U.S: End game of charter schools: destroy public education – By Mohamed Hamaludin

U.S: End game of charter schools, vouchers:  destroy public education

— MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

A teacher strike in Los Angeles starting Jan. 14 once again put the spotlight on professionals who educate the nation’s children. But teachers have generally been relegated to the back of the national consciousness and priorities, giving way to bickering politicians, superstars, supermodels and super athletes.  Some have had to pay for supplies for their students, work in dilapidated buildings, use outdated equipment and books and teach out-sized classes. Some have been killed alongside their students by mass murderers.

Most are grossly underpaid, unable to compete for wages commensurate with their worth to society. They are among the most unionized workers, hence suffer from the nation’s ideological confrontation, and education is an early casualty of budget cuts. But, increasingly, they are taking matters in their own hands by withholding their labor, as happened last February in West Virginia.   

The most recent strike involved thousands of Los Angeles public school teachers. Curiously, teachers from the three charter schools joined them – a first for California and a rarity in the nation, made possible because they, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, are unionized. Public school teachers were demanding “smaller class sizes and more support staff” and charter school teachers called for “job security, binding arbitration and health care benefits,” Huffington Post reported.

Anti-union activists attacked the West Virginia teachers in a campaign organized by the State Policy Network (SPN), which groups 66 “ideas factories,” the Guardian reported. A “messaging guide” smeared teachers and claimed that the strike was hurting poor parents and their children.  The walkout closed schools for nine days, the teachers won a five percent pay increase and their action inspired teacher strikes in several other states.

The SPN campaign was financed by $80 million provided by billionaires such as  the Koch brothers, the Walton family of Walmart, Bill Gates of Microsoft and the Devos family of Amway, one of whom, Betsy Devos, President Donald Trump appointed as education secretary. The wealthy  have a history of attacking public education, going back to the 1950s, in the case of the Kochs.

Ray Budde, a University of Massachusetts professor, is credited with first proposing charter schools in 1974 and, by 1988, support came from Albert Shanker, president of, ironically, the American Federation of Teachers.  Minnesota first approved such schools in 1991 and by 2015, 43 states followed suit and their number grew to more than 6,000 catering to three million students, still  far fewer than the 90,000 traditional public schools educating 58 million students.

Many charter schools have earned a reputation for teaching excellence but the issue is not which type of school is better. The campaign against public schools teachers, financed by hundreds of millions of dollars to discredit them, has put pressure on school districts to let them operate, even though they are detrimental to traditional public schools.

Florida, for example, approved charter schools in 1997 and within 10 years, they numbered more than 70, Biscayne Times reported. By 2015, Miami-Dade charter schools had enrolled more than 60,000 students, siphoned off $400 million from the budget of the school district, which hired 425 fewer teachers, the Miami Herald reported.

Billionaires have been doling hundreds of millions of dollars to promote such schools as part of a decades-long campaign to wreck the public school system, a sure sign that the fight to segregate the races and restore control of government to the propertied class did not end with the defeat of the South as it sought to defend its property: slaves.

Virginia was the lynchpin of racial segregation in schools and after  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against both segregation and “separate but equal” education, the state tried other tactics, including taking control of education from local officials, cutting off funds to any school planning to admit African American students and shutting down those that did.  This history – recalled in Duke University Professor Nancy McClean’s 2017 book Democracy in Chains, which also details a campaign to seize control of public universities — is worth remembering because Virginia used tax dollars to pay for tuition for white parents to send their children to private schools. Tuition vouchers and school choice became the alternatives to desegregation, blossoming in the 1990s into charter schools.

The Walton family has been spending millions of dollars to persuade African American parents that charter schools are a better choice. The Associated Press reported last December that, by 2015-16, African American student enrollment in charter schools doubled to more than 760,000 in 10 years. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on them.

Charter schools are unlikely to disappear but it is possible that, as in Los Angeles, their teachers will realize how much they have in common with their public schools colleagues, leading to more joint action. For the time being, though, the billionaires’ mischief has been done and they are moving on to other ways to influence public opinion, such as tackling partisanship and immigration (Kochs) and housing (Gates).

It is not the schools battle which has been definitive for them; rather, it was packing the U.S. Supreme Court with a conservative majority that could last at least 50 years. They no longer have to plot ways to frustrate the people’s will; the high court will do it for them and it will be all legal, all constitutional.

_____

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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UPDATE

‘Historic Day for American Unions’: Los Angeles Teachers Strike Earns Victory for Labor, Public Education

“Teachers, students, parents, and their neighbors came together in the pouring rain to make historic demands for public education.”

LA strike

Educators, parents, students, and supporters of the Los Angeles teachers strike wave and cheer in Grand Park on Jan. 22, 2019 in downtown Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Los Angeles public school teachers at the nation’s second-largest district ended a six-day strike late Tuesday after union members voted to approve a deal—hailed as a major victory for organized labor—that’s designed to raise salaries, cap class sizes and charter schools, and direct more funding to schools for nurses, counselors, and other support staff positions.

READ MORE

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