tradition in American communities, where local schools have long been governed by democratically elected boards. But that American tradition has been undermined or overturned, especially in communities of color, where less democratic forms of governance have become widespread … For decades, a wave of state takeovers of school districts overseeing tens of thousands of students has stripped elected school boards in these communities of their governing power and denied voters the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers have been happening almost exclusively in African American and Latinx school districts … However, there are recent signs these communities are fighting back and frequently winning to gradually claw back their local, democratic governance.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Corporate Tax Breaks Cost U.S. Schools Billions Of Lost Revenue: Report

Reuters

“In fiscal 2017, U.S. public schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives over which most schools themselves had little or no control. The 10 most affected states could hire more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues … States and cities have long used abatements, subsidies and other tax incentives to lure companies … ‘Cities … end up granting subsidies in a way that cuts out control by school boards, parents and others’ … In Oregon … Hillsboro School District lost nearly $97 million … The School District of Philadelphia … lost the second most revenue at $62 million.”
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How President George H.W. Bush Helped Pave The Way For Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post

“George H.W. Bush … calling himself ‘the education president … helped pave the rise of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos … Bush advanced … a national education strategy … pushed for school ‘accountability’ … with standardized test scores as the key metric. And his plan envisioned a new kind of public school that was, essentially, what became the charter movement … The cornerstone of the Bush education blueprint was an elite bipartisan consensus … Bush’s successors — both Republicans and Democrats — … advanced his administrative agenda. Phrases such as ‘standards and accountability’ and ‘school choice,’ once deployed only by policy wonks, are now common terms in the national education dialogue.”
Read more …

County GOP Chair: Oklahoma Should Quit Public Education

Associated Press Post

“Republican leadership in one of Oklahoma’s most populous counties has sent a letter to the state’s lawmakers calling for an end to government-run public schools, or if that is too much, to at least find alternative funding sources for the system besides tax revenue … The letter … requested that the state no longer manage the public school system, or at least consider consolidating school districts. Public schools should seek operational money from sponsorships, advertising, endowments, and tuition fees instead of taxes.”
Read more …

A Generation Of School Closings

WBEZ

“In the time it has taken for a child to grow up in Chicago, city leaders have either closed or radically shaken up some 200 public schools — nearly a third of the entire district … These decisions … have meant 70,160 children — the vast majority of them black — have seen their schools closed or all staff in them fired. That’s more than all of the students and schools in Boston … The idea was to close them and replace them with new ‘renaissance’ schools that promised something better … Chicago has done that again and again, opening in the same time period almost the same number of schools it has closed — 190 … White students have been nearly untouched. In almost 17 years, just 533 white students have experienced a closing … Research reports have suggested that school closings have harmful effects for children who go through them … An analysis of the 2013 closings, found ‘closing schools caused large disruptions without clear benefits for students.'”
Read more …

Students Show Up To School More Often When They See ‘Familiar Faces,’ New Study Finds

Chalkbeat

“New research shows … social disruption … can affect how often students show up to school. When students have more ‘familiar faces’ around them in class, they’re less likely to be chronically absent … Being surrounded by more familiar faces was linked to higher attendance … Extremely high rates of student turnover … and … attending more schools is correlated with lower academic performance.”
Read more …

Here’s Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

At a recent school board meeting in New Orleans, more than 100 parents swamped the hearing room, requiring dozens to have to stand. Many of the parents had filled out public comment cards so they would be allowed to address the board.

What most in the crowd came prepared to talk about were their concerns about recent recommendations by the superintendent to close five schools and transfer the students to other schools in the district. Their demand was for the elected board to take a more hands-on role in improving the schools instead of closing them down.

But when Ashana Bigard, a New Orleans public school parent and advocate, realized the board had altered the agenda, and limited parents’ comment time, she decided to speak out of turn.

“How is closing the schools helping our children?” she asked the board members. She pointed out that many of the children in the schools being closed are special needs students with serious, trauma-induced learning disabilities, and now these children are being uprooted and transferred to schools that lack expertise with these problems. “These children have been experimented on for too long,” she declared.

That’s when a district staff member intervened and escorted her out of the room.

A Demand for Real Democracy

Parents’ protesting a school closing is nothing new. But for parents to demand that their local board take more control of the school, and run it directly rather than closing it down, is a twist. That’s because this is New Orleans.

In the bizarre landscape of New Orleans schools, since they were taken over by the state and reorganized after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, all but two of the 79 schools are directed by charter management companies, privately owned contractors that receive taxpayer money to run the schools. The charter management firms have near-complete autonomy, and while the Orleans Parish School Board was recently given the power, by the state, to open and close charters, the day-to-day operations of the schools are still handled by the charters’ appointed boards, generally free from any demands from parents and voters.

It’s that arrangement that is at the heart of these parents’ complaints.

With the elected board’s powers being limited to decisions on opening and closing schools only, “Parents feel they have no voice in the system,” Bigard explains in a phone conversation, and charter operators have way too much power and autonomy to allow school conditions to worsen to the level that closure becomes the only option.

“We need to have our elected board hold charter schools more accountable” for their day-to-day operation, she says. That would mean having the elected board impose the demands of parents and voters on charter management companies and assert more authority on how charters are run.

A more assertive board, Bigard argues, could impose much-needed reforms on the charters rather than closing them down or handing the schools over to a different management company—that will likely do no better than the last one did.

