Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: A teacher/GOP official slams union opposition to DeVos

I have often wondered when Georgia Republicans would figure out that the education establishment will never be on their side, and stop pandering to them as if they might. Apparently one Georgia Republican, who also happens to be a teacher, has reached that conclusion.

Kirk Shook is secretary of the Georgia GOP in addition to other roles with the party. He's also a teacher in Oconee County and, evidently a member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE). The group Tuesday night issued a "call to action" for members to call U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Shook took exception to that action in a letter he emailed to PAGE's executive committee, the Republican members of the state House and Senate education committees, members of the state Board of Education, state superintendent Richard Woods, the governor's chief of staff and various other officials. Here's the text in its entirety:

"PAGE Executive Committee:

"As I have mentioned in a previous email a few years ago to you, I am very concerned about the direction of this group using our membership dollars for political activities. The very reason teachers join PAGE over GAE is to prevent their membership dollars from supporting political causes they don't agree with.

"GAE has long been a shill of the Democrat Party and you are becoming the same. As a Georgia public school teacher, I almost daily I receive emails that are promoting the Democrat talking points under the guise of improving education in the state. While this might be understandable since Republicans control the Georgia legislature and thus education policy, one would assume that you would also have been as critical of the Obama Administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan--two who have added more bureaucratic red tape to education than any administration in history with the likes of Race to the Top and Common Core, which necessitated the need for many of the policies to be passed by the legislature which you so lament today.

"Of course, criticism of a Democrat administration which has placed undue burdens on teachers for the past 8 years has never been forthcoming, but now that there is a Republican President, you are now suddenly taking up the fight nationally.

"This is disgraceful and I am ashamed to have my name associated with a group that claims to be supportive of education when instead they are only supportive of the Democrat Party. You are feeding Georgia teachers information to promote your own liberal agenda.

"It is no wonder that your influence under the Gold Dome has diminished in recent years, and if this is the direction that you are trying to take Georgia, I hope the influence continues to diminish."

Shook is not the first Republican-voting teacher I've heard from about this kind of political activism. Some teachers have felt pressured to participate in activities such as today's "Wear Red for Public Ed" campaign. Um, which teachers at public schools don't support public education? But that of course isn't the point: The point is to undermine the cabinet appointee of a Republican president. Those who disagree with the herd mentality on display here, or who simply think that kind of activism during the school day is inappropriate, are forced to choose between their consciences and keeping the peace with their colleagues (and bosses).

I've also heard from numerous teachers that the only reason they join groups like PAGE and GAE (Georgia Association of Educators) is to be covered by their malpractice insurance. "I sure do wish there was another (such) organization that was truly non-partisan," Shook told me by phone this afternoon.

As long as we're talking about contacting one's elected representatives, his fellow teachers might want to know the state has authorized -- but not funded -- its own malpractice insurance program. If legislators were to fund it, thousands of teachers might find themselves without any need to join either PAGE or GAE, cutting their ability to promote this kind of activism and (more in the case of GAE) support Democratic causes and candidates financially. It was, remember, GAE and its parent organization, the NEA, which led the charge on a $5 million charge to defeat the Opportunity School District last fall.

I can't imagine why Republican lawmakers wouldn't want to create that insurance program and give them that option.

UPDATE: My colleague, Maureen Downey, has received and posted a response from PAGE. You can read it here .

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.