Friday, September 16, 2011

A crucial year for BESE elections

Races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education generally bring few thrills to a campaign season. The board that develops education policy is not exactly sexy, and its issues are hard to distill into eight-second sound bites.

Members of BESE get no pay, and membership on the board is not considered a steppingstone to higher office.

But for several reasons, BESE races have made it to the media radar screens this year.

For one, the news media are looking for some excitement, and there is very little of that in most races this year. No major candidates oppose Gov. Bobby Jindal at the top of the election ballot, there’s little controversy emerging in the other statewide races, and dozens of senators and representatives are returning to office without opposition.

But it’s not just the media ginning up expectations for bloody confrontations in BESE races this year. With little competition in other races, campaign contributors are looking to races that usually don’t garner much attention.

Contributors with the big money come with agendas, and they’re not necessarily pro-public education. As we’ve documented in EdLog before, some of the money people want to abolish due process rights for teachers.

Others may have an eye on the state’s education budget. As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein, “follow the money.” For example, unknown to most citizens, the State Department of Education hands out half a billion dollars in private contracts every year, for everything from professional development workshops to writing and scoring standardized tests.

And there is money to be made in the charter school movement. State law prohibits for-profit agencies from holding school charters. But it’s perfectly legal, and standard operating procedure, for a non-profit to be granted a charter, and then sub-contract school operations to a private provider.

That little subterfuge has created a huge, nationwide industry. Several multi-state corporations operate hundreds of charter schools and collect billions of dollars in public funds. They hire lobbyists and create PACs to elect candidates who will make it easier for them to expand their operations.

All of which leads to news reports like this one from the Times-Picayune’s Andrew Vanacore, who writes, “Once relatively obscure, BESE has drawn close attention as the debate over education reform has shifted into a higher gear and grown ever more polarized on issues such as charter schools, tenure for teachers and the role of local school boards.”

Or this story from Advocate reporter Will Sentell, who observes that “The winners will decide key policies for the next four years, including whether Gov. Bobby Jindal gets his choice for state superintendent of education.”

More than in any previous BESE election, serious issues are at stake this year. Among them are teacher tenure, privatization of public services, funding for public education and the state seizure of local public schools. LFT will provide information about these issues in the coming weeks. Before you vote, be sure to ask candidates where they stand. Support those who want strong, accountable public schools under local control and who believe that teaching is a vital, honorable profession that deserves respect and dignity.

No comments: