Jobs Threatened By Privatization, Educators and Their Allies Strike Back

Nancy Cogland really didn’t think it would happen again. But in early 2019, there she stood facing the possibility that her job—and those of the other 166 paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey—could be outsourced to a private company.

The last time they faced this threat, the district’s paraeprofessionals were, “caught a little off-guard,” Cogland says. That was eight years earlier, when the school board of this 10,000-student district—saddled with new cuts in state aid and a large budget gap—announced they were considering privatizing paraprofessionals. With a quick vote scheduled, the board left it up the paraprofessionals — lose your jobs or give up your family and medical benefits.

“We had no real choice and no warning,” Cogland recalls. “We obviously didn’t want to lose our jobs to a private company, so we agreed to surrender our benefits.”

Luckily, those benefits were reinstituted in the next round of bargaining. But after announcing another round of state cuts in 2018, the school board looked again for savings. Again, the paraprofessionals’ jobs were on the chopping block.

Many districts already outsource other education support professionals (ESP), such as bus drivers, school custodians, and cafeteria workers. The focus on paraprofessionals, says Tim Barchak, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, opens up a relatively new front in the privatization fight.

“Everyone is vulnerable now,” he says. “The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.”

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Mapping the march of school privatization across the United States reveals significant expansion of charter schools and, to a lesser extent, private school voucher programs. Zoom in closer, and you’ll see a concentration of privatization inside public schools: the outsourcing of school staff. That is, after all, what privatization is—turning a public good over to a private entity.

Everyone is vulnerable now. The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.” – Timothy Barchak, National Education Association

Many school districts insist such a move is necessary because they can’t afford pension obligations and health care costs. Or it could also be “plain old opposition of taxpayers to paying more than they would like,” says Samuel Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Educationat Columbia University in New York City.

ESPs are frequently the easiest targets. “Often the specific service they provide is not viewed as core to the mission of educating our students,” Barchak explains. “And these workers are not usually allied with stakeholders in the community,” making it a challenge to build alliances when these threats materialize.

Although not ESPs, substitute teachers are viewed the same way and are also contracted out to private firms. Substitutes usually don’t need to be licensed educators, and are more deeply embedded in the gig economy than any other school job category.

Whoever the specific target, says Abrams, “ultimately, such privatization is penny wise and pound foolish. Privatizing these jobs will mean hiring people with less experience and generating more turnover. This is the opposite of what schools need.”

nancy cogland

School board members say they needed to look for savings, but “it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve,” said paraeducator Nancy Cogland.

On the Chopping Block

Many flush with venture capital funds, companies are deploying aggressive marketing campaigns, ready to swoop in and privatize school services in any district looking to cut costs. Kelly Staffing Services, Swing Education, SPUR, and EduStaff offer enticing—although short-sighted and often misleading— offers of savings, quality, and streamlined efficiency. As for the individual workers, some companies hope to usher them into the flexible world of the “gig economy.”

The pitch: Agree to self-privatize and get a hefty one-time boost in salary. Left out of the pitch: Say goodbye to adequate health insurance and pension security.

Flipping a School Board Can Make All the Difference
Transferring the work of public school employees to the private sector leads to inferior services and fewer connections to students and their education. A successful campaign by a Pennsylvania local association struck a blow against privatization that is having a lasting impact.

Substitute teachers are a lucrative market. With growing teacher shortages, schools need quality substitute teachers more than ever. But in many states, subs work without any employee protections or access to health and retirement benefits.

Some substitute teachers, like Greg Burrill, like the flexibility but he belongs to a union and works in Oregon—a state that requires certification. He knows he’s lucky. “Substitutes need protection, especially as more districts farm the service out to private companies,” Burrill says.

Kelly Educational Services has a foothold in many districts, including Shawnee Mission, Kansas, where Laura Holland teaches. She has often complained about the quality of the substitutes being sent to her school. “Generally, they don’t belong in the classroom,” Holland says. “They’re not licensed or prepared. These companies view them as temp workers. That’s a disservice to students.”

‘We Weren’t Going to Stand For It’

Fortunately, the paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township had critical structure and relationships in place, and persuaded the school board to drop its outsourcing plan. They made sure the district knew that any short-term savings were not worth the inevitable decline in quality and accountability.

