by Félix Pérez
Labor Day is around the corner, when most people shift out of summer mode and start paying attention to elections. The top of the marquee election this year is between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but the residents of Missouri, Montana and North Carolina have a lot riding on another pivotal race in their states as well — governor.
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The reason: governors play an outsize role in shaping funding and policy for public education (think Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sam Brownback of Kansas), student programs and other vital public services. Their ideologies often drive whether the wealthy and corporations receive tax cuts on the backs of working families, as is the case in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors.
Twelve states are having gubernatorial races this November. Education Votes will focus on three — Missouri, Montana and North Carolina — that are of particular interest to educators and working families.
In Missouri, outgoing governor Jay Nixon for the last eight years has been the last line of defense against state legislators intent on passing laws that undercut educators, students and their families. The legislators, among other things, passed legislation expanding unaccountable charter schools, cutting school funding and enabling right-to-work.
Missouri educators are front and center in influencing the outcome of the election. The two candidates, Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens, are far apart on the issues.
Greitens, whose campaign is largely funded by big checks from out-of-state donors, advocates providing “more choices” to students in “failing schools.” The former Navy Seal is also a proponent of right-to-work. “I believe we must have right-to-work legislation to improve Missouri’s job climate.” Yet research shows so-called right-to-work leads to reduced wages and fewer benefits
Koster, the state’s attorney general, is committed to fully funding K-12 education to reduce class sizes, protect extracurricular opportunities, and provide the resources that educators need. He was a prominent opponent of the paycheck deception legislation that attempted to silence the voices of Missouri’s working men and women and wants to hold charter school operators accountable and recover the millions of dollars in taxpayer funds that these companies have squandered. “When schools go underfunded, that means bigger class sizes, fewer extracurricular opportunities, and fewer resources that teachers desperately need.By failing to fully fund K-12 education, GOP legislators have broken their promise to voters and, more importantly, to our children.”
“Chris Koster’s record of service and advocacy for children makes him the clear choice for governor,” said Charles E. Smith, an English teacher and president of the Missouri National Education Association. “Chris Koster’s advocacy on behalf of children reaches back to his roots as Cass County prosecutor, where he worked tirelessly to protect children who were victims of domestic violence. As governor, we know Chris Koster will bring the same advocacy to ensuring every student, regardless of zip code, has the opportunity succeed in a great public school.”
In Montana, Steve Bullock is looking to serve another four years as governor. The state’s former attorney general, Bullock has presided over the largest increase in public school funding in Montana history and worked with the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers, the union that represents public school educators and thousands of other public employees, to pass bills that amortized and saved the retirement plans of educators and public service employees.
Bullock, facing off against Greg Gianforte, a software entrepreneur and creationism supporter, vetoed bills supported by the Koch brothers that would have diverted millions of taxpayer dollars to unaccountable religious and for-profit private schools. Bullock is also credited with securing a freeze on college tuition and leading the push for state funding of voluntary early childhood education
When MEA-MFT announced that its Committee On Political Education (COPE) was endorsing Bullock’s re-election, English and social studies teacher said, “Our COPE members unanimously agree that Steve Bullock has done an excellent job as governor and has earned another terms.” Feaver, MEA-MFT president, added, “Governor Bullock’s labor credentials are impeccable. He knows the middle class cannot survive without employees exercising the right to organize and bargain collectively. He believes so-called ‘right-to-work’ serves no useful purpose.”
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Since McCrory took office in 2013, the state has 35,000 more students with about 4,900 fewer teachers. McCrory has cut 3,000 teaching assistant positions in elementary schools. The budget recently signed by McCrory had unprecedented increases for private school vouchers, setting aside $34.8 million to pay for students to attend private or religious schools and raising the amount annually by $10 million through 2028.
When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina spends less per student today than it did in 2007-08, when there were fewer students and fewer schools. The state ranks 43rd in per pupil funding.
Runing against McCrory is state attorney general Roy Cooper, a former state legislator who fought to raise teacher pay to the national average, reduce class sizes, and expand Smart Start, a private/public partnership to help students start school ready to learn. Cooper, a North Carolina public school tutor for more then a decade, also wrote North Carolina’s first children’s health insurance initiative.
“I know how important it is that we work toward a world class public education and educators are a vital part of strong and successful public schools,” said Cooper when he was recommended for governor by the North Carolina Association of Educators. “There are teachers who are leaving our state for better pay and more respect, and there are students attending schools who don’t have the resources they need to be successful. It is time for a Governor who will make education a priority.”