‘We Cannot Walk Away From That Commitment’


On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the Court ruled unanimously, declaring that schools and other institutions violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The doctrine of “separate but equal,” which had been the law of the land since 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was decided, was audaciously overturned. Thurgood Marshall, a leading attorney with the case, recalled, “I was so happy I was numb.” He predicted that school segregation would come to an end within five years.

What happened? Did Brown matter?

“Why are we still in the same situation 65 years later,” asked Anthony Rebora, editor-in-chief of ASCD Educational Leadership Magazine, who moderated a panel discussion last week in Washington, DC titled, “Separate and Still Unequal: Race in America’s Schools 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

“We know our schools are still segregated,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, one of four panelists. “But we cannot walk away from that commitment that was laid.”

The event was hosted by ASCD in honor of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Representatives from area public schools and universities joined officials with education associations in a robust discussion about how today’s educators and policymakers can better understand racial issues and work toward fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board.

“We must know our (African American) history because we are getting very close now to where we were then (1950s),” said panelist Gregory Hutchings Jr., superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia. “We need courage because people are discouraged from standing up to racism.”

“When we talk about segregation, it’s not just what is happening in our schools. As educators, we have a huge responsibility but we can’t do it by ourselves.” – NEA Vice President Becky Pringle

In the 1954 decision, the Court declined to specify remedies for school segregation, asking instead for further arguments. The following year, in an opinion known as Brown v. Board of Education II, the Court declared vaguely that integration must occur “with all deliberate speed.”

Hutchings and other panelists stated that the American experience since that time suggests that educators cannot produce widespread social reform on their own.

“We’re putting too much weight on the shoulders of teachers,” Hutchings said. “We’re powerful people, teachers are … but we can’t solve society’s problems alone.”

Pringle agreed: “When we talk about segregation, it’s not just what is happening in our schools. We have to also address the structural racism in our country. We are one system in a collection of systems … housing, banking. As educators, we have a huge responsibility but we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Deborah Menkart is the executive director of Teaching for Change, an organization that works with educators and parents to create outstanding schools, and with students on social justice and other issues. During her opening statement, she said one aspect of Brown v. Board was that policymakers and other adults essentially commanded children of color to attend distant schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods by themselves.

“The legacy of that case is we didn’t include adults in the solution,” she said. “We sent children into those schools without adults to support them.”

As an example, Menkart mentioned the Little Rock Nine case when Orval Faubus in 1957, as the governor of Arkansas, used the state’s National Guard to defy the courts and stop African American students from attending Central High School. Their enrollment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Faubus.

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle discusses the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education at a recent panel discussion hosted by ASCD.

On its own, the Supreme Court brought about little desegregation because it lacked the power to overcome local social conditions and resistance in schools, panelists stated. For example, the Court was powerless to remedy the lack of diversity among teachers, education support professionals (ESPs), school board members, and superintendents.

“We (African Americans) really haven’t had a seat at the table,” said Hutchings. “Even now, only three percent of superintendents (nationwide) are people of color.”

To counter “structural racism” found in some school systems, Pringle said minority school leaders and educators in particular must be encouraged to develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities to thrive within public school systems.

“We must do more work in the preparation of teachers of color,” she said. “That will make a difference.”

Panelist Dawn Williams, dean of the school of education at Howard University in Washington, stressed the importance identifying, nurturing, and recruiting minority educators so they are able to enjoy long, fulfilling careers in the education field.

“You have to be strategic,” she said. “You need a pipeline in school districts that encourages students of color to enter the education field.”

Hutchings added: “The more we can encourage people (to enter and remain in the education field) the more you are going to see a paradigm shift. A support system is also critical.”

Examining what schools offer to all students in all districts, such as advanced placement courses and after-school activities, needs to be tracked, said Williams, to enhance equity.

“That (data) needs to be more public,” she said. “We need to look inside schools to make sure they keep the promise of Brown v. Board.”



