Sunday, June 21, 2015

Republican Education Policy: Burning Down the House

Add bad pay and constant derogation, and teachers are so out of there.

I view each Republican assault on public education with growing alarm and despair. Yes, it is very much like burning down the house. Once done, rebuilding from the ashes is a difficult task. And yet Republicans around the country are doing it with relish. Education cuts are, these days, generally caused by tax cuts, so we know why Republicans do it. But do they understand the costs? Maybe they don't care.

Take the latest case, as we discover that teachers are packing up and leaving Arizona in huge numbers. Remarkable:
Over the last five years, thousands of teachers have left the state, according to a 2015 report by the Arizona Department of Education, with this past school year being possibly the worst. The report warns if teachers keep leaving, “students will not meet their full potential” and “Arizona will not be able to ensure economic prosperity for its citizens and create the workforce of tomorrow.” It calls for increased pay for teachers and more overall education funding in the state.
Why are so many teachers leaving? Low pay, insufficient classroom resources and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that educators feel they have no instructional time and flexibility in their own classrooms, educators say. According to new Census Bureau statistics, Arizona is near the bottom of a state list of spending per student, $7,208, with the average per pupil spending around the country being $10,700 and near or at the bottom for classroom spending per student. But it is near the top of a list of states in getting public education revenue from the federal government.
Presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's term in office has been marked by his nearly non-stop attack on teachers and education in general, reaching all the way to one of America's greatest institutions, the well-respected University of Wisconsin system. Walker destroys education on all levels with equal relish:
This week, Wisconsin kicked off a series of hearings on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget, which would slash about $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over two years, funnel hundreds of millions to build a pro-basketball stadium, and cut deeply from funds for health care, food stamps and public media.
And it’s not just higher education feeling the pain.
Public primary schools across Wisconsin will lose about $127 million in education aid next year, largely by scrapping a special $150 per-student fund that Wisconsin school districts received over the past two years.
The struggling Milwaukee public schools are set to lose more than $12 million.
Bob Peterson, who taught 5th grade in the Milwaukee Public Schools for nearly three decades, told ThinkProgress that not only are the cuts “breathtaking,” they come as the schools are still reeling from the lost funding in the Governor’s 2011 budget.
Another item on Walker's anti-education checklist could be his worst: taking tenure away from UW professors. Tenure is a greatly misunderstood concept. It was meant -- and still means -- to protect academic freedom from political interference.
Wisconsin is the only state in the country where academic tenure is protected by law, but a budget plan approved by the GOP-controlled legislature's Joint Finance Committee would remove that safeguard for professors in the state university system and cut its budget by $250 million. The plan is backed by Gov. Scott Walker – who's expected to announce in the coming weeks that he's running for the Republican presidential nomination – and would shift control of the tenure policies to the university system's board of regents.
Republican lawmakers have said the change is simply a shift in power, and Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the change was part of a larger plan to give the university system more power over creating its own policies. But the proposal would also greatly expand provisions for how and when tenured faculty can be laid off or fired. Those provisions include budgetary constraints and program changes, and the proposal has been met with fierce opposition from professors in the state university system.
Removing tenure from Wisconsin law is a solution in search of a problem. Tenure has in no way corrupted Wisconsin higher education. Instead it has undoubtedly drawn top talent to the state and its highly respected research universities. Removing safeguards for tenure will have the opposite effect. Professors will look elsewhere for job security and move to states that aren't gutting funding. Highly talented academicians from other states will rush to non-tenured positions in Wisconsin? Doubtful.
The budget proposal also changes state law regarding shared governance, which gives faculty members deciding power on issues like curriculum, instruction and personnel matters.  It instead would give faculty an advisory responsibility on those issues.
Such language, the faculty members said in their resolution, "will lead to the demoralization and/or departure of substantial numbers of faculty, will have negative repercussions for recruiting outstanding new faculty, and will seriously damage UW‐Madison's national competitiveness and the faculty's ability to grow the economic future of the state and to serve its students and its citizens."
Arizona and Wisconsin aren't the only Republican states that have taken money from education and generally returned it to the rich through tax cuts. Kansas is at it, too:
But [Governor Brownback’s] budget headaches have continued: January receipts fell $47.2 million short of predictions, and Mr. Brownback has responded by cutting funding for public schools and higher education by a combined $44.5 million.
The move has education officials across the state seething. Here, the Kansas City Public School District has already endured $45 million in lost state revenue since 2009, said Cynthia Lane, the superintendent. Mr. Brownback’s cut of 1.5 percent to public school funding statewide would amount to a loss of $1.3 million in her district, she said.
Mind you, this is happening not as a response to a worsening economy -- the U.S. recovery, though slow, has been broad and continuing -- but rather as a shifting of priorities and a new round of GOP tax cuts, generally favoring the rich.

Let's not forget Bobby Jindal and his incredibly shrinking, very bad state of Louisiana:
Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Louisiana, which has a complicated higher education system and a Republican governor who is considering running for president.
Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a budget that would reduce higher education spending by $141 million in fiscal 2016. In recent weeks, he has proposed offsetting some of the cuts by getting rid of some refundable business tax credits, which have a total value of $526 million. But the business community is strongly opposing that idea. That leaves the Republican-dominated legislature in a bind, forcing members to choose between education and low taxes, two priorities they generally support.
Take a guess which route the Louisiana GOP will follow.

Read more about the GOP assault on public education here, here, here, and here. And, yes, there is one Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, who has proposed cuts to higher education funding to offset tax cuts. As of now, nothing has been agreed to.

Remember, America: These are our children we're choosing to shortchange education-wise. These cuts fall on all our children.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. He studied at Brown University and
was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Essentially, he had a free education
through scholarships. He got his. The rest of you bastards can suck wind.

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