By Rob Mattheu
This year my classmates and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary of graduating from public schools. In the not too distant future, my daughter will be graduating from public schools as well.
If I had to pick out one major difference between my 12 years in school and the 12 years my daughter spent in public school, it isn’t common core, technology or even the shifting job landscape. Instead, it’s the disrespect that our politicians and many in our community heap on teachers.
When I was a child, most politicians considered teaching a noble profession, and there was a recognition that it was a difficult job requiring a broad range of skills. Supporting public education was a bipartisan goal. As Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and his cronies in Frankfort make clear, this is no longer the case.
From Lewis’ resume, it’s clear he found teaching K-12 a tough profession. He taught for less than five years total in three different schools in two states and then abruptly left the profession.
Lewis found a new calling in attacking public education. It’s one in which he joined forces with Kentucky’s Board of Education Chairman Hal Heiner, and board members Gary Houchens and Milton Seymore. For close to a decade these men were all in organizations creating a narrative against our public schools; attacking our teachers, their unions and the systems in general. They were helped along by anti-public education groups like the Bluegrass Institute, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and EdChoice, which have received generous funding from wealthy people outside of the state.
Their solution to problems in education? Divert the money we spend on public education to charter schools and private schools. Then continue attacks on our existing public schools to keep the money flowing away from them. Finally, while you’re doing that, chip away at the social safety net that supports our most at-risk kids and their families.
Lewis’ request for records for protesting teachers and his tirades against them are a part of that attack, and it’s one that the Bevin-appointed Board of Education has decided to pile on.
Kentucky Board of Education member Gary Houchens said on Facebook this weekend that teachers weren’t worried about state funding, but rather “preservation of their monopoly on educational delivery.” This is clever misdirection.
Charter school and scholarship tax credit legislation actually preserve the “monopoly” of public school teachers. Unlike charter and private school teachers, public school teachers are the only educators who have a duty by law to educate EVERY school-aged child, regardless of a parents’ involvement or ability to pay. They do a damned fine job of it considering the circumstances these students come to them with, the lack of support they receive from Frankfort, and the continual criticisms hurled their way.
Wayne Lewis’ words and actions make me sick as a parent. I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re a teacher who has devoted your life to helping every child who walks through your classroom door.
Rob Mattheu is a public education advocate and a JCPS parent.