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Oakland Teachers Strike For Class Sizes and Student Supports


Fed up with unequal resources that starve their students of the schools they deserve, the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) went on strike on Thursday to demand smaller class sizes and increased access for students to counselors, school nurses, librarians, and school psychologists.

“You can’t feed the minds of our students by starving their schools,” OEA President Keith Brown has said.

On Thursday, educators, parents, and other supporters walked picket lines at all 86 Oakland schools, and thousands rallied at noon in Oakland City Hall, including NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “Oakland, you are in the fight of your lives to make sure that not one, not some, but every single child can explore their imagination and live their brilliance!” Pringle told the crowd.

You are not alone, she reminded them. “Tens of thousands of teachers and support staff all over this country from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Colorado to Arizona to Los Angeles have risen up,” said Pringle. “They have risen up, and they have said, enough! Enough of taking advantage of our teachers who love our students and don’t have the money to live or take care of their families. Enough of the politicians with their cozy billionaire buddies stripping our schools of their resources and trying to shut them down.”

Video: NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle at Oakland Rally

 

Just this week, West Virginia educators settled a two-day walk out over planned legislation that would have spent the state’s scant resources on private school vouchers and charter schools. Earlier this month, Denver teachers also went on strike, seeking more stability in their system. And, in January, United Teachers of Los Angeles members ended a six-day strike with a historic agreement that includes smaller class sizes, limits on testing, and increased student access to nurses, counselors and librarians. (To learn more about the national Red for Ed movement, visit neatoday.org/redfored.)

In Oakland, educators are focused on what students need to succeed. And it’s much more than the current one counselor for every 600 students, or one nurse per 1,750 students. “This strike is as much about the structure of our school system and services for our students as it about a living wage for educators,” Brown said.

Instead of investing in public school improvements, the Oakland school board has diverted $57 million to charter schools and proposed closing 24 neighborhood schools that serve mostly students of color. But the strike is a little bit about a living wage, too. Oakland teachers currently are the lowest paid in the San Francisco Bay area. According to the union’s estimates, rent for a basic one-bedroom apartment in Oakland would eat 60 percent of a starting teacher’s salary.

On Friday, which will be the second day of the strike, union and district negotiators are scheduled to meet.

Amanda Menas contributed to this story.



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The Case for Collaboration is Clear


A good relationship takes time to build, and along the way, trust is formed, collaboration grows, and the collective does better. The same holds true when district leaders, unions/associations, and school boards work together. Decades of research support this claim, and the results show gains in student achievement, improved school climate, increases in teacher retention, and both principals and association representatives being seen as stronger resources by educators in their school.

Rutgers Professor Saul Rubinstein, co-author with Cornell University Assistant Professor John McCarthy of a national study on collaboration in public schools, says state- and district-level partnerships among unions/associations, school boards, parents/community, and management leads to collaboration within the school building.

And, “we see significant and important gains for students when there is greater collaboration,” underscores Rubinstein during a recent webinar with the National Labor Management Partnership, which brings together top leaders from The School Superintendents Association (or AASA), American Federation of Teachers, National School Boards Association, and the National Education Association.

Rubinstein points to research that shows schools with the highest level of collaboration, on average have 12.5 percent more students performing at or above standards in English Language Arts, and 4.5 percent more students performing at or above standards in math than schools with the lowest levels of collaboration, after adjusting for poverty.

But to get to these positive outcomes, one thing must happen first: you must start somewhere.

That’s the message from education leaders who form the National Labor Management Partnership.

NEA Vice President Becky Pringle—including AFT President Randi Weingarten, NSBA Executive Director and CEO Thomas Gentzel, AASA Associate Executive Director Mort Sherman—announced a Call to Action to collaborate around student-centered goals.

Previously, collaboration was often built on individual leaders. When those leaders left, collaborative initiatives would dissipate.

“What we’re talking about is a new way of doing our work,” says Pringle. “It’s not just about working together. We know that many of [our members and allies] are already doing it … But what we’re now asking is that our affiliates work with our district [and state] partners to create the structure that will sustain the collaborative work over time.”

