National Scene

March 8, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 9

National Scene

Teacher activism

The Washington Post (3/6, Strauss) reports that according to a new report from the nonpartisan Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, while teacher protests “helped lead to a big boost in education funding in four states. … it wasn’t enough to make up for earlier cuts. In those states and more than dozen others, state spending on general education is still less than before the 2008 Great Recession.” The report “says most of the places that increased general education funding did it in ways that are not sustainable. The study found that when education spending has grown relative to pre-recession levels, that growth has come at the local level. And that’s a problem for poor districts because local funding is dependent on property taxes.”

U.S. News & World Report (3/6) reports teacher activism “led to substantial increases in school funding in places like Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia. But the increases were not enough to make up for the steep cuts that those states made since the Great Recession in 2008, and in many cases, the funding mechanisms for the new money aren’t sustainable in the long-term.” The report “examined whether the dozen states that made the biggest cuts – of 8 percent or more – to their education spending between 2008 and 2017 had reinvested after a year of widespread teacher discontent over issues of low pay, crowded classrooms and lack of support staff like nurses, librarians and counselors.”

The Wall Street Journal (3/6, Hobbs, Subscription Publication) reports that after teacher strikes in dozens of school districts, governors and lawmakers in at least 25 states are considering teacher pay raises. Some officials have said they are supporting the increases to prevent strikes while others say the increases will help keep teachers amid shortages in all 50 states.

Chalkbeat (3/6) says the report “suggests the walkouts and strikes made a difference in Oklahoma, Arizona, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The report…found that baseline state funding jumped 19 percent in Oklahoma last year, while North Carolina and West Virginia both saw 3 percent upticks. Still, some states have a ways to go to reach their 2008 spending levels.” The Seventy Four (3/6, Keierleber) also covers this story.

In an analysis for EdSource (3/3, Freedberg), executive director Louis Freedberg discusses his takeaways from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes. He points out “both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week,” given there was “pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.” The teachers “appeared to come out ahead” in both cases, “achieving gains they might not have won without a strike.” The demands in both strikes “went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits;” equally important were “a range of other issues, including lower class sizes,” and hiring more counselors and support staff. Furthermore, Freedberg said “in both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers,” but “deeper structural issues” remain.

The AP (3/1, Beam, Izaguirre) reports that in the wake of successful teacher activism over the past two years, “some red-state lawmakers have shown a willingness to push back this year, putting forward legislation that has sparked a new wave of action. In West Virginia, again the first state to erupt, Senate Republicans started with a sweeping education measure with provisions seemingly aimed squarely at teachers and the unions representing them.” Meanwhile, in Arizona, “three proposed bills this year target protests and political speech by teachers. … Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend, who sponsored one of the measures, told the Arizona Capitol Times that they were a direct response to last year’s walkout.”

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal (3/1) reports that in Kentucky, key Republicans “are throwing their support behind a controversial private school tax break bill, signaling the measure may squeak through in the final days of Kentucky’s legislative session – a move that could remobilize Bluegrass teachers fresh off a massive ‘sickout.’” The measure “would create a statewide private school scholarship tax credit program. Supporters say it would give more at-risk kids access to education tailored for their needs. But opponents, including the Kentucky Education Association, have warned the tax breaks would drain the state’s revenues and hurt public schools.”

An Education Week (3/6, Superville) analysis says when teachers went on strike in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Denver earlier this year, “principals were charged with running their buildings while teachers were out on the picket line.” Many of those principals “are former teachers and may strongly support their teachers’ calls for higher pay, more education funding, and additional counselors and social workers” – but the “decision to keep schools open” has placed them “in a bind.” American Federation of School Administrators President and former principal Ernest Logan “said districts should close schools when teachers are striking if they are not ‘safe and secure.’” Union leaders also “suggested that because principals must maintain the trust of their parents and the community, they shouldn’t be forced to parrot the central office’s talking points,” or left in the dark about developments. Former Associated Administrators of Los Angeles President Judith Pérez said principals also should be paid extra for additional hours they work before and during strikes.

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (3/6) reports a bill filed Wednesday in the North Carolina legislature would “boost the salaries of teachers who underwent specialized police training to carry firearms on campus. The same bill was filed last year and died in committee, but Sen. Jerry Tillman, one of the new sponsors of Senate Bill 192, said that the climate has changed to give the legislation more support this year.”

The Washington Post (3/5, Strauss) reports a new report from the Oklahoma Department of Education says “30,000 teachers in the state have quit the profession over the past six years – and about half did it because of low pay, little respect and other reasons that made the job too hard or unattractive.” The report “underscores the reasons that teachers throughout the state went on strike last year to protest inadequate school funding and pay so low that many had to take several jobs to pay their bills. That strike, which ended with a pay raise, was part of a wave of walkouts in Republican-led states dubbed the ‘Red For Ed’ movement, which continued and spread to Democratic-led states this year.”

