By TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder
Since the last vote was cast officially passing private school vouchers, I’ve been reminding myself that while we may have lost this battle, we have not lost the war.
Losing the voucher fight for the first time in eight years really stings. And it’s OK for us to feel disappointed and concerned about what comes next.
It is also important, however, to acknowledge the amazing level of pro-public education advocacy that we witnessed this year. Thousands of educators, parents, community allies and even faith leaders stood shoulder to shoulder to fight in the best interest of Tennessee students.
TEA members and our allies started advocating in the fall by wearing “Red for Ed” in unity across the state; participating in stand-outs with signs demonstrating our 20/20 Vision (which includes increased school funding and the elimination of decisions based on high-stakes testing), working with parents to hold “walk-ins” to public schools showcasing community members’ support and sponsoring meetings with legislators leading up to the session.
Once the session started and public education was threatened with one of the worst pieces of voucher legislation ever presented, the collective action ramped up even more. Hundreds attended Civication, which made the fight against vouchers extremely competitive in committee meetings. TEA, with our parent and faith leader partners, led a large and widely publicized public demonstration against vouchers. In Nashville, a long funeral procession of education supporters paraded to the Capitol led by a coffin with vouchers written on it, followed by a jazz band. It was a sight viewed by thousands on local news stations and all over social media. The greatest part of our demonstration was that there were similar events in every part of the state – showing the reach and power of TEA as well as the fact that no community wants vouchers.
The pressure on political leaders was immense. Both threats and promises were used to turn legislators away from their constituents. However, the pressure from back home was also profound. TEA members kept a barrage of calls and emails coming into legislative offices, and we sent more than 100,000 text messages across the state asking voters to contact their legislator. This all resulted in daily messages coming into legislative offices 40-to-1 against vouchers. And yet, we lost the vote. Yes, we lost this battle, but we won’t lose the war if we channel our anger and frustration to win the next round.
Let’s celebrate the positive gains we were able to make. We passed a portfolio bill which creates the opportunity to find better alternatives to a failed evaluation process. We also passed a community schools bill which creates an alternative besides vouchers or state take-over for schools that need help.
And finally, we need to do what educators do when our students don’t get it the first time: we persevere. Our future depends on it.