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10/25/2018/ – Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

THIS WEEK: What Teachers Want … DeVos Calls Kids Socialists … Crushing Pre-K … It’s The Economy … Blue Wave Hits DeVos

TOP STORY

Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

By Jeff Bryant

“It’s important to know that in many places, voters still care first about issues that affect them at home, more than the latest outrage coming from the White House. One of those places is Wisconsin, where deep cuts to education by the incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker have put it at the top of many voters’ priorities … The race between Walker, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave that swept Wisconsin, and his opponent, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers, has become especially focused on education – ‘an arms race over who can sound the best.'”
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NEWS AND VIEWS

The Teacher’s Prayer

USA Today

“We think we know teachers … But the suddenness and vehemence of the Teacher Spring suggest we don’t understand their pressures and frustration … Teachers are worried about more than money. They feel misunderstood, unheard and, above all, disrespected. That disrespect comes from many sources: parents who are uninvolved or too involved; government mandates that dictate how, and to what measures, teachers must teach; state school budgets that have never recovered from Great Recession cuts, leading to inadequately prepared teachers and inadequately supplied classrooms … Teachers everywhere say that if only the American people … really understood schools and teachers, they’d join their cause … These people, whom opinion polls show to be among the nation’s most respected, feel disrespected. This year, that dichotomy led to revolt. Where it leads next is a matter for speculation.”
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Betsy DeVos Was Asked Whether U.S. schools Are Teaching Kids To Be Socialists. Her Answer Was Rich.

The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in an interview that she believes many young people support socialism because they don’t get sufficient government and civics education and are not permitted to ‘discuss and debate those ideas freely’ on college campuses. Schools, then, are to blame … It certainly is true that many schools don’t provide enough civics and government education … It is also worth noting that the Trump administration and her department have proposed cutting federal funding for civics education programs.”
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The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

The Atlantic

“It can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed … Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called ‘seat work’ … and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades. … more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art … Expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful … New research … found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more ‘school readiness’ skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating … The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to – while at the same time obscuring – the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.”
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OECD: How Economics Still Shapes Students’ Educational Paths

Education Week

“While overall educational attainment is rising globally, students’ educational success is still largely a function of their economic status growing up … Performance disparities related to socio-economic status often develop early and widen throughout students’ lives. More than two-thirds of the achievement gaps seen among students at the age of 15 were associated with having more books at home at age 10. Half of the achievement gap among 25-29-year-olds was already evident when students were 10-years-old… Disadvantaged students also expressed lower levels of psychological well-being than advantaged students.”
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Education May Propel The Blue Wave In Devos Country

Salon

Jeff Bryant writes, “In the stomping ground of U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos … Democratic candidates are getting an edge by sharply opposing the DeVos agenda of privatizing public schools. Up and down the ballots in state contests in the Midwest, Democratic candidates call for an end to school voucher programs that use public taxpayer funds to pay for tuitions at private schools, they propose tougher regulations of privately managed charter schools funded by the public, and they pledge to direct public money for education to public schools. Should Democrats retake the Rust Belt, it may not only snuff out the DeVos legacy but also change the course of education policy in the nation.”
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Education Matters More Than Trump to Wisconsin Voters

Local issues hold the key to many midterm elections, despite all the talk about how President Donald Trump is nationalizing these races and Democrats should follow his lead and do the same. It’s important to know that in many places, voters still care first about issues that affect them at home, more than the latest outrage coming from the White House.

One of those places is Wisconsin, where deep cuts to education by the incumbent Republican governor, Scott Walker, have put it at the top of many voters’ priorities.

Wisconsin, which went for Trump in 2016, has been under Republicans’ control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s seat and mostly sends Republicans to the U.S. House. If a “blue wave” is truly to take place in November, it will have to include Democratic victories in Wisconsin. And it will have to include a new direction for education in the state.

“Education is either the top one or two issue in this election,” says Matt Brusky, Deputy Director at Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Health care is Badger State residents’ other top priority, he adds.

Brusky should know. He and and other members of this progressive grassroots group, part of the People’s Action national network, have been going door to door across Wisconsin to canvass for candidates that support the group’s Rise Up platform, an eight-year plan to move the state towards guaranteed comprehensive healthcare, environmental safeguards, criminal justice reform, and equality of educational opportunity.

When I called Brusky, he was gassing up his rental car after knocking doors in Fountain City, where locals are struggling with a school consolidation due to lack of funding from the state. “Education is usually a top issue in the state because of what Walker has done to it,” he says. “Almost all candidates are running on it.”

“It is moving to see how education has become a headline issue for the election,” says Julie Underwood, a University of Wisconsin professor. “During the public hearings on the last budget, over 30 percent of the public comments had to do with public education, and there has been a focus on education issues in candidate forums and debates.”

‘An Arms Race Over Who Can Sound the Best’

The race between Walker, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave that swept Wisconsin, and his opponent, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers, has become especially focused on education – “an arms race over who can sound the best,” says Robert Kraig, Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Under Walker’s leadership, the state has slashed education spending to levels below what they were in 2008 and redirected millions in education funds to private alternatives such as charter schools and voucher-funded private schools. Under his leadership, the state enacted Act 10 – a crackdown on teachers job protections’ and collective bargaining rights – which has resulted in widespread teacher shortages and inexperienced staff.

In contrast, Evers calls for a double-digit increase in school spending, a repeal of Act 10, limits on the state’s voucher programs, and increased financial transparency of private schools that receive voucher money.

Yet astonishingly, Walker claims he is the “education candidate” in the election, pointing to recent funding increases he signed, that despite their impressive sticker price, still provide less per pupil than in 2011, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“Walker can try to pump up his education credentials, but the problem is he is a long-standing incumbent with a clear track record,” says Kraig, “The fact he has done a lot to try to change his education profile is evidence, given his campaign’s immense polling apparatus, the he must know the issue is causing people who voted for him in the past to vote against him this time.”

“Clearly Tony Evers has the best grasp on the issues,” says Underwood. “He has been a teacher, administrator, and state superintendent.  He understands that public education is the heart of a community and critical for our democracy. Although Scott Walker claims to be an education governor, public education has been greatly damaged during his term.”

‘Public Schools Under Attack’

In down-ballot races, education issues diverge somewhat, depending on community characteristics. “In the suburbs,” says Brusky, “most of the talk is about losing programs and the needs for holding local referendums” to shore up budgets. “Schools are getting crushed” In rural communities, he says, with many having to consolidate or close altogether.

