This past weekend, representatives from Texas AFT and the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) attended the 10th-annual Network for Public Education conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was primarily focused on the privatization attacks against public schools, particularly the attempts to implement private school vouchers in other states.
Presentations included researchers and educators from other states that have implemented vouchers and all had similar stories:
- ballooning budgets for voucher privatization while public schools suffer
- rampant fraud and abuse of voucher funds
- multiple forms of discrimination against students and families
- less per-pupil funding available for public schools that serve all students
After hearing from educators, parents, and advocates in other states including Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio, we know that Texas must choose whether to learn from the mistakes of other states or implement our own costly experiment to the detriment of all students.
Without exception, conference-goers were appreciative and impressed by the work of pro-public education advocates in Texas who continue to fight back the voucher juggernaut. In fact, many of our advocacy tools, like projected local fiscal impact data, were way ahead of the typical statewide efforts to rollback vouchers. Great connections were made, and Texas AFT staff will continue to collaborate with partners in other states to fight the ongoing wave of privatization.
Attendees of the NPE conference also heard about the hostile state takeover of Houston ISD, which has attracted national attention. AFT National President Randi Weingarten referred to the undemocratic occupation of the nation’s fourth-largest district many times during her keynote panel.
The concern over the HISD takeover was top of mind for many at the conference. HFT leaders were invited to present about the changes the district has seen and provide examples of how one local union chapter and its parent and community allies are resisting the state-installed superintendent. President Jackie Anderson, Vice President Daniel Santos, and community advocates Jessica Campos and Ruth Kravetz spoke to the need for relentless community engagement in order to keep state-installed Superintendent Mike Miles in check and ensure that parents and civic leaders are made aware of his continued efforts to undermine teachers and other state mandates in his quest to charter-ize the district.
A National Call to Action
At the end of the conference, advocates from across the K-12 and higher education spheres united in a joint pledge to fight back against extremist political assaults on public education, academic freedom, and vulnerable students in the nation’s public schools and universities.
The American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Network for Public Education launched a Freedom to Learn pledge, calling out the coordinated effort to push laws and rhetoric in multiple states aimed at banning books and curriculums, attacking teachers, and shaming LGBTQIA+ students, all while pushing voucher and privatization schemes to undermine and gut public education.
The group pledged to defend the freedom to learn by:
- Promoting freedom to learn and access to education through working with coalition partners to support bills to increase federal and state funding for all levels of public education and protect the freedom to teach and the freedom to research.
- Fighting back against legislative bans on the teaching of U.S. history, science and psychology, and other educational gag orders, and by defending individual educators who face harassment, discipline or termination as a result of these laws.
- Supporting efforts to provide more resources to our public schools, colleges and universities and the students who depend on them every day, and resisting efforts to defund our preK-12 and higher education systems.
We stand ready with our national allies in continuing to fiercely fight against any attempts to undermine our schools and our democracy.