Monday, October 27, 2014

Our Kids Can't Vote, So We MUST Vote

My first vote was for Bobby Kennedy. Shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me…May 7, 1968, in the Indiana presidential primary. Indiana University students all voted at the county Court House in Bloomington, and the line snaked around the block. It was positively festive. We voted with hope and were supportive and friendly to all those voting for another candidate. It was magic…until Los Angeles.

I have tried to vote in each election since. Of course I’ve missed some. But my New-Deal  Democrat mother and Eisenhower Republican father inspired me to vote, even if your candidate won’t win. Be loyal, be respectful of others who have the right to their opinion, their vote.

Be there. Have your say. Vote.

This election, more than others, we need to vote…We need to vote for our students; we need to vote for education issues.

We need to vote: educators have a dismal voting record. Maybe 30%; maybe 18%. Depends on who you ask. We are busy, we are distracted. We are so busy we haven’t informed ourselves. We can’t get to the polls before or after school. I’ve heard them all. Not good enough, friends. We need to vote.

Policy makers count on our low turnout. They ignore us after elections. They label us ‘whiners’.  If we can look our politicians in the eye, and begin every conversation with the words, “I voted; I will continue to vote. I vote education issues and I am watching your work.” we could begin an accountability program for elected officials…just a thought.

I have climbed up on this particular soap box before: here and here. Scott Haselwood wrote a strong piece here. And here.

We need to vote education issues. Not other emotionally-charged wedge issues. Not our own narrow vision. Education. Why? Because our kids can’t. They will be deeply affected by this election, and they have no say. Their lives will be changed for better or worse, and They. Have. No. Say.

HB2625, the bill that overrode the Governor’s veto, to give a team of parents and educators the right to examine data and make a decision about a third grader’s placement was a landmark. But those protections will expire. This year’s second graders are not protected by this law. They will be tested and flunked on one test. You need to protect those 2nd graders from politicians who are determined to test and punish. My second-grade granddaughter needs the same protections her third-grade friends will have this Spring. We need to elect people at all levels who will continue to work for fair assessment and placement of our kids…who can’t vote.

I’ve hear politicians promise that vouchers will be back in the next Legislative session. That policy will take money out of public schools and send it to private schools. Support for our schools will continue to erode, as tax dollars make their way into corporate hands. That will hurt our kids in public schools…kids who can’t vote.

The Wal-mart-Schools charter group has been sniffing around the state, ready to make another pitch for for-profit charters, whether we want them or not. For-profit charters will create a two-tier educational system in our state. Our kids will suffer with even fewer resources…kids who can’t vote. The Walton’s partner is Oklahoma Public School Resource Center,  who, as Okeducationtruths pointed out in the primary, has, as its mission: “Our core strategy is to infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities. When all families are empowered to choose from among several quality school options, all schools will be fully motivated to provide the best possible education. Better school performance leads, in turn, to higher student achievement, lower dropout rates and greater numbers of students entering and completing college.

If, as reformers say, public education is broken, it’s because policy makers are deliberately starving and strangling it. In Oklahoma we have the dubious distinction of living in the state that has cut funding to education more than any other state in the nation.  Let that sink in with all its implications. While piling more and more mandates and demands, Oklahoma has willfully cut funding more than anyone. Funding that would have gone into our kids’ classrooms…kids who can’t vote.

Our politicians will continue to ask for more tax cuts for the rich, further complicating funding issues for schools…and our kids can’t vote.

You see my angle. Kids can’t vote. But they will be helped or harmed by the policy makers who are elected next week.  They will take more or fewer tests…the tests will have higher or lower stakes. They will be educated in classrooms that are or are not supported with adequate resources.  They will be educated in classrooms that have full-time educators or substitutes because of teacher shortages…and they can’t vote.

You say you’re too busy to research the issues? You teach fulltime, have a second job, and come home to be a parent? All the more reason to look at the candidates and their stands on issues. But you don’t have to do the deep research. There are several sites that can help, all bipartisan…all committed to collecting information.

VOICE, Voices Organized in Civic Engagement, includes education as a civic engagement concern. VOICE has identified four education issues: Funding, testing, curriculum and school climate.  VOICE hosted the wildly successful Superintendent candidate forum before the primary, and has been active in finding those citizen voices, and areas of agreement. They have held accountability sessions across the state to raise awareness.

The Facebook page my friend Matt Esker and I run, Oklahoma Education Voters, identified five issues with many threads: Funding, top-down policies, testing issues, teacher recruitment and retention, and no confidence in the current OSDE and state policies. We have tried to be a communications hub for education research on these issues. Please join us.

The League of Women’s Voters is a trusted clearing house of information and candidate statements.

The information is out there.

I don’t presume to recommend you vote for any particular candidates. I don’t know your convictions, your priorities. I don’t know your situation.  I hope, if you read my work, that education is a priority for you.

For some races, I’ve made up my mind and have shared my convictions…for others, I’m still in the process of making up my mind, with lists of strengths and weaknesses, a wish list for change, and a magic 8 ball to hopefully predict the future.

I was raised by parents who laughed as her New Deal vote and his Eisenhower vote cancelled the other’s out. That never stopped them. They voted…they were poll-watchers, she for the Democrats, he for the Republicans. They never tried to convince the other he or she was wrong. They decided how to vote from the deep convictions of their hearts. And they voted. I have a sneaking suspicion their voting record for education issues was identical.

We need to come together like this, in respectful support of each other. You need to look at our candidates through that lens of education…of YOUR issues for education.  And you need to vote those issues.

When you go to the polls and vote, you represent some of the 673,910 public school students in our state.  They are standing there, behind you, whispering their thanks. They can’t vote. They are counting on you to vote for them. For their future. For candidates who will carry out policies to support classrooms, students, teachers…learning.

Then the hard work begins: rebuilding #oklaed.

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