For many American teenagers, hearing criticism of their supposed apathy towards the issues of the day is almost a routine occurrence. But not for this group of Florida students. Dream Defenders, a Miami-based group of young people organized in reaction to the murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, is now working alongside Florida state lawmakers, including Progressive States Network member Sen. Dwight Bullard, to call for the passage of "Trayvon's Law" -- a package of legislative proposals that affect them directly. Last month, forty students belonging to the group took part in training on how to speak effectively about the proposal to lawmakers. Then they did exactly that, meeting with state legislators and their aides in the Florida state capitol. It's the kind of advocacy work that would impress professionals who do it for a living.
What happens in Texas's educational system is closely watched by the rest of the nation, from its textbook selection to a recent rollback of the state's high-stakes testing requirements. We can add funding for public education and universal pre-K to that list. During the 2011 legislative session, the Texas legislature had cut $5.4 billion from public education for the 2012-2013 biennium, slamming students and teachers with the brunt of the first education cuts the state enacted in more than four decades. The cuts also came as the $3 billion in emergency aid that Texas received from the 2009 federal stimulus was drying up.
It is a concern that lawmakers across the states are continuing to hear from families and teachers: their youngest constituents are over-tested, forced into focusing heavily on high-stakes test scores at the expense of gaining high-order thinking skills, building complex reasoning abilities, and enjoying a well-rounded education. Rhode Island is no stranger to the concerns. In fact, with a new testing graduation requirement implemented by the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this year, the stakes have soared for the state's students. Specifically, the new policy ties receiving a high school diploma to performance on the controversial New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exam, which was never intended to be a graduation requirement. As a result of the new requirement, approximately 4000 students are at risk of not graduating next year.
If you've never heard of the Common Core State Standards, count yourself among 2 in 3 Americans, including the majority of parents with children in public schools. That's one of the results of a recent poll on Americans' attitude toward public education, which also found that the majority of those who've heard of the Common Core felt they were only "somewhat knowledgeable" about the standards.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, inspiring the nation with a soaring call for equality and unity as Americans that still resonates today. But achieving equality in the form of jobs and freedom depends on a strong public educational system available to all -- a truth reflected in the "Public Education is A Civil Right March and Rally" held recently in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Representative Mandela Barnes and Senator Chris Larson were among the hundreds of Wisconsin students, parents, educators, faith leaders, and representatives of more than 50 organizations sponsoring the event who marched together on September 21.
In Michigan, we are seeing a troubling phenomenon that we are seeing across the country today: public schools so starved of funding that students are returning to increasingly crowded classes taught by fewer and fewer teachers, with fewer textbooks and less of everything they need. But rather than investing in our public schools, misguided polices in Michigan and across the states are instead pushing struggling schools further into financial crisis, making them vulnerable to the loss of local control through state takeovers or potential moneymaking opportunities for private investors via for-profit charter schools.
As students headed back to school this fall, state legislators across the country took part in the National Week of Action on Public Education, sponsored by Progressive States. Pennsylvania's lawmakers were among the state leaders who used the National Week of Action to highlight education funding inequities harming Pennsylvania's students and to call for solutions.
This week, state legislators from across the nation are converging on Atlanta, Georgia for the annual Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures - and Progressive States Network will be there as well!