There are critical elections taking place on Tuesday throughout the country that parents, education advocates, and others who care about preserving and strengthening our public schools need to take notice of and cast their ballot appropriately. Out-of-state money from billionaires and astroturf groups like Students First are flowing into state races, like this one in Tennessee and local school board elections, like these in New Orleans and New Jersey, to push damaging policies to privatize and digitize our public schools.

There are also referendums and initiatives on the ballot in many states and cities that will affect the future of our public schools for years to come. In each case, there is tremendous private money being used to facilitate the expansion of charters and vouchers, promote budget cuts, and impose mayoral control, and against allowing elected school boards to protect and support their local public schools. The hedge funders, billionaires, for-profit charter operators, and right-wingers are using their vast resources to impose their political will, and in most cases are dramatically outspending the good government organizations, education advocates, teachers, and other concerned citizens, who would rather save and strengthen our public schools rather than dismantle them.

For example, there are two statewide referendums on charter schools that people need to vote AGAINST. The individuals and groups who are pushing them are outspending the opposition in Georgia twenty to one and in the state of Washington, more than twelve to one. If the privateers win out, it will show how the influence of big money can buy elections in the face of local sentiment and good public policy.

1. In Washington State, parents should vote NO on Initiative 1240, which would authorize charter schools to be established in the state for the first time. Charter schools have already been voted down by the State Legislature six times, including as recently as 2012, and three times by Washington voters. Yet Bill Gates and his cronies remain determined to overturn the popular will, and have contributed nearly $11 MILLION to achieve this end. Gates himself has given more than $3 million to the campaign, Alice Walton of Walmart fame has kicked in another $1.7 million, and Gates’ buddies Paul Allen of Microsoft and the Bezos family at have donated millions more. 91 percent of the funding for the massive campaign of this initiative has come from just ten people, all of them billionaires.

Meanwhile, those opposing the initiative include the Washington State PTA, the State Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the state Association of School Administrators, the state’s principals, the state teachers union, the Seattle NAACP, El Centro do la Raza, the Seattle Public Schools superintendent and countless school boards. They point out how this initiative would further drain resources from the public schools, which have already been found to be constitutionally underfunded by the courts, and would take accountability out of public hands. The measure would also allow the privatization of any public school as long as 51 percent of parents voted for it, in an even more radical permutation of the so-called Parent Trigger. In the latest poll, the pro-charter supporters are ahead by nearly 20 points because of the “very lopsided advertising campaign” financed by these ten billionaires; don’t let this Initiative pass! For more on 1240, visit the No on 1240 website.

2. In Georgia, parents should vote NO on Amendment 1, which would create an appointed commission with the power to authorize charter schools over the opposition of democratically-elected local school boards and the state Board of Education. This constitutional amendment is opposed by the state PTA, the state School Superintendent, the Georgia School Boards Association, and many civil rights groups, who explain how this measure would divert hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the public schools, and into the hands of for-profit corporations, many of them with a lousy record of the schools they currently run, like K12 Inc. According to one report, these new charter schools would also be eligible to receive more state money per pupil than regular public schools. The vast majority of the contributions financing the amendment are coming from outside the state, mainly from charter operators, Michelle Rhee’s Students First, Alice Walton, the Koch brothers, and other individuals intent on weakening and privatizing public schools. Don’t be fooled: here is an explanation of how the amendment has been misleadingly phrased to trick voters, which has already triggered a lawsuit. For more on why you should vote no on this damaging amendment, see Vote Smart Georgia.

3. In Idaho, parents should vote NO on Propositions 1, 2, and 3: Proposition One would limit the rights of teachers to collectively bargain over working conditions like class size, would effectively eliminate their job security and base their evaluation largely on test scores. Proposition Two would implement damaging and wasteful merit pay. Proposition Three would spend yet more funding on requiring online learning for students, which was passed into law after substantial contributions from for-profit virtual learning companies to the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Many of the same companies, including K12 Inc., have given funds to push this proposition, along with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contributed $200,000. Their involvement was only disclosed after a court order demanding that the shadowy group pushing these propositions reveal its donors.

4. In California, parents should vote YES on both Propositions 30 and 38, to enable the state to raise revenue to prevent hugely damaging budget cuts to public schools, which are already critically underfunded. More on this from the group Educate the State. Parents and other concerned citizens should also vote NO on Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from spending money for political purposes, while exempting Super PACs, hedge-funders, billionaires and thousands of big businesses. The League of Women Voters, among many other good government groups, urges a No vote, as do we.

5. In Arizona, parents should vote YES on Proposition 204, which would make permanent a temporary one percent sales tax, with most of the proceeds going to public schools. Arizona already has seen the most drastic budget cuts to schools in the nation in recent years, resulting in some of the highest class sizes, and its children cannot afford any more cuts to school funding. Supporters of Proposition 204 include the Arizona State PTA, Voices for Education and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council; opponents include the state Chamber of Commerce. For more on this Proposition, see the Quality Education and Jobs website.

6. Finally, voters in Bridgeport CT should Vote NO on changing the city charter to eliminate their elected school board, which would allow their mayor to wield unilateral control through an appointed school board. Earlier last year, the hedge-fund backed, pro-charter lobby group ConnCAN conspired with Teach for America and the mayor of Bridgeport, along with the state’s Governor, to oust Bridgeport’s elected school board in what was essentially an illegal coup. Their actions were later overturned by the courts. So now, the pro-privatization lobby is spending a record amount to impose mayoral control through a referendum, with Michelle Rhee’s Student First contributing $97,000 and Mayor Bloomberg another $20,000.

As Diane Ravitch has pointed out, mayoral control has a lousy record; our analysis shows that two cities under mayoral control, Cleveland and NYC, have made the least progress in raising student achievement since 2003 of any the large urban districts on the national assessments called the NAEPs. Here in NYC, after ten years, mayoral control is hugely unpopular, for we have seen how Bloomberg has ignored the priorities of parents in cutting school budgets, increasing class size, closing neighborhood schools, expanding charters and putting them in existing school buildings where they have squeezed out our public school children. In a poll conducted earlier this year, only 13 percent of New Yorkers said the mayor should retain sole control of the public schools. In Chicago, where mayoral control has existed for 17 years, polls show that the system is equally unpopular: 77 percent of Chicago voters oppose continued mayoral control. In fact, on Tuesday in Chicago, there is an advisory referendum on the ballot, urging the state legislature to allow the city to return to an elected school board.

Kevin Johnson, a former NBA basketball player, who used to run charter schools and who is now mayor of Sacramento and is married to Michelle Rhee, came to Connecticut to campaign for the mayoral control referendum. John Bagley, also a former professional basketball player who is now an elected member of Bridgeport’s school board wrote a great letter to Johnson a week ago, which concluded this way:

“Maybe “KJ” and his `reformers’ can explain why the city of New Haven, which has an appointed board, has more failing schools than Bridgeport. This is true, despite the presence on their appointed Board of Education of the former director of CONNCAN, the Connecticut leader of takeover policies. I have only one final piece of advice for `KJ’, don’t come into my house and mess with my right to vote!”

This is a message we should all take to heart.

Use your vote, Bridgeport residents and all others throughout the nation who care about public education, while you still have it! Do not give up your democratic rights and allow the billionaires who send their own children to private schools to buy these elections so they can dismantle, plunder and privatize your public schools.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Follow me on twitter @leoniehaimson

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