The candidate who seems to have set the pace on education for other Democrats to follow is Marisabel Cabrera who ousted her incumbent opponent Josh Zepnick in a district on Milwaukee’s south side in the Democratic primary. She does not face a Republican opponent in November.

Cabrera is an unabashed advocate for public schools, saying, “We continue to see our public schools under attack, and it’s time to stand up and put an end to the takeovers, the cuts in funding, and the sale of public buildings to private interests.”

In interviews and candidate debates, Cabrera explicitly opposed school privatization, while Zepnik expressed support for voucher programs.

Another down-ballot candidate, Julie Henszey, running as a pro-education candidate in State Senate District 5, says, “Schools still face class sizes that are too large, special education programs that are underfunded, and a lack of investment in art, music, libraries, and physical fitness … The trend has been to siphon millions of dollars in public money over to private schools through less accountable, and less successful, voucher schemes.”

In addition to endorsing Evers, Cabrera and Henszey, Citizen Action of Wisconsin is also backing Jeff Smith, running for a state senate seat in the western part of the state that includes Eau Claire and many rural communities. Smith, who was elected to Wisconsin’s State Assembly in 2002 but was ousted in the 2010 Tea Party wave, got his start in politics as a public school parent activist, who served on a statewide education task force, then ran for office because he saw the need for funding schools.

Smith’s platform calls for raising education funding back to previous levels, ending the state’s “failed voucher school program,” expanding early childhood education programs, and mandating universal kindergarten.

Democrats Have the Education Advantage

None of this is to say Trump is not a factor in Wisconsin midterms, or that Democrats are unified on education.

While Kraig can’t personally attest to knowing many Wisconsin voters who voted for Trump and are now poised to vote Democratic, he hears secondhand accounts of voters flipping from Republican to Democrat and notices the enthusiastic reception Democratic candidates are getting in traditionally red parts of the state while rightwing campaign funders and groups, such as the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, are investing heavily in areas where their candidates have easily won in the past.

And Democratic candidates in the state often present a muddled message on education issues, says Kraig. For instance, when Republican candidates threaten to remove insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions from the Affordable Healthcare Act, Democrats tend to rally around in unified opposition.

“Threats to insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions are a political third rail,” Kraig argues, whereas, “we have not defined what a third rail would be in education.” While Democrats have created a clear idea of what a pro-healthcare candidate is, according to Kraig, “we haven’t created a clear perspective of what a pro-education Democrat is versus one who isn’t.”

Nevertheless, the impact education is having in Wisconsin’s midterm races appears straightforward, given the record Walker and his Republican allies have of enacting historic cuts and their antipathy for teachers, and Democrats are at least united in opposition to that and are using their opposition to their advantage.

Recent polls show the face-off between Evers and Walker is a toss-up, and Democrats could win two more seats this election, just a 12 percent change, to gain a Senate majority and have a chance to win 15 House seats, representing a 15 percent gain, to have a majority in that chamber.

(Photo credit: Sue Ruggles, LaborNotes)

10/18/2018 – Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

THIS WEEK: DeVos Thwarted By Court … If Dems Get Control … Europe’s Teachers Better Paid … Did DeVos Collude With The NRA? … An Edu-Win In Oklahoma?

TOP STORY

Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

By Jeff Bryant

“This year’s Educator Spring that brought teachers into the streets in massive protests has resulted in hundreds of educators running for office in November midterm elections, thrust education issues into electoral contests between Democratic and Republican candidates up and down the ballot, and pushed education-related initiatives on ballots in 16 states … In states such as Arizona and Georgia where gubernatorial candidates are locked in tight races and Democrats are anticipating gains in state legislatures, state ballot measures could help provide the difference between victory and defeat.”
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NEWS AND VIEWS

Delayed Obama-Era Rule On Student Debt Relief Is To Take Effect

The New York Times

“A long-delayed federal rule intended to protect student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their schools went into effect … after a judge rejected an industry challenge and the Education Department ended efforts to stall it … The new rule … is intended to strengthen a system called borrower defense that allows forgiveness of federal student loans for borrowers who were cheated by schools that lied about their job placement rates or otherwise broke state consumer protection laws. The new rule could expedite the claims of more than 100,000 borrowers, many of whom attended for-profit schools … The rule was supposed to take effect in July 2017. Shortly before that deadline, the Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, suspended the rule and announced plans to rewrite it.”
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Oversight Agenda Of A Democratic House”

Inside High Ed

“Democrats are widely expected to wrest control of the House of Representatives from the GOP in November … If that happens, the best indicator of the Democrats’ priorities may be the slate of programs they’ve already been scrutinizing during DeVos’s tenure – implementation of student loan rules like borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment; accountability for accrediting organizations; protections for victims of sexual misconduct on campuses; and alleged conflicts of interest among administration officials … Any officials who have received requests for documents or information from congressional Democrats should expect renewed interest in those inquiries should the majority change.”
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Why Are Teachers In Europe Paid So Much Better Than Those In The United States?

The Washington Post

“The wages of American teachers … have dropped over the past decade. That’s a long way from similarly wealthy European nations … where teachers are among the nation’s top earners and can make more money than Web developers or sometimes even entry-level doctors. Besides the United States, no other developed country has such a large gap between salaries paid to teachers and to professionals with similar degrees … Europe’s social welfare states generally perceive education as a right rather than as a privilege. College, for example, is free in many of those nations … The importance of public education has translated into higher pay for teachers, who also often benefit from robust employment laws for public servants.”
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U.S. Department Of Education Is Sued For Withholding Information On Arming Teachers

HuffPost

“A coalition of advocacy and teacher groups sued the U.S. Department of Education … for information related to its decision to allow schools to purchase firearms using federal funds … In August and September, the groups filed two Freedom of Information Act requests for more information on the decision. The requests … were designed to glean information on issues such as whether the Education Department was influenced by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. A request also sought information on which school districts were interested in arming teachers using federal funds … The government has fallen short of its statutory obligation. The plaintiffs are requesting expedited processing of their information request, which the government previously denied.”
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Education May Spell Doom for Oklahoma’s Republican ‘Subprime’ Gubernatorial Candidate

The Progressive

“In Oklahoma, the governor’s race would ordinarily result in a solid victory for an enthusiastic Trump supporter like Republican Kevin Stitt, who brandishes a ‘100 percent Pro-Life score’ and an A’ rating from the National Rifle Association. But this year’s focus on education could turn the election for Stitt’s competitor, veteran Democrat Drew Edmondson … Drawing from his experience as the founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group, Stitt describes his [education] program as ‘performance metrics=accountability, efficiency and results’ … Gateway has been called one of ‘the 15 shadiest mortgage lenders being backed by the government’ … Stitt was a no show for a recent candidate forum, where education issues were discussed. In contrast, Edmondson attended every day of the nine-day teacher walkout this April … If Oklahoma teachers ‘Remember in November,’ it could drive an Edmondson victory.”
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Spring’s Teacher Walkouts Put Education On The Ballot In Fall Elections

This year’s Educator Spring that brought teachers into the streets in massive protests has resulted in hundreds of educators running for office in November midterm elections, thrust education issues into electoral contests between Democratic and Republican candidates up and down the ballot, and pushed education-related initiatives on ballots in 16 states, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. “From taxes to bonds, governance to vouchers, education is on the ballot this November,” says the analysis. “Voters should not miss the chance to make their voices heard.”

