Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike, in a “fight for the soul of public education,” according to a CTU organizer. On one side in this fight are teachers who are advocating not only for themselves but for their students too, calling for smaller class sizes, expanded student support services, and a broad curriculum that includes art and music classes. On the other side are right-wing, anti-teacher education reformers like the Walton family, who, as we’ve seen, have a keen interest in undermining America’s public schools and are one of the largest funders of the right-wing education reform movement nationwide.
Indeed, the Walton Family Foundation has given more than $1 billion to corporate-style education reform initiatives, including millions to the pro-voucher, pro-privatization Alliance for School Choice, where Walmart heir Carrie Penner is also a member of the Board of Directors. In Chicago, in 2011 alone, the family spent more than $3 million funding organizations like Stand for Children, which pushed through state legislation that weakens teachers’ job protections and tried to make it harder for Chicago’s teachers to take a stand for themselves and their students by going on strike.
It’s no surprise that the Waltons are involved in a brand of education reform that is so fiercely anti-teacher—they and their family company are notorious union-busters, and we consider their education efforts a continuation of Walmart’s anti-worker policies. (The family’s foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation in the guise of “shaping public policy” in education.) Teachers and their allies understand what the favored policies of the Waltons and their friends in Chicago are about, though, and know what’s at stake: As the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday, many view the corporate reform efforts in their city “as a brazen attempt to shift public resources into private hands, to break the power of teachers unions, and to reduce the teaching profession to test preparation.” That’s not the teachers’ vision for Chicago’s public schools and that’s why they are courageously fighting back.