“Parents want real voice and real democracy,” she says.

An American Tradition Undermined

What Bigard and other New Orleans parents are demanding has been the tradition in American communities, where local schools have long been governed by democratically elected boards.

But that American tradition has been undermined or overturned, especially in communities of color, where less democratic forms of governance have become widespread.

For decades, a wave of state takeovers of school districts overseeing tens of thousands of students has stripped elected school boards in these communities of their governing power and denied voters the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers have been happening almost exclusively in African American and Latinx school districts—many of the same communities that have experienced decades of economic decline, high unemployment, and underinvestment in schools.

What tends to accompany these state interventions are mass closing of public schools and the imposition of various forms of privately controlled school models, such as charter schools.

All About Politics, Not Education

Since 1989, there have been more than 100 takeovers of local school districts in the United States, according to Domingo Morel, author of the book Takeover: Race, Education and American Democracy.

In nearly 85 percent of these cases, the districts have been majority African American and Latinx. Also, black communities disproportionately experience the most punitive forms of takeovers, in which elected school boards are disbanded or turned into “advisory” boards, school superintendents previously hired by elected boards have been fired, or governing authority has been handed over to state-appointed managers or private management companies.

Although the takeovers are usually justified for academic reasons, Morel points to research showing takeovers generally do not have a significant effect on school improvement. Instead, what really motivates takeovers, according to Morel, is politics—especially the political undermining of black and brown governance of schools in urban communities.

Morel traces the rising popularity of takeovers to the 1970s and early 80s, when blacks in big cities across the country gained majorities on city councils and school boards. He argues that the power of the rising black electorate created political problems for conservative leaders in state government who did not want to see governance in large urban communities fall into the hands of local lawmakers who were from the opposition.

That political dynamic was at work especially in New Jersey, where, in 1988, state lawmakers passed the first law allowing the state board of education to take control of local school district governance. Two of the state’s largest school districts, Jersey City and Newark, were the first to draw the attention of Republican governors, and those two districts were taken over by the state in 1989 and 1995, respectively.

But while state takeovers have been mostly about politics, in more recent years, another factor strongly motivates these interventions: public school privatization.

A Push for Privatization

“State takeovers and the elimination of locally elected school boards grease the rails of privatization by charter school management groups,” Jitu Brown tells me.

Brown is the national director of Journey for Justice, an alliance of grassroots community-, youth-, and parent-led organizations in 24 cities that oppose privatizing schools and advocate for community-based alternatives instead.

In 2016, Brown and 11 other public school advocates in Chicago made headlines when they staged a hunger strike to protest the closing of Dyett High School. Their demand was to reopen the school as a full-service community school focused on a green energy curriculum. After 34 days of the strike, the district administration relented and reopened Dyett in 2016, as a school for the arts, after $14.6 million in refurbishing.

Brown attributes much of the growth of charter schools to the federal government, especially during the presidential administration of Barack Obama, whose Education Secretary Arne Duncan incentivized privatization through a School Improvement Grants program. The grants required struggling schools in the most vulnerable communities to undergo turnaround efforts that often included handing control of schools over to charter management firms or closing schools and reopening them as charters.

The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan also incentivized charter school expansions through the federal government’s Race to the Top program and through its charter school grant program.

At the same time the federal government was incentivizing charter school expansions, there was a powerful and well-financed movement to eliminate traditional urban school districts and their democratically elected school boards. Funded by right-wing political advocacy groups, influential private foundations, and tech moguls from Silicon Valley, the movement decried the “chaos” of democratically elected school boards and advocated instead for an “open market” where parents take their chances on loosely regulated charter schools.

The push for privatization has been particularly consequential in urban communities of color such as Newark, New Jersey. “Since 2008, the share of students who attend charters in Newark has nearly quadrupled—from 9 percent in 2008 to about 35 percent today,” Chalkbeat reports. “By 2023, that number could swell to 44 percent, according to one estimate, as the city’s charters continue to fill seats that were preapproved by the [former Republican Governor Chris] Christie administration.” About a quarter of the district’s budget—$237 million—goes to charter schools, up from $60 million ten years ago.

But state takeovers and the ushering in of charter management “never address the structural inequity in the system,” according to Brown. Regardless of the change in governance, urban schools for black and brown students continue to be plagued with large class sizes, punitive discipline codes, rotating faculties of inexperienced teachers, and curriculums void of advanced courses in world languages, art and music, and higher-level math and science.

With undemocratic governance, the inequity often worsens, Brown argues. Communities like Newark “have had the right to self-determination snatched from them,” he says. “If they don’t have the right to govern their own schools, then people who take the schools over operate the schools based on their opinions of people in the community,” rather than on the desires of parents and voters.

Fighting Back and Winning in New Jersey

However, there are recent signs these communities are fighting back and frequently winning to gradually claw back their local, democratic governance.

In New Orleans, the community had its first victory in July 2018 when Louisiana gave a locally elected school board power to open and close charters. In Philadelphia, 16 years of governance by a state-appointed commission ended in June 2018, and governance power transferred to a local school board appointed by the mayor. And more recently in New Jersey, three districts—Paterson, Newark, and Camden—voted for democratically elected boards and the power to hold local board members accountable at the ballot box.

