Erin Milburn

Erin Milburn

Can I just say how utterly sick I am of the political games regarding public education that have been and are currently being played in Frankfort?

As a 24-year veteran educator, I believe I have earned the right to speak out on this subject, and so I do so, with the fervent, yet dim, hope that somebody is listening.

In November, public education in Kentucky received a gift. After four years of serving as the whipping boy and scapegoat of the prior administration, public schoolteachers took our collective outrage to the polls and chose new leadership, investing in the promise of a return of educational policy and practice into the hands of those most qualified to shape and implement it — into our hands. It was a heady and most empowering victory, not only for teachers but even more so for the children of Kentucky.

To put a seal on the deal, our new governor immediately began to implement his commitment to public education by appointing a new state board, composed of experienced and devoted allies of public education, and most significantly, for the first time in the state’s history, appointed his new lieutenant governor, a certified and experienced public schoolteacher, as the secretary of Education and Workforce Development.

This unprecedented action provides the necessary foundation upon which to build an entirely new approach to the institution of public education in this state — one in which those who actually know how to fly the plane are in the pilot’s and navigator’s seat, rather than passing out pretzels to the restless and grumpy passengers.

During my tenure in the classroom, those attempting to fly the plane of public education have included everyone from air traffic controllers to baggage handlers, none possessing the knowledge or skill to even get the thing off the ground, much less keep it in the air. It has been an absurd cycle of fumbling trial and error, to the detriment of everyone, literally everyone — except perhaps the assessment development branch of the Pearson Media Co. They’ve done all right for themselves.

So now, just at the moment when the right people with the right skills are in the right places and we are moments from finally lifting off the tarmac, SB 10, a bill intended to remove the new secretary and dismantle the new Board of Education, is under consideration in Frankfort. Of course it is.

The same party majority that sat back and allowed the former governor to treat teachers like garbage — remember the sewer bill — and which supported every effort to undermine the public education system that provides the sole pathway out of poverty and into possibility for so many Kentucky children; the same group which lost its most powerful voice because that voice was so shrill and offensive; those same men and women who, after professing their reverence for and support of public education in order to get elected, have consistently stood in opposition to nearly every opportunity to uplift and empower teachers, to provide the necessary support for students in every context, from funding to textbooks and technology to mental health, are now prepared to once again throw us all under the bus. A school bus, no less. 

I am so disappointed in this and yet so not surprised. The current critical shortage of teachers in this state is proof positive of the decline in support for public education over the past decade, and the abuses of the past four years have led thousands of good, dedicated educators to just grab their carry-on and get off the plane. The long-term impact of this catastrophe on Kentucky kids has yet to be understood, but it certainly will be one day.

I know, for myself, I am exhausted by it all. I’m tired of passing out blankets and demonstrating safety measures; I want to be up front, charting the course and directing the flight. I want what all my many committed, talented, passionate, knowledgeable and invested colleagues want: not just a voice at the table, but the voice at the table.

With the lieutenant governor at the head of the cabinet that oversees us and with experienced educators sitting on the board that informs the progressive future of public education in Kentucky, we are that voice. SB10 will not only put a muzzle on that voice but will render it irrelevant.

I urge all legislative members who consider this petty and petulant bill to vote it down and let us speak. Let us climb into the cockpit for once and aim this great aircraft at the open skies. Trust us, please; we know how to fly. 

Erin Milburn is a teacher at Mercer County Senior High. She can be emailed at erin.milburn@mercer.kyschools.us.

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