Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross was endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association today and potential Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson used it as an opportunity to broadly insult thousands of Arkansas teachers. By criticizing the AEA, Hutchinson took a swipe at an organization with a better record of working in kids’ interest than he demonstrated in Congress. He also, Ross noted, was blasting a group whose endorsement he’d sought.
The AEA, which represents 12,000 teachers and school staffers, endorsed Ross at the Capitol today.
Said AEA President Brenda Robinson:
“As the son of public school educators, Mike knows first-hand the challenges educators face, the value of their experience and training, and the importance of a first-class education to prepare Arkansas students for the global marketplace,” said Robinson. “Mike understands that when parents and educators work together, they give students a great chance to grow and learn, so he will expand opportunities for collaborative family, school and community partnerships. He supports quality afterschool programs, summer learning programs, and early childhood education. For all these reasons, the AEA believes that Mike Ross will fight to continue the progress Arkansas public schools are making in preparing our children for today’s competitive economy, and AEA members and leaders will work tirelessly for his election.”
Ross, too, citied his parents’ profession and said adapting Arkansas education to the needs of a changing economy was a top goal of his campaign.
Hutchinson, expecting the endorsement, issued a pre-emptive blast. He derided the AEA as an affiliate of the “left-leaning” National Education Association and said the endorsement put Ross in a league with Barack Obama and union bosses.
The AEA and NEA indeed represent their members. They also have been stalwarts in the battle for better education in Arkansas, sometimes when it hasn’t been easy. The AEA leadership’s courage goes back to the bad days of the 1950s, when it stood up to segregationist Orval Faubus. The AEA has fought incursions on state financial support of schools; joined the legal battle for equal and equitable education, now enshrined in case law; and works in every legislature for the interests of kids. It’s insulting when Hutchinson says teachers put their “liberal ideas ahead of kids.” It certainly wasn’t true with the dozens of AEA members who educated my kids in Little Rock public schools. And if liberal ideas include advocating the teaching of science over religion — another plus for the NEA — then I’d rather have that than whatever Asa has on offer.
Hutchinson is merely obeying billionaires intent on wrecking the existing American public school system and illustrating his partisan ideology with a unilateral smear of thousands of good teachers. (It’s worth notting that Arkansas is down to a single school district, Little Rock, where the AEA works as a typical union.)
The Arkansas Democratic Party said Hutchinson owed teachers an apology and went on to spell out his record on education issues as a member of Congress.
“When Congressman Hutchinson went to Washington he left Arkansas’s teachers and students behind. Congressman Hutchinson voted to cut education funding repeatedly, even voting several times against increased funding for special education, after-school centers, Head Start and class-size initiatives. Fewer resources and larger classes do nothing to help students learn and makes the already difficult job of teaching that much harder. When it comes to education, Congressman Hutchinson doesn’t make the grade.”
Ross gigged Hutchinson for blasting the AEA after seeking its endorsement.
Now, moments before I got here, Asa Hutchinson has already put out a statement blasting these teachers and education support professionals behind me. What Asa fails to mention in his statement is that he came to Little Rock, he sat in that room over there, and he interviewed and asked these teachers for their endorsement. And, after he didn’t get it, here’s what he now says: he says these teachers are nothing more than union bosses and that they remind him of Pelosi & Obama. Look it up. Next thing you know he’ll be blaming the ice storm on Pelosi & Obama.
“I think Asa Hutchison has spent too much time living, working and voting in the Washington, DC area, because he seems to think this is a race for President, or Senate or Congress. But, Congressman Hutchinson, let me be clear, I don’t know about you, but I’m running to lead the state of Arkansas.
“This race has nothing whatsoever to do with Washington. The last thing we need is to see Washington partisan politics right here in this State Capitol. I’m committed to working with everybody – Democrat, Republican, Independent – to get the job done.
“He says in his statement – Asa says that these teachers do not care about our children. Asa Hutchinson, you can attack me. I’m willing to take the hits if that’s what it takes to improve public education in Arkansas and to create more good-paying jobs in this state. But, do not attack these teachers and education support professionals standing behind me today – the same teachers and education support professionals that you sought an endorsement from just a few weeks ago.
Funny. An AEA ally, Sen. Joyce Elliott, tried valiantly last week to build $2 million more for pre-K education into the state budget. She was rebuffed. Republican leadership did send $5 million to build charter schools, a pet project of Republican millionaires in Arkansas and a movement that threatens to re-establish a dual system of education in Arkansas and the U.S.
The Walton billions, by the way, are supporting the effort to charterize New York city schools, even taking over existing public school classroom buildings to do it. New Mayor Bill DeBlasio has modestly resisted a few of the charter schools and has been blasted for it — dishonestly, as Diane Ravitch makes clear here. The charter school disinformation campaign is also the subject of this article by a — charter school! — parent.
I’ve asked the Hutchinson campaign for a comment about Ross’ critics of seeking the AEA endorsement before ripping the organization.