State takeovers had ended in Newark and Paterson earlier this year, and Camden is still under state control, but when voters in these communities had the opportunity to decide whether they wanted schools to be run by an elected board or a board appointed by the mayor, they voted overwhelmingly for elected boards.

“To have a chance to regain an elected school board in these New Jersey communities and then see voters come out and actually vote for democracy is a testament to the work of grassroots advocacy groups in these communities,” says Brown, pointing to three Journey for Justice member groups—Camden Parent and Student Union, Parents Unified for Local School Education (Newark), and Paterson Education Organizing Committee. “These groups have achieved a strong victory against inequity and privatization,” he says.

“We have to get totally out from under state control,” says Ronsha Dickerson, a leader of the Camden group. “An elected board accountable to the voters will help us unpeel the corruption in the system.”

Addressing “corruption” was supposedly the reason to impose state intervention in Camden schools years ago. But according to Dickerson, as the state’s authority gradually grew in the city, and democratic control ebbed, the conditions in the schools worsened and corruption increased. Each time democracy declined—during mayoral control, under the watch of a state-appointed monitor, then with state takeover—board members and other officials were increasingly more apt to be chosen from a “political establishment,” she says, “all in the spirit of progressive education but really to benefit the establishment.”

The “establishment” Dickerson refers to has been closely aligned with an invasion of Renaissance Schools, a form of privatization in Camden that transfers administration of a public school to a charter management group or allows a charter firm to “co-locate” a school in an existing public-school campus.

After the state takeover, she says, “no one wanted to talk about Camden schools that were doing well before the takeover—even the ‘mom and pop’ [independent] charters that were doing well. No one wanted to talk about how to roll out what was working in these schools to the rest of the community. Instead, the only focus was bringing in more Renaissance Schools.”

The introduction and expansion of Renaissance Schools has deeply divided the community and has resulted in charges that these schools serve far fewer percentages of students who have learning disabilities or who don’t speak English well.

In Newark, state takeover also led to increased corruption according to Johnnie Lattner of Parents Unified for Local School Education. Similar to Camden, he believes the state-appointed board had become accustomed to selecting members who had links to charter schools.

Although he concedes the influence of the charter industry will likely still exist under an elected board, because of the “money and manpower” behind candidates backed by charter advocates, “Elections are the only way they’ll feel the pressure of parents and voters,” he says.

Changing the Conversation About Privatization

The successful efforts to take back local control and democratic governance of schools by grassroots groups like the ones in New Jersey have “changed the conversation about privatization,” according to Brown.

Of course, no one expects democratically elected school boards alone to fully address the challenges that schools in urban black and brown communities face. Research studies on the impact school boards have on student achievement are few and far between and often find the effects have more to do with how the board behaves rather than the process that created it.

But grassroots organizers fending off privatization and fighting for elected school boards understand a democratically elected board is just the beginning in winning back more parent and citizen voice in their districts. They believe their communities have more leverage when they at least have the opportunity to vote inattentive board members out.

“Was the elected school board in New Orleans before Katrina sometimes inattentive to the needs of parents?” asks Bigard. “Sure,” she says, but under state control, the appointed board wasn’t accountable either. Schools no longer had music and art classes and advanced courses in science and math. Charter schools didn’t follow the laws, especially for how to educate students with disabilities. And parents didn’t have anyone to call to complain to.

“At least now that we have a local board with some authority,” Bigard says, “people are more engaged and invested than I’ve ever seen. And we’re ready to demand board members listen to us and step into their power, or we’ll recall any who don’t.”

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selection of Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Photo Credit: Charles Edward Miller (www.cemillerphotography.com) / Flickr

11/29/2018 – The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

THIS WEEK: Dem House To Target DeVos … School Privatization Losses … DeVos Is For-Profit Colleges’ Savior … Choice Increases Segregation … Disaster Capitalism For Puerto Rico

TOP STORY

The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

By Jeff Bryant

“To get a better sense of the real impact teacher walkouts had on the midterms, I called on frontline organizers and public-school advocates in states where there was substantial documentation that education would have a big impact on election results. What I found was overwhelming consensus that yes, teacher walkouts this spring had a significant impact on the midterm elections and will continue to reverberate in politics and policy making.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

House Democrats Pile On To Scrutinize DeVos

POLITICO

“As many as five Democratic-led House committees next year could take on DeVos over a range of issues … Rep. Mark Takano, expected to lead the Veterans’ Affairs Committee … will be tracking the effect of decisions to scale back Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing abuses by for-profit colleges that enroll tens of thousands of veterans … DeVos will be squarely in the sights of the House education committee, where Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) … has criticized nearly every DeVos policy during the last two years … Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is in line to lead the Appropriations subcommittee … will focus on ways to ‘hold Secretary DeVos accountable for her agency’s failure to uphold federal protections for our students’ … Rep. Maxine Waters, the presumptive chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee … accused DeVos of a ‘full-on attack on civil rights protections for students’ … The House Oversight Committee could take on DeVos as well. Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.), the presumptive chairman … expressed concern over DeVos’ treatment of the union that represents her agency’s employees.”
Read more …

The School Privatization Agenda Took A Major Beating In The Midterms

Sallon

Jeff Bryant writes, “The blue wave that swept the nation in the recent midterm elections was also a broad rejection of recent trends to privatize public education through school voucher programs and privately operated charter schools. From New York to California, new candidates ran and won on platforms opposed to privatization, big-money backers of charter schools suffered humiliating losses, and voters trounced efforts to expand voucher programs that drain public schools of the funding they need … Public education advocates are vowing to take their cause to state capitals and Congress to curb the flow of public money to unaccountable, privately operated education providers.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos To The Rescue: For-Profit Colleges See A Savior In Secretary

