By Amanda Menas
Educators know that the voucher schemes touted by big corporations are steeped in a history of racism, and undermine strong public education and student opportunity. They take scarce funding from public schools—which serve 90 percent of students—and give it to private schools—institutions that are not accountable to taxpayers. Throughout the country, educators face significant threats of privatization, but continue to fight back.
Amidst the challenges to public education and labor moving through the states right now, educators and NEA allies have won major victories around the country in recent days.
Here are seven states where educators are working to protect students and school communities against anti-public education legislation:
Members of the Arkansas Education Association successfully defeated a voucher threat in early March, bringing a major win against tough odds to public school students around the state. While the bill was heard and approved in committee, educators and AEA members lobbied to defeat it on the floor. However, the fight isn’t over. Voucher advocates are making a late session push for a costly private school tuition tax credit bill. State legislators passed a bill that would restrict all public employees, except first responders, from their right to collectively bargain. In a year where educators have proven themselves resilient and essential to their community, this legislation is harmful to students and school communities alike.
In both the state House and Senate, republicans are pushing for voucher schemes that take funding away from the public schools where 90% of our students attend. Pro-public education allies in the legislator asked about how to hold charter schools accountable and ensure equitable distribution of resources.
“If we infused our public schools with the money we’ve given to voucher schools, we could ensure every child gets the best public education possible. It’s our duty to make sure everyone gets the best education possible…not choosing winners & losers,” said State Senator Audrey Gibson.
Following the passage of the American Rescue Plan, due in major part to the advocacy of educators across the country, state employees such as educators are now safe from Governor David Ige’s plan for furloughs and layoffs. Members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association have been working hard to oppose the proposed layoffs and furloughs, and will now see more funding directly in school district budgets. Instead of bringing in instructors from private companies now, educators will be able to keep their jobs in the districts they live in.
Two bills were defeated in Kansas where the voucher programs would be allowed to discriminate against students during the admission process. Pro-public education advocates and legislators knew that the schemes would not be held accountable to parents or tax-payers. 9 Senate Republicans voted with Democrats, letting the bill fail after it passed through the House with slim margins.
Governor Andy Beshear stood with educators against new voucher legislation. However, anti-public education legislators are looking to override any vetoes the governor puts forward. It will take every educator across the state to stand in solidarity and call their legislator to ensure that pro-public education priorities are passed. Gov. Beshar has been an ally throughout this year, also vetoing a “hybrid pension plan” and raising the retirement age for new educators.
During the spring legislative session in North Dakota, three voucher bills were put forward with educators lobbying to defeat two. The last bill still standing is a tax schemes that will lead to state-wide revenue losses and put educators at risk, making it harder to recruit and retain the best employees.
VT-NEA is strenuously opposed to new voucher legislation proposed last month by the state House. The plan requires longer work hours and would provide smaller annual cost of living adjustments. Throughout the pandemic, members in Vermont have been asked to pay more for their healthcare – this bill would put an additional cap on benefits. VT-NEA estimates that the proposal would cost teachers about $309 million. Legislative leaders have now backed off the proposal and created a study committee that includes VT-NEA members to consider alternatives before the 2022 legislative session.
Despite strong opposition from WVEA, the legislature passed legislation creating the state’s first significant voucher program. Additional legislation has been passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor already, pushing forward an agenda that harms students and educators.