Winning for schools, one election at a time

Gov. Rick Perry was only the latest antipublic schools politician to suffer a serious “oops moment” this week. (Although he initially couldn’t remember the Department of Energy during the debate of Republican presidential candidates, he didn’t have any trouble remembering that the Department of Education is on his kill list. He blurted that one right out.)

Perry’s latest in a long series of gaffes follows, of course, the wellpublicized (and welldeserved) embarrassment suffered by Ohio Gov. John Kasich when teachers, parents and other friends of the public schools joined in handing him his head. They overwhelmingly repealed a law that would have imposed broad restrictions on the employment rights of teachers and other public employees.

Although they received less publicity, voters in one legislative district in Michigan also lashed back at efforts to starve the public schools in favor of privatization. They voted to recall Republican state Rep. Paul Scott of Grand Blanc, the chairman of the House Education Committee, for his role in cutting school funding and enacting polices that weakened teacher tenure.

The Michigan recall was a spark of hope in a state where backwardthinking entrepreneurs (who view education primarily as a potential profit center for their own further enrichment) already had made strong inroads. According to a recent article in Mother Jones magazine, about half of Michigan’s 550 public school districts have privatized at least one of three key services food, transportation or custodial.

Earlier this year, the Republican governor and Republican legislative majority in Michigan cut public school funding by $300 per student. And, then, Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, proposed legislation to allow public school districts to hire teachers through private, forprofit companies. Pavlov said his halfbaked idea needed to be “part of the conversation on reform.” All it would do, however, is assure that budgetstrapped schools seek the lowest bidder, not the best teachers. The lowest bidder, of course, would underpay its teacher hires and strip them of health coverage and other benefits. That is not reform. It is robbing children of a quality education.

Pavlov, unfortunately, wasn’t the target of a recall election on Tuesday, but Scott, his House counterpart, was, and he was sent packing.

The education budget cuts that cost Scott his job in Michigan weren’t as deep as they were in Texas, where Perry and the Republican legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from the public schools. Unlike Michigan, though, Texas doesn’t allow voters to hold recall elections for state officials. And, unlike voters in Ohio, Texans can’t force elections to repeal antieducation laws.

But every member of the Texas Legislature will be on the ballot next year, and districts for the Texas House, at least, are likely to be drawn by a federal court whose first priority won’t be saving the seats of as many budgetcutting Republicans as possible.

Teachers and others who value strong public schools still face a long fight back from harmful regressions imposed by misguided ideologues in Texas, Ohio, Michigan and other states. It is a fight that must be waged one election at a time.


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