In states such as Arizona and Georgia where gubernatorial candidates are locked in tight races and Democrats are anticipating gains in state legislatures, state ballot measures could help provide the difference between victory and defeat.

At least one study on the impact of ballot initiatives on voter turnout has found in midterm elections they can increase turnout at 7 to 9 percent in initiative states compared to non-initiative states, while turnout in presidential elections tends to be 3 to 4.5 percent higher in initiative states than in non-initiative states. Ballot measures have the power to “transform low information midterm elections to high information elections,” according to the study, and the presence of “even one initiative ballot is sufficient” to boost turnout.

School Privatization at Stake in Arizona

In what is perhaps the most-heated ballot initiative contest, in Arizona, voters will decide whether a state school voucher program providing taxpayer money for families to pay for private school tuitions will be expanded.

The massive #RedForEd teacher walkout that occurred in the state this spring resulted in a grassroots campaign to place an Invest in Education income-tax measure on the November ballot. Having that measure in the election, with the referendum to expand vouchers, was expected to bring out pro-education voters. But now that the state Supreme Court has ruled to remove the income-tax measure from the ballot, its supporters can focus their wrath on the voucher issue.

Incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey has come out strongly in support of the school voucher plan while his opponent Democratic nominee David Garcia is urging voters to vote no on the measure.

The program currently provides some 23,000 qualifying families access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) that give them public education funds to spend as they please for education services. About 5,000 families currently participate in the program, mostly to enroll their learning-disabled students in private schools.

An analysis of the Arizona program mainly serves wealthy families leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts to attend racially and economically segregated private schools. A state auditor’s office identified more than $102,000 from the program being misspent in just a 5-month period, including parents who spent program monies after enrolling children in public school, parents who did not submit required quarterly expense reports, and parents who purchased prohibited items. The report recommends the state strengthen safeguards and enforcement measures rather than expanding the program.

Nevertheless, last year the state enacted a new law expanding the program from only students with disabilities or who are enrolled in underperforming schools to all 1.1 million public school students in the state.

A petition campaign waged by grassroots groups supporting public schools successfully challenged the law expanding the voucher program, gathering enough signatures to push the law onto a ballot referendum, called Proposition 305, where a no vote would prevent expansion.

A recent poll found that Prop 305 could pass, primarily due to voter confusion about the true nature of the initiative and a disinformation campaign about the initiative funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and the organization founded by education secretary Betsy DeVos. But grassroots efforts to defeat school privatization attempts have come from behind and won in the past despite the big money campaigns they fought against.

School Funding Needs ‘Yes’ Votes in Many States

In Georgia, Amendment 5  would amend the Georgia Constitution to authorize a school district or group of school districts within a county to call for a sales and use tax referendum to fund local schools. The state funds its schools less than it did in 2008 and ranks fourth behind Arizona, Alabama, and Idaho for making the deepest cuts, 16.5 percent, to education funding.

Democratic candidate for Georgia governor Stacy Abrams has campaigned for fully funding Georgia schools and strongly backs a yes vote on Amendment 5. Abrams, who, if elected, would be the first female African American governor in America, has also received endorsements from both state and national teachers’ associations.

Her Republican opponent Brian Kemp has said little about his plans for education except for a vague pledge to raise teacher pay. Recent polls find the difference in voter approval for each candidate is “razor thin,” and a ground swell for Amendment 5 could only help Abrams over the top.

In Colorado, another state that saw a mass teacher walkout in the spring, voters have a chance to vote for increasing public school funding with a yes vote on Amendment 73 that would give a $1.6 billion boost to school funding in a state that has chronically shortchanged schools and created massive teacher shortages due to underfunding.

A yes vote on Amendment 73 would increase state income taxes for people earning more than $150,000 per year and increase the state corporate tax rate to 6 percent. These changes are estimated to generate $1.6 billion in revenue for fiscal year (FY) 2019–2020, all of which would support school funding.

Amendment 73 opponents have falsely framed the initiative, calling it a “massive tax hike” mainly to feed administrative bloat in the system. But supporters of the amendment point out that should it pass, 92 percent of Colorado taxpayers will see no impact on their state tax bill and school boards of the state’s largest school districts have already pledged the increased funds would go to vital classroom needs, including raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes, providing more mental health services, and expanding pre-k programs.

Some school funding ballot initiatives are not what they seem, which is the case in Oklahoma, where State Question 801 proposes to let schools use property tax revenue for operations in addition to paying for buildings and maintenance.

Oklahoma is another state that saw massive teacher walkouts this year to protest low teacher pay and drastic cuts to education funding, and the ballot question is a response to the walkouts placed on the ballot by outgoing Republican Governor Mary Fallin as a way to deflect criticism of the state’s negligence in funding education.

The state’s education association has come out in opposition to State Question 801 because although it provides school districts with some added flexibility it does nothing to address the matter at hand – the state’s drastic underfunding of schools. “It is a shell game,” the director of National Education Association in Oklahoma tells a local news outlet, “another gimmick.”

Grassroots opposition to Question 801 may help feed the campaign for Democratic governor nominee Drew Edmondson who is facing off against Republican candidate Kevin Stitt in what has surprisingly become a red-hot race. Edmondson forcefully opposes Question 801, saying “it would lead to inequities in funding and provide the Legislature a ‘cop out’ for school funding needs,” while Stitt favors the measure.

Education-related ballot measures aren’t confined to states that experienced teacher walkouts. Other initiatives that put education funding on the ballot include an amendment for a gas tax to support schools in Utah and a referendum in Ohio to provide extra funding for school safety.

But the ballot initiatives, wherever they occur, observed a reporter for Politico, “reflect education-related fights smoldering around the country.”