The Washington Post

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has led a rescue squad for the nation’s for-profit colleges. Step by step, she has dismantled an Obama-era crackdown on the industry, and she plans to deliver a set of regulations next year that many expect to again boost the industry … These schools, which enroll 2.3 million students and range from small trade schools to large multistate enterprises such as the University of Phoenix, prey on vulnerable students, leaving them with huge debts and questionable credentials.”
Read more …

In Most U.S. Cities, Neighborhoods Have Grown More Integrated. Their Schools Haven’t.

Chalkbeat

“New research looking at America’s 100 largest cities shows that the diverging trends …. — neighborhoods growing more diverse, as their schools grow more segregated — is not an anomaly … Between 1990 and 2015, 72% of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods grow less racially segregated, by one measure. 62% saw their schools grow more segregated over that same period … More integrated schools have long been shown to improve academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color. Living in a more integrated neighborhood has also been linked to long-run benefits for younger kids … The rapid increase in school choice, through charter schools and other means, had something to with it … Research has shown that charters either exacerbate school segregation or have no effect on it.”
Read more …

Paul Pastorek, Louisiana Schools Chief After Katrina, Gets Contract In Puerto Rico

Education Week

“Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana schools chief who helped lead the overhaul of New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina, has agreed to a contract with Puerto Rico’s Department of Education to provide various services as island schools continue their recovery from their own catastrophic storm, Hurricane Maria in 2017 … Pastorek was superintendent of Louisiana schools from 2007 to 2011 … Teachers’ unions and others vigorously criticized him for being inflexible on policy matters and inattentive to the needs of educators. American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten blasted Pastorek’s contract with Puerto Rico, saying in a statement that, ‘Make no mistake, Pastorek and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos share a vision for education, closing schools, privatization and disinvestment from public schools – and it will mean more disruption.'”
Read more …

The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

Even before the votes from the recent midterm elections were completely counted  – a process that took nearly two weeks in many races – numerous prominent news outlets were quick to report on the supposed failure of the “education wave,” those school teachers and other educators who ran for office up and down ballots across the country. One report that received particularly widespread circulation, by Associated Press, carried the headline “Tough lessons: Teachers fall short in midterm races.” Another for U.S. News & World Report said, “Poor Marks for Teachers in Midterms.” Clever, huh.

Indeed, numerous news outlets seemed eager to reinforce a narrative that despite an unprecedented number of teachers and public school advocates running for political office, “underwhelming voter interest in education” and a “red wall” of Republican opposition were just too much to overcome.

An exception to this shallow reporting was a piece by The Guardian that reported “teachers made huge gains in the midterm elections.”

But the article quotes union leaders in walkout states Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as president of national American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, even though unions did not lead the teacher walkouts.

To get a better sense of the real impact teacher walkouts had on the midterms, I called on frontline organizers and public-school advocates in states where there was substantial documentation that education would have a big impact on election results. What I found was overwhelming consensus that yes, teacher walkouts this spring had a significant impact on the midterm elections and will continue to reverberate in politics and policy making.

Inspiring Women to Run

In West Virginia, where teachers started the wave of walkouts that rippled across the country, “the teachers strike woke up countless women voters to both run for office and support other women doing the same,” says Gary Zuckett.

Zuckett is the Executive Director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, a grassroots progressive advocacy that canvassed and phone-banked to elect a slate of candidates who support public schools, environmental protections, affordable healthcare, and other progressive issues.

Zuckett believes the statewide teacher walkouts in the Mountain State inspired a group of first-time candidates, mostly women, to join with other progressive women incumbents to form a unified slate they call Mountain Mamas to press for their issues . Seven of these women candidates won their races, two of whom are women of color won.

Zuckett also attributes the defeats of two powerful Republican lawmakers – Robert Karnes, the vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee who lost in the primary, and Joe Statler, the vice chair in the House who lost in the general election – to their vocal opposition to the teacher walkouts.

Because of the teachers’ labor actions, “lawmakers no longer take elections for granted,” Zuckett says, “and our current governor has already floated the idea to bump teachers’ pay again in the next legislative session.”

Upsetting the Establishment

In Kentucky, the next state after West Virginia to experience teacher walkouts, “Republican incumbents got a lot of opposition they had never seen before, much of it coming from teachers who ran pro-public school campaigns,” Chris Brady tells me. Brady is a second term school board member in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, who has managed to defeat big-money candidates backed by conservative Republicans two elections in a row.

Brady points to the victory of special education teacher Tina Bojanowski, who unseated two-term Republican incumbent Phil Moffett, as a sign the teacher walkouts mattered in November. At least 10 current or former teachers who ran for office in 2018 won.

“The number of educators now elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives is 14. Half of them are Republicans and half are Democrats,” Gay Adelmann tells me. Adelmann is a public school parent in Louisville and current president of Save Our Schools Kentucky. She recently ran for state Senate in the Democratic Party, losing in the primary with 44 percent of the vote as a first-time candidate with little funding.

