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Public School Activists Stage Massive Nationwide Rally Demanding Government Leaders Prioritize Education

In an election year calling attention to multiple policy priorities, parents, educators, community organizers, and progressive activists are increasingly frustrated that education seems to be a priority that is nowhere near the top, at least in the minds of current government leaders.

That frustration was evident at last week’s massive outpouring at over 2,000 schools in over 200 cities where an estimated 100,000-plus people called for attention to widespread problems in public schools and demanded new policy directions that prioritize quality education for all students.

Although protests that feature students walking out of school often get press attention, last week’s coordinated events called for walking into public schools after staging brief rallies at schools, minutes before they open in the morning.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools – a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups that support public education – organized the nationwide campaign.

The walk-ins, rather than tightly scripted affairs, were mostly an opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns about public education where they live and their support for their local schools and public education in general.

Despite the lack of coordinated messaging, crowds were surprisingly unified in expressing their exasperation with government leaders who continue to shirk their responsibilities to provide all children with the opportunity to get a high-quality education.

At events in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Anchorage, Alaska, participants in the rallies called for a national recommitment to “the promise of public education” and “the best possible education we can provide.”

“We’re sick of not being [a] No. 1 [priority],” said Mo Kashmiri, a teachers’ union representative in Fresno, California.

At a walk-in I attended at a middle school near Raleigh, North Carolina, participants complained of an “attack” on public education in their state, where spending per-student has fallen 14.5 percent since fiscal year 2008, teacher pay has declined to 41st in the nation, teachers assistants have become mostly a thing of the past, and class sizes are now allowed to grow to higher, unmanageable levels.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who addressed the crowd, implored attendees to “not apologize for standing up for the needs of our students, our educators, communities, and public schools,” and instead called for widespread resolve among the public and its leaders to be “all in for public education.”

While signs and insignias circulated among the crowd underscored support for the “all in for public education” commitment, it was clear to many in attendance, including Eskelsen Garcia, that too many of our government leaders decidedly aren’t.

In a conversation with me after the event, she explained, “When you come to a school and see how hard the teachers and staff work to address the challenges they face – the increasing class sizes, the students struggling with poverty, the lack of text books and basic supplies – you have to wonder why our political leaders are not working as hard to make sure schools and teachers have what they need.”

Eskelsen Garcia recalled one year in her teaching career, at a Utah elementary school, where her class size suddenly increased to 39 students, many who had special education needs. “I couldn’t throw up my hands and walk away saying, ‘Sorry, this is too difficult.'” Yet that’s exactly what she sees, in effect, current government leaders doing when they dismiss increased funding and support for schools as something that is “politically too difficult.”

“We’re all in it for our children,” she said, making a motion to encompass the whole crowd, “and we need our leaders to be too – and in it for all children, not just a select few.”

The frustration expressed at many of the events at last week’s walk-ins may have an effect on elections in November. Numerous ballot measures will be contested, school board races are plentiful, and education is becoming a heated topic in state governor elections.

At the Fresno event cited above, participants called for the passage of California Proposition 55, which would maintain current funding levels passed in 2012 and paid for, in large part, by a personal tax increase for people who make more than $250,000.

At a walk-in in Minneapolis, my colleague at The Progressive magazine, Sarah Lahm reports that participants gathered at a local high school to support “an existing referendum on the books up for renewal on Election Day. Voters will be asked whether or not they will continue to support putting a portion of their property tax dollars directly into the schools.”

Lahm writes, “The message was one of hope, not desperation.”

At other walk-in rallies, participants also called for less emphasis on standardized testing, more authentic ways of judging school performance, and “an equal opportunity for quality education for all kids, no matter where they live or what their economic status is,” according to a local Michigan news outlet.

In New York, a similar “walking” action called for a school funding increase that was originally mandated by courts but was withheld and then undermined by state lawmakers over the past ten years.

