Put a Stake in Stakeholders

May 23, 2016

Put a Stake in Stakeholders. And so it begins.

I know I do too much self-referencing, but indulge me this time by going back to last December and a post headlined “I’m the Party Pooper” about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):

It will likely pass the Senate by a wide bipartisan margin (as did NCLB) and be signed into law with the President and leaders of both parties congratulating each other on a job well done.

The honeymoon period will last for a time, and then we’ll hear the first murmurings when the regulations are written. Then will come the sporadic anecdotes of unintended consequences. Supporters of the law will lay the blame for these problems on faulty implementation.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing titled “ESSA Implementation: Perspectives from Education Stakeholders.” Seven people testified: one state schools superintendent, one district superintendent, two national union presidents, one academic, one advocate for students with disabilities, and one advocate for Latino rights.

Some of these stakeholders, particularly the two union presidents, are highly uncomfortable with U.S. Department of Education regulations regarding school funding equity within districts. Thus we are treated to AFT president Randi Weingarten telling the committee things like “We don’t want a teacher’s salary and benefits to keep him or her from getting hired, just like we don’t want a teacher’s salary and benefits to force him or her to be transferred,” and “We cannot equalize spending without creating winners and losers; it will result in some schools having to give up resources, services or staff in order for others to gain.” She even used the magic term “unintended consequences.”

Chad Aldeman and Erika Sanzi each called out the union presidents for being completely committed to funding equity, as long as it does not impact collective bargaining provisions. They were correct to do so, but I prefer to focus on this whole question of “stakeholders.”

We are supposed to believe that the word is a generic term for all those affected by education policy, but the lineup before the HELP Committee reveals their true identity: people who earn their livings from the public school system and, to a lesser extent, parents – provided they are organized into large groups.

NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia took the title of the hearing to heart, referring to stakeholders nine times in her short testimony. She wants them to “participate meaningfully” in state and district-level decisions, to “advocate for change,” to provide input into accountability systems, to “have a seat at the table” and to “stand up, speak out, and advocate for their students.” She often names teachers and educators as stakeholders, and sometimes parents, but never identifies who these other stakeholders might be.

When pressed, the real education stakeholders would also name civil rights groups as part of their fraternity, but never homeowners, retirees, the childless, small business owners, entrepreneurs, or chambers of commerce. Corporations and the wealthy, of course, are never considered stakeholders, though they are most often expected to act as the source of funding for stakeholders.

Corporations and the wealthy, however, have armies of attorneys, accountants and lobbyists to protect their interests. The rest of the community does not. When the music stops, who is left without a chair at the table?

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 17-23:

* Union Exposes Vast Right-Wing, Moderate & Center-Left Conspiracy. Even if you’re with us, you’re against us.

* How Green Is My SuperPAC? Some of our best friends are hedge fund managers.

AFT Gets Charter Union in Cleveland, Loses One in New Orleans. Guess which one got national media coverage.

* Hillary to Attend NEA Convention; How Will That Go? Friendly confines?

Texas State Teachers Association’s Finances. Texas-sized debt.

Scheduling Note. Next week’s bulletin will appear on Tuesday, May 31.

Quote of the Week. “As we continue to make cuts in vital services, corporations in Oregon continue to pay the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation. It’s not fair and that’s why we’re doing it today.” – Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association, announcing that a coalition of public employee unions has submitted signatures to place the largest corporate tax hike in state history on the ballot. (May 22 Associated Press)

OEA and the other members of the coalition are tax-exempt organizations.