by Félix Pérez
Take Action ›
Don’t miss out on the kind of education, legislative and political news you can only get with EdVotes. Click here ›
Teachers are accustomed to advocating for their students. Yesterday, educators from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine took their advocacy to a much bigger platform, as they rallied outside a presidential education summit in Londonderry, NH, that featured six leading Republican candidates.
Moderated by school privatization proponent and former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and sponsored by the American Federation for Children, an organization whose mission is to take public taxpayer funding from public schools and use it for private school vouchers, for-profit charter schools, online schools and home schooling, the education summit drew the interest of educators as an opportunity to shine a light on the education records of the five summit participants who are current or former governors.
“I feel very strongly these candidates don’t stand for what’s best for students. And the fact that educators’ voices are not included in a so-called education summit says a lot,” said Allison Estes-Browne, a special education teacher for 14 years at Plymouth Elementary School. “For some reason, it seems they want to disregard the professionals who are with students every day and who know the students best. It is wrong, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Participating in the summit were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Each candidate engaged in a 45-minute one-on-one with Brown. All the candidates support private school vouchers and the expansion of private charter schools. Bush, Walker, Kasich and Jindal are known for their outsize education cuts and aggressive targeting of teacher-led unions and public service employees.
“We’re a major stakeholder in the success of our students and our schools. I find it offensive to have these candidates come into our backyard and not include educators in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan forum about education of all things,” said Stephen Tallo, a mathematics teacher at Londonderry High School, the site of the summit. “It’s unfortunate these candidates believe they can go it alone, because students and any public school in America is best served by using a team-oriented approach that includes educators.”
An educator for 35 years, Tallo added:
Those candidates in there don’t have the best interests of our students at heart. I know the students walking the halls of Londonderry High School and take pride in all of my students. Yet as an educator in this community, neither I nor any of my colleagues were asked to be a participant in that forum.
The noninclusive approach of the summit organizers and candidates was perhaps best exemplified when a teacher who was a confirmed ticket holder to the event was denied entrance. “We have the right to refuse anybody. It’s a private event,” a summit representative stationed at the school entrance told high school English teacher Penny Culliton. The representative then directed Culliton, who was on a sidewalk outside the school, to leave the property.
Inside the event, the candidates largely stuck to their canned talking points and made little news. There were, however, a few instances when they dropped their guard and showed the audience the depth of their disrespect and animosity toward educators. Gov. Christie repeated his statement that teacher-led unions deserve a “political punch in the face.” Governor Kasich, who bills himself a moderate and attracted national attention in 2011 when his law to silence the workplace voice of teachers and other public service employees was repealed by voters, stated, “If I were, not president, but if were king in America, I would abolish all teachers’ lounges where they sit together and worry, ‘How woe is us.’ “
Lily Eskelsen-García, Utah elementary school teacher and National Education Association president, brushed aside Kasich’s comment. “In Ohio, John Kasich took resources out of public school classrooms to provide vouchers for private schools that don’t provide opportunity to every child, slashed public school funding by half a billion dollars, and expanded unaccountable for-profit charter schools that misspent millions while producing some of the worst outcomes in the nation. Educators will absolutely discuss how they can overcome these obstacles to help their students, as well as hold elected leaders accountable.”
Despite the refusal of summit organizers to include them and the mean-spirited jabs, the spirit of the 100 educators present was upbeat and determined.
“I don’t have to be, and we as educators don’t have to be, millionaires to have a voice for our students,” said Estes-Browne. “Educating all of our students is the best investment we can make in our future — nothing is more important.”