“The fact is, you get what you pay for,” Cogland says. “We weren’t going to stand for it, and the parents weren’t going to stand for it.”

After the 2011 cutbacks, Cogland had become more involved in her local union, Old Bridge Education Association, and participated in workshops and leadership trainings sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association. By the time the privatization threat re-emerged in 2019, Cogland and her colleagues were ready to organize and mobilize the community.

All the paraprofessionals in the district work with special education students. Their parents are organized and very vocal in protecting their students, and they immediately went to bat for the paraprofessionals. Strengthening those relationships was front and center in the campaign to ward off privatization.

The school board got the message. In May 2019, the board took the proposal off the table before any bids from companies had been solicited.

“It’s the board’s job to find ways to save money,” Cogland says, “but it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve.”

Hillsborough County school custodians rally against district proposal to outsource their jobs.

It’s Hard to Privatize Names

The 1,500 school custodians in Hillsborough County, Florida—the eighth-largest school district in the country—also tapped into a reservoir of goodwill in 2019, when they turned back an attempt to outsource their services to a private contractor.

“We were able to use the media and our public protests to talk about what our custodians do for our schools and students,” said Iran Alicea, a school security officer and president of the Hillsborough School Employee Federation (HSEF). “You’re talking about replacements entering our school buildings. These are workers who have no real connection to the school. Would they really always be there for the students?

Including when disaster strikes—literally.

Civics teacher Scott Hottenstein recalled the critical role his school’s custodians played during Hurricane Irma in September 2017, when the school became an emergency shelter. The custodians worked around the clock to keep the shelter clean. “Our entire custodial staff moved their families to the school for 48 straight hours to serve the community. Are you going to get that with privatized janitorial services?” Hottenstein asked the Hillsborough school board in May 2019, as it debated privatizing their jobs.

In October, the board scrapped the proposal.

That is, until it’s back on the table—or the board tries to outsource another job category. As long as school boards are looking for savings, and private companies see public schools as profit centers, the threat of privatization looms.

“Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in,” Barchak says. “But kids don’t just drop into a classroom ready to learn,” he adds. “Every school has a network of caring adults who have to do their job professionally every day to make that happen. ESPs need to tell their stories about what they do and develop relationships with stakeholders. It’s relatively easy to privatize the ‘bus drivers’ or the ‘custodians.’ It’s a lot harder to privatize the individuals who have names that know and take care of your kids.”

NEA resources on fighting ESP privatization in your community

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Advocating for Racial Equity in our Schools

Ursala Pankonin and Thomas Carlson are two educators from Minnesota with vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Pankonin is American Indian and black and for the last 16 years has taught middle school.

Carlson is white and queer and has taught high school language arts for 31 years. Both work within a 20-mile radius, are union members, and operate within similar circles.

They don’t know each other. However, they share one strong experience: they had no teachers of color during their formative years of schooling and that has shaped the work they do today around racial equity.

Why does this matter? Pankonin, whose school was on a reservation, explains, “The first time I remember feeling really irritated about not having teachers of color was in middle school. When we would do the history lesson, the settlers were portrayed as the heroes while Native Americans were portrayed as these aggressive savages. How awful, to be presented a story where we were the bad guys.”

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.” – Ursala Pankonin

Later down the road, Pankonin asked her high school teacher (who is white) why they didn’t read authors of color. Pankonin recalls her response: “Black people weren’t allowed to write because they weren’t allowed to learn how to read. It was dangerous for them so we don’t have anything.”

“I think she believed that,” Pankonin says. “Her exposure to authors of color was limited, and she could only teach me what she knew.”

A teenage Pankonin went out on her own and found authors of color who were writing in the time of slavery.

“Imagine what a powerful message that could have been for students that despite not being allowed to learn how to read or write, look at what they were doing—and doing well—this subversive action of strength and bravery,” she reflects.

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.”

Understanding Pankonin’s experience is important—not understanding it is detrimental to the success of all students.

According to an article in The Hechinger Report, national studies have long underscored how black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for black students compared to their white counterparts, thereby leading to calls for the recruitment of more black teachers and/or asking where all the black teachers have gone. This extends to Latino, American Indian, and other racial groups that also benefit from educators who share their identity. Missing from these reports is an explanation as to why white teachers are not producing the same results. Some of the thinking around this centers on implicit bias.