Rubinstein and McCathy’s research shows that the association, as a boundary spanning network, is pivotal in bringing the voice of educators, as those closest to the students, to the forefront of educational decisions.

And each national partner organization is committed to intentionally foster and support lasting structures for collaboration at all levels, so it becomes a part of how the entire school community operates and is sustained at a systemic level, beyond any individual’s duration.

Get Started

The moment is ripe for collaboration, given that #RedForEd has shown a national spotlight on the needs of public education, the need for community support, and the power of educator voice on issues that matter to the school community. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity for educators to have an influence over the federal law as amendments to approved state plans are now being accepted and as district and school improvement plans are still being crafted.

Everyday educators can start by joining with their principals, parents/community, and building representatives to address the needs within their own classrooms and school buildings.  By working together on collaborative projects education stakeholder teams around the country have begun to address some of education’s most challenging issues: achievement gaps, discipline policies, new teacher induction, peer assistance, and scheduling. Others have started with smaller, more immediate needs: one example showcases how educators worked together to figure out how to involve third graders in helping excited first graders keep down the noise level while transitioning between classrooms.

nea charter schools policy

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle (CALVIN KNIGHT / RA TODAY )

But what’s the path to get started?

“There’s not one path,” says Pringle, but rather common elements that lead to collaboration. These elements are to prepare, act, and reflect.

  1. Prepare: Stakeholders learn the case for collaboration (increased student outcomes, educator retention, and association & administration roles in teaching and learning); identify partners; and commit to collaboration.
  2. Act: Structures and processes are built by identifying collaborative teams and functions to establish support and resources; defining content for collaboration and the process for collaboration; and implementing collaborative efforts.
  3. Reflect: Groups will share lessons learned with others. This analysis is key to repeating and sustaining the work.

Collaboration Works

As Pringle noted earlier, working together isn’t new. Successful collaborative efforts go back several decades. In the early 1990s, for example, the ABC Unified School District near Los Angeles, Calif., went on strike for eight days over budget concerns, and the district’s plan to slash teachers’ health benefits and pay while increasing class size. In the strike’s aftermath, an educational partnership between the union and the district was born.

Today, district and union leaders recognize that a more collaborative relationship is the most effective way of improving teaching quality and student performance. In working together to solve substantive problems for students and teachers, the the union and the district built a relationship grounded in mutual respect and trust, and abide by six guiding principles:

  1. All students can succeed and we will not accept any excuse that prevents that from happening at ABC. We will work together to promote student success.
  2. All needed support will be made available to schools to ensure every student succeeds. We will work together to ensure that happens.
  3. The top 5 percent of teachers in our profession should teach our students. We will work together to hire, train, and retain these professionals.
  4. All employees contribute to student success.
  5. All negotiations support conditions that sustain successful teaching and 
student learning.
  6. We won’t let each other fail.

Combative to Collaborative

The relationship between California’s San Jose Unified School District and San Jose Teachers Association was once contentious, according to an analysis from the California Collaborative on District Reform, an an initiative of American Institutes for Research. Heated labor negotiations, hostile board meetings, and regular teacher strikes were the norm.

When the superintendent at the time invited the then-president of the San Jose Teachers Association to a cup of coffee and a conversation, the relationship took a turn, and went from combative to collaborative.

The two groups became intentional about their work. They created succession plans to ensure new superintendents and union presidents committed to continuing and growing the partnerships facilitated by their predecessors.

The district also created formal roles and responsibilities for union leaders and members, giving SJTA a voice in important districts policies. Most notable was the decision to make the SJTA president a member of the superintendent’s cabinet in 2010.

Collaborative relationship between the district and union matters because it fosters trusts and enables everyone within the school community to better serve students.

Teamwork and Trust

In New Jersey, several groups are working together to encourage greater collaboration among administrators, educators, and union officials in 13 pilot school districts which comprise 59 schools serving more than 35,000 students.