Grassroots public school activists animated by teacher walkouts earlier this year, “specifically targeted” legislators who voted against public schools, she tells me. While many of those incumbents won anyway, some prominent lawmakers fell, including the sitting House Majority Leader who lost in the Republican primary to a high school math teacher.

Overcoming Gerrymandered Districts

In Oklahoma, the next state to experience mass teacher walkouts, “this spring’s teacher uprising poured a Blue Wave directly into a glass half full for educators,” writes retired teacher John Thompson for The Progressive magazine.

“Though Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson’s loss to Republican newcomer Kevin Stitt prompted Oklahoma press to dub the November election a “disappointment” for teachers, the story is more complicated,” argues Thompson.

As evidence for the impact of the teacher walkouts, Thompson points to the big jump in the state legislature’s Education Caucus – “growing from nine members to 25 or 26 – and a “near-tripling of the caucus” if legislators who are former educators or who got their starts as education advocates are included in the count.

Thompson points to gerrymandered districts, “where it would seem impossible to elect a Democrat,” that swung blue due in part to education advocacy, including a “Republican stronghold in Oklahoma City,” where four progressive Democratic women won, including a surprising win for Democrat Kendra Horn over incumbent Republican and Steve Russell for a seat in the U.S. House.

“It’s clear that the teacher resistance contributed to a bipartisan sea change in Oklahoma governance, Thompson concludes.

Running Competitive Races

In Arizona, where teachers inspired by their colleagues in other red states walked out of school en masse, “the #RedforEd movement had an enormous impact on the elections,” says Beth Lewis.

Lewis helped form and currently leads Save Our School Arizona, a grassroots organization of teachers, parents, retired educators, and public-school advocates that successfully pushed a referendum onto the ballot, Proposition 305, that let Arizona voters decide the fate of a bill passed in the state legislature that would expand a school voucher program statewide. The defeat of Prop 305 in the November election was a huge win for public schools.

“Because of the grassroots organizing of teachers, parents, and citizens around the state,” says Lewis, “we defeated Proposition by 65 percent and elected Kathy Hoffman, a speech-language pathologist who walked out as part of the #RedforEd movement, to be our State Superintendent.”

While most educators who ran for office in the state lost, there were exceptions that can be credited to the success of teacher activism. In a huge upset, second-time Democratic candidate Jennifer Pawlik, a former elementary school teacher, prevailed in legislative district that had never gone blue, in its current configuration. She calls her victory a product of a “perfect storm” that included coalition-building in her district and the teach walkouts that called voters’ attention to the crisis in Arizona schools.

Many of the educators who lost came excruciatingly close, including Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona teacher of the year, who lost her race by only 267 votes. Marsh, a first-time candidate who lost to a well-established Republican incumbent in a district carried by Donald Trump in 2016, had little funding and admits, “It wasn’t easy, teaching full-time and running for office.”

Raising Education Issues Everywhere

What’s also under-appreciated about the impact of teacher walkouts in midterm elections is their influence in states that did not experience walkouts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, education was a top factor, second only to healthcare, in defeating [incumbent Republican Governor] Scott Walker,” says Robert Kraig. Kraig is Executive Director Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a grassroot organization that campaigned hard for Walker’s successful challenger, longtime state school superintendent Tony Evers who called out Walker for his horrible track record on funding education.

“The highly visible strikes emboldened educators and public-school supporters in a way that benefited candidates running on increasing investments in public schools,” says Kraig. The teacher uprisings “also took the issue away from Republicans” when Walker tried to run as an “education candidate” but couldn’t run away from the massive cuts he’d enacted to the system.

Overall, it’s very difficult if not impossible to calculate the real impact teacher activism had in the midterms – especially in states where teachers didn’t walk out – and reports on the power of teacher activism will rely mostly on anecdotes.

One quantitative measure that’s frequently mentioned is a tally of candidates currently employed as teachers from Education Week which shows that of the 177 who filed to run for state legislative seats, “only one-quarter of those ended up winning.”

While that certainly sounds like a poor record, what was the percent of wins for any other occupation running for office in the midterms? Further, when there is a surge of first-time candidates associated with an emerging, grassroots movement not funded by corporate PACs and powerful political groups, what would normally be considered a good showing?

To write off the impact of teachers and education advocates on elections with all-too-clever headlines is slipshod reporting that sells short not only the intelligence of voters but also the power of democracy.

 

11/15/2018 – What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

THIS WEEK: Teacher Walkout Looms In Virginia … #RedforEd In Alabama … School Cops Not The Answer … DeVos Slapped With Lawsuit … Just One Black Teacher

TOP STORY

What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

By Jeff Bryant

“One of the big winners in the 2018 midterm elections you may not have heard about was education funding. Why this may be news to you is because much in the same way some observers incorrectly concluded the blue wave was merely a ripple, quick takes on last week’s results of important education-related ballot referendums have overlooked important lessons to learn about where and when increased funding for schools can win.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Virginia Teachers Plan To March At The Capital. Will They Shut Down Schools?

