Dear public school teachers:
As you head back to the classroom for the new school year, I would like to tell you that things have changed for the better but I would be fibbing. Budgets will continue to shrink, classroom sizes will increase and the ignoramuses among us will still expect you to close the door on society's ills and magically educate the next generation - whether they care or not.
Don't expect any help from the legislature. Maureen Downey, a long-time observer of public education, said recently, "The Georgia Legislature has all but abandoned traditional public education, adopting the cartoonish rhetoric of ‘government schools' where liberal teachers indoctrinate children to unionism, vegan diets and electric cars. In debates in the General Assembly, teachers are often seen as adversaries and impediments rather than assets and resources."
Legislators will say all the right things at home about how wonderful you are and how they support you and then will go to Atlanta and continue to treat public education like an illegitimate cousin at a family reunion.
The truth is you are grasshoppers in an elephant fight. On one side is the turf-conscious education establishment, defending the status quo. The myriad education associations in the state don't seem to be able to get their collective acts together. They are paper tigers to most legislators and their mutual animosity filters down to you.
Then there are those who think education can be run like a business. Absurd. I was an officer in one of the largest corporations in America. I know a little bit about how business works. The "school choice" crowd makes no allowance for the fact that you have to teach everybody - rich and poor, black and white, English-speaking or otherwise. Business can choose its customers; you don't have that luxury.
In politics, money talks and there is a new deep-pocketed special interest group anteing up to get in the game - California-based Students First.
In the most recent filings with the State Ethics Commission, this organization has donated $2,500 to the campaign coffers of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge; $2,000 to Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins and $2,500 to Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta. (Jones also has gotten $1,500 from the Georgia Association of Educators so she has both sides of the education fence covered) and Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, $1,500.
In the Senate, Students First has given Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's campaign $2,500; President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, $2,500, Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, $2,000 and Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, $1,500.
These are the power brokers in the General Assembly and the chances of them having opposition in the next election are about as likely as Kim Kardashian joining a convent. So why does a California-based special interest group contribute to their campaigns?
Obviously, Students First plans to influence education policy in Georgia and to do that they need access to the decision-makers. Contributions give them both influence and access; neither of which you will have in the debate even though you are the one in the classroom. Nice.
There is an effort under way in Georgia to level the playing field with these out-of-state groups. EmpowerED, led by Toombs County teacher Matt Jones, is a coalition of Georgia parents, educators and concerned citizens with 4,500 members and growing.
Among other things, EmpowerED plans to issue "report cards" on how legislators vote on education issues so when your elected officials come home and tell you how hard they are working for you, you will know if they are walking their talk. EmpowerED has an uphill battle but I wish them well.
Now, let's talk about you. Despite the "failing schools" mantra of the out-of-state special interest groups, you and I both know you perform miracles in the classroom every day. You are anything but a failure. Ignore the yappers. You don't have to apologize for squat to this bunch or anybody else.
A reader opined recently that I should inform people that I have four teachers in my family when I write about public education. I assume he has been residing on another planet. Why do you think I feel so strongly about what you do? I see it first-hand. I am proud of my kids and I am proud of you. You've made a difference in a lot of young lives. And you will again this year.
So, hold your head high, teachers. There are a lot of us who appreciate you. I'm one of them and I'm not going away.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Yarbrough is a part-time resident of Dawson County.