by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Martha
Of the 34 U.S. Senate races this year, three stand out, not just for their role in potentially flipping control of the chamber but because of the stark differences among the candidates on education and the involvement of educators.
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First, there is Nevada, where Catherine Cortez Masto, who served eight years as state Attorney General, is taking on U.S. Rep. Joe Heck to claim an open seat.
Cortez Masto has pledged to fight for providing each school the resources and facilities they need to offer “every child, regardless of where they live, access to a high quality education.” Endorsed by the 24,000-member Nevada State Education Association, Cortez Masto supports legislation to reduce the number of high-stakes standardized tests as well expand quality pre-K education. “Early childhood education shouldn’t only be available to those that can afford it, but everyone,” she said.
Cortez Masto has definite ideas on recruiting teachers. “We need to recruit more impassioned teachers into the classroom. That starts with paying teachers more and giving them more opportunities to advance in their careers. But it also means we shouldn’t blame teachers for systemic problems that confront kids outside the classroom.”
Heck, an Army Reserve brigadier general, has often been on the wrong side of issues important to educators. Unlike Cortez Masto, he supports private school vouchers, which take funding from already underfunded public schools and sends it to private schools. Heck has also voted four times to block DACA, the executive order from President Barack Obama that has resulted in more than 730,000 students and young adults, or DREAMers, being able to apply every two years for authorization to work and study without fear of deportation.
In Ohio, former governor Ted Strickland is facing off against first-term incumbent Rob Portman, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As governor, Strickland took Ohio’s education system from 27th to 5th best in the nation, froze college tuition at Ohio’s public universities, made tuition free for veterans, and implemented a constitutional system of school funding. Strickland also fought for the repeal of SB 5, a measure that would have limited collective bargaining for educators and state public employees.
Strickland, in the wake of ongoing problems with for-profit charter schools in Ohio, called for a moratorium on for-profit charter schools nationwide. “I’m opposed to for-profit charter schools because I do not believe that educating our kids should become a for-profit activity,” said Strickland, who called for a similar freeze in Ohio as governor in 2007. “I would love to see a nationwide moratorium on for-profit charter schools.”
Portman twice voted to support private school vouchers. In 2015, Portman wrote a letter to U.S. Education Department officials in support of a $71 million federal charter school grant to expand the state’s beleaguered charter school system. The owners of the companies that dominate Ohio’s online and dropout charter schools, David Brennan and Bill Lager, have donated to Portman.
In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty is competing against first-term incumbent Pat Toomey. Recommended by the 180,000-member Pennsylvania State Education Association, McGinty has served in various private sector and public service roles, including chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Bill Clinton, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, and chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf.
A big proponent of early childhood education, McGinty champions access to college and technical careers. “The jobs of the future require education and training beyond high school. For our students to succeed, college and technical training must be affordable and available to anyone willing to work hard. Unfortunately, college is more expensive than ever, and Republicans have led the charge to cut programs like the Pell Grant.”
Toomey strongly favors use of taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers, an unproven scheme that siphons money from financially struggling public schools.