Tuesday was a fun day as I headed north to Birmingham to speak to a group of educators, to visit an elementary school and its principal and spend time with a superintendent friend. And Friday I head to the Wiregrass to make a presentation to more educators in Dothan.
Here are some of the things I told the good folks in Birmingham.
On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to Congress and called the day before, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, “a date that will live in infamy.”
In Alabama, educators can look back on Feb. 28, 2013 also as a day in infamy. Because this was the day our legislative leadership attacked public education by declaring that people outside the state know more about education than our own teachers and principals. The result was the Alabama Accountability Act.
And what do these (failing) schools have in common? It is no surprise that collectively these schools are 91 percent poverty and 87 percent black.
But consider that AAA passed with 51 votes in the House and 22 votes in the Senate. All were white and all were Republicans. None of them represent districts that are 91 percent poverty and 87 percent black.
And I am reminded that a 100 years ago the Bourbon Democrats told my sharecropper grandfather in Covington County that he could not vote until he paid his poll tax because they did not think he was equal to them. Basically the accountability act told poor, black schools to pay their poll tax.
We know more than 1,000 students who had been in private schools for at least a year got more than $4 million in scholarships. Legislative leadership who rushed AAA through the House and Senate in 2013 never told the public this would happen. Instead, we were told we were “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes.”
No doubt there have been some students helped by this law, but we need to keep things in context. There are 733,000 students in Alabama public schools. Should we take $30 million a year away from them to help a handful of others while totally ignoring the “failing schools” identified by the law?
Besides, the real issue is much, much bigger than the accountability act. It was simply a tactic in a bigger battle sweeping the country.
This is all about money.
It is projected that the “market size” of K-12 education in the U.S. is $750 BILLION annually.
Michael Moe heads CSV Capital, a company that invests in education startups. He recently said “the education industry today is the healthcare industry of 30 years ago.” A financial industry expert says education is the last “honey pot” for Wall Street.
Last spring you could have attended a seminar in NYC called “Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools” sponsored by the Gates and Walton foundations. You would’ve learned which charter school chains are growing their net assets, but you would not have learned anything about classroom achievement because no one spoke about it.
To push the privatization agenda you have to convince people public schools are terrible. Alabama is a perfect example of how this works. As you know, we just passed legislation paving the way for charter schools. But most forget that we first tried to get charters in 2012 and the super majority did not have the votes.
So what did they do? They came back the following year with the accountability act. We talked endlessly about how many folks were on waiting lists to get in private schools, we filled YouTube with videos of parents talking about private schools. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns and rented buses to haul kids from all over the state to a rally in Montgomery.
When you go to battle you send in the airplanes to bomb the enemy before you send in the infantry. The accountability act was the air attack making it easier to get charter legislation.
I visit a lot of schools and classrooms. I’ve never seen one labeled Republican or Democrat. It is time for the grownups to stop using school kids as the rope in a political tug of war. Today we’re offering our children to the highest bidder, to whoever has the most money in their political action committee.
I believe that most who work in education “had a calling” at some point in their life to work with children. They were not called to go to committee meetings, to fill out paperwork or to tell their story to politicians.
Unfortunately, keeping quiet is a luxury we can no longer afford. We cannot sit idly by while millionaires 2,000 miles away use their money to buy votes in Alabama. When a politician listens to a lobbyist from California instead of a teacher in Alabama we can’t turn the other cheek.
We need to remind our lawmakers that we live in a democracy–not an oligarchy. We need to let them know that ALL voices are to be heard–not just those who run political action committees. We need to tell the rich folks from other states who want to be social engineers and decide that some of our children deserve better schools than others that we can make our own decisions.
When most of us see a school we see a place where children go to learn. But some folks see the pot at the end of the rainbow.
This really is all about the kids. And because it is, we cannot remain silent.