Movements Work

In celebration of Labor Day today, it’s a good time to remember that movements work. They’re messy, fractured, and can take an awfully long time, but they work. What we call the labor movement of 19th and 20th centuries was actually scores of different movements, with different leaders, different goals, many painful losses, and some incredibly important wins: child labor laws, the weekend, minimum wage, healthcare, retirement, and major improvements in occupational safety, to name just a few.

But how do we know if our education justice movement is working? Here’s a great clue from a Pennsylvania poll released this past week: respondents listed “education and school funding” as one of the two most important issues facing the state today. Of those surveyed, 23% said it was their top priority, just behind “jobs” and “the economy” (which combined, totaled 28%). [Franklin & Marshall Poll, 8-28-13]

These pollsters have been asking this same question for years, and the proportion of Pennsylvanians naming education as the state’s most significant problem has increased dramatically. Back in 2005, only 6% of those surveyed were worried enough about our schools to list it first. Last year at this time, it was 13%. Now nearly a quarter of respondents rank education as the single most pressing issue in the commonwealth.

You can be sure this has everything to do with our work together to keep public education in the public eye. With our grassroots colleagues around the state, we have organized countless rallies, demonstrations, parades, and press conferences. We’ve written op-eds, letters to the editor, and blogs. Parents have opted their kids out of high-stakes-testing, and students have walked out of class, taken to YouTube, and created flash mobs. Make no mistake – this is a movement.

We have strength when we work together. Consider this: despite all of the resources at his disposal, Gov. Corbett’s priorities don’t seem to resonate with voters. Only 5% of respondents listed the privatization of state liquor stores as their top priority, and the Governor’s plan to privatize the lottery did not even register in the poll. On the other hand, pollster G. Terry Madonna explains, “On the big things that voters care about, education, every day you read a story about cutbacks … Not just in Philly. All over the state.” [, 8-29-13]

Asked to give Gov. Corbett a grade for his performance on several key issues in the state, respondents were the most critical by far of the governor’s handling of education. Only 11% gave him an A or B for “improving public education,” while an overwhelming 56% gave him a D or F. In fact, 31% – almost a third of those surveyed – gave Gov. Corbett a failing grade on education, a far larger proportion than failed him on any other issue.

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 8.06.05 AM
[Image sourse: Franklin & Marshall Poll, 8-28-13]

The fact that voters feel so strongly negative about Gov. Corbett’s performance on one of their top concerns in the state is no doubt responsible for his abysmal approval rating. Indeed, Gov. Corbett’s approval rating is now at its lowest point ever, with only 17% of registered Pennsylvania voters ranking him as “excellent” or “good.” Sixty-two percent believe the state is “off on the wrong track,” and only one in five people thinks he deserves re-election. Even registered Republicans are unhappy with him: only 38% would vote for him again. [Franklin & Marshall Poll, 8-28-13] The Pennsylvania political site PoliticsPa concluded, “the key takeaway from this poll: Corbett is on electoral life support.” [PoliticsPA, 8-29-13]

Another key takeaway is this: you can’t cut $1billion from public schools and expect to get away with it when there is an education justice movement fighting for Pennsylvania’s students.

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