10/11/2018 – During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

THIS WEEK: More Teacher Strikes Loom … Return to ‘Get Tough’ … Are Child Detainees Being Educated? … Cuts To College Funding … Organizing For Schools

TOP STORY

During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

By Jeff Bryant

“While the serial outrages of the Trump administration continue to make headlines and whip up popular protests, there’s a danger that the more mundane activities of his cabinet officials and their underlings are being ignored. Take US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … who now operates largely out of public view behind a security screen that is projected to cost the taxpayers nearly $8 million over the next year. What’s largely being overlooked behind all the lurid headlines and endless insults are all the ways in which officials like DeVos are quietly at work continuing to use our tax money to advance a deeply troubling agenda.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teachers Turn Focus To Ballot Box, But Threat Of More Strikes Looms Large

Education Writers Association

“In May … massive teacher strikes shook up politics in a half-dozen states … Was the ‘educator spring,’ as the teacher walkouts were dubbed, a one-off event or just a taste of what’s to come?Last month, teachers in more than a dozen Washington State school districts went on strike over contract negotiations … In Los Angeles, educators in the country’s second-largest school district could go on strike as soon as this month … In states that saw widespread walkouts and some that did not, organizers have set their sights on the ballot box – riding the momentum of the strikes to mobilize voters in support of candidates and ballot initiatives that align with what they consider a ‘pro-education’ agenda … Educators in other states are showing an openness to walkouts. In Louisiana, just over 60% of educators surveyed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said they would support a statewide walkout … In Texas … the state’s largest teacher union is mobilizing voters for the November elections but is also prepared to support walkouts if the elections don’t go their way.”
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Federal Government Abandons Mission To Ensure Children Are “Educated And Healthy”

Medium

“Our federal government quietly changed the mission of the executive agency responsible for juvenile justice policy, abandoning the vision that all our children should be ‘healthy and educated’ …. These changes broadcast its shift in direction from the reforms that have cut the juvenile crime rate by 58% … back to the failed ‘get tough’ policies that brought us mass incarceration … States need the guidance of the federal government that was previously provided.”
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Unaccompanied and Uneducated: The Billions Spent At The Border

US News & World Report

“Federal regulations state that children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, including unaccompanied migrant children, those who have been separated from their families, and those who are in shelters and other detainment centers with family members, must receive six hours of instruction every weekday, making education the single biggest part of their daily lives. But it’s unclear what that education looks like, who is providing it, how much it costs, whether there are proper supports in place for children with disabilities and those working through traumatic experiences, and who, if anyone, is overseeing it all … In response to a series of questions about how education is provided to unaccompanied migrant children, including a request for an interview, Victoria Palmer, who works in the Office of Communication at [Health and Human Services], said through an email, ‘We do not have anyone available for media interviews.'”
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State Spending On Higher Education Still Hasn’t Recovered From The Recession

Pacific Standard

“In the depths of the Great Recession, states … slashed their spending on higher education … During the 2017–18 school year, total state spending on public two- and four-year colleges was $7 billion less (adjusted for inflation) than it was in 2008 … Only four states … spend more per student today than they did in 2008 … The trend of the last several years … of slow, steady growth in higher ed spending … shows signs of stalling … While national spending was essentially flat between the 2017 and 2018 school years, 31 states actually cut per-student funding … Public institutions of higher education … have responded to these cuts in two ways: They’ve cut spending, reducing class offerings and eliminating other student services and supports; and they’ve increased tuition.”
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Can Community Organizing Improve Schools?

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “After years of disappointing results from top-down reform, there’s an urgent need to examine the positive progress that can happen when efforts come from the bottom-up. That is the subject of a new documentary The Long View … I spoke with The Long View producer and director Susan Zeig about the project … ‘There are lots of films about education but not many about the role community organizing plays in education. I wanted to portray that because people often forget it. Community organizing is messy. It takes a lot of time. It’s not always successful. But at a time when one might feel we’re at a low-point for our democracy, it’s the only tool for people without power to make some kind of impact. And you can see small victories.'”
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During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

While the serial outrages of the Trump administration continue to make headlines and whip up popular protests, there’s a danger that the more mundane activities of his cabinet officials and their underlings are being ignored.

Take US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for instance, whose nomination drew a history-making opposition and set off an avalanche of ridicule in social media and late-night comedy, but who now operates largely out of public view behind a security screen that is projected to cost the taxpayers nearly $8 million over the next year.

What’s largely being overlooked behind all the lurid headlines and endless insults are all the ways in which officials like DeVos are quietly at work continuing to use our tax money to advance a deeply troubling agenda.

Doing the Koch Brothers’ Bidding

In her latest low-profile appearance, DeVos and her high-priced security detail paid a friendly visit to Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas without telling local officials, the media, or any other public outlet. The purpose of her stopover was to meet with a select group of representatives of Youth Entrepreneurs, a Wichita-based non-profit group founded by Charles and Liz Koch.

Youth Entrepreneurs, according to an investigative report by the Huffington Post, provides high school curriculum designed to inculcate students in the blessings of unfettered capitalism and libertarian ideology. Among the teachings included in the program’s lesson plans and classroom materials are that “the minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.

“Charles Koch had a hands-on role in the design of the high school curriculum,” the reporter reveals, based on leaked emails from a Google group left open to the public. “The goal … was to turn young people into ‘liberty-advancing agents’ before they went to college, where they might learn ‘harmful’ liberal ideas.”

While the purpose of DeVos’s trip to Youth Entrepreneurs remains unclear, it fits a pattern of DeVos using her visits to select education programs in order to feed her propaganda campaign for market-based education reform and privatizing public schools.

Selling the Education ‘Reform’ Lie

Another recent trip brought the DeVos caravan to New Orleans to drop in on two charter schools – nearly all taxpayer-supported schools in New Orleans are charter schools – and praise the district for being “a great example of what can be if people embrace change.”

The schools were carefully selected to build her narrative of market-based reform, the ideology that remade New Orleans schools after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

But as Louisiana-based public-school teacher Mercedes Schneider explains on her personal blog, the charter schools DeVos chose to visit are hardly representative of the conditions of New Orleans public schools under the reform regime.

First, both schools are among the few A-rated schools, based on state rankings, in a sea of D- and F-rated schools. Further, the two schools have much higher percentages of white students than is typical in a district that is overwhelmingly populated by black and brown students.

So what DeVos really illustrates by her visits to these New Orleans schools isn’t how reform produces what works but how reform creates “incredible racial inequity” Schneider correctly concludes.

Stoking the Charter School Industry

It’s important to note how the rhetoric DeVos employs in her propaganda campaign for market-based education reform gets reflected in the policy decisions made by her department.

