News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

October 03, 2019

What Bernie Sanders’ education platform will do for Oakland teachers

By Wes Holing

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has the most comprehensive plans to fight back against the budget cuts and resegregation that have plagued public education for decades. Those plans would help both teachers and students to thrive, and they would help teachers keep up the fight for fully funded public education.

Sixty-five years have passed since Brown v. Board of Education. In that landmark ruling, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state laws permitting racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional. The court would later state that the country should integrate its public schools with “all deliberate speed.”

However, in the years since, U.S. public schools are still heavily segregated along racial and economic lines. Schools in the South are just as segregated now as they were not long after the Brown decision, and students of color and disabled students are often hit the hardest. 

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2016 that, of K–12 public schools with high percentages of black and Latinx students, “75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or [Latinx] and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a commonly used indicator of poverty.” These schools also “offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses,” according to the report.

Impact in Oakland

Like much of the rest of the country, Oakland schools began resegregating in the mid-1980s when the Reagan administration cut federal desegregation funding and began instructing the Justice Department to largely ignore court orders.

Teachers, parents, and students in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) know the effects of this first-hand.

While the population of Oakland is roughly one-quarter white, one-quarter black, and one-quarter Latinx, the district’s enrollment last year was roughly 10% white, 24% black, and 46% Latinx. Years of austerity, resulting in reduced school funding and low teacher pay, and a deliberate effort to siphon even more money into billionaire-backed charter schools have pushed Oakland schools to the breaking point, which culminated in the Oakland teachers strike earlier this year against more cuts and more charter schools.

None of this is an accident. The rich are attacking public education in order to hoard even more money by breaking the teachers unions and by lobbying to cut the property taxes that fund our schools.

Bernie’s plan for teachers

As the fight now moves to the state level, teachers are rallying behind the education platform put forward by Sanders. Dubbed “A Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education,” Sanders presents the most radical and effective plan to save public education in the U.S.

At the top of his list is a plan to reverse the trend that began under Reagan by increasing federal funds for school desegregation programs; pledging to triple Title I funding, which goes to schools with at least 40% of students who are considered low-income; and dedicate $1 billion annually to magnet schools, which focus on a specific curriculum.

Unlike all other candidates in the 2020 race, Sanders has also pledged to ban for-profit charter schools and place a moratorium on public funds for additional charter schools. In the 2016-2017 school year alone, Oakland charters sucked more than $57 million from public schools, only to perform no better than their public counterparts. Given that charter schools typically perform poorly — only one in six charter school students performs better than public school students — an end to charters is an idea whose time has come.

In addition to other increases in funding proposed by Sanders, his education platform includes what the campaign calls a “much-deserved raise” for teachers. “We need to pay public school teachers at least $60,000 a year,” he tweeted. With Oakland’s teacher attrition rate at 18.5 percent over the last decade, nearly double the national average, a living wage would greatly help teachers afford to stay in the communities in which they teach. Combined with additional funds for classroom resources, teachers will also be able to keep more take-home pay that too often goes to buy necessary supplies for their students.

Workplace Democracy

Sanders’ education plan also pledges to increase community voice in school decisions, expand extracurricular and summer programs, and provide free meals to any student who wants them. Each of these proposals sets his plan apart from those of his competitors, but in addition to his education platform, Sanders is also advancing what he calls “The Workplace Democracy Plan.”

This plan aims to strengthen unions across the country. The teacher strike wave of 2018 and 2019 was a historic upsurge of labor militancy, unlike any seen in decades. Teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California struck together against billionaires in order to save public education.

Sanders’s pro-union Workplace Democracy plan would make it easier for public-sector employees like teachers to “organize and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions” by signing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019.

His plan would also secure teachers’ pensions by imposing a moratorium on future pension cuts for workers and retirees and guarantee the right of all teachers to organize. And of course, his signature plan to enact Medicare for All and end private insurance would mean removing one big bargaining chip from employers like OUSD.

Sanders stands with teachers. He sees the need to correct the racial and class inequality that has long plagued the public education system, and to fight back against the billionaire privatizers who have been destroying public education. His education plan will give public school teachers and students the resources they need to succeed, and his Workplace Democracy Act would empower teachers unions to keep fighting for the schools they and their students deserve.