Howard Dean, Randi Weingarten Talk Poverty, Education Policy

Texas public schools are finding themselves struggling after several rounds of funding cuts have stripped nearly $5 billion from the state education budget. Now, according to Katherine Haenschen of Burnt Orange Report, this struggle is going to get even tougher if the plan of one Republican lawmaker comes to fruition. State Senator Dan Patrick is calling for a wide-ranging voucher program to be introduced in Texas.

Patrick's proposal, along with the similar remedies pushed by school choice advocates, were the subject of discussion between education stakeholders in Texas and other states, former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean and the current head of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten. During the small gathering, Weingarten repeatedly stressed the point that far from being an education panacea, these kinds of efforts actually broadened achievement gaps between the country's haves and have-nots.

Of all children who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, nearly a quarter are educated in public schools. Free public education serves as one of the best weapons of poverty mitigation in the country and is a key in maintaining social and economic mobility for which the U.S. is frequently lauded, Weingarten contended. Both Dean and Weingarten stressed the importance of the upcoming election in determining the course of America's approach to education. It is important to choose candidates who propose real solutions to the "triple whammy" facing schools today: shrinking funding, lack of honest and correct information, and what Dean and Weingarten see as the carrion-like activities of the for-profit education industry that seeks to drain even more money from local schools and school districts.

 [Weingarten] noted the sharp difference between those of us on the Left trying to make schools and education better using techniques that are proven to get results, and those on the Right who want to tear down our public schools, demonize teachers, and abandon investment in education.

Not surprisingly, the AFT chief — who is an extremely impressive and inspiring woman, might I add — called for collective action to remedy what ails our public schools. "Individuals don't have any power without collective action," she stated. We need to stay united and resist right-wing tricks to pit parents against teachers and divide us by socio-economic status.

Children should not be stripped of their opportunity to succeed in life because they were not lucky enough to be born in the right zip code or income bracket. Public schools serve as an equalizer of opportunity, and starving them of money will contribute to the growing income inequality in America, said the panelists.

If we want to excel in the STEM fields, Weingarten stated, we must create an environment where kids imagine what it is like to be a scientist. She spoke of 5th graders in New Mexico who were clamoring for science, but due to high-stakes-testing-driven curricula had never had science or social studies classes. She called on those in attendance to help get these stories out and share the on-the-ground struggles faced by our educators.

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