As Politico reports, USDoE recently awarded $399 million in federal grants to expand and support charter schools across the country.

The grants, made through the Charter Schools Program, which has enjoyed a $40 million boost under the Trump administration, went to individual charter school operators and various state education agencies and nonprofit groups that either help secure funding for charters, push for their expansions, or advocate for the charter cause.

Even a cursory scan of some of the recipients warrants deeper scrutiny.

For instance, among three Alabama charter schools that received $1 million each in grant money, two have already been the subjects of multiple lawsuits.

Birmingham charter Legacy Prep – which recently changed its name, postponed its opening date, and has yet to find a building – just settled a messy court case with its founder – a Baptist church pastor – over who had authority over the school’s operations and whether the school’s governing board was properly constituted.

The court settlement follows closely after the Alabama Public Charter School Commission won its effort to overturn the Birmingham district school board’s original denial of the charter’s application. The district board had ruled last year that the school’s application did not meet the requirements of the district’s request for charter proposals.

So now, thanks to DeVos and her department, federal funds are going to a charter school under suspect leadership, with no building, that the district doesn’t want.

Similarly, another Alabama charter with a million dollar grant, University Charter School in Livingston, had to hurdle a lawsuit to open its doors.

In May, the county board that oversees the district filed suit to prohibit the charter’s authorizer from operating the school in a former high school that the district sold to the authorizer with the specific condition not to open a charter school in the building.

Here again, federal dollars are funding a charter startup in a local community that does not want it. So much for DeVos’s promises to curb the “overreach” of the federal government in education.

Supporting Rightwing Cronies

Another charter school grant winner on the list that deserves a closer look is the American Heritage Academy in Idaho.

The school’s founder Frank Vandersloot is a conservative billionaire, with a net worth of $1.9 billion, who was a finance co-chair of Mitt Romney’s 2012 failed presidential campaign and has given money to Florida Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, former Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, the Republican National Committee, and state Republican parties across the US, according to a report in Forbes.

Vandersloot made national headlines in 2015 when he sued Mother Jones magazine for defamation after the news outlet published an article detailing his efforts to oppose gay rights.

Vandersloot has hosted a closed door meeting with President Trump at the headquarters of his company, Melaleuca. The company – which sells diet, personal care, home cleaning, and cosmetic products  – has been compared to Amway, the mega-company DeVos is heiress to, in that it employs a multi-level marketing strategy.

Vandersloot and DeVos are, in fact, connected through their participation in a multi-level marketing trade group that has been active in promoting legislation that attempts to limit the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to investigate and prosecute multi-level marketing scam operations.

All the Things We Don’t Know

None of this is to consider whether Vandersloot’s charter school, or any of the other charter school grantees, may or may not be worthy institutions, but shouldn’t taxpayers know more about why the school deserves our money?

Should we know, for instance, why grant money will go to a North Carolina charter, the Charlotte Lab School, that touts racial diversity in its mission, yet has a student population that is two-thirds white in a district where only 30 percent of the students are white?

Should we know more about why a federal grant is going to a Kansas City charter school, Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School, that is located at an Italian Cultural Center and had to pay $30,000 to former principal who filed lawsuit claiming the school’s founder made her fire her same-sex partner who also worked at the school?

Because of DeVos’s general lack of transparency, what we’re left with, instead of answers, are more questions and a well-founded suspicion that her purpose in office is to purloin as much public money as she can into the hands of private interests while justifying it as a much-needed reform.

Perhaps if there’s a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives after the upcoming midterm elections, there will be inquiries to reveal the inner machinations of DeVos’s department. But in the meantime, she and her associates toil away behind a shroud of scary headlines, and that’s just the way they want it.

(Photo credit: Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

10/4/2018 – When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students?

THIS WEEK: Teacher Brand Improves… School Security Scammers … Tax Raises For Schools … Anti-Poverty Programs Help Academics … DeVos’s For-Profit College Crony

TOP STORY

When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students? Michigan May Soon Find Out.

By Jeff Bryant

“What if some communities no longer have public schools? That question, once unthinkable in America, may now be something policy leaders and lawmakers in at least one state may want to consider. In Michigan … some of the state’s largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding school districts and charter schools that the financial viability of the districts seems seriously in question … Michigan may be the canary in the coalmine warning that not only does unrestrained choice and competition fail to improve academic results, it also may risk the financial feasibility of having functioning public schools in every community.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

From ‘Rotten Apples’ To Martyrs: America Has Changed Its Tune On Teachers

Education Week

“For years, teachers continually heard the message that they were the root of problems in schools. But in a matter of months, the public narrative has shifted: The nation is increasingly concerned about teachers’ low salaries and challenging working conditions. Teachers, it seems, are no longer bad actors ruining schools – they’re victims of an unfair system, and the only hope for saving kids … The recent wave of teacher walkouts and protests … helped catalyze new feelings about the profession … Social media offered more visibility into teachers’ lives, from the second jobs some work to make ends meet to their out-of-pocket spending for classroom supplies. Evidence emerged that teacher-quality initiatives centered on student testing –which had become unpopular –haven’t worked. Even the election of President Donald Trump, which spurred a growing wave of activism across the country, has had an impact.”
Read more …

Lawmakers Buy Industry Fix To Protect Schools From Guns

AP

“Security companies spent years pushing schools to buy more products — from ‘ballistic attack-resistant’ doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. But sales were slow … That changed last February, when a former student shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school … Since that attack, security firms and nonprofit groups linked to the industry have persuaded lawmakers to elevate the often-costly “hardening” of schools over other measures that researchers and educators say are proven to reduce violence … The industry helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million, and local school districts are reworking budgets to find more money.”
Read more …

Tax Hikes To Fund Schools? Once Taboo, The Idea Is Gaining Momentum

Education Wek

“Politicians on the state campaign trail this year are making some eye-popping promises for parents and educators: billions more dollars for schools, double-digit pay raises for teachers, and hundreds of millions more to replace dilapidated schoolhouses … In some states, Democrats are going so far as to broach a topic often seen as off-limits in election season: tax increases … Democrats in states such as Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma are gambling that voters are so alarmed at the financial disrepair of their local school systems that they’re willing to tax states’ corporations and wealthiest citizens to bail them out .… The pushback from Republican opponents and the business community in some of those states has been fierce. But some national and statewide polls show that public sentiment for taxes has shifted since the heyday of property tax revolts in the 1970s.”
Read more …

Want To Boost Test Scores And Increase Grad Rates? One Strategy: Look Outside Schools And Help Low-Income Families