Education Week

“The wave of statewide teacher activism seems to be carrying right on into 2019: Virginia teachers will march to the state Capitol building in January. The protest of stagnant teacher salaries and underresourced public schools is scheduled for Jan. 28, a Monday. The grassroots group ‘Virginia Educators United’ is organizing the march in Richmond. If enough teachers participate, the rally could force schools to shut down … Virginia Educators United is asking for teacher pay to be increased to the national average … The group is also asking for the state legislature to restore funding for public schools – this school year, state support was down 9.1% per student compared to 2008-09, adjusted for inflation.”
Read more …

#RedForEd: Teachers Rally At Alabama Supreme Court Hearing

AL.com

“The #RedForEd campaign to raise support for public schools and teachers made its way to the state on Wednesday as hundreds of Alabama educators wearing red t-shirts and windbreakers filed into the Alabama Supreme Court building to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association. At stake is $132 million currently sitting in escrow, taken from educators’ paychecks for health insurance premiums … Educators and support staff came from all parts of the state, with some taking chartered buses and others driving … ” when we have a classroom teacher with an advanced degree who can’t afford to feed his or her family and has to have a second job, that affects the quality of instruction in the classroom.'”
Read more …

Armored School Doors, Bulletproof Whiteboards And Secret Snipers

The Washington Post

“Although school security has grown into a $2.7 billion market — an estimate that does not account for the billions more spent on armed campus police officers — little research has been done on which safety measures do and do not protect students from gun violence … No amount of investment in security can guarantee a school protection from gun violence. Much of what can be done to prevent harm is beyond any school’s control because, in a country with more guns — nearly 400 million — than people, children are at risk of being shot no matter where they are … While the mere presence of the officers may deter some gun violence … Among the more than 225 incidents on campuses since 1999, at least 40% of the affected schools employed an officer.”
Read more …

DeVos Sued For Allegedly Failing To Comply With Judge’s Order To Cancel Student Debt

The Hill

“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was sued … for allegedly failing to cancel student debt for people whose for-profit colleges have shut down. Last month a court ruled that the Obama-era debt regulations had to be implemented after more than a year of delays by DeVos. DeVos released a statement … saying that the department would no longer be seeking to delay the rule. However, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates … has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Education Department is still collecting loans that it should have discharged.”
Read more …

Study: Having Just One Black Teacher Can Up Black Students’ Chances Of Going To College

Education Week

“If a black student has just one or two black teachers in elementary school, that student is significantly more likely to enroll in college … Black students who had just one black teacher by 3rd grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college, while those who had two black teachers were 32% more likely … These findings are a continuation of the 2017 study that found that a low-income black student’s probability of dropping out of high school is reduced by 29% if he or she has one black teacher in grades 3-5.”
Read more …

Holiday Pause

EON is taking a holiday break from the education scene. Look for the next email in your inbox on November 29.

What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

One of the big winners in the 2018 midterm elections you may not have heard about was education funding. Why this may be news to you is because much in the same way some observers incorrectly concluded the blue wave was merely a ripple, quick takes on last week’s results of important education-related ballot referendums have overlooked important lessons to learn about where and when increased funding for schools can win.

First, high-profile ballot initiatives to boost school funding statewide have always had mixed success. This year’s referendums were no exception.

The Winners

Voters in Georgia overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that allows school district within the same county to put sales and use tax increases for funding public schools on local election ballots.

Maryland’s voters nearly unanimously voted to dedicate from state video lotteries to education supplementary funding, potentially boosting school spending by $125 million in 2020, with an additional $500 million annually thereafter.

In New Jersey, voters passed a ballot referendum that raises $500 million in funding for school security. And a strong majority of Montana voters agreed to continue a mill levy that provides an estimated $19 million a year to the state’s university system.

The Losers

On the other hand, in Utah, a “ballot question” asking voters to approve a ten-cent tax increase on gas that would allowed more state funding to go to public schools was rejected by roughly two-thirds of the voters.

A Missouri initiative that would have allowed for a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana to go toward drug treatment, veteran services, and early childhood education lost.

And Colorado voters rejected an amendment that would have overridden constitutional restraints on state spending and provided $1.6 billion a year for school funding by creating a progressive income tax system that would raise taxes on those making more than $150,000 per year.

(An Oklahoma school funding initiative that failed at the ballot box really wasn’t a vote for increased funding, as it would have mostly just given school leaders permission to engage in a shell game with school funds.)

Local Success

Yet, while voters were often rejecting sweeping, statewide ballot measures, they were overwhelmingly approving increased school spending closer to home. In Florida, in large counties across the state, every proposed local education tax for funding education passed.

Similarly in Ohio, 69 percent of levy referendums to raise schools funding passed. In Wisconsin, 55 of 67 local initiatives to raise taxes for schools on ballots across the state were approved, potentially generating as much as $980 in new funding for schools.

In southeast Minnesota, nine of the 12 ballot referendums to generate more tax revenues for local schools were successful. including in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, where voters said yes to more than $1 billion for new construction, renovations, and technology improvements for schools. Indianapolis voters approved two ballot referendums increasing tax revenues for schools, extending a long winning streak for education-related ballot referendums across the state.

And Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed a $600 million levy for local schools.

A Pattern, Not a ‘Paradox’

The dichotomy of rejecting grand calls for school funding versus embracing measures closer to home was particularly jarring in Colorado, where voters rejected the statewide ballot initiative while “about two-thirds” of the local school tax measures across the state passed.

Education correspondent for the New York Times Dana Goldstein looks at this inconsistency between success for education funding in local elections while broader initiatives often fail, and she sees a “paradox.” She also observes that while most public opinion expresses support for increase school funding, voters frequently approve ballot measure that cap income tax or require hard-to-achieve two-thirds majorities for new taxes and fees, which make it “difficult to direct money to schools.”