Public education reform

The Baltimore Sun (3/5, Broadwater, Bowie) reports former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan on Tuesday “delivered a dire message: More than 60 percent of Maryland’s graduating high school seniors can’t read at a 10th-grade level or pass an Algebra I test.” Kirwan led a commission to study improving school sin the state. On Tuesday, he “joined Democratic leaders in Annapolis to rally support for legislation that would provide more than $1 billion over the next two years to begin implementing the commission’s recommendations. But the legislation to spend hundreds of millions more in taxpayer dollars – without an identified funding stream – was met with skepticism by Republicans, who warned against raising taxes.” Kirwan’s panel “is recommending free, full-day prekindergarten for low-income 3- and 4-year olds; increasing standards and services so that all students are ready for college or a career upon graduating high school; and establishing a strong accountability system to oversee its recommendations.”

The AP (3/5, Witte, Press) reports Democrats in the legislature “outlined legislation Tuesday that provides a blueprint to improve education over 10 years, including an expansion of pre-K and teacher raises. The measure incorporates elements proposed by a state commission that spent more than two years working on a framework to improve early childhood, primary and secondary education.” Kirwan “said the panel made troubling findings. For one, fewer than 40 percent of high school seniors who graduate are considered to be college and career ready. Also, he said, about half of the state’s teachers in their second year won’t come back for a third. The panel’s recommendations are aimed at turning that around.”

The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier (3/6, Adcox) reports the South Carolina state House “voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to advance legislation called a first step in overhauling South Carolina’s public education system.” The bill now goes to the state Senate, “where a panel that’s reviewing it section-by-section has already removed large chunks.” The bipartisan bill, supported by Gov. Henry McMaster, is intended “to fix a system that’s fallen to among the bottom in the nation.” The language “requires new approaches not only in the K-12 system, but also technical colleges and universities. Provisions are aimed at ensuring students can read on grade level by the end of third grade – bolstering a law passed five years ago – better connecting high school offerings with the modern work world, and improving colleges’ teacher-training programs.”

The AP (3/6) reports that even before the bill cleared the state House, “a group of senators made their first changes to the proposal, indicating there will be plenty of back-and-forth even if the bill makes it to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk before the end of the session in May.” The “lengthy” House bill “raises the minimum starting teacher pay to $35,000, gives the state education superintendent more ability to take over low-performing school districts and creates a $100 million fund to help bring businesses to places where schools are poor and struggling.”

Teaching and learning

Chalkbeat (3/5) reports district officials in Shelby County, Tennessee, are considering “a policy that would require second-graders to repeat the school year if they don’t read on grade level. The district and state have struggled to get students ready to read by third grade and have heavily invested in literacy instruction.” District efforts have led to growth in reading scores, “but literacy rates remain stubbornly low. ... Interim superintendent Joris Ray said the policy would ensure what he calls ‘the third-grade guarantee.’”

School Safety

Education Week (3/4, Blad) reports a new analysis of federal data conducted by the ACLU shows that “many students don’t have access to...staff like school nurses, social workers, and psychologists,” even as the number of police in schools grows. “As a result of safety discussions that focus on shootings, rather than the broader range of safety concerns and student needs, ‘schools are under-resourced and students are overcriminalized,’ says the report,” which “also found that disproportionately high arrest rates for students of color and students with disabilities are continuing, while there was a 17 percent growth in school-based referrals to law enforcement from 2013-14 to 2015-16.”

The Huffington Post (3/4, Klein) reports the “disparity is poised to get worse” in the wake of the Parkland massacre, which “inspired the federal government and many state legislatures to push for enhanced security on campuses and prioritize the ‘hardening’ of schools.” The piece quotes ACLU staff attorney Amir Whitaker, who co-authored the report, saying, “There’s a dangerous trend in prioritizing law enforcement as a response to school safety when no evidence suggests that’s going to improve things.” ABC News (3/4) also covers this story.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

The Tennessean (3/5) reports Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday “told lawmakers he wanted $25 million for a school voucher program that would let thousands of students in low-performing districts use state money for private education.” Lee has backed vouchers in the past, but “the new ‘education savings account’ program – a pilot that his staff said would expand over time – marked his most definitive commitment to the contentious effort, which has repeatedly stalled in the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly.”

The AP (3/4, Kruesi, Mattise) reports on Monday, Lee “unveiled his long awaited school-choice agenda, announcing a sweeping proposal that would boost the number of parents who can use education savings accounts to pay tuition at private elementary and secondary schools.” Lee “said he wants to devote $37.4 million more in the upcoming fiscal year to help increase school choice throughout Tennessee. The majority of that funding would be slated toward a new education savings account program.” The AP quotes Lee saying, “My ESA plan will strengthen public schools and provide choices for parents at the same time. Creating competition will provide a new incentive for schools to improve and provide new opportunities for thousands of students.”

Chalkbeat (3/4) reports, “Proclaiming that “choice is good” when it comes to education, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday proposed creating a voucher program for students from low-income families and said he will support legislation to make it easier to open high-quality charter schools.” Lee also called for a 2.5 percent teacher raise “and proposed doubling the amount of state funding to help charter schools pay for facility needs.”