To call attention to the state government’s actions, the Alliance for Quality Education organized a ten-day, 150-mile hike – an “EdWalk” – from New York City to the state capital in Albany to demand the $3.9 billion owed to the state’s schools.

In reporting on the AQE action for Moyers and Company, Sarah Jaffee quotes one of the EdWalk participants, special education teacher Mindy Rosier, who says, “We’re walking so we can be heard.”

With the entire New York state legislature being up for election in November, they’d better be listening.

  • Debra Lessard says:

    Congress cares nothing about educating our Children. They want all the money used on schools to be used on their Special Interests. Paul Ryan is a man who has always been wealthy. He grew up that way. He idolized Ayn Rand. It is time for the Congress to be controlled by Democrats. The Republicans have raped us and our Country. They plead Austerity and sequester the rest of us. So they get their money no matter what. And to make sure of that We the People are sequestered. We have 6 more years of this scratching by thanks to a GOP Congress who HATE low income or the poor. They will not take responsibility for taking from working Americans so we can continue to pay for the lives they have grown accustom to. It is not right. These greedy Monsters of men have forgotten why they went into PUBLIC SERVICE. Now they still our Social Security to balance their books. It is disgusting that these millionaires in Congress steal from up to make more money for them personally. They get rich on the backs of Americans. It is time that the taxes we pay be spent on we the American people. How can anything be a hand out when it was we who gave you the money initially in our Tax Dollars. This House led By Paul Ryan is still 8 years later trying to pass the same budget he always presents to be past. It never is. So because they are inept at everything they do they threaten to shut our Government down again. Only cost the tax payers 24 BILLION Dollars the last time. They will not win the White House. You cannot have the only thing on your resume is have gone bankrupt 4 times. Has been married 3 times. Lies like a rug every time he opens his mouth. How any of you people in Virginia and others like you will vote for this menace who is dangerously close to what Hitler did and stood for before WWII. The Brown Shirts will come. That is exactly what David Dukes and the KKK plus any other White Power Group. That is code for the KKK. Donald Trump is a liar. He is a Thief. He is a sexually predator. He says locker room talk. as if that excuses what he wants to do. He has done the sexual assaults. He is a criminal. He is being sued for ripping people off of their only money. He is a man who everything he touches turns to Shite. He is not fit for the White House. I do not want Melina to my first lady. After Michelle it would be a setback of years. I do not want this man making policy for my grandchildren. He doesn’t like women unless he wants to use them or abuse them. He is a animals. And I agree there are many deplorables in his party. These women who back him are either stupid or have been beaten by a man. Any woman who is sticking up for this man lives in denial. Any woman who believe that attempted rape or a leach like this deplorable person who demands respect but never shows any. He is about as humble as a aristocrate. He is a criminal. His court case begins right after the election. He should be in jail not running for President. Prick.

    October 13, 2016 at 5:53 pm
    • Patricia Panitz says:

      If you think Democrats are any better than Repubs, you better look again. Both parties support education privatization, and both basically work for corporations and the 1%.
      Donald is as bad as you say, but with Hillary comes a hyper-aggressive foreign policy resulting in more wars. The no fly zone she advocates in Syria will cost a BILLION dollars a MONTH (not a year, but a MONTH) according to an army general. Where will this money come from? Domestic programs no doubt. She also favors war with nuclear armed Russia, which is crazy. You may have noticed she demonizes and trash talks Russia every opportunity she gets.
      With Hillary also comes the TPP. I hope you are not taken in by her election season talk of being against it, since her State Dept. wrote it back in 2010, she’s made 45 speeches in favor of it, and spent much of 2015 urging Congress to fast track it. Under TPP corporations can sue cities, states, the entire US, for loss of expected profits, if they attempt to enforce worker protection, food safety, animal protection, environmental laws, etc. This will strip mine communities.
      I urge you to not honor either of the oligarchic parties with your vote, but to support Jill Stein of the Green Party, and work to build 3rd party alternatives that will genuinely represent and help out ordinary people.

      October 14, 2016 at 7:23 am

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