The following is a speech made September 25 by Mary Anne Hering, candidate of the Working Class Party for State Board of Education in Michigan.
Sixty-nine people, including myself, did the work to put Working Class Party on the ballot in Michigan. In six months, from January to July, we got over 50,000 people to sign our petitions. It shows there are thousands of people who agree that working people need their own party.
While petitioning, we touched a pulse in the laboring population. Everywhere we went, people talked to us about their concerns, their problems, their anger. One of the huge issues, which was brought up with us time and time again, was education. The destruction of the public schools. So today, this is what I am going to talk about.
I am angry about how the public schools are being dismantled to give the money away to private interests. Especially in working class districts! Detroit has seen the worst of it, but it’s not just in Detroit – it’s happening in other school districts across the state and the country. Public schools get closed, then reopened as corporate-run charter schools. School budgets get cut; experienced teachers get pushed out, get fired – class sizes increase past 40, 50 students.
As a longtime teacher I’ve seen the results of these attacks. I see it at the community college level – many students coming to college ill-prepared for the classes they have enrolled in. Big differences between students, depending on what school districts they came from. Whole generations of working class children and young adults are being tossed on the educational scrapheap because the two big parties serving the capitalists won’t spend public money to really educate working class children. Those parties – Democrats and Republicans – use the money to bail out the banks and to cut taxes and give outright subsidies to the corporations and to billionaire real estate speculators. This is the choice made by people who run this capitalist society.
I could cite many examples, and perhaps some of them can come up in the discussion. But all you have to do is look at the 2016 State of Michigan Budget – because in a nutshell, it shows what the state does. It will pay out more to Michigan corporations in tax refunds than it gets from these corporations in taxes this year – 99 million dollars more given to business than businesses pay in taxes to the state.
We say in our campaign: Take that money back from those corporate thieves! Use that money on the schools. A decent, high quality, excellent education should be the right of every child.
Democrats and Republicans pretend it’s difficult to solve the problems of the schools. NO! The answers for how to improve the schools are EASY – and known to every teacher: decrease class sizes – 15 in elementary, 20 to 25 in secondary, max. Hire MORE teachers, as well as support staff, cafeteria workers, custodial workers, nurses, social workers, counselors. Pay them handsomely because every day they work with and are responsible for our children and grandchildren. Make sure each and every building is fit for human habitation – fix, repair, renovate, rebuild if necessary. Build MORE schools. Stock them with ALL the materials necessary for student learning, socialization, AND comfort throughout the day: textbooks, computers, art and music supplies, not to mention furniture, office supplies, and, yes, toilet paper.
Start with early childhood education, for every child! All children enter school already having experienced some kind of education from their families. The children whose parents received a very good education – those coming from money, in other words – they already start school with some formal education, more than those coming from families without money, who had been cheated of an education themselves. Children of privilege start school with a "head start" in other words.
When the Head Start program was a real, broad, national program, it had noticeable positive effects on working class and poor children. Head Start should be enriched and expanded, for every single child. Start early and continue all the way through high school – and beyond.
Schools should NOT be about just the basics, teaching to the tests. They should educate and enrich the whole person, with all sorts of extracurricular activities – sports, music, art, theater, robotics, chess club, and on and on. And parents should not have to pay extra fees for their child’s participation! Ordinary people who DO PAY TAXES, should not have to be millaged to death, under threat that they are to blame for the condition of the schools.
And yes, free education should continue even beyond high school. The powers that be and politicians keep saying that young people need to get an education to get ahead in this society – and then they make it impossible for people to get one, at least not without being in debt for the rest of their lives! Just yesterday, I met two young people who just graduated from universities and got Social Work degrees. They are $120,000 in debt!
Why shouldn’t young working class people get a FREE college education? Why shouldn’t ALL education be free? Why shouldn’t every COLLEGE be well-staffed, with full-time teachers, with good wages and benefits, with reasonable class loads?
We all know that the children of the wealthy have access to excellent, high quality education. They know it takes money. And for those wealthy who send their children to public schools, that’s why they make sure their schools get funding. Bloomfield Hills gets more money from the state than Detroit. Bloomfield Hills receives $12,004 in state funding per student, while Detroit receives $7,434 in state funding per pupil (from the Education Finance Records for 2015-2016).
The children at EVERY SCHOOL should get what Bloomfield Hills gets. All public school districts should be funded extremely well to give them the tools they need to educate their children well.
And in fact, districts starting with less should receive MORE funding from the state than wealthy districts, NOT LESS. If it can be done for the children of the wealthy – if it can be considered NORMAL, just and proper by those parents for their kids to have all that – why shouldn’t it be NORMAL for the kids of the working class?
It should be easy to have a decent, excellent, high quality education for everyone. And public money could be spent to provide just that. What stands in the way is that the capitalists want that money for themselves.
The policy of the wealthy, the corporations and the banks – and the politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who represent them – is to drain money from the schools. It’s their policy and it’s what they do. They accumulate wealth at the cost of our lives, our children’s lives and futures. They solved their economic crisis for themselves by taking more from us. It’s time we reversed that equation.
Corporations in Detroit, in Dearborn and throughout the state should no longer get a free ride – no tax havens draining our community’s resources. Money accumulated in private accounts from years of profit should be used to provide jobs and incomes NOW.
But that money has to be taken out of the hands of the capitalists who use it for themselves only. Workers, acting together, collectively, can stop the money train going from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to the capitalists.
Working people, acting together, can open up all these financial deals, many of which are carried out in secret. All of us, taken together, can find where the money is hidden, money for jobs and wages, money in the public treasury for good schools for our children, money for decent public services.
We can show that the money is there, but we will have to fight to take it.
So, having told you it’s going to take a fight, bigger than any we have ever seen, now I’m going to tell about why I am running as a candidate in an election for the State Board of Education; and why Gary Walkowicz and Sam Johnson are running for Congress, Gary in District 12, Sam in District 13.
You and I know that voting, by itself, doesn’t change things. Elections, like the rest of this political system, are held firmly under the control of the capitalist class. We see that the two big parties dominate. They’re twin parties, both serving the capitalists. But we intend to use this election to say things that no one else is saying:
We say working people need to fix things. No one else will do it for us! Together we have the power to fix every problem we face – if we fight...
Our goal today must be to keep the bosses from dividing us. We are all part of one working class: black and white, immigrant and native-born, women and men, young and old. We need all our forces to stand together.
We intend to use the elections to put forward a program based on what the working class needs, to let working people have something to vote for that they can really agree with.
Our situation won’t be changed with a vote – we know that, and we will go on saying it. But a vote for candidates who stand for a working class policy can help prepare for that fight. In fact, it is the only useful vote. When workers vote for the Democrats or Republicans, both of whom go on serving the capitalist class, that really means throwing their vote away.
Our campaign doesn’t have a lot of money – we don’t have any big contributors to our campaign. But WE have something much more important from the standpoint of the working class – a REAL policy in the interest of the working class. We know that a vote won’t bring that policy into existence. It will require a fight, a fight by working people, for us to begin defending ourselves, including in the matter of education for workers’ children. But everyone who votes for the Working Class Party can make a statement in this election – that there is a part of the working class today that understands the need for that fight.
We need your vote. We need you to talk to friends and neighbors about us, get them to vote for the candidates of the Working Class Party. We need your help.