Superintendent Vincent Caputo of the Metuchen Public School District spoke in March during a conference on collaboration of how he and other local educators became interested in creating an educational partnerships within the district.

“Four years ago (2014), when he (Rubinstein) shared his data that union-management collaboration had a positive, statistically-significant impact on Math and English Language Arts achievement, we were more than intrigued,” said Caputo.

In Metuchen, educators created district-wide committees, revamped its instructional council, and established School Leadership Teams (SLT) at most schools. Administrators learned more about what teachers require to be successful through input from SLTs and related committees. For example, the district embraced Google Classroom on the advice of the technology committee and shifted funding from white boards to Chromebook Carts on the recommendation of the budget committee. Also, parent conferences are scheduled at more convenient times based on advice from members of the Metuchen High School SLT.

It’s really about the relationship,” Delgado said. “You need the relationship to develop the partnership. When the relationship grew for us, the partnership grew.” – Cory Delgado, principal, Montgomery Township, New Jersey

“The board, administration, and the teachers remain steadfast in our commitment to collaborate with the common goal of improving student achievement,” Caputo said.

Montgomery Township High School teacher Jennifer Jones is a member of the school’s solutions committee, which collects information about training, technology, office supplies, and other concerns from educators. The information is then discussed with the school principal.

“It was important for staff to be heard,” said Jones, MTEA vice president. “We (administration) work together, attend conferences together, and focus on resolving any issues. When you reduce stress for teachers, it reduces stress for students.”

Principal Cory Delgado from New Jersey’s Montgomery Township said educators and administrators in his district used to only meet for school business. It was a dramatic departure from the status quo to begin meeting socially and even travelling together to education conferences.

“It’s really about the relationship,” Delgado said. “You need the relationship to develop the partnership. When the relationship grew for us, the partnership grew.”

Teacher Karen Kevorkian, an MTEA member, collaborates with Delgado and other administrators.

“It’s a process … it takes a long time to (build the relationship),” she said. “Cory and I made a promise that we would not let each other fail. If we succeed, our students succeed.”

The best school year calendar “we ever had came from the staff,” said Montgomery Superintendent Nancy Gartenberg.

“You have to trust each other,” she added. “In Montgomery, everyone has skin in the game.”

In a time when the Supreme Court case of Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) seeks to strip educators and all public employees of voice and decision-making power, labor management partnerships that foster shared-decision making structures for educators might just be the winning strategy that results in the outcomes we know are necessary for public education: thriving students, fulfilled educators, and education associations that help to provide meaningful avenues for professional voice.



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‘You Can’t Be an Educator If You’re Not a Leader’


Writer and activist Eric Lieu at the NEA Leadership summit.

Three words describe Carol Stubbs’ experience at the recent NEA National Leadership Summit: “Energetic, exciting, and inspiring,” said the school custodian from Fayetteville, N.C., who serves as her local association president. “It makes me want to go home and do even more!”

More than 2,000 educators, ranging from future teachers to college professors, from school counselors to custodians, attended the three-day summit in Chicago from March 16-19. “You’re not here so we can make a leader out of you,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the crowd. “There’s not anybody in this room who has not already demonstrated leadership.”

Summit attendees came to work on further developing the essential skills of union leaders, including advocacy, communication, and organizing skills. (Check out the six core competencies of NEA leadership development.) “What I’m learning is that my voice does matter, and I need to use it. I can’t sit back,” said California school counselor Erika Zamora. “Also, there is power in us doing this work together!”

The annual summit is the largest annual meeting of NEA educators, apart from the legislative NEA Representative Assembly, and it is an opportunity to “learn and to grow and to strengthen, and to gain a renewed sense of purpose and passion and perspective on how to lead more powerful and relevant associations,” NEA Vice President Becky Pringle told attendees. Powerful unions of educators are a necessity these days for public-school students to get what they need to succeed, she said.

With that mission in mind, in small-group sessions across the three days, local union leaders from across the U.S. shared their stories and strategies. From California, they told how to protect Dreamer students; from New Mexico, they shared how to build community schools; from Illinois, they talked about how to effectively register voters who will mark their ballots for pro-public education candidates.

