The Growing Progressive Movement to Save Public Education

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The Growing Progressive Movement to Save Public Education

Protesters rallied in New York City on Saturday, March 28 against the corporatization of the public school system. (Photo: United Federation of Teachers/ Facebook)

All over the country, a growing movement of parents, teachers, and students is rising up against over-testing, school closings, and shady schemes that channel public funds into private schools.

Saving public education is shaping up to be a key issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

In a front-page article this week, The New York Times described Hillary Clinton’s dilemma on so-called education reform.

On one side, charter school operators and hedge fund managers are urging Hillary to adopt their teachers-union-bashing, pro-privatization agenda.

On the other side, communities all over the country are experiencing education “reform” as a major threat to their local public schools.

 “Mrs. Clinton is re-entering the fray like a Rip Van Winkle for whom the terrain on education standards has shifted markedly, with deep new fissures in the Democratic Party,” Times reporter Maggie Haberman writes.

The pressure Haberman notes, however, is mostly coming from one side—Wall Street hedge fund managers and “wealthy Democrats who favor sweeping changes to education—including a more business-like approach, and tying teacher tenure to performance as measured by student test scores.”

But there is more to the story than what Wall Street wants.

I attended a local forum in tiny Reedsburg, Wisconsin, recently, where community members packed an elementary school gym to talk about school budget cuts and the expansion of voucher and charter school programs that will drain even more money away from their local public schools.

As state officials hold budget hearings around Wisconsin, they are hearing over and over from citizens who are alarmed about the dismantling of the local public schools.

It’s an issue that puts Republicans as well as Democrats in a difficult position.

School choice lobbyists have spent enormous sums of money—as much as the lobby group for all other business interests combined—to promote the idea that public schools have “failed” and to support Republicans who want to privatize public schools.

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But small-town constituents like those who gathered the other night in Reedsburg do not want to see their local public schools destroyed, nor do they want to see their tax dollars go to pay private-school tuition for families who have never even sent their kids to the local public school, which has happened under Scott Walker’s school-voucher expansion in Wisconsin.

Parents in Altoona  and Eau Claire were so outraged by the school funding cuts related to a puny $13 savings in their property taxes, they started a campaign called Project 13 and collected checks for $13 and dumped them on the desks of their local school boards, demanding that the school board use the money to fund their schools.

In Illinois, outrage about school closures has fueled the insurgent campaign of Chuey Garcia against “Mayor 1 percent” Rahm Emanuel.

Hillary should take a close look at what has happened to Rahm, a chief proponent of the corporate school reform agenda supported by those hedge fund managers mentioned in The New York Times.

As Anthony Cody wrote in an open letter to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee that attracted a lot of attention this week on our website, saving public schools is a key issue for progressives, and should be on the “Bold Progressives” list of issues on which Hillary Clinton needs to respond to the base.

The PCCC responded promptly, Cody reports, saying it will look into sending a representative to a major conference in April, organized by Cody and Diane Ravich.

Appropriately, that Network for Public Education conference will be held in Chicago, where the battle between local progressive activists and Mayor 1 percent shows just how much progressives care about saving our schools.

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @rconniff

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