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5 fierce showdowns over education
Defunding preschool, firing teachers, and slashing spending: A guide to the school budget battles raging across America
America's schools are becoming a key battle field for the fierce debates between government worker unions and state lawmakers.
America's schools are becoming a key battle field for the fierce debates between government worker unions and state lawmakers.
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he showdown in Wisconsin between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and government workers' unions has captured national attention and bipartisan outrage. But it's hardly the only heated battle pitting politicians against teachers. Budget shortfalls, along with new Republican governors and state legislative majorities, are forcing tough choices on how to best educate America's youth. Here, a look at five of the key debates: 

1. Indiana: Vouchers, merit pay, and state-seized schools
The GOP-controlled Indiana legislature wants to start a private-school voucher program, expand charter schools, base teacher pay on test scores, and allow failing schools to be seized by the state. "These bills are being pushed through the process without any public input at all," warned Democratic state Rep. Ryan Dvorak. State Republicans say Democrats are just protecting teachers unions.

2. Rhode Island: Massive teacher layoffs
The Providence school board will send termination notices to all 1,926 teachers in the district, giving the board "maximum flexibility" to bridge a gaping budget shortfall. Not all of those teachers will actually be dismissed, of course, but this way the board can decide whom to keep based on merit rather than seniority. Still, says Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith, demoralizing all the state capital's teachers by firing them is "beyond insane."

3. Iowa: Defunding preschool
The big education fight in the Hawkeye State involves the universal preschool program introduced in 2007. The Republican House voted to strip all $70 million from the program, while Gov. Terry Branstadt (R) wants to slash the program's funding by about one third, funnel some of that money to private-preschool vouchers, and ditch a requirement that pre-K teachers be certified. Democrats and some education activists are not pleased.

4. Idaho: Busting the teachers union
After slashing $200 million from its school budgets over the past two years, Idaho is looking to cut another $35 million this year, by raising class sizes and cutting 770 teaching positions. Gov. Butch Otter (R) and the GOP legislature also want to curb teachers unions by scrapping seniority in layoffs, linking pay to performance, and squeezing collective-bargaining rights. Teachers say they will fight the changes every step of the way.

5. Nationwide: Defunding Teach for America
For all that is wrong with education in America, Teach for America "has become a template for transformation," says George Will in The Washington Post. The program pairs young, elite teachers with poor, underserved schools. State and local governments fund only 30 percent of its budget. So it's "nonsensical" that Congress is cutting its piddling $21 million, because they call it an earmark. This is part of the GOP's "brutal effort to gut federal education investment at every level," says Steve Benen in Washington Monthly.

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