On the Tuesday of my Spring Break last week, I participated in Tennessee Education Association’s annual “Civication,” when they invite their members to come to capitol hill in Nashville and sit in on House Education Committee meetings and meet some elected officials. As an educator who is deeply fascinated with education policy, I loved it. A persistent anti-public school culture is pervasive across the political sphere--especially in deeply “red” states where misleading terminology like “school choice” and “opportunity scholarships” leads to legislation that strives to steal money from public institutions and put it in the hands of private school entrepreneurs.
Thankfully, my two state representatives, Rep. Judd Matheny and Sen. Janice Bowling confirmed their opposition to voucher bills with I met with them in their respective offices. Sen. Bowling, in particular, was inquisitive about how, exactly, voucher bills take money from public education. While I was happy to explain this to her, it also made me realize that teachers need to continue to persistently contact her office and advocate for ourselves and our children.
One of the most interesting parts of that day is when the House Education Administration & Planning Committee debated HB 0174, otherwise known as the “Teacher’s Bill of Rights.” Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver from Lancaster, TN argued against the bill, even though she eventually voted in favor of it. Her concern was whether it was truly necessary to actually pass this bill and turn it into state law. She wondered what happened to the days when teachers were simply respected without there being a law requiring it. After the meeting, I happened to pass her in the hallway, and she stopped me. Rep. Weaver wanted to know my thoughts on the meeting, to which I replied that I agreed with her in principle, but teachers frankly don’t feel respected anymore, which made this bill necessary. She then blamed the parents for not raising their children better. I reminded her that a large number of students across the state are raised in poverty, and that it’s hard for parents to raise their children correctly when they’re working multiple jobs to make ends meet. To this, she responded, “It’s not government’s job to fix poverty. It’s God’s job.” I was stunned by her ignorance. Fixing education involves much more than passing token teacher appreciation bills. It includes doing something to help parents have a path out of poverty--something like passing Insure Tennessee, for example. Unfortunately, as soon as I brought that up, she left in a hurry. I’m sure she was busy, and never intended to get into a long discussion with me in one of the busy hallways of capitol hill.
The Teacher’s Bill of Rights ended up passing the House and is up for a vote in the Senate on April 4th. Unfortunately, an amendment was added, eliminating the most important parts, where it said “An educator shall not be: (1) Required to spend the educator’s personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals who do not have the same subject matter expertise as the educator being evaluated; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Forced to relocate to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.”
While about forty teachers from across the state joined me during Civication, I’m unsure if our time on capitol hill on Tuesday was particularly effective by itself. That said, it certainly didn’t hurt for politicians to look up and see teachers in the audience during the committee meetings, and the more that teachers participate in such events, the more impact we will have in changing the anti-public education culture into a winning culture for teachers and students.
I’m looking forward to my Spring Break next year, when I will lead a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic with local high school students. It’s an 8 day trip and will last the entire break. Most importantly, students will broaden their worldviews while helping children in another country who can use the help and while earning community service hours for Tennessee Promise. I’m still looking for interested travelers, who can go to http://www.eftours.com/tour-website/1962244MV to sign up for the trip!