by Amanda Litvinov, Felix Perez and Brian Washington
Few would argue against the notion that public education is the greatest tool we have to maintaining a middle class. Every day in schools across the country, hard working educators give children the skills they need to become successful learners, agile problem solvers, and creative thinkers, preparing them not only to enter the workforce but to think and act as citizens.
Educators’ priorities are the very things that strengthen the middle class in the long-term. Here’s why you have a key role to play in setting the stage for the rebuilding of America in this crucial election year:
No one can do a better job than you at spreading the word about which politicians truly support what’s best for public education and middle class families—and which ones only say they do.
Never underestimate the importance of your involvement. Ohio’s Issue 2, which would have stripped public employees of the right to collectively bargain, wasn’t just defeated. It went down in flames after tens of thousands of teachers, paraeducators, and other Ohioans knocked on doors, leafleted, made phone calls, wrote letters, collected signatures, and attended rallies, determined not to be silenced by politicians funded by out-of-state corporate front groups.
The defeat of Issue 2 was the high-water mark in 2011 for the besieged middle-class, which has seen class sizes balloon, layoffs increase, children’s health care and food assistance slashed, and pensions cut.
But this is no time to sit back and assume the pendulum will continue to swing back in favor of those who teach our children, care for our sick, protect us, and stand up for our communities. We must do the hard work of getting the right candidates elected—and then we must hold them to their word to do right by public schools and working families.
Just look at two of the front runners for the Republican Presidential nomination: There’s Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has said he would sign a national right-to-work law. Then there’s former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called child labor laws “stupid,” and suggested that poor students should work as school custodians. Both support taking taxpayer money from public schools for private school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, and supporting a tax hike for the middle class while refusing to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.
Beyond the presidential election, educators and the middle class have a chance to restore balance through the ballot box:
- Alabama, where voters will decide a referendum that limits workers’ options on when and how to unionize.
- California, where a ballot initiative would strip workers who belong to unions of their right to speak collectively on political and legislative matters.
- Florida, where a ballot initiative would limit the state’s ability to raise funds for public services such as public education, public safety and health care.
- Idaho, where voters are attempting to repeal three laws that trade teachers for laptops, restrict the ability of educators to advocate for their students, and tie teacher pay to student performance.
- Michigan, where voters will decide whether to repeal a law that grants emergency managers total control over municipalities and school districts, including voiding collective bargaining agreements, cutting salaries, and taking control of employee pension funds.
- Ohio, 300,000 voters were successful in bringing about a referendum to repeal a law that erects voting barriers for the elderly, college students, minorities and the disabled.
- Wisconsin, a grassroots effort is ahead of schedule to recall Governor Scott Walker. Walker stripped worker rights, cut $1.85 billion from schools and $554 million from health care, resulting in nearly 50,000 children leaving or expected to leave a health care program for uninsured working families.