Teachers from Oakland to West Virginia are fighting for what all of us want: to be heard

Go figure: teachers are the ones educating us that, above all else, privatization is an attack on democracy.

On Tuesday, West Virginia teachers walked off the job to protest a now dead bill that would have opened up the state to privately operated charter schools and private school vouchers.

Today, teachers in Oakland, California, began to strike in the midst of their district’s funding crisis, which is being fueled by out-of-date state laws that allow a virtually unlimited number of charter schools to open.

“We’re walking out because we feel like we’re part of a rigged game set up to undermine public education,” said Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year Joseph Zeccola during last month’s strike in Los Angeles. “We are striking first and foremost for our students.”

California might have more charter schools that any other state, but Zeccola was voicing a growing frustration for public school teachers nationwide. Class sizes are increasing, counselors are being replaced with police, school buildings are crumbling, salaries aren’t going up.

Yet more and more public money is being invested in charter schools, which are run by unelected boards, unaccountable to both teachers and parents.

Privatization is many things. It’s a corporate cash grab. It’s a convenient way for politicians to dodge accountability. It’s smoke and mirrors to distract us from raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And it often doesn’t save money for taxpayers.

But most of all, it sideswipes democracy, taking decision making power from people to put it in the hands of corporations.

It fits right in with all the tricks familiar to us now, “right to work” laws, voter suppression, gerrymandering, Citizens United. The same politicians, corporate funders, and conservative think tanks who want less people to vote also want more charter schools, private prisons, and lesser known forms of privatization, like public-private partnerships.

Of course, they don’t say this outright. They dress it up in the language of freedom. They talk about innovation, choice, and the “free market.” Like West Virginia’s Republican Senate President, who said about the proposed charter school bill: “Our families deserve competition, choice, and flexibility.”

How can you argue against that?

Well, you say, families, teachers, citizens, communities — all of us — deserve the true freedom that only comes with democracy.

Polling backs this up. People of all political stripes don’t like the idea of handing over control of public goods to corporations. People want a say in the things that matter most in their lives: schools, water, transportation, and other public goods.

So, let’s be loud and clear to support teachers, bus drivers, postal workers, and other public employees. Let’s call privatization out for what it really is.

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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org