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By the EducationVotes and EdJustice reporting teams
State and local policymakers are responsible for scores of decisions that affect families and kids, including decisions about public education. That’s why educator and parent activism is so critical during state legislative sessions, city or town council meetings, and school board proceedings.
Here are just a few examples where educator activism helped score a win for public education and the common good.
NEVADA CUTS VOUCHER FUNDING
In Nevada, educators and community partners managed to strip the funding from the state’s voucher program, essentially killing it.
“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.”
Kaiser, and her husband, Phil, along with scores of educators, parents, and community activists, testified at hearings, made noise at rallies, and engaged in phone banks, and 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.
Educators helped set the stage for this win by electing more pro-public education candidates to the state legislature in 2016. The new legislature worked with educators and parents to reshape the education policy landscape by cutting the funding pipeline for Nevada’s voucher program.
MARYLAND GETS A GRIP ON TESTING
Educators and allies in Maryland have successfully put a cap on how much time schools can dedicate to testing. The More Learning, Less Testing Act will eliminate an estimated 730 hours across 18 districts when the cap goes into effect during the 2018–2019 school year.
It was a three-year effort inspired by the 2-percent testing cap passed in New York in 2014. First, educators wanted all the facts on the table, so they advocated for the law that passed in 2015 to create the Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments in Public Schools. During the 2015-16 school year, educators launched a public awareness campaign to explain how over-testing takes away valuable instruction time and narrows the curriculum. Despite setbacks in the state Senate, educators and others never stopped fighting to free up instructional time by cutting redundant and unnecessary tests.
Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller called it “a huge step in rolling back the disruptive and counterproductive over-testing culture in our schools. By eliminating more than 700 hours of unnecessary district-mandated testing across the state, our kids will get back days — and in some cases weeks — of instruction time to learn well-rounded skills and gain valuable problem solving ability.”
WASHINGTON BUDGETS FOR SCHOOL SUCCESS
Educators in Washington were fed up with severe underfunding for public education when they “Occupied Olympia” for nearly three weeks this spring. They went to the capitol every day, singing labor songs in the rotunda and talking to anyone they could. On many days, educators outnumbered legislators in the capitol, according to the Washington Education Association.
To help make their case, educators wrote and disseminated a Student Bill of Rights.
WEA members worked throughout the entire legislative session to make the case for more resources for education. They sent thousands of postcards, emails, and other messages to legislators, and they organized dozens of political events, including a rally on the capitol steps that drew 6,500 people in January.
In the end, their activism helped pass a state budget that increases K-12 state funding by $7.3 billion over four years, including improved pay for all certificated staff and education support professionals.
For Clarene Ricarte, a special education of 37 years, the fight was always about the funding her students need and deserve.
“Legislators need to fund special education. They can’t cut us any further,” said Ricarte in May. “We’re losing kids. They’re dropping out because we can’t give them the support they need.”
“We can’t lose any more kids.”
DOZENS OF CALIFORNIA DISTRICTS STAND UP TO PROTECT STUDENTS
School districts in California have led the way in protecting immigrant students by adopting safe zone resolutions—going on record that they won’t allow immigration enforcement agents into their schools without a review process.
At least 40 districts in California have passed or are in the process of passing safe zone legislation to protect their students.
These guidelines “amplify the rights that students and schools already have,” explains NEA Senior Counsel Emma Leheny, who drafted sample resolutions for K-12 and higher ed campuses to educate school staff about the protections they can legally offer students.
Find out more about Safe School policies.
NORTH CAROLINA RESTORES VOTING RIGHTS
In May, the Supreme Court refused to consider reinstating the 2013 North Carolina voting law that a U.S. Appeals Court had ruled unconstitutional because it acted “with almost surgical precision” to suppress the vote of African Americans.
Ever since North Carolina enacted restrictions on when, where, and how people could vote—restrictions that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color—civil rights activists have been fighting back in the courts, in the State House, and in the streets.
Among those marching, rallying and speaking out to overturn the N.C. law have been educators like teacher Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators.
“This entire process in N.C. has been clearly racist from the start—from the racist gerrymandering of voting districts to racist voter suppression laws to the racist dismantling of our public schools,” says Proffitt.
“All of this clearly fits into a pattern that those of us on the ground have understood for years. It’s great to have a court decision that takes us one step further toward the dismantling of the New Confederacy in N.C.”