Chalkbeat

“A large and growing body of research … documents not only that poverty hurts students in school, but that specific anti-poverty programs can counteract that harm. These programs – or other methods of increasing family income – boost students’ test scores, make them more likely to finish high school, and raise their chances of enrolling in college … In other words, many policies with a shot at changing the experience of low-income students in school don’t have anything to do with the schools themselves … They get relatively little attention from education policymakers who could be key advocates … One widely used anti-poverty program is the Earned Income Tax Credit, and it’s been repeatedly linked to better schooling outcomes for kids.”
Read more …

DeVos Aide Tailors Decisions To The Predatory Colleges That Employed Her

Republic Report

“In a meeting early this year at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters, a group of Department staffers led by senior adviser Diane Auer Jones told a delegation from Dream Center Education Holdings (DCEH) … to publicly represent that two of the company’s Art Institutes schools remained accredited, even though the schools’ accreditor had written the company a letter indicating that the schools were presently ‘not accredited.’… Jones’s involvement is apparent in a range of regulatory and enforcement decisions that have tailored the Department’s policies to the wish list of the worst predatory actors in the for-profit college industry … Before joining the DeVos Department she worked for some of those same egregious actors … which have extensive records of deceiving and abusing students … The Department published a proposed regulation that would thoroughly destroy the Obama borrower defense rule, which was aimed at providing some student loan relief to people ripped off by predatory colleges … The Department plans to simply cancel the Obama gainful employment rule, which would have penalized federally-funded career and for-profit college programs that consistently leave graduates with overwhelming debt.”
Read more …

When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students? Michigan May Soon Find Out.

CORRECTED*

What if some communities no longer have public schools? That question, once unthinkable in America, may now be something policy leaders and lawmakers in at least one state may want to consider.

In Michigan – home state to US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos whose political donations and advocacy for “school choice” and charter schools drastically altered the state’s public education system – some of the state’s largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding school districts and charter schools that the financial viability of the districts seems seriously in question.

According to a new report, more than half of Michigan school districts experienced a net loss in enrollment last year, and the percent of student attrition in many of the state’s large districts is shocking, upwards of 60 to 70 percent.

Can a school district experiencing such losses in student enrollment continue to keep the doors open?

That question should be relevant to education policy leaders beyond Michigan as more states have enacted market-based policies that allow charter schools to proliferate, students to travel outside home districts to other districts, and voucher programs that let parents transfer students to private schools at taxpayer expense (something not yet allowed in Michigan).

Indeed, Michigan may be the canary in the coalmine warning that not only does unrestrained choice and competition fail to improve academic results, it also may risk the financial feasibility of having functioning public schools in every community.

School Districts on the Brink

In Michigan, the intense competition for students is taking bigger bites out of student enrollments in some of the state’s largest districts.

In Flint, where there are 14,325 public-school students living in the district, 39 percent attend charters and 32 percent are enrolled in another district – meaning the district loses 71 percent of its students.

In Pontiac, with 10,985 public-school students living in the district, 36 percent attend charters and 29 percent travel to other districts, leaving local schools with only 35 percent of the community’s students.

In Detroit, the state’s largest school district with nearly 104,000 students, 58 percent of them leave the district schools to attend charters (48 percent) or cross district borders (10 percent) to attend schools elsewhere.

How low can student enrollments go before a school district becomes financially unsustainable?

Why Schools Collapse

“Financial collapse is usually a function of multiple factors,” Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker tells me in an email. The factors he lists include Insufficient total revenue, the increased costs of serving special needs children left behind, the mounting health and retirement benefits of teachers, the increased costs of operating and maintaining old, inefficient buildings, and “of course, rapidly declining enrollment [which] creates additional financial pressure.”

Many of those factors certainly apply to Michigan where inadequate funding, rising populations of low-income and special needs students, mounting teacher pension costs, and a decaying infrastructure strain school district budgets.

Obviously, adding more choice to the education system in Michigan does nothing to address any of the above factors. But increasing the supply of schools in a state like Michigan where demand is in decline is especially nonsensical – student enrollments in Michigan are at their lowest point since the 1950s.

“It’s just inefficient,” Baker says. “Even if we believe that choice-induced competition creates some market-based efficiency gain, much if not all – or more – of that gain is lost due to the huge inefficiencies of trying to operate an increasing number of schools in the presence of smaller numbers of students.”

But what about states where student populations are stable or on the rise?

Choice Is Financial Nonsense

The thinking behind a market-based approach to education is that when the funding follows the student, school districts vying across district lines to get their enrollments high for “count day”, feel more intense pressure to provide services with greater financial efficiency. Adding charter schools, which in Michigan are allowed to start up wherever they want, without regard to the financial impact on district schools, brings into the mix an unregulated agent that can introduce even more financial efficiency into the system, the theory goes.

The academic benefits of a market-based approach to education have always been highly questionable, but in Michigan it has been a demonstrable disaster, as the state, when compared to the rest of the nation, continues to fall “further behind on test scores, on-time high school graduation rates, and getting young adults through college or post-secondary training,” according to recent analyses.

But did the argument for more market-based school competition ever make financial sense?

Baker doubts it, pointing out, in fact, that unrestrained school choice and constantly shifting student enrollments among schools introduce multiple financial inefficiencies into the system. “We increase transportation costs,” he writes, “create duplicative/redundant administrative structures and increase the inefficiency with which facilities are used (leaving empty space in some while creating pressure to build others).

“These problems exist even when we increase chartering in the context of more financially healthy school districts,” he argues. “It’s just that much worse in cases [as in Michigan] where total population is in decline and where districts are already cash-strapped.”

How Low Can Schools Go

So at what point does the financial inefficiency of school competition push a public school district into collapse?

A recent study of the financial impact of charters on Michigan public schools finances found that “overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.” David Arsen, the lead author of the study, warns that when the share of charter schools in a district gets upward of “20 percent or so,” the adverse financial impacts on district finances are “sizeable.”

Baker suggests that for larger districts, there may be “a minimum scale threshold somewhere between district enrollment of 2,000 and 5,000 students” for optimal cost efficiency.

Should either of these calculations be anywhere near accurate, many of Michigan’s school districts are on the road to big financial problems. Pontiac schools, with 65 percent student attrition and a net loss of 7,166, are left with fewer than 4,000 students. Flint schools with a net loss of over 10,000 students now serve under 5,000 students.

School districts have gone belly up in Michigan before. In 2013, two small districts, Buena Vista and Inkster, closed for good due to bankruptcies. But in these cases, the few hundred students left without schools could be bused to surrounding districts. What happens when that fate befalls a much larger district?

