Let’s face it. Politics reside in our classrooms whether we like it, or not. In the Spring of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). If I had to pinpoint when politics entered the classroom, I’d say it was the moment Johnson laid down that pen.
Though largely ignored by people who aren’t educators, political influence over the classroom has increased steadily with the passage of each major piece of education legislation, including No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). From the moment John White was appointed as Superintendent of Education, political influence over education has become an increasing topic of conversation at the dinner tables and in the living rooms of Louisiana.
In the 2015 elections, there was a tremendous unified effort to regain control over our elected Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). While we didn’t gain full control over BESE, we did manage to elect one seat to our advantage and essentially blocked their ability to reappoint John White. The people involved in this effort were parents, grandparents, teachers, and other community members. This was an impressive grassroots effort to fight the Goliath sized education reform candidates who were financially backed by large lobbying organizations and out of state billionaire philanthropists. In BESE District 7, Mike Kreamer had a campaign budget just over $20k, and opponent, Holly Boffy, had well over $100k. In addition, a political action committee funded by out of state billionaires financed a negative media campaign against Kreamer, and Mary Johnston Harris in District 4, spending roughly $250k. The result? A 6% spread between Kreamer and winner, Boffy. Just 3% more of the vote would have been a victory for Kreamer. Same outcome in the District 8 race. Carolyn Hill received 48% of the vote despite the smear campaign launched against her, and Jada Lewis grabbed a victory with 52%. We are not a small group of people.
The reason I make these points is when you hear claims that a small number of adults with political agendas are calling for the removal of John White, one doesn’t have to look far to see that we are not a small number of people. At the same time this grassroots movement was taking place, a growing number of Louisiana citizens were crossing the political aisle to vote for John Bel Edwards in the gubernatorial race. Many did this in opposition of David Vitter, but I would venture to say that just as many did it because Edwards sympathized with the concerns of parents, grandparents and teachers across the state and made a promise to replace John White. While many people may have dropped their support of Edwards, every person who voted for him expects him to keep that promise. That is why when a “Call to Action” is made, you see participation like you see in the picture shown on the left. It is apparent that we are not a small group. The “Call to Action” lasted seven days. The post referenced in the picture was promoted for $5 over four days. It reached 7,446 people; however, only 2,260 were from the promotion. The rest were organic reaches resulting from the 86 shares. The result was over 250 email and phone contacts to the governor’s office. That is certainly a better return on investment than the $30k spent on television ads urging people to ask Sen. Milkovich to drop the lawsuit to remove White. We are not a small group of people.
It has taken five years for John White to implement the reforms that we oppose. His supporters seem to think that his removal would result in all of those reforms disappearing. Of course, that isn’t true. What would disappear, if given the opportunity to replace White with a superintendent with roots in Louisiana that we can all agree on, is the ever present conflict that exists. Think about that for a minute. Everything else would carry on.
The classroom politics that we are experiencing are not a result of the efforts of people like me who are fighting for their children. I have no political agenda. In fact, I never paid attention to politics until it affected my children in the classroom. Classroom politics are not the fault of Gov. John Bel Edwards. They began the day John White was appointed, and have risen to this level because BESE has refused to fulfill its duty and responsibility leaving no other path to resolution other than litigation. It is not unreasonable for the people of Louisiana to expect BESE to carry out the will of the people, or for Gov. Edwards to keep his campaign promise. I am confident that he will. We are not a small group of people.