While Republican candidates discussed educational reform at the New Hampshire Education Summit at Londonderry High School last week, teachers and union officials from throughout the region descended on the school to protest candidates’ underfunding of public education and “systemic educator bashing.”
“Strong public schools are vibrant in our communities, and we can’t let what’s being said in there go unchecked,” National Education Association (NEA) New Hampshire President Scott McGilvray told a crowd of well over 50 protestors. “The 2016 presidential race has become a fight for the American dream. Education is at the core issue in this campaign and it is a great equalizer in America. And many candidates within the GOP have made it their mission to weaken our public schools and actually defund and close the door on our great public schools right here in this country.”
Candidates who attended the Aug. 19 Summit, fielding questions from award-winning journalist and The Seventy Four founder Campbell Brown, were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
During the rally outside the Summit, McGilvray told the crowd a fellow ticket-holding teacher claimed she wasn’t admitted to the event, and that they were refusing to allow teachers through the doors.
Several other teachers, who also had registered for the event, said inside the Summit, however, that they had been admitted without incident.
Matt Frendewey, national communications director for the American Federation for Children, said student volunteers assisting at the Summit called him over when the woman’s ticket wasn’t scanning.
“Her ticket wouldn’t scan, and she was getting very loud,” he said. “I moved her away from the students to double check her ticket, and it said it was invalid. One of our employees from the production company checked it as well.”
Frendewey said he grew suspicious of the incident when he saw someone recording his interaction with the woman, who was wearing a shirt identifying herself as a protestor of the event.
“Having been in politics for 15 years, the fact that there happened to be someone there recording it, and she happened to be a protestor, and she happened to be one person with a ticket that didn’t work, it seemed like a setup,” he said.
A while after the woman was not admitted, she walked into the event, passing security.
“We want this to be very enjoyable for attendees and candidates willing to give their time up to speak,” Frendewey said. “We made the judgment call and asked her politely to leave, since she didn’t have a ticket. When we had uniformed police walk her out, she refused three times and started raising her voice at police. Eventually, she left.”
Frendewey said they weren’t aware she was a teacher, and that they had to think of the safety of all guests in attendance.
“You could be a State legislator, if your ticket is not valid, that’s very suspect to me,” he said. “We had over 800 ticketed persons at this event, and we wanted to do our best to understand who was going to attend. There’s no Secret Service at this point.”
Frendewey noted there was an anti-perspective blogger who attended the event.
“It wasn’t a matter of keeping dissent out,” he said. “She was there politely and quietly live blogging and tweeting.”
McGilvray and fellow protestors decried the candidates for attempting to villainize teachers’ unions.
Inside the Summit, Christie said he “has no problem saying that teachers’ unions deserve a political punch in the face;” and Kasich said if he were King, not President of the United States, he would abolish all teachers’ lounges.
Bush criticized teacher’s unions for failing to support education reforms teachers stand behind; and Fiorina said by rewarding seniority, teachers’ unions “discourage excellence.”
George Strout, Communications Coordinator for NEA New Hampshire, said the GOP candidates want to run schools like a business, but the model doesn’t work in a school setting.
“We’ve heard these candidates slash school funding, close schools, cut services and cut the pay for teachers and education support professionals in their states. If we don’t test right, if we don’t get the right score, they would like to get rid of you. We can’t put up with that, nor should you,” McGilvray said. “More than 50 percent of the students we educate, whether it’s in Maine, Connecticut or New Hampshire, 50 percent of them now qualify for free and reduced lunch. Who does that serve when we cut programs that help our most needy students, and the most challenged?”
“I think a lot of our teachers feel that we don’t understand the challenges they have in the classroom, because they’re getting kids who have basically not been loved. That when we evaluate them, they think, oh, we’re out to take their job. If you need help, we’ll help you,” Kasich said.
Kasich argued, “too much of the time, there’s a constant negative comment to, ‘they’re going to take your benefits, they’re going to take your pay.’”
“So, if I were not president, if I were king in America, I would abolish all teacher lounges, where they sit together and worry about how ‘woe is us,’” he said.
Strout said teacher lounges play a vital function in collaboration between educators, improving the quality of education in schools and a teacher’s ability to meet the individual needs of students.
“If you want what’s best for the kids, you want teachers to share best practices with each other, and what’s going on with the kids,” he said.
Teachers and union representatives also expressed concern with the charter schools many of the candidates touted as a solution to improving education in America, calling into question the discrepancy between standards for public schools and less restrictive standards for establishing charter schools.
“Charter schools aren’t required to have certified teachers,” Strout said.
“It really shouldn’t matter what zip code a kid lives in, as to what the quality of their public education is. Every kid should be entitled to a great, free public education,” McGilvray said. “I think it’s really important that rather than handing over our public schools to business to make a quick buck, these candidates should be looking for smarter ways to do things. Solutions actually address the root cause of some of these problems, instead of blaming it on you, educators and support personnel.
“I believe among the top candidates are the most anti-public education, anti-working class group we have ever seen.”