By Tim Walker
The #RedforEd movement played a huge role in motivating voters to go to the polls and support pro-public education candidates in the 2018 mid-terms. With hundreds of new lawmakers ensconced in statehouses across the country, educators and their allies in 2019 transferred their energies from helping candidates get elected to making sure they supported legislation to dramatically increase education funding. In four states this week – California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Nevada – as legislative sessions are winding down, activists ramped up the pressure on lawmakers to put an end to the era of austerity.
In a Day of Action organized by Education Minnesota, more than 400 educators from around the state converged on the Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul on May 17 to call for increased funding for their students. The legislature was in the last days of an end-of-session budget negotiation.
On this day at least, said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, the halls of the Capitol were filled with individuals who knew better than anyone what their classrooms and schools needed.
“These people actually know the needs of students. They know their names. They know their families. They know the communities they go back to at the end of the day,” said Specht,. “It is educators like these who need to be heard in a building like this.”
Education Minnesota has been a leader in the fight for more funding. Earlier this year, it released a paper providing a blueprint for an equitable, full-funded public education system. It would include reducing class sizes, bringing the state’s ratio of counselors to students in line with national standards, improving access to a high-quality pre-K program, and raising educator pay.
“The funding issues that plague Minnesota schools perpetuate the racial achievement gaps and cause teacher attrition,” the report said.
Educators in Minnesota have a solid ally in Governor Tim Walz, elected in 2018 and himself a former public school teacher. However, an obstructionist majority in the state senate, said Hecht, is putting “the desires of the giant corporations and the wealthy few ahead of the voters and students.”
The budget agreement announced this week represents progress but doesn’t go far enough. “If this is the best deal Minnesotans can get with the Senate we have, Minnesotans need to vote in a new Senate,” said Specht.
In Massachusetts, educators are lining up behind the Promise Act and the Cherish Act, two bills that would increase funding for public schools and colleges by more than $1.5 billion annually.
The Foundation Budget Review Commission found in 2015 that the state is underfunding public schools by more than $1 billion a year.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is a member of the #FundOur Future coalition, composed of groups representing parents, students, and other community members. In 2016, the group scored a big victory in helping defeat Question 2, which would would have lifted the cap on charter schools. Now the group is lobbying legislators to fix the education funding formula before they recess for the summer.
On May 16, more than 3,000 educators, parents and students rallied and marched around the statehouse in Boston. Educators visited state senators and representatives to advocate for the Promise Act and Cherish Act. Hundreds more demonstrated in Springfield and Pittsfield.
“We will not take no for an answer — and we will not wait! Our children can’t wait,” said Maureen Colgan-Posner, president of the Springfield Education Association. “This is the social justice issue of our time.”
In a rousing speech on the Boston Common, Graciela Mohamedi, a science teacher in Boston, told the crowd, “We the people — students, parents and teachers — demand that the Legislature ‘cherish’ our schools! We are going to speak out, act up and show up until all our schools are fully funded!”
California ranks 44th in the nation in the amount of money it spends per student – a pitiful ranking for what is one of the richest states in the country. Also inexcusable is the rampant expansion of unaccountable, for-profit charter schools that has further undermined the state’s public education system.
Fixing the broken laws that govern charter schools in California has been a powerful engine behind #RedforEd activism in the state. On Wednesday, more than one thousand educators marched in Sacramento calling for more money for public education, and to demand passage of a package of bills that, if passed, would overhaul the state’s decades-old charter school law.
Among the provisions: a statewide cap on charters, more power for local school boards over authorizations, and a prohibition on districts from authorizing charters outside their geographic boundaries. Governor Gavin Newsom has already signed a bill that forces charter schools to hold open meetings and adhere to state open records laws.
— David Rosenthal (@DavidRosenthal_) May 22, 2019
Curbing the for-profit charter school industry is a critical step in ending what California Teachers Association President Eric Heins calls the “starvation diet” public schools have been forced to endure.
‘If you’re tired of a system that benefits only a few, raise your fist in the air and say enough is enough! We need to fully find our public schools!’ Heins told the Sacramento rally.
Hundreds of educators and their supporters gathered outside the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday as lawmakers inside debated the future of education funding in the state.
Nevada ranks 47th in per-pupil funding and dead last in both class size and overall education quality.
“We’re here because we know that Nevada is desperate for funding,” Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), told the crowd.
Lawmakers recently introduced Senate Bill 543, which aims to revise the state’s long outdated school funding formula. While applauding the need for action on the issue, NSEA opposes the proposal, primarily because it doesn’t include any revenue. As written, it simply “moves money from one area of Nevada to another,” said Murillo. “It takes from certain students to give to others,” with rural students likely to bear the brunt. The proposal also provides new funding for more charter schools.
“Nevada needs a plan that helps all students, educators, and schools in every community,” Murillo said. “As educators, we will continue to raise our voices for our students, our schools, and the resources we need as educators. “
— NSEAOnline (@NSEAOnline) May 24, 2019
Educators in Nevada got some good news the day after their rally when the Senate passed AB548, which will cap the growth rate of the state’s school voucher program known as “Opportunity Scholarships.” Over the past three years, appropriations for the program grew by an average of 33%. During the same period per-pupil funding for K-12 education in the state increased by barely more than 4%.
“Every dollar allowed in a tax credit going to “Opportunity Scholarships” is a dollar that the legislature could program in our underfunded public schools, where 90% of Nevada kids receive their education,” NSEA said in a statement.