The effort to build for the NCAE’s May 16 Public Schools Day of Advocacy has swept the state of North Carolina. Small districts. Big districts. Urban districts. Rural districts. Down East. The Piedmont. The Mountains. The Foothills. Y’all get it. It is multi-racial and multi-generational. It is educators of all stripes with students, parents, and the supporters of public schools. When things come together that are that dispersed and in this short a period of time, there are lots of moving parts that lead to lots of questions:
- What are the demands?
- Is this legal?
- Do we have a union in North Carolina?
- Will this make a difference?
These are all important questions, and those of us helping to make this thing happen are trying to get on the same page with each other and answer as many things as we can as quickly as possible. All while preparing for tens of thousands of people to descend on Raleigh in a day that has already exceeded most of our wildest imaginations and has already demonstrated the power that we have when we act together. Organizing is hard work. But it works. We appreciate the patience.
There’s a question I want to offer an answer to here, though, and I want to go on record that it doesn’t represent an official view. It is, however, the perspective that has been at the center of the NCAE Organize 2020 Caucus for 5 years and the Durham Association of Educators’ leadership for 3 years.
Question: Is this just a rally for the Democratic Party?
The dismantling of public schools is a 40 year project. It has its roots in the conservative movement’s efforts to undo many of the gains of the New Deal/Civil Rights struggle era. That movement has found its way into power through the vehicle of the Republican Party. That doesn’t mean that all Republicans have agreed. But the more conservative forces that have led that party for the last several decades have been able to move an agenda that marginalizes and silences Republicans who support public schools and know that we need tax dollars in order to pay for them. We can probably just look at Betsy DeVos’s appointment to the Secretary of Education position and end the discussion. There are so many Republicans that opposed her appointment and understand her role as a travesty in the history of the country’s commitment to public schools.
Here in North Carolina, Republicans have a history of being on the right side of public schools. North Carolina’s Republican and Democratic Parties lived in relative harmony for the latter part of the 20th Century, and the result was a relatively well-funded public school system, a model pre-K program, and a world class University system. It was mostly a consensus.
To be clear, however, the dismantling of public schools has also been aided by the Democratic Party. In the 90s, the Bill Clinton-led reform movement inside of the Democratic Party started opening the door for corporate education reform and privatization. They began to eliminate regulations that protected public schools. Then, when No Child Left Behind was signed by George W Bush, liberal Democratic leader Ted Kennedy was right over his shoulder, ushering in the new era of mandated standardized testing. It has taken away our valuable teaching time. It has killed our spirits. It has been the open door for the scarlet letter of school grades. And it has created huge opportunities for profits from companies like Pearson.
Both parties have been on board.
In 2008, Democratic leadership in North Carolina began the shift in momentum with a multi-year pay freeze that left most educators in the state actually making less money each year for a half decade or so. Let’s be clear on that point.
Let’s also be clear that North Carolina sent shockwaves out around the country by electing the U.S.’s first Black President. Conservative forces around the country, organized under the Tea Party banner, moved swiftly through both the Republican Party and their own networks. They have benefited from lots of financial backing from people like the Koch Brothers and Art Pope. Look them up.
These ultra-conservative forces used the racism that was inside of the anti-Obama sentiment sweeping the nation (conservative friends reading, please be willing to acknowledge that much of the resistance to Obama’s Presidency was rooted in racism, and not just differences with his policies—many of the people who benefited most from Obamacare were white and were tricked into opposing the policy through the manipulation of embarrassing racist tropes (the Birther movement?)). With Art Pope’s money and this momentum, they took over the General Assembly in 2010. Both houses. Then they redrew the district lines in ways that benefited their agenda (yes, both parties do this, but the 2010 drawn lines have been declared racist and illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court). Then they won a supermajority of both houses and the Governor’s office in 2012. This same move happened all over the country, and the movement of educators in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona is evidence enough of the phenomenon.
Back here, in 2013, after 5 years of austerity and stagnation, things just got worse. Under-funding was one of the mechanisms, but there was also a built-in disrespect for educators (taking away master’s pay, taking away our due process rights, taking away our step raises and longevity pay), levers that would hasten the dismantling of our school systems (removing the cap on charters and allowing for rapid and unregulated growth, and the introduction of vouchers), and the use of “accountability” to shame our schools in the public eye. It has been rapid and it has been cruel. Educators and students have suffered.
And educators of all stripes know that. We can feel it. Urban and rural. East and West. Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, independent or otherwise. That’s why over 35 school systems have been closed and 10s of thousands of us will be in Raleigh on Wednesday.
So it began in 2008 under the leadership of the Democrats. And it got way worse in 2013 under the leadership of the Republicans. Both parties have played a role at the national level too.
What that means, then, is that we need to put every single politician in this state and country on record. Everyone in office and everyone running. Where do you stand on the main question facing us:
- Do you want high quality public schools and all of the things that our students need to be successful?
- Do you want to give away more money to our state’s wealthiest citizens and corporations through tax breaks?
Those are really the only two options. We need public school supporters who line up as Republicans to hold their party accountable. We need those on the Democratic Party to do the same. And we need everyone else to step in to make sure that we show that we can move enough people in the streets, in the schools, and to the ballot box that our state’s political leadership needs to answer these questions the right way, right away.
In this together.
Our students are worth that y’all.