“As educators, we have the gift that nobody else has—and that’s the ability to change hearts and minds. We have that gift,” said Prince George’s County, Md., teacher Arun Puracken, who told attendees he was inspired at last year’s summit to run (and win) a seat on his local school board. “We can all lead in our profession when we allow that educator voice to guide everything we do.”

Many attendees were encouraged by the recent victory in West Virginia, where teachers and education support professionals from every one of the state’s 55 counties walked out in solidarity—and stayed out for nine school days—until state legislators passed a bill giving them a 5 percent salary raise and a commitment to fix their health-insurance issues. West Virginia Education Association Dale Lee told attendees, “Our members said, ‘We are the union bosses!’”

“Look at WV!” said García. “Some of the most under-appreciated, underpaid educators in the country decided they would stand up to powerful people, and those leaders in WV made the case that professional pay is actually important to attracting and keeping quality teachers and support professionals.” And they’re not the only recent example of leadership to inspire. García also pointed to the many women who have recently “stared down their abusers and said ‘times up!’” and to the Florida students who are organizing to keep schools safe from gun violence.

During the summit, many attendees recorded and posted videos of support to the Florida students, saying, “We’re behind you!” or “We love you.” (Check out the videos at nea.org/thankyoustudents.)

The bottom line is: “We are all leaders. You can’t be an educator if you’re not a leader,” said Utah kindergarten teacher Marty Davis, a member of the Utah Education Association Board of Directors. “We need to reach out to every teacher and staff member in our buildings and share our experience, and invite them to be a leader. Everybody has something to offer. We just need to ask.”

 



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School Administrators, Community and Union Members Team up for Students


(Photo: Patrick Rumaker, NJEA)

When it comes to shared decision-making, the image of labor officials and school administrators does not usually come to mind.

But according to a diverse group of educators, union officials, and school administration leaders participating in the New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaborative Conference, a new generation of public school teachers and education support professionals (ESP), principals and superintendents are venturing beyond traditional labor-management lines.

“Teachers value principals who share decision-making and collaborate,” said Rutgers Professor Saul Rubinstein, a speaker at the conference and co-author with Cornell University Assistant Professor John McCarthy of a national study on collaboration in public schools.

Rubinstein, who coordinates and facilitates the New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaborative, has conducted research that shows greater collaboration between school leaders improves student achievement and decreases teacher turnover, particularly in high poverty school districts. And, a strong labor management partnership is the antecedent to educator collaboration in schools.

“Collaboration mitigates the negative impacts of poverty and teacher turnover,” he said. “Problems are solved jointly, while student performance improves.”

Rubinstein was one of two dozen panelists and speakers from organizations such as the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), New Jersey Schools Boards Association (NJSBA), and the National Education Association (NEA) who came together to talk about the value of labor management partnerships and their role in school improvement.

A Joint Venture

In New Jersey, the groups are working together to encourage greater collaboration among administrators, educators, and union officials in 13 pilot school districts which comprise 59 schools serving more than 35,000 students.

“Unlike top-down change, collaboration encourages all parties to work together to develop and revise curriculum, instructional practice, mentoring, and policy,” Rubinstein said. “More extensive communication (among labor-management officials) around these areas all predicted large and significant gains in student performance or performance improvement.”

Becky Pringle, NEA vice president, also addressed the audience of more than 250 attendees from across New Jersey and other states.

“As we talk today, we must talk about all of our educators,” said Pringle, in reference to teachers as well as food service and clerical workers, custodial and maintenance workers, paraeducators, librarians and school nurses, transportation and social service staff.

“It will look different in different places, but the model of a state coalition fostering shared decision-making structures in districts and schools is a winning strategy,” Pringle said. “And, we must deepen our partnerships at the national level with education stakeholders to help provide support to you all as you embark on this work.”

