Dick Yarbrough: An open letter to Georgia public schoolteachers

Published 3:42 pm Thursday, August 8, 2019

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Dear Georgia Public Schoolteachers:

Unless I have miscalculated, I believe this is early August and you are already back at work. School in August? For a guy who never started school until Labor Day, that takes some getting used to.

And wasn’t it just last year that a group of resorts, chambers of commerce,  and the Atlanta Braves goaded a bunch of politicians into putting together a study committee on why public schools should start later? For all the poppycock about saving money on air-conditioning, what happens? You start school in August. Don’t you just love politicians?

I found it interesting that nobody admitted that starting school later had anything to do with improving public education or the well-being of the students. If they had, they would have asked your advice.

Gov. Kemp did make good on his promise to increase your pay, although not the $5,000 he had talked about. The Legislature reduced that number to $3,000. The governor calls that a “down payment.” That is good news, but let’s hold the high-fives. Money alone isn’t going to do it.

I don’t think any of you got into the teaching profession expecting to get rich. You did it because you can shape young lives for the better. All of us —  the governor, legislators, business leaders, doctors, preachers, farmers, and even a modest and much-beloved columnist — can name at least one schoolteacher or maybe more who impacted our lives positively.

What you want more than anything is respect. Respect from parents, students, administrators, the media and, of course, politicians. You deserve it for what you do and the conditions in which you do it. I think I can speak for you when I say you would like to be left alone to do what you do best — teach — without the bureaucratic red tape, unnecessary paperwork, and all the second-guessing from people who couldn’t carry your book bag.

No doubt Republicans in the next legislative session will double down on their efforts to encourage parents to send their kids to private schools with public money. Last year, one such bill was defeated. But like crabgrass, you just can’t seem to kill this stuff. It will be back.

This time, I predict they will throw the pay raise in your face and consider you and the associations that represent you under the Gold Dome to be ingrates because you object to their voucher schemes.

Why the intense interest by Republicans in “school choice,” “education savings accounts,” “student scholarship organizations” or however they choose to put lipstick on this pig? Money. Big money.

Former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who seemed to be the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor before suffering a fatal case of foot-in-the-mouth disease, let the cat out of the bag. He bragged to a former rival that he had gotten an education bill passed that was bad policy “in a thousand different ways” to prevent another rival, state Sen. Hunter Hill, from getting millions of dollars from a super PAC supporting — what else? — private school scholarships. That bill, incidentally, raised the cap on tax credits for private school scholarships to $100 million.

There is no way public education supporters can match the deep pockets of the Walton Family Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates, and the Koch brothers. In politics, money talks and their millions scream. Be prepared.

Speaking of Hunter Hill, Gov. Kemp has appointed him to the state Charter School Commission. This is the same Hunter Hill who had this to say about public schools during his failed gubernatorial campaign, “The answer is not throwing more taxpayer dollars into a system that has failed to deliver results for students, parents, and teachers.” Failed to deliver what results? And on what basis? Your inability to keep society’s ills outside your classroom door? Isn’t that government’s job?

The year 2020 will be an election year. The same legislators who advocate running away from public schools will be on your doorsteps telling you that their momma/aunt/cousin/whoever was a schoolteacher and they know how tough your job is and that they are going to help you all they can when they get reelected. If they do, throw up on their shoes.

As you start a new school year, remember that yours is a noble profession. Despite all the obstacles we place in your path, you are indeed changing young lives for the better. I, for one, am glad you are there. I hope you are, too.

Dick Yarbrough

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@ dickyarbrough. com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta GA 31139; or on Facebook at www.facebook. com/dickyarb.