To alleviate this thinking, Pankonin and Carlson belong to different cohorts of an anti-racism program called Facing Inequities and Racism in Education (FIRE), developed by Education Minnesota and administered by the association’s professional development academy.

FIRED Up for Racial Justice

Like many states across the country, Minnesota has no formal, consistent professional development pathway for educators to enter and/or continue their journey of living equitably and in turn, authentically disrupt systems of racism and racial inequities in the classroom. In comes Education Minnesota.

The FIRE program leads and organizes Minnesota educators in a movement to live equitably and practice recognizing and responding to racial inequities and injustices.

This includes the Racial Equity Advocate program, plus a series of trainings (see box below) that help Minnesota educators develop an anti-racism mindset and learn how to interrupt and dismantle institutional racism.

The program appeals to educators for a variety of reasons. Carlson, for example, found a shocking lack of curiosity among most white people around race and was looking for a place where the perspectives of people of color were present, centered, and honored.

“In my circles, people of color weren’t in the room, and I found that, in ways, I could never be really educated around race, bias, and racial understanding and competence surrounded by white teachers.”

Meanwhile, Pankonin found a group of educators, specifically of color, who understood the issues, were building community, and pushed forward the work around race equity.

“That was appealing to me because sometimes when you don’t have many people around you who understand the situation or who aren’t seeing things that you’re seeing because their life experiences are different, you feel isolated.”

To learn more about the program, visit the Minnesota Educator Academy. For more information on racial, social, and economic justice in education, go to NEA EdJustice, where you’ll find great resources, such as NEA’s Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide,. Hear from NEA activists who have launched a series of video “primers” for anti-racist, white, educators.


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Every Educator Deserves a Living Wage

Debbie Reyes is a strong voice for her fellow ESPs (photo: Kimberly Davis)

Debbie Reyes gets very emotional when she recalls the day a student broke her nose. A special education paraeducator for the Pfleugerville Independent School District, in Texas, Reyes works with students on the autism spectrum, many of whom are nonverbal and have severe sensory and behavior challenges.

It was the end of the day and time to clean up, but the boy was sleeping. His mother said he regularly woke up at 3 a.m., wanting to go to school and unable to go back to sleep. The special educators often let him nap, but when Reyes woke him up that afternoon, he responded by striking out, hitting her in the face with his elbow.

“I heard a pop and a crack,” she said. Her nose was fractured in two places, requiring surgery. It took more than a year for her nose to heal.

“I don’t blame him,” Reyes says, tearing up as she tells the story. “He needs a lot of behavior support, and his parents asked us for help. I work with him in the communications unit, a section of the special education room where we help students calm down and communicate what they’re feeling, because a student can’t learn until his behavior is under control.

He just needs help and I want to be a voice for him.” Reyes is committed to being a voice for her special education students. She’s also a voice for her fellow education support professionals (ESPs) who are essential to a well-rounded education for their students but still don’t earn a living wage.

Every Job Matters

Reyes and fellow ESP members of the Pflugerville Educators Association (PfEA) in central Texas have been fighting for a $3 an hour pay raise for all hourly employees since last school year. Committed to their students, they work second and third jobs and rely on food stamps and other public assistance to make  ends meet so they can continue their work in education, which most say is their calling.

“Every single one of our ESPs is critical to the success of our students and they shouldn’t have to worry about paying for groceries or making rent,” says PfEA President Cindy Maroquio. “Everybody matters, every job matters, and they all deserve to have a living wage income.”

Reyes, a single mother who lives with her 10-year-old daughter in income-based public housing, brings home $1,500 a month in her paycheck. Her rent is $1,000 and just went up by $40. She expects it will continue to rise as she struggles to stretch the rest of her wages to pay for food, gas, utilities, and everything else.

Sabrina Reid is an educational associate for essential academics. She’s a single parent to four kids. “I didn’t set out to be a single parent, I set out to be the best parent I can be, and that hasn’t changed,” Reid says. “What has is the cost to support them … Many times I have to tell my children no because of financial reasons, which breaks my heart. I work hard and want to be able to earn enough to provide for my family.”

One month when she couldn’t pay the electric bill, she had to rely on help from her church.