Nationally, NEA staff are working with Association members, state education coalitions, and other stakeholders to gather data and document case studies on the benefits of labor-management partnerships. Through its Educator Voice Strategic Objective, NEA plans over the next two years to develop effective structures, processes, and leaders to increase educator influence in decision-making at worksite, district, state, and national levels.

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle addresses the New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaborative Conference. (Photo: Patrick Rumaker, NJEA)

Student-Centered Collaboration

Already, there is evidence of collaboration resulting in positive student effects and teacher retention in California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey as evidenced by the research Rubinstein conducts with his research partner, Cornell professor John McCarthy.

“New Jersey school boards are 100 percent behind this initiative,” said panelist Lawrence Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.

For their 2014 report titled, “Teachers Unions and Management Partnerships,” Rubinstein and McCarthy studied labor-management partnerships in public schools for more than 10 years. They concluded that the highest level of collaboration corresponds to roughly 12 percent more students performing at or above standards, compared to the lowest level of collaboration among educators.

Instead of staring each other down from across the table, union officials and school administrators in New Jersey are teaming up with a renewed focus on shared decision-making at the school level, particularly with regard to goal alignment, teacher discretion, student performance, and educator retention.
“We are allowing this to grow from the ground up,” said Swetsky, a panelist at the conference, which was hosted by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick. “People want to stay in places that are collaborative.”

Among the speakers at the event was New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

“Schools work best when educators, administrators, and school boards all work together,” Murphy said, “and when teachers have a seat at the table.”

Teamwork and Trust

Superintendent Vincent Caputo of the Metuchen Public School District spoke of how he and other local educators became interested in creating a labor-management coalition in the district.

“Four years ago (2014), when he (Rubinstein) shared his data that union-management collaboration had a positive, statistically-significant impact on Math and English Language Arts achievement, we were more than intrigued,” said Caputo, who shared the stage with Metuchen high school teacher Evan Robbins. Caputo and Robbins were one of several pairs of panelists from different New Jersey districts who shared success stories involving labor-management collaboration.

It will look different in different places, but the model of a state coalition fostering shared decision-making structures in districts and schools is a winning strategy” – NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle

In Metuchen, educators created district-wide committees, revamped its instructional council, and established School Leadership Teams (SLT) at most schools. Caputo said administrators learned more about what teachers require to be successful through input from SLTs and related committees. For example, the district embraced Google Classroom on the advice of the technology committee and shifted funding from white boards to Chromebook Carts on the recommendation of the budget committee. Also, parent conferences are scheduled at more convenient times based on advice from members of the Metuchen High School SLT.

“The board, administration, and the teachers remain steadfast in our commitment to collaborate with the common goal of improving student achievement,” Caputo said.

Principal Cory Delgado from New Jersey’s Montgomery Township said educators and administrators in his district used to only meet for school business. It was a dramatic departure from the status quo to begin meeting socially and even travelling together to education conferences.

“It’s really about the relationship,” Delgado said. “You need the relationship to develop the partnership. When the relationship grew for us, the partnership grew.”

Teacher Karen Kevorkian is the vice president of the Montgomery Township Education Association. She collaborates with Delgado and other Montgomery administrators.

“It’s a process … it takes a long time to (build the relationship),” she said. “Cory and I made a promise that we would not let each other fail. If we succeed, our students succeed.”

The best school year calendar “we ever had came from the staff,” said Montgomery Superintendent Nancy Gartenberg.

“You have to trust each other,” she added. “In Montgomery, everyone has skin in the game.”

“We learn from each other,” said Vincent DeLucia, a panelist with NJSBA.

In New Jersey, Rubinstein, NJEA, and their partners hope that the state can play a leading role in a national movement for collaborative school reform: “We want to demonstrate that teachers, administrators, school boards, unions, parents, and communities can work together and continuously improve the quality of education.”

In a time when the Supreme Court case of Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) seeks to strip educators and all public employees of voice and decision-making power, labor management partnerships that foster shared-decision making structures for educators might just be the winning strategy that results in the outcomes we know are necessary for public education: thriving students, fulfilled educators, and education associations that help to provide meaningful avenues for professional voice.

