President Of Country’s Largest Teachers’ Union Fears A Change In Public Education Funding
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia toured the Nashville's Shwab Elementary School on Monday. Credit: Bobby Allyn/WPLN

President Of Country’s Largest Teachers’ Union Fears A Change In Public Education Funding

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia toured the Nashville's Shwab Elementary School on Monday. Credit: Bobby Allyn/WPLN
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia toured the Nashville’s Shwab Elementary School on Monday. Credit: Bobby Allyn/WPLN

The head of the country’s largest teachers’ union says there could be a shift in where federal public education funding will go with Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate, a change in emphasis that the union says could hurt public schools.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia stopped in Nashville on Monday for the start of the union’s annual American Education Week. Amid meets-and-greets with educators at the city’s Shwab Elementary School, Garcia said Senator Lamar Alexander, poised to lead the committee overseeing the nation’s education policy, is “enamored” with the idea of privatizing public education.

Alexander has sponsored legislation to divert federal education money from 80 programs (including the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the National Science Foundation Authorization Act) to another area: one pot of money that would be available to students in the form of scholarships allowing them to go to whatever school they’d like.

It’s of a piece with the so-called “school choice” push, a movement Garcia views as troubling.

“Whether you’re talking about a franchised charter schools or vouchers, there’s nowhere in the world that anyone can say, ‘look, we did it, and it really improved,'” she said. “It’s not where you should be putting your hopes and dreams.”

Countering that wariness, Alexander said in a January release about his bill that it’s not an either/or situation.

“Local government monopolies run most schools and tell most students which school to attend. There is little choice and no K-12 marketplace, as there is in higher education,” Alexander wrote.

Further action like that Alexander bill would re-direct federal dollars, but he says the way federal education money is now being spent is ineffective and complicated by bureaucracy.

But Garcia disputes that, arguing that taking away money from traditional areas of public education could have ill effects for students.

“If the senator is convinced by science, if the senator is convinced by really credible, reliable studies, then he’ll be convinced to really put the resources in the public school, and solving problems in the public schools.”

Though she admits that the union and Alexander disagree on many things, she tempers it with: “we have some surprising common ground with him.”

Among the issues the union and Alexander are not at loggerheads over: keeping major school decisions as local as possible. In addition, ending waivers to states to opt out of No Child Left Behind requirements is something both Garcia and Alexander can get behind.

Bobby Allyn

Bobby Allyn is a reporter with WPLN. Reach him at ballyn@wpln.org
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