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Will Progressive Women Legislators Fight to Protect Public Education?

The DNC has launched a Women's Institute to rally women's support for President Obama. Will a progressive vision of education be part of their agenda?

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On International Women’s Day, Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (and Congresswoman) Debbie Wasserman-Schultz announced the creation of a Women’s Institute as an official project of the Democratic Party. The Institute will reach out to and engage women who identify as Democrats and Independents in order to enable the party to better organize supporters to re-elect President Obama, as well as distribute information on the party’s stand on issues and the achievements of the Obama administration to uphold the rights of women. The effort in the short-term may not be intended to hear the concerns of women voters, but in the course of asking for votes and support in thousands of locally-organized GOTV events, women cannot help but voice the issues that move them.

The Institute’s creation is extremely exciting, especially for many of us who’ve felt disconnected from the party or perhaps thought about running for office to end the War on Women, but didn't know where to start for lack of support or mentorship.

Chairwoman Wasserman-Schultz mentioned that every possible channel would be opened to communicate with women voters — house parties, live chats, Twitter events, women-to-women phone banks, regional caucuses, video conference trainings, and mentoring of grasstops spokeswomen who can be surrogates for the Obama campaign. In addition, Chairwoman Schultz said she would blog updates that’ll appear on the blog. In the coming months, everything will be geared for the 2012 election but what really needs to happen is to continue the work in the off cycle. (If only we’d had this leading up to 2010!)

After some important discussion the ongoing struggle to secure equal pay for equal work, and equal and full health coverage under one’s insurer through the Affordable Care Act, the discussion turned to the need to end the current War on Women. For example, the recent attempt by Republicans to pass the damaging Blunt-Rubio Amendment and leave women’s access to health insurance-covered contraceptives up to their employers instead of up to women was only stopped by the actions of Democrats in the Senate.

I then asked about education reform.

Can the women who make up the largely female teaching workforce and the women who comprise the largely female volunteer force find a place at the DNC Women’s Institute to air concerns regarding the privatization of public schools through charters, vouchers, and the narrowing of the curriculum? We education activists hear one thing from the President, and often wildly different things from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I named Race to the Top’s condition-laden requirement to states to build up “accountability” systems that enrich testing companies but seem to leave no money for classrooms where kids and teachers are. Or No Child Left Behind, the law that requires Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) be measured even though that yardstick’s clearly broken, or the waiver from NCLB compliance that insists on “school turnarounds” (charters) and yet more “accountability.” I mentioned the heated battle to resist a charter school bill that would essentially empower corporate charter chains to eviscerate public schools in Florida, Wasserman-Schultz’s home state.

She acknowledged that she’s been following closely the controversial “Parent Trigger” bill up for a vote in Florida this week, which piloted — unsuccessfully — in California. “As a mom with three kids in the public schools in Florida” Wasserman-Schultz has been following it in the state legislature and keeping in touch with activists and stakeholders fighting its passage as someone who also opposes the bill’s implementation.

Here is what some of those activists have to say: