Monday, May 14, 2018

More Evidence That the Movement to Defend Public Is Not a Blue Wave; It's a Purple One Sweeping Both Parties

Purple 3
As support for public education swept the nation this spring, some on the far right argued that teacher protests were a ruse.  Schools had enough resources, they said, and the Democratic party was using teachers as their puppets in a larger political theater.  The truth is that education has been so mistreated so much for the past decade that the defense of the public education has become bipartisan--as it should be.  Criticism of this movement is a simple act of misdirection to obscure the underlying misdeeds.

The mistreatment of public education has been well covered in recent weeks. I won't belabor that point here.  It is enough to say that more than half of states were funding public education at a lower level in 2015 than they had before Great Recession.  So education funding has been negative over the past decade in most states.  The stagnant and declining real wages of teachers followed naturally.

These numbers were already affecting public opinion before the teacher strikes.  As I posted in February, a geographically, demographically, and politically representative survey of Southern voters showed:

  • 74% of voters see differences in quality of education across their states
  • 85% of voters say states should fix differences in education
  • 84% of voters say states should adjust funding to address differences

As I told my students, those numbers were so overwhelming that I had trouble crediting them.  I simply had not seen anything like them before.  But the most jaw-dropping data point was that these numbers held constant, even across party lines.  Seventy-five percent of republican men recognized the difference in the quality of education in their state and eight-five percent of that same group said the state should take action.  

Those numbers foretold what we saw across the nation this spring, including that it would be bipartisan.  The most recent, and arguably more compelling evidence of this, is the race for Georgia's state superintendent.  The AJC reports:

They don’t agree on whether Georgia is doing well with its schools, but all the candidates for the state’s top education job say the same thing about money: There isn’t enough.
Even the two Republicans say funding for schools is among their top priorities. Both have unrivaled experience among the five hopefuls, having served in the job already. The experience allows them to argue that they have the knowledge to get things done, but it also puts them in the position of defending the state Department of Education’s performance under their leadership.

For the first time this year, the state closed a gap in school funding that was opened in 2003 and grew to over $1 billion in the late 2000s. Gov. Sonny Perdue called them “austerity” cuts. Gov. Nathan Deal banished that word from state documents, even as he maintained a gap between what schools were owed under the state’s funding formula and what state leaders were willing to give them. As the economy improved, Deal added more money and finally closed the gap this year. But the candidates, including incumbent Richard Woods, a Republican, and his challenger in the May 22 primary, John Barge, who was state superintendent immediately before Woods, say the years of budget shortfalls have had a lingering effect, most noticeably on teacher pay.

. . . .

Like all the candidates, Thornton, a retired lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, believes the schools still don’t have adequate funding, though they are, on paper, fully funded. The state calculates what it will give local districts using a formula from the 1980s. The $10 billion budget hasn’t kept up with the cost of living, and it doesn’t account for the cost of technologies that didn’t yet exist when it was established, the candidates argue.

“We have many educators who live below the poverty line,” Sid Chapman, a former high school social studies teacher, said in a recent televised debate.

Whether these candidates can do anything about the under-funding is a different question, but the fact there is not a legitimate debate undercuts those who would disparage or disregard this spring's protests.  Those who would politicize what ought not be political--a strong commitment to public education--should prepare to be swept aside.  This is not a blue wave.  It is an education wave.

 --on Twitter @DerekWBlack

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