The Phoenix Flyer

Educators, teacher unions launch national initiative to fund traditional public schools

By: - March 4, 2019 1:43 pm
Elementary school class

A new CDC report shows that in 43 states, access to full-time, in-person learning in schools was higher for non-Hispanic white students compared to those of color. , Credit: Getty Images

Educators and teacher unions across the country are joining a national initiative to bolster traditional public schools that need funds for smaller classes, higher teacher pay, investments for disadvantaged and special needs students and repairs for crumbling facilities.

The focus and conversation would essentially shift from vouchers and charter schools to public neighborhood schools, and the initiative also would include funding for public colleges and universities and help with crushing student loan debt.

The national “Fund Our Future” campaign was announced Monday, with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten kicking off the event in Florida.

Weingarten joined several teacher union leaders from California and New York to Illinois, Minnesota and Texas on a phone conference to discuss the initiative to bolster public school funds, not only from state coffers but from the federal government.

For years, state legislatures and Congress have failed to fund traditional public schools adequately and equitably, union officials say.

“There has been a huge walk away from a commitment to our children.” Weingarten said.

Meanwhile, states have focused on charter schools – public schools overseen by private groups – and vouchers used to send kids to private schools with public money. Weingarten said states have siphoned off money for those vouchers while traditional public schools have failed to get the funding they need.

The issue in Florida has come to the forefront as the Florida Legislature convenes on Tuesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and key Republican lawmakers have already proposed a voucher expansion in Florida, and potential court fights are likely.

On Monday, local teacher unions across Florida are rallying for a “Day of Action” to support and invest in traditional public schools. More than 3,500 teachers and education staff are expected to participate in the rallies and other activities, according to the Florida Education Association.

Earlier, the FEA also launched a “Fund Our Future” broadcast and digital ad campaign to promote public education, saying traditional public schools face obstacles including low pay for teachers and teacher shortages.

The six-figure TV and digital advertising buy will extend through March 11 as the spring legislative session gets underway, with ads in Orlando, Tallahassee and Tampa, according to a news release, with digital versions across the state through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Weingarten said Monday that those advertisements will be similar for the national Fund our Future initiative. And lawmakers in Congress will be pursuing legislation to help send more federal dollars to public schools.

Also on Monday, a pro-voucher group launched television ads to convince lawmakers to support “universal school vouchers” for kids to attend private schools with public dollars, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, supported by billionaire Charles Koch, launched the ads that will run in Tallahassee for two weeks, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The type of vouchers in the ads are called education scholarship accounts, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Those vouchers also are called education savings accounts. EdChoice, a nonprofit that does research and tracks initiatives such voucher programs, explains the education savings accounts in this way:

“Education savings accounts (ESAs) allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. Those funds—often distributed to families via debit card—can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses and other approved customized learning services and materials. Some ESAs, but not all, even allow students to use their funds to pay for a combination of public school courses and private services.”


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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.