But what would seem to be a contradiction is actually consistent with a pattern.

For years, surveys have found that while public attitudes about schools in general have continued to sour, local schools continue to be held in high favor. In the long-running public opinion survey conducted annually by PDK, “public school parents overwhelmingly believe the schools attended by their oldest children are worthy of A’s and B’s,” while only about 20 percent of parents give the same high ratings to the nation’s schools.

Many have speculated why this would be case – that local attitudes toward schools vary based on proximity – but the pattern nevertheless holds true to school funding initiatives too, and it would seem that advocates for increased school funding are bound to have more success if they aim initiatives at local levels.

When Going Local Won’t Work

Of course, relying on local taxes alone for increased school funding is an imperfect solution.

Economically disadvantaged communities are often unable to raise local taxes and desperately need the financial assistance of the state.

Also, rightwing political advocates and stingy business proponents have understood that voters are way more inclined to boost tax rates for local schools, for years, and have worked steadily in many states to cap or prevent local property, sales, or use taxes and severely limit local revenues for schools and other public services.

One of those states is Michigan, where the state limits annual property tax revenue growth to the rate of inflation and restricts annual property valuation increases after they’ve experienced a downturn due to an economic recession, natural disaster, or other calamity.

Michigan is also where voters just elected Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer over her Republican opponent due in large part for her support for making greater investments in public schools. Down-ballot progressive challengers like Rashida Tlaib also won due in part to campaigning for increased funding for public schools.

All this suggests a way forward for school funding advocates in 2019 and 2020: Go local when you can, and when you can’t, get behind candidates who will champion your cause.

11/8/2018 – Education Issues In The Midwest May Have Saved The Democrats

THIS WEEK: DeVos Will Be Targeted … Conservative Governors Fall … Midterms Impact Higher Ed … Changing Charter Politics … ‘Public’ Means Everyone

TOP STORY

Education Issues In The Midwest May Have Saved The Democrats

By Jeff Bryant

“The need for Democrats to prevail in the Midwest was critical to the party’s success … The importance of Midwest races to the Democrats should also be appreciated because of what the winning campaigns were about, more often than not … Up and down the ballots, especially in state contests, Democratic candidates emphasized increasing school funding and ending or at least providing greater government control of school privatization efforts … As Democrats now prepare for hopefully bigger wins in 2020, the party should take the valuable lessons learned from the Midwest midterms to heart.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

House Democrats Expected To Ramp Up Oversight Of DeVos

Politico

“Democrats seized control of the House on Tuesday night, likely placing Rep. Bobby Scott in charge of the House education committee. And that means the hot seat is about to get even hotter for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos… The stage is set for at least two showdowns … The handling of campus sexual assault cases under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. And a White House school safety commission led by DeVos … Look to Scott to push a legislative agenda focused on passage of his Rebuild America’s Schools Act, H.R. 2475 (115), which would invest billions of dollars in new funding into improving school infrastructure.”
Read more …

Democrats Oust Walker In Wisconsin And Kobach In Kansas But Fall Short In Florida And Ohio

The New York Times

“Democrats wrested control of governorships from Republicans in seven states on Tuesday including Wisconsin, where they ousted Scott Walker … and Kansas, a surprise victory in a longtime Republican stronghold … The victories expanded the number of states with Democratic chief executives … Democrats also picked up governor’s seats in Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico and Maine … Mr. Walker fell to Tony Evers, a Democrat and the state schools superintendent. As in other Midwestern states, Democrats ran against Mr. Walker and the Republican establishment rather than against Mr. Trump.”
Read more …

What The Midterm Elections Mean For Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Democrats … seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, tipping at least 26 seats to emerge with a clear majority. In doing so, they earned the opportunity to step up oversight of the polarizing presidency of Donald J. Trump. That oversight could extend to higher-education policy … More likely, the House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce could schedule a number of oversight hearings … on potential conflicts of interest and defend the Obama-era regulations that DeVos has put in the cross hairs … The prospect that the new Congress will consider a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act remains remote.”
Read more …

The Midterm Elections Show America’s Major Shift In Attitude To Charter School Privatization

Salon

Jeff Bryant writes, “In midterm elections, one can see the policy window on school privatization gradually shifting back to support for public schools and increasing skepticism about doling out cash to private education entrepreneurs … The endless revelations of corruptions in the charter school and school voucher racket are now what’s driving policy, more so than dry, empirical studies about whether privatizing public schools ‘works’ academically. You can see that especially in the campaigns of progressive standouts … The trend that made privatizing public schools an acceptable if not preferential policy has at least stalled, if not completely been thrown into reverse.”
Read more …

Public Schools For Private Gain: The Declining American Commitment To Serving The Public Good

The Kappan

David Labaree writes, “To clarify what we mean by public schooling, it’s helpful to broaden the discussion by considering not just the formal features of schools (their funding, governance, and admissions criteria) but also their aims. That is, to what extent do they pursue the public good, and to what extent do they serve private interests? … A public good is one that benefits all members of the community … In contrast, private goods benefit individuals, serving only those people who take advantage of them. Thus, schooling is a public good to the extent that it helps everyone … The institution that for much of our history helped bring us together into a community of citizens is increasingly dispersing us into a social hierarchy defined by the level of education we’ve attained … We have grown all too comfortable in allowing the fate of other people’s children to be determined by the unequal competition among consumers for social advantage through schooling. ”
Read more …

Education Issues in the Midwest May Have Saved the Democrats

Those who speculated that the Democrat’s prospects in the midterm elections would only happen if they won big in the Midwest were prescient. Indeed, it’s hard to make the argument that any semblance of a Democratic Party “wave” would have been possible without key wins in these states.

