It’s that time of year again – many of us are sending kids back to school this week. And Yinzercation has been invited back to the White House! This Thursday the White House and the U.S. Department of Education will host an “Education Forum with Pennsylvania Leaders.” The group will meet with President Obama’s senior administration officials to discuss “education programs and initiatives, including specific conversations about K-12, higher education and other focus areas.”
Last time I was there, I shook my metaphorical finger at some of the President’s policy advisors and implored them to stop participating in the national narrative of “failing public schools.” Return this nation instead, I pleaded, to its long standing belief in public education as a public good. This time, I intend to share the consequences of what happens when we lose sight of the common good served by our schools.
I will have to tell the White House about the many hundreds of teachers who will not be heading back into the classroom here in Southwest Pennsylvania, and what that will be like for our students, those out-of-work education professionals and their families, and our local economy. I will tell them about larger classrooms, lost librarians and nurses, cancelled special ed and tutoring programs, gutted arts and foreign language curricula, slashed school bus services, and even reduced course offerings in core subjects like reading and math. And I will tell them about the ultra-right billionaires that have pumped mountains of money into superPACs funding politicians who promise to send our taxpayer dollars to private corporations and religious institutions while over a third of our local school districts have been forced to raise property taxes to pay for schools. [Post-Gazette, 7-15-12]
I will try to explain how families are bombarded with expensive ads and billboards on our highways from those superPACs and private charter schools promising to “rescue” their children. How great swaths of people in our region of every stripe and political persuasion have become convinced that there is something horribly wrong with public education, even though they have great faith in the actual schools in their own neighborhoods. [See “What the Polls Say“] And how the rhetoric of failing schools has served as cover to cut $1 billion from public education in Pennsylvania, to pass laws making it impossible to see what is going on inside charters and scholarship organizations, to set up new tax credit programs draining hundreds of millions more from the public coffers that could have been used for our schools.
But I will also tell the White House about our incredible grassroots movement. How quickly it has grown and how effective we have been. How ordinary people care passionately about their public schools and how we’ve fought the rhetoric of failure with the simple truth and a commitment to the social good served by our public goods. It’s back to school time. And it’s time for the White House to commit to sending all our students back to a great school, with adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education.