When they were recently asked whether the current administration is seeking to privatize public education, a couple of PA State Senators used the term "selective dismantling" in discussions with school board members and superintendents in Delaware County.
In my last two blogs, I have used Pennsylvania as a case study to help illustrate how market-based reformers are trying to destroy our community-based public school system by pushing voucher bills that will divert money from public schools to private schools (Remember, Pennsylvania is not unique. Look at Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, and Indiana. Same tactics, different state.).
I have also taken on the role of community activist by trying to spread the word that the Corbett administration has no intentions of reducing the state deficit through education cuts. Corbett actually plans on spending more money for vouchers and other market-based reforms. I have repeatedly sent letters and requests for local media coverage (newspaper, TV News). According to the local TV media, they don't do stories, they "cover stories." I have also sent "letters to the editor" to my local paper. All of the letters seem to have gone into cyber oblivion.
I have been sending literature to Senator Robert Casey's staff (I met with his team in March and they asked that I keep them informed). After no response from the Senator's office, I finally sent this letter to his staff:
Greetings from Altoona. It has been a few months since Michele Gray and I met with you concerning Senator Casey's position on NCLB, Race to the Top and the future of public education. We were hoping you would get back to us, but we understand how busy you are.
Even though the NEA leadership indicates that they might support President Obama and other democrats, we can tell you that the rank and file members of NEA and PSEA have not committed to any candidate and on community webpages and in webinar meetings have expressed the possibility of not supporting any candidate that supports the current direction of public school policy .
Understand that there is no lesser of two evils this time around. If the Senator supports the Obama/Duncan agenda then Senator Casey will not be seen as a friend to public schools, teachers, parents, and communities. Any support of Obama/Duncan is support for market driven reforms (these are the same reforms offered by Republicans). This why the rank and file will not support the Obama/Duncan education platform. It is no different than what most Republicans are putting forward.
As I'm sure you know, well over 80 percent of the public supports their local community-based public school. The current PA budget and proposed State and Federal reforms have the ability to destroy the entire system. We are also aware that some of the people behind the proposed reforms are well aware of the damage that will be done to local community-based public schools. If you have time please read my HuffPost (below) that I wrote and take a look at this press release for a new study that finds NCLB, and Exit exams essentially worthless. Michele and I would appreciate an update on Senator Casey's thinking about public education.
Thanks for your time,
I immediately got this response:
Hi - We have someone new handling education in the DC office. Once she gets a chance to catch up I'm sure someone will be in contact with you. Please know that the information has been sent. I will check in and see the status. Thanks, Kim
And then yesterday I met with my local state representative (Jerry Stern, Republican). I am happy to report that my meeting with representative Stern was the most positive experience I have had in my quest to convince anybody that will listen -- the goal of the market reformers is the "dismantling" of the public school system.
Representative Stern actually agreed with me. For him, the issue was very simple. The Pennsylvania Constitution says,
Public School System
The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.
Public School Money Not Available to Sectarian Schools
No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.
When he was sworn into office, Representative Stern promised to uphold Pennsylvania's Constitution. Therefore, regardless of party affiliation, an elected official in the state of Pennsylvania is required to support public education. For Representative Stern, that meant he could not support a voucher bill that will take taxpayer money and divert it to private and religious schools and "dismantle" community-based public schools.
I share this today because I want to make sure that all of those engaged in this struggle realize that we cannot give up when we wrestle with resistance. According to Rita Solnet, this is the most common experience faced by activists. So, although the common experience is resistance, eventually every activist will meet a Representative Stern and come to understand that the struggle for public schools is worth it.
Next step: Convince Representative Stern to be a visible, outspoken role model and state publicly that maintaining a healthy public school system is paramount in maintaining a thriving democracy.
Follow Timothy D. Slekar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/slekar