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The assault on public education isn’t confined to Newark or Montclair or Highland Park or Camden. Not confined to Chris Christie’s New Jersey. It’s a national phenomenon and countering it will take a national pushback. The beginning of that pushback just could be Dec. 9 when a national coalition of educational, parent, community and civic groups launch “A National Day to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education.”
At a teleconference yesterday, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, outlined plans for a coordinated “day of action” in cities and towns throughout the country, most of them aimed at enlisting parents and community members in the fight against the corporate takeover of public education.
“We’re reclaiming the collaboration we have always had with parents in support of all public school students,” Weingarten said. She added the National Education Association also is a partner in the effort that she hopes will be followed up by sustained efforts to keep public education well-funded and out of private control.
New Jersey organizations in the coalition include the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), the Education Law Center, and New Jersey Communities United.
John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization, said union members would begin “Fight Back Fridays” by dressing in black and talking to parents about how the policies of Gov. Chris Christie and his agent in Newark, superintendent Cami Anderson, would affect children in the state’s largest city.
He cited the recent disclosure that Anderson is working with charter school operators to create citywide school applications. Abeigon pointed out that schools in the East Ward are overcrowded while those in the South and Central Wards are under capacity so the plan would require cross-district busing.
“People want their neighborhood schools to be fixed,” he said. “They don’t want to be put up against a wall and forced to bus their children across town.”
The NTU has scheduled a rally for 3:30 pm Dec. 9. The theme of the local union’s efforts the day of action are demands for “racial equity, fair funding, and local control of our schools.”
Weingarten’s teleconference brought together educators and parents from throughout the country to discuss the problems they face because of cutbacks in public funding of public education and efforts by private corporations to wring profits from schools.
Karen Schow, a special education teacher from Boise, Idaho, said she hopes to alert parents that their children are not receiving the attention they need because of cutbacks. “”The funding just is not there,” she said.
Kia Hinton, a parent from Philadelphia, described the relentless cuts in school budgets-including $1 billion cut this year. “We are in a crisis,” she said, pointing out that a little girl died of a heart attack in a school where there was no school nurse. The nurse had been assigned to a different school that day because of budget cuts.
“That little girl might be alive now,” she said.
John Jackson, the president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education and one of the national coordinators of the day of action, said Philadelphia and Chicago teachers would join forces to expose the corporations pushing for school privatization.
“This isn’t an isolated effort-it’s a national drive to take over public education,” said Jackson. He said opponents of public education are starving the schools until they fail and then use that failure to justify privatization.
Lora McDonald, a social worker in the Kansas City, MO, public schools, says the district’s charter schools “cherry pick” the best students but the conventional public schools outperform the charters.
“The public schools have all the kids with special needs but they are still doing better than the vast majority of public schools, ” McDonald said. She called charter schools “a failed experiment” conducted by those who seeking the “complete privatization” of public education.
“We consider the corporate takeover movement the Brown vs Board of Education of our time,” she said, referring to the 1954 US Supreme Court decision outlawing legally-imposed racial segregation.