Victory in Florida, But States Still Fighting Anti-Education Bills

By Kevin Hart

This month, with a stroke of his pen, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist took a bold stand for public schools and vetoed Senate Bill 6, a bill that threatened to make Florida one of the most teacher-hostile states in America. But educators are warning that SB 6 was just one battle in a larger, nationwide effort to defeat state-level legislation that threatens to harm America’s public schools.

Florida teachers, administrators, education support professionals, parents and community groups drew a figurative line in the sand with SB 6, which was drafted without input from educators, would have stripped employment rights for teachers, and would have amounted to a massive, unfunded mandate for school districts.

Tens of thousands of e-mails, phone calls and letters flooded Crist’s office, encouraging him to veto the bill. Daily newspapers were filled with op-eds from concerned educators, and teachers called in to television and radio stations in droves. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offered thousands of messages from Floridians pressing for the bill’s defeat.

And, ultimately, this is the grassroots blueprint educators will need to use to continue to defeat a rash of anti-education bills popping up in statehouses throughout the country.

The next battleground may be Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal’s definition of “reform” seems to entail bullying and scapegoating the state’s hard-working educators and handing taxpayer funds to for-profit schools.

Jindal is trying to spearhead numerous changes to Louisiana education law, despite the fact that he has never during his two years in office met with representatives from the Louisiana Association of Educators, the largest education group in the state.

Jindal and State Superintendent of Schools Paul Pastorek are trying to use the federal Race to the Top grants competition to justify closing neighborhood public schools in favor of for-profit charter schools; reassigning hundreds of hard-working teachers and support professionals who will lose their jobs when these schools are closed; and enacting a “teach to the test” atmosphere that will strip creativity and innovation from the state’s schools.

LAE is already mobilizing educators, parents and other stakeholders to fight the anti-education legislation. The organization has launched a Web site at www.standupforlapublicschools.org and has created a Facebook page that already has united concerned residents from throughout the state.

Colorado educators are also fighting a recently introduced bill that threatens to undermine public education. The Colorado Education Association has announced its opposition to Senate Bill 191, which would stick districts with a massive bill for overhauling their teacher and principal evaluation systems, even if the districts already have well-functioning systems in place.

The bill would also use questionable, high-stakes testing to measure teacher effectiveness (the financial burden of this testing would fall to cash-strapped districts) and would radically weaken due process rights for teachers.

Educators have voiced concern that SB 191 is designed to be an end-run around the Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness, which was launched by Gov. Bill Ritter in January. Unlike SB 191, the council relies on input from practicing educators and has just begun its work.

CEA is already engaged in aggressive member outreach, lobbying and radio advertising in an effort to raise concerns about SB 191 and ensure that educator voices are heard in any remake of teacher evaluation systems.

Photo: Educators rally against proposed education funding slashing in South Carolina. Photo by South Carolina Education Association.