When The Safety Net is Gone

Some may blithely suggest that were a large school system to close due to financial insolvency, charter school operators, seeing a new source of demand, would rush to fill the void with a supply of new schools.

But the reality is charter opportunists aren’t likely to start up new schools when prospects for a quick return on investment are unlikely. And charter schools can close whenever they want to, as they do all the time in Michigan.

Currently, lawmakers and policy leaders seem little concerned with the churn of charter schools coming and going because there is the reassurance of a safety net of public schools for students and families to fall back into. What happens when the safety net is gone?

“When charters suddenly close, there may be few other options available,” Baker warns.

Even worse, when the community has been especially reliant on a large charter operator to serve thousands of students across multiple schools, should the charter suddenly close, “Not only would it be difficult for other charters and district schools to absorb all of these kids,” he explains, “but it would come at infeasible short run costs.”

State and local taxpayers, or other charters, would need to either build new schools or buy back – in bankruptcy proceedings – the buildings to house the students. Should the burden fall on taxpayers, as it almost certainly would, they would face the triple financial whammy of having paid for the school buildings to begin with, having paid the former charter’s lease and maintenance costs, and then having to pay to get the buildings back after the charter operator collapsed.

How ironic it would be that faced with the consequences of having had so much school choice, some Michigan communities may soon find out just how few choices they really have.

* Baker’s calculation of 2,000 – 5,000 students for large districts is for optimal cost efficiency, not necessarily sustainability, as first stated.

(Photo credit: johnsoncitypress.com)

9/27/2018 – Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

THIS WEEK: Teachers Are Winning … Votes For School Funds … Asbestos In Schools … Too Many School Cops … College Remedial Classes Overenrolled

TOP STORY

Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

By Jeff Bryant

” Democratic party strategists and supporters may believe a “blue wave” is coming in the midterm elections because of widespread opposition to President Trump, but they risk their party’s success if they forget that state and local races more often revolve around issues closer to home – like education … For years, Democrats have more often than not been somewhat agreeable with their Republican opponents on most education issues. But this election season is shaping up quite differently. And how and whether Democratic candidates take advantage of the changing politics of education may make a difference in whether a blue wave happens at all.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teachers Aren’t Just Running for Office – They’re Winning

Education Week

“Fed up with the state of public education, teachers are running for office … They’re winning. Out of the 158 current classroom teachers that Education Week confirmed were running for their state legislature, 101 have moved on to the general election. Thirty-seven of those teachers won their primaries, while 59 ran unopposed. Five are running as write-in candidates, so they didn’t have to go through a primary … In Oklahoma – 15 teachers won their primaries there, and 12 additional teachers in the Sooner State were unopposed. That’s about a 42 percent success rate so far for the 64 teachers there who filed to run. In Kentucky … 15 teachers out of 20 who started campaigns have advanced to the general election. In Arizona, three teachers have moved on to the general election, and in West Virginia, six have advanced. In both of those states, only one teacher was knocked out during the primaries.”
Read more …

Education Funding Fights To Play Out At The Polls In November Referendums

POLITICO

“Voters will weigh in on school taxes, school choice, Ten Commandments displays in schools and education governance questions at the ballot box come November … In at least 11 states, voters will decide on measures that would either boost school spending or provide officials with more flexibility to spend funds … Social issues are also in play … In Alabama, voters will decide whether to back a measure known as Amendment #1 that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools.”
Read more …

EPA Watchdog Slams Agency’s Failure To Address Asbestos In U.S. Schools

Environmental Working Group

“The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to take the required and necessary steps under federal law to protect children from the dangers of asbestos exposure in the nation’s public and private schools… ‘From fiscal years 2011 through 2015, the EPA conducted 13% of [legally required] inspections … Of the agency’s 10 regions, five only inspect for asbestos in schools when they receive asbestos-related tips or complaints. Without compliance inspections, the EPA cannot know whether schools pose an actual risk of asbestos exposure to students and personnel’ … In 2016, President Obama signed legislation that finally gave EPA the authority to ban asbestos. But the Trump administration’s actions under the new law suggest that it will allow the use and importation of the substance to remain legal.”
Read more …

The Parkland Shooting Fueled Calls For More School Police. Civil Rights Groups Want Them Removed.

Vox

“Two civil rights groups say that if school safety is truly a concern, police should be removed from schools entirely. A new joint report … argues that in the nearly two decades since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, calls to increase school safety have resulted in an increasingly punitive system of school discipline aimed at students of color, and that school policing has failed to make students of color safer … There is a considerable body of research showing that black and Latino students are more likely to be suspended, arrested, and disciplined in school. Advocates argue that adding more police to this dynamic will only make things more difficult for students from marginalized groups … who are already more likely to interact with police in their daily lives … School discipline and arrests push students of color out of classrooms and into the justice system.”
Read more …

One-Third Of Community College Students ‘Misdirected’ To Remedial Classes

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder

“One-third of community college students enrolled in remedial coursework don’t even need them … Standard placement tests … are actually ‘misdirecting’ student placements … A disparate number of African American students are placed in remedial courses … Under-placement creates additional barriers for students who are now required to pay for coursework with no credit … Remedial coursework cost first-year students and their families nearly $1.5 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses – expenses that don’t go towards their degrees..”
Read more …

Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

Democratic party strategists and supporters may believe a “blue wave” is coming in the midterm elections because of widespread opposition to President Trump, but they risk their party’s success if they forget that state and local races more often revolve around issues closer to home – like education.

Education, often overlooked during presidential elections because of the federal government’s relatively small footprint on education policy and funding, rises in prominence in off-year political campaigns, because candidates running for state and local offices have to explain how they’ll spend tax dollars on local schools – or not. This year’s contests are not an exception.

“Education is a top issue in the midterms,” declares a headline of an article in TIME that reports on the close contest for governor in Oklahoma, where the Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson is up by a point over his Republican opponent, according to recent polling. The reason for the uncharacteristic advantage the Democratic candidate may have in a deeply red state is “public anger over education funding,” the article contends.

The reporter traces the surprising political turnabout in the Sooner State to “the wave of wildcat teacher strikes” that occurred earlier this year in a number of red-leaning states, including Oklahoma, and finds “a similar dynamic is playing out in” electoral contests elsewhere.

For years, Democrats have more often than not been somewhat agreeable with their Republican opponents on most education issues. But this election season is shaping up quite differently. And how and whether Democratic candidates take advantage of the changing politics of education may make a difference in whether a blue wave happens at all.

