by Brian Washington
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Elections matter. Period. And more importantly, they can have a huge impact on students, educators, and public schools. This is true whether you’re interested in politics or not.
The latest powerful example proving this point comes from out West—the state of Nevada, where educators, with the help of several community partners, managed to strip the funding from a huge voucher program, essentially killing it.
“I think it’s a great win for everybody in our state, for students, public schools, and teachers,” said Susan Kaiser, a National Board Certified educator in Reno with 23 years of classroom experience. “These vouchers take money away from public education, and the fact that we beat back the effort is a huge win for us.”
Leading up to the win against vouchers, which supporters referred to as Education Savings Accounts, Kaiser, and her husband, Phil, along with scores of educators, parents, and community activists, testified at hearings and rallies, and engaged in phone banks as well as letter-writing and social media campaigns.
“The whole combined effort is what helped us get across the finish line,” said Phil Kaiser, another National Board Certified educator with 17 years of classroom experience.
But Nevada educators also owe this win to the current makeup of the state legislature, which the Kaisers say has improved dramatically over recent years.
“We had hit rock bottom in 2014, when our state legislature switched over to be controlled by anti-union and anti-public education Republicans—in both the Senate and the Assembly,” said Phil Kaiser.
During the 2015 legislative session, this new, more right-wing legislature ushered in attacks on educators’ salaries and their right to advocate for students in the workplace. It also launched the state’s voucher program, which has robbed public schools and the vast majority of students who attend them of millions of dollars. According to the Kaisers, the 2015 session was one of the worst for children, educators, and public schools.
But instead of giving up, Nevada educators decided to organize and fight back against an extreme right-wing agenda.
We identified candidates who are friends of public education and we put our resources behind them and canvassed for them” said Phil Kaiser. “And the end result was that the 2016 election gave us pro-public education majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate.
The couple says this new legislature worked with educators and their communities to reshape the education policy landscape by cutting the lifeline to Nevada’s voucher program. More specifically, legislative leaders struck a deal with Governor Brian Sandoval, a supporter of private school vouchers, that ended funding to the state’s voucher program.
“The ESA (voucher) law is still on the books, but the funding was taken away,” said Phil Kaiser. “It’s really inoperable now that the funding that went with it is gone.”
Nevada is just one of several states nationwide saying “no” to private school vouchers, a major staple of the budget being promoted by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who, on many occasions, has proven she is unqualified to hold her new post. Victories like the one in Nevada send a strong message to those who back private school vouchers and the Trump-DeVos agenda. They reinforce that the best investment for public money is a public education system that benefits all students, regardless of their zip code and income level.
“I think this gives us a moment,” said Susan Kaiser. “We have to just keep convincing people that the investment in public education is worth it. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I think we are on the right track.”