“Unions being about the business of school improvement is particularly important in the wake of this Supreme Court case,” said Pringle. “The threat of our (educators) collective voice being stripped away is real.”



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WV Teachers Launch Two-day, Statewide Strike


West Virginia educators stood united this week in a statewide two-day strike that closed schools in all 55 school districts, and brought an estimated 6,000 teachers and education support professionals to the state Capitol to rally outside lawmakers’ offices.

“The anger is out there,” said West Virginia Education Association Dale Lee. “When thousands of people show up and say, ‘this is not enough and these are the things that need to be fixed,’ we hope they’ll listen… I can’t talk enough about how our teachers and our education support professionals are stepping up to make their voices heard.”

After decades of neglect by state officials and endless empty promises to take care of educators, West Virginia’s teachers and education support professionals have reached the breaking point. For as long as anybody can remember, too many qualified, experienced teachers have been forced to leave West Virginia’s schools and students to find adequate pay and health benefits across the state lines. Meanwhile, state lawmakers continue to opt to cut taxes for businesses, rather than invest in educators and education.

“The mass exodus from teaching is not because of the long hours. It is not because of lack of passion. It is not even because of challenging environments. The exodus is because our state has decided its priorities lie elsewhere. Teachers are forced out because we can’t afford to teach. It is time to step up for West Virginia teachers and support employees!” said Webster County high school science teacher Casey Compton.

The two-day strike and rallies on Thursday and Friday, which were attended by NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss, followed an energetic pre-strike rally in Charleston last Saturday that involved thousands of students, parents, and educators, including NEA Vice President Becky Pringle.

“By walking out, walking in, rallying, and filling the state capitol, educators are making it abundantly clear that they expect to be treated with respect and dignity,” wrote NEA President Lily Eskelsen García to Lee.  “I am proud that our members are refusing to sit silently by while lawmakers attempt to inflict further damage on the future of public education in West Virginia.”

In 1990, the last time that West Virginia teachers went on a large-scale strike, their pay ranked 49th in the nation. Nearly 30 years later, it ranks 48th,  according to NEA Rankings & Estimates. Even as West Virginia lawmakers pay lip service to the importance of public education, teachers can earn $20,000 more a year, just by driving across the state border.

“Young people are leaving West Virginia like a gushing wound,” said Allyson Perry, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Barrackville Elementary School.

Making matters worse, as healthcare premiums from the state-controlled Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) have risen over the years, many West Virginia teachers have actually seen their take-home pay decline.

Over the years, state officials have promised to pay attention to these problems. But they have not—and anger has steadily risen as educators are forced to work two or three extra jobs to pay their bills, or commute long distances to communities in Maryland and Ohio to earn a living wage. In February, WVEA members in four counties walked out. Last week, union members in four additional counties followed.

“I love teaching. I love meshing my passion for science and my passion for helping others. I love our kids. I will gladly take the workload home. Take the kids home. Take their problems home. And I pray over all of the, for safety, for health, for life. That is why I am here,” said Compton. “I am here because my desire is to continue living in West Virginia and serving the children who live here, and to continue in the profession I love.”

On late Wednesday, as this week’s strike loomed, Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation to provide 2 percent salary increases to teachers this year, followed by 1 percent in 2019 and 1 percent in 2020. He also agreed to freeze PEIA premiums this year. None of this provides a long-term solution, or signals a new priority on public education, educators point out.

Even as Justice and other lawmakers seek to appease educators with a short-term band-aid, this year’s legislative agenda reveals what they really think about public education and educators. Much of their energy has been dedicated to pursuing an additional $140 million business tax break. That’s lot of money that could be invested in public schools, WVEA leaders point out.

Other bills under consideration this spring aim to weaken WVEA and educators’ voice in their working conditions. One would make it more difficult for the unions to collect their members’ dues dollars. Another would reduce pension benefits for educators who serve as full-time release union presidents.

NEA Senior Press Officer Staci Maiers contributed to this report.

 





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