The need for Democrats to prevail in the Midwest was critical to the party’s success. Donald Trump won Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin in 2016 and came close in Minnesota. But a perhaps more important trend in these states had been the Republican dominance down ballot where Republicans controlled both chambers of state legislatures and governors and most of the U.S. House seats in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

In the 2018 midterm contests, that trend took a substantial turnaround. Of the 75 Republican Congressional Representative seats that were rated “vulnerable,” 28 flipped Democratic, so far, and 12 of those red-to-blue flips were in the Midwest – four in Pennsylvania; two each in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota; and one each in Kansas and Michigan – more than any other region. The Democratic Party held on to vulnerable Senate seats in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In state races, of the seven governors who flipped red to blue, four were in the Midwest – Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Democrats flipped the Minnesota House, broke a Republican super-majority in Michigan, and won a super-majority in Illinois.

The importance of Midwest races to the Democrats should also be appreciated because of what the winning campaigns were about, more often than not.

Democrats running for offices across the Midwestern states ran against “the Republican establishment rather than against Mr. Trump,” according to political analysts for the New York Times.

“Democrats in these states ran on health care, education, and other bread-and-butter issues,” writes Jennifer Rubin, a Republican political analyst for the Washington Post. Education was “the major theme,” writes Ruth Conniff for The Progressive – especially in Wisconsin races, but also throughout the region.

Indeed, up and down the ballots, especially in state contests, Democratic candidates emphasized increasing school funding and ending or at least providing greater government control of school privatization efforts, such charter schools and voucher programs that give families public funds to transfer children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer knocked off her Republican opponent for an open but previously Republican-held governor’s seat by campaigning on women’s reproductive health and investing in public infrastructure – especially in public education. She won the backing of the National Education Association by calling for greater investments in schools, ending for-profit charter schools, and enacting more accountability for nonprofit charters.

Down-ballot wins in the Mitten State included one of the country’s first two Muslim-Americans to serve in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat elected in the 13th Congressional District around Detroit. Tlaib’s campaign pledged to “increase funding for public schools and to ensure charter schools are regulated and held accountable. Charter schools cannot be allowed to take money away from public schools while failing our kids.”

In Wisconsin, where voters rated education a top issue in the election – with 40 percent saying it’s a first or second priority, second only to the economy at 41 percent – longtime state school superintendent Tony Evers defeated two-term incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker. Evers drew a sharp contrast to Walker, who had made Wisconsin a national leader on cutting education funding. “Evers proposed increasing funding for schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years,” while Walker pledged increased support but left few details.

In Kansas, Democratic State Senator Laura Kelly defeated Secretary of State and Trump ally Kris Kobach for an open governor’s seat long held by Republican Sam Brownback, who had a disastrous legacy of crippling tax cuts that left schools so inadequately funded that the state Supreme Court sued state lawmakers. Kelly called for increasing spending on local schools, while Kobach maintained the state “couldn’t afford” to adequately fund schools.

Pennsylvania reelected Democratic Governor Tom Wolf who was swept into office by a wave of opposition to the previous governor’s massive budget cuts to public schools. In this year’s midterms, voters in state level races flipped a substantial number of seats in the State Senate and House from Republican to Democratic, although Republicans remain in the majority in both houses.

In Pennsylvania Congressional races, the red-to-blue trend was significantly more apparent, where Democrats split the 18 seats formerly dominated by Republicans. Among the victors in Pennsylvania U.S. House races were May Gay Scanlon who ran on “making education, and its funding, a national priority,” and Susan Wild whose campaign pledged to “keep public tax dollars in public schools. The myth that ‘school choice’ will be the tide that lifts all boats is much like the myth that tax cuts for the wealthy will ‘trickle down’ to the middle and lower class. Tax revenue should be invested in our public schools – especially those that are struggling.”

In Illinois, Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeated incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, in part, by drawing stark differences on education. While Rauner pledged to expand the state’s voucher program to $100 million tax credit scholarship “to a billion” dollars if he could, Pritzker said he’d curtail the program, which already diverts public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition for 5,600 students, and use that money instead for public education.

In Minnesota, voters elected Democratic candidate Tim Walz, to an open governor’s seat.. Walz, is a former public high school geography teacher and football coach, who during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives authored the Forever GI Bill to expand veterans’ education benefits and voted against a school voucher program the federal government funds in Washington, D.C..

While he made support for public schools a cornerstone of his campaign, his opponent Jeff Johnson insisted that what Minnesota families need is a voucher program like Michigan’s or Wisconsin’s that would direct public education funds to private schools. Walz pledged to block any proposed voucher programs.

Of course, Democrats had setbacks in the Midwest too, especially in Ohio where a strong candidate for governor lost to a vulnerable Republican.

But as Democrats now prepare for hopefully bigger wins in 2020, the party should take the valuable lessons learned from the Midwest midterms to heart.

(Photo credit: Amtrak)