Educators Are Running – And Winning

Indeed, school walkouts earlier this year have propelled many of the protesting teachers into the electoral ring, and so far, many of the teachers are winning, according to Education Week, which tallies 101 of the 158 current classroom teachers running for state legislature moving on to the general election.

But the number of educators running for office is actually much larger than what Education Week calculates when you add in former and retired teachers (like former teacher-of-the-year Jahana Hayes who won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District and could become the first African-American Democrat in the state to serve in Congress), school administrators, and other school-related personnel.

In all, “some 550 educators will be on election ballots this fall, according to the National Education Association,” says US News & World Report, “running for everything from local school board to governor … from Maine to Alaska.”

The other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, has a separate count of its own members running for office that is “just shy of 300,” reports HuffPost. A list of those educator-candidates by state is on the AFT website.

Hot button education issues vary from state to state. To see what’s firing up educators to run for office, NEA has a state-by-state analysis of the key education issues. AFT also has an interactive map of work life, school funding, legislative, and election issues in each state .

But a “common theme” among the candidates, according to the US News reporter, is “the neglect in state K-12 education budgets,”  and although not all the candidates are Democrats, those who are, point to their Republican opponents as chief perpetrators of the neglect. That accusation is being wielded to great effect by Democratic candidates vying to flip governor seats in traditionally Republican-dominated states.

Education Boosts Garcia in Arizona

In Arizona, where education professor David Garcia is the Democratic nominee taking on incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey, “Democrats see education as Ducey’s greatest vulnerability,” according to Governing magazine. Similarly, AP reports, “Education is one of the top issues in Arizona’s gubernatorial race.”

Arizona is another teacher walkout state where Republicans have cut education spending more severely, arguably, than any other state, and voters want that turned around.

In the first debate between the two candidates, “education dominated the discussion,” according to the Arizona Republic. “Garcia used the massive #RedForEd teacher walkout this spring, as well as the contentious decision to remove the #InvestinEd income-tax measure from the November ballot, to criticize the governor for the state’s ongoing ‘education crisis,'” the newspaper reports.

Garcia has also criticized Ducey for signing legislation to expand a state school voucher program that had been limited to only students with special needs.

Garcia’s criticism of Ducey’s education record is likely boosting his campaign. In a state where Trump beat Hilary Clinton by over 90,000 votes, Garcia is running nearly even with the incumbent, according to recent polls, and appears to have the potential to turn out the rising electorate represented by the state’s growing population of young voters, Latino citizens, and women.

Education May Take Down Walker in Wisconsin

A similar theme recurs in Wisconsin where a Democratic challenger is punishing his incumbent Republican rival in that state’s gubernatorial contest.

According to Education Week, Issues of school funding and privatization have “come to dominate” the contest pitting Republican Governor Scott Walker against his Democratic challenger, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.

“Evers generally is strongly supported by people connected to advocacy for public schools and Walker generally is strongly supported by people connected to advocacy for charter schools and private schools involved in the state’s voucher programs,” says an ope-ed writer for a Milwaukee news outlet.

Under Walker’s leadership, the state has slashed education spending to levels below what they were in 2008 and redirected millions in education funds to private alternatives such as charter schools and voucher-funded private schools, yet he astonishingly claims he is the “education candidate” in the election.

In contrast, Evers calls for a double-digit increase in school spending and says he would put limits on the state’s voucher programs and increase their financial transparency.

Evers’s attacks on Walker’s education record appear to be working. According to a recent poll, he holds a 13 point advantage.

Can Education Win Back the Midwest?

Across the Midwest, “Democrats are surging,” says Politico, “led by a class of candidates for governor that have Republicans on their heels.”

That analysis points to recent decisions by the Republican Governors Association to pull back funds from gubernatorial contests in Minnesota and Michigan as evidence of an anticipated defeat for their candidates in those states.

In Minnesota, the Democratic front-runner in the contest for governor is Tim Walz 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, co-sponsored the bill to make Congress pay its full share of funding for students with disabilities, and voted against a school voucher program the federal government funds in Washington DC.

In Michigan, where the race for governor pits former state Democratic Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer against Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, the candidates are sharply divided on issues of education funding and charter schools, with the Democrat Whitmer calling for greater investments into the public education and more accountability for charter schools.

In Ohio, the race for governor between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine is “one of the most competitive races in the country,” according to Politico.

Polls show Cordray either ahead or tied with the better known DeWine, and the candidates are using education as a potent wedge. Particularly at issue is the recent failure of a low-performing statewide online charter school that closed midyear, abandoning over 12,000 students and their families and sticking the state with millions in wasted costs.

Cordray accuses DeWine, the Buckeye State’s attorney general, of doing “nothing” while the school “stole $189 million from taxpayers.” Since the school’s closing, DeWine filed a lawsuit to recover at least $80 million, but Corday says, “That’s not a protect-Ohio lawsuit. That’s a I’m-running-for-governor lawsuit.”

Abrams Challenges ‘School Choice’ in Georgia

In Georgia, progressive Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, who would be – if elected, the first black woman to serve as Georgia’s governor – has made a point to differentiate herself from Republican Brian Kemp on education issues.

An issue they’re completely divided on is the state’s tax credit scholarship program, a school voucher-like  program that redirects public revenues to unaccountable private schools and rewards investors with a profit at taxpayers’ expense. While Kemp would double the current cap on the program to $200 million, Abrams wants to put that money into already under-resources schools instead to help them with add wrap-around services like a healthcare and nutrition, after-school programs, and counseling.

For this reason, “Georgia school choice backers worry about governor’s race,” according to Politico. “Republican support for Georgia’s school choice program isn’t universal. Rural Republicans in particular have questioned how it would benefit their constituents.”

Polling for the race shows candidates are in a dead heat.

Pro-Public Education Boosts Gillum in Florida

In Florida’s tightly fought contest for governor, progressive star and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is taking on a Tea Party favorite and Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis. Again, sharp differences over how to pay for schools and oversee an expansive industry of charter schools and voucher-supported private schools help define the candidates.

Gillum has called for raising corporate tax rates to boost teacher pay, increase early childhood education, and provide vocational and technical training for students not entering college. He also maintains the state must stop “siphoning off public money into privately run schools” through its current voucher programs.

DeSantis responds with the typical Republican bromides to find more money for schools by cutting “administrative costs” and to expand more “school choice” as a way to alleviate huge inequities in the system.

Gillum’s strong stand for public schools must be helping. A recent poll has him nine points up.

(Photo credit: Dimmerswitch, Flickr Creative Commons)