The educators’ march to protect our schools

No one has a better sense of what students need to be successful in the classroom than the educators who work with them every day.

 “The children I teach need adequate funding for community school services such as counseling and after-school programming. They need to learn in a healthy school climate,” says Howard County educator Matthew Vaughn-Smith.

Vaughn-Smith is one of more than a thousand Maryland educators planning to attend the “Protect Our Schools March” in Annapolis on Monday, March 13.

Montgomery County teacher Josh Rubin is another educator planning to attend. He says it’s all about his students: “Public school educators fight for what is best for their students, because when students get what they need, teachers also get what they need.”

Right now, there’s a lot at stake for both educators and their students. Maryland faces a pivotal moment in history when it comes to education policy. The State Board of Education is currently debating how to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a new federal education law that replaced the unpopular No Child Left Behind—while a state commission (known as the Kirwan Commission) is redesigning the state’s school funding formula. Both plans will be finished by the end of 2017.

“The decisions made by our elected officials and education leaders in the next nine months will determine the course of our students and their schools for the next decade and more,” says Betty Weller, a veteran middle school science teacher from Kent County and president of the Maryland State Education Association—the statewide educators’ union. “Everything we care about in schools, from class sizes to pre-kindergarten to career and technology education, is at stake.”

But not everyone believes this pivotal moment should be used to help improve existing neighborhood public schools. Instead, some prefer using taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools and for-profit charter schools. In November, President Donald Trump appointed billionaire school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Secretary of Education. After refusing to reject school privatization policies in during her confirmation hearing, DeVos was confirmed by the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence—a first for a cabinet appointee in the nation’s history. Educators and parents protested across the country.

Trump and DeVos have education policy allies in Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan has pushed for private school vouchers and the expansion of for-profit charter schools, while cutting more than $100 million in public school funding during his term. And Hogan’s State Board of Education, filled with school privatization advocates much like DeVos, wants to use ESSA to convert low-performing schools to charter schools, or even close them in favor of issuing vouchers to private schools.    

So educators decided to plan a march in Annapolis to protest Gov. Hogan and his State Board of Education’s plan to privatize public schools. Marcie Cooke, a teacher from Baltimore County planning to attend the event, thinks it will make a big difference.

“Educators need to go to Annapolis to share our stories with legislators,” said Cooke. “I believe this march will show those same legislators that we stand together, no matter the county, to better educate the children who we serve.”

The Monday night march will kick off a week of action, with each day of the week representing a different form of activism. For example, Tuesday is “Wear red for public ed” day and Friday is a Twitter storm.

Educators say they plan to use the march and week of action to highlight two priority pieces of legislation: The Protect Our Schools Act and the Less Testing, More Learning Act. The first would help implement ESSA by focusing school accountability on closing opportunity gaps, while preventing the State Board of Education’s efforts to privatize schools. The second would limit all federal, state, and local mandated testing to 2% of each school year—or 21.6 hours in elementary and middle schools and 23.4 hours in high school—and has already passed the House of Delegates unanimously.

Educators like Amity Pope, a teacher in Prince George’s County, strongly believe that this is a critical moment to stand up for students. “The time is now to organize, mobilize, and take action on issues that affect my community and the lives of those within it,” she said.

To learn more about the March to Protect Our Schools and the Week of Action, visit www.protectMDschools.com.

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