Teachers union members and their supporters staged “walk-in” demonstrations at sites around the country Wednesday, ostensibly to rally support for more spending on public education. But organizers couldn’t resist using the occasion to take a few jabs at charter schools, too.
In Chicago, events were held at more than 200 schools, designed to get the attention of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the school board regarding budget issues. Parents and students joined with teachers before the school day began, some singing “This School is Our School” in 30 degree temperatures. Fifty rallies were held in Patterson, New Jersey, which has a school financing shortfall of $45 million. Similar events were held across the country, with many attendees tweeting photos using the hashtag #ReclaimOurSchools, raising the question of whether funding was the real purpose of the protests.
#ReclaimOurSchools AROS’ own Keron Blair attends the Ray Elem Walk-In in Chicago! pic.twitter.com/HkwXwQMGe1
— Madeline Talbott (@comorg312) February 17, 2016
A few of the events made no pretense of their purpose, including some held in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, which suggest that the end goal was less about funding than about asserting union power.
Teachers in California are fighting against charter schools with legal action, trying to stem the tidal wave of families choosing to leave traditional public schools. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers was among those expected to join in the festivities. She has said that the proposed Los Angeles charter school expansion is “amongst [her] highest priorities” and that AFT would be working “hand-in-glove” with its local affiliate. “It’s a zero-sum game for funding,” she added, “because of the attempts to create more and more and more charters at the expense of fixing local public schools.”
Of course, charter schools are local public schools.
Philadelphia’s Wister Elementary school, the site of a contentious walk-in on Wednesday, is at the center of an argument regarding charter schools. Once a traditional public schoool, Wister was recently turned over to to a charter organization. Dale Mezzacappa, editor of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, even used the word “occupying” to describe what went on:
— Dale Mezzacappa (@dalemezz) February 17, 2016
Philadelphia School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms has spoken out about the decision, telling the Philadelphia Tribune, “When you hear folks crying for something different, at some point, you have to stand up for something even if you’re standing alone.” To those who were unhappy with the decision, Simms said “I come from an impoverished neighborhood. I’m embedded in my community, and I really care about families, all of them. I’m standing up for the voices of the families that don’t be heard. I did what I thought was best for families.”