At its February meeting, the State Board of Education took a stand against Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda to deregulate public charter schools.

The State Board is tasked with adopting the administrative code needed to implement education law. How that code is written determines what standardized testing and teacher evaluation will look like in New Jersey’s public schools. The State Board approves efficiency standards that can influence a local school district’s decision to retain its own cafeteria staff or to privatize its operations. The State Board can determine such details as cut scores for student standardized tests and teacher evaluations, or it can put a lot of power in the hands of the commissioner of education by delegating such decisions to her.

And what the State Board approves or rejects makes a difference in the rules under which charter schools operate in New Jersey.

As reported on Page 18 of this edition of the NJEA Review, the State Board voted to remove a controversial teacher certification proposal from a list of proposed changes to charter school regulations recommended by the state Department of Education. The proposal would have created a five-year pilot program in certain public charter schools, granting those schools the authority to recommend a provisional and standard certificate for their teachers, principals and business administrators based on a loose set of criteria far below what is required of such individuals in the rest of the state’ s public schools.

Getting that proposal deleted didn’t just happen.

Democracy is about more than electing those you support to office and hoping they do the right thing. Democracy is about learning the process by which decisions are made and organizing with like-minded people and organizations to shape those decisions.

Parents, students, NJEA leaders and NJEA members—including charter school educators—brought their concerns about the certification proposal to the board members. They protested outdoors, and they testified at State Board hearings indoors. They learned how the process works to make sure that the actions they took were timed to coincide with important steps in the State Board’s policymaking process.

And the board listened.

Meanwhile, in the New Jersey Senate, a school bus driver who has seen far too many vehicles ignore her flashing red lights testified in favor of a law that would require a camera to be installed on buses that will capture video of those who put the lives of her young passengers in danger. Joanne Ciccotelli’s compelling testimony helped convince the Senate that such cameras are worth the investment.

Members of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association fought hard and stood firm for 30 months until finally achieving a fair contract settlement with the local board of education. They staged rallies, attended countless meetings, considered dozens of proposals, endured endless disappointments and made it clear that they weren’t going to back down.

In Robbinsville, members waited more than six years for vindication from the imposition of furlough days in a violation of their collective bargaining agreement. Early in the process, it seemed that a win for the Robbinsville Education Association would be a “slam dunk,” but when the Public Employment Relations Commission denied their claims against the school board, the local association took its case all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court—and won an important victory for all of us.

In January, NJEA members joined hundreds of thousands of their sisters and brothers in Asbury Park, Trenton, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the world, marching to protect the rights of women, immigrants, persons who identify as LGBTQ, the disabled, and others. They also marched for the rights of public- and private-sector employees to do exactly what members of NJEA did at the State Board meeting, in the state Senate, in Greater Egg Harbor, and in Robbinsville—get organized, set goals, pool resources and make a difference.

This is what democracy looks like. Democracy does not end after Election Day. Democracy is about more than electing those you support to office and hoping they do the right thing. Democracy is about learning the process by which decisions are made and organizing with like-minded people and organizations to shape those decisions.

Democracy is not about “getting over it” when the candidate you support loses. After all, four of the eight members of the State Board of Education were appointed by Christie. If those who opposed the governor’s deregulation of charter schools had simply “gotten over” the governor’s election in 2009, the outcome at February’s State Board meeting could have been different.

Democracy means that we do not despair when a candidate we did not support becomes president. Instead, we organize. But it will also mean that we do not rest when a candidate we support becomes governor in November. Instead, we will continue to advocate. It is our right and our responsibility to engage in the process of democracy and uphold our values no matter who happens to occupy any office at any particular time.

That is what democracy looks like.

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