“How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.”

Her job is critical to the school district—it takes a strong, caring, and extremely dedicated person to work with students with severe special needs and behavior problems.

With a $3 an hour raise, Reyes would earn $20.57, about the same hourly rate as a landscaper, bank teller, or truck driver.

To earn at least as much is a matter of dignity and respect. In other parts of the country, in smaller towns or rural areas, $1,500 a month might be livable. But in Pflugerville, part of the Austin metro area, the cost of living has skyrocketed as more and more people move there and older, traditionally low-income areas of the city gentrify.

Rising Cost of Living

Austin is consistently voted one of the best places to live, not just in Texas but in the United States. In many low-income communities of color around the city, people are being pushed out by young, higher earning professionals who want to experience life in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

“The cat is long out of the bag,” says Maroquio. “Austin is an amazing place to live.”

But it should be an affordable place to live for everyone— including the ESPs who want to live in the same community as their students. To Reyes, it’s an issue for all ESPs, but especially for ESPs of color whose low wages can’t keep up with gentrification.

Reyes regularly makes calls to members to encourage them to share their stories at school board meeting. (Photo: Kimberly Davis)

Many of the ESPs in her district were raised in poverty in border towns like Donna, Brownsville, Mission, or Mercedes.

They live in trailers or crammed with two or three other families into one-bedroom apartments. As the cost of living rises, even those will become unaffordable unless they receive a raise.

“I tell them I will keep fighting for you because I know. I also started at $11 an hour,” Reyes says. “I know poverty. I know how bad it is.”

After years of stagnant wages coincided with enormous increases in the cost of living and the fastest growth rates in rent and home prices in the state, PfEA ESPs decided to take action.

Last April, they circulated a petition, asking all Pfleugerville educators to support the $3 an hour raise. Then they took that petition—with its hundreds of signatures—to spring and summer school board meetings.

With more than 30 union members, all wearing blue, sitting behind her in support, Reyes addressed board members in April, sharing her story of having worked in the district for more than a decade as a special education paraeducator, and loving her job despite the physical assaults and constant stress. She held aloft a copy of her pay stub alongside her monthly bills, explaining that her current pay was not enough to cover expenses for herself and her daughter.

One of the school board members has a nonverbal daughter with autism who is one of Reyes’ special education students.

“He said we were paid enough,” she says. “I was completely heartbroken to hear him say that, knowing that I worked with his daughter, knowing her struggles. I pleaded with him and the other board members to come to our classroom and walk in our shoes for a day and then tell us we don’t deserve the increase.”

According to PfEA President Maroquio, anyone who claims the Pflugerville ESPs “make enough” do not have to live on $35,000 a year.

“They haven’t experienced what that’s actually like, making only $35,000 a year and supporting a family,” she says.

“Do they realize the heart and soul and blood, sweat, and tears these educators put into our students? They have no understanding of the nature of the work that these dedicated people do, nor do they understand how critical it is.”

Show of Solidarity

Over the years, Reyes has seen special education paraeducators and other ESP members come and go. She’s not surprised. It’s a hard choice, but many who can’t make ends meet have to leave for better paying jobs.

“Costco pays $15 an hour, and most of our ESPs start at $11 an hour, so why stay?” she asks. “It took me more than a decade to get to $17.57 an hour, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.” – Debbie Reyes

I love my work as a special education paraeducator. I worked at a state hospital and a treatment center helping patients with behavior issues. I feel like this is my calling.”

The Pflugerville ESP members aren’t alone. ESPs working in neighboring districts also struggle with low wages. Maroquio and other PfEA members support other district campaigns and regularly attend their school board meetings in a show of solidarity.

“Their stories are the same as ours,” she says. “Someone at a Killeen district school board meeting spoke about being homeless for a month because of their low salaries. Another woman couldn’t pay for hot running water. These are people who barely have enough for their own expenses but will still reach into their own pockets to bring in food for their students who don’t have enough to eat. These are people who dig down deep to support their students and are simply asking for the same support from their school districts.”

As of late September, the school board had voted to give hourly district employees a 5 percent increase, which would raise Reyes’ salary by about a dollar to $18.45.

“We are going to continue the fight,” says Maroquio. “We will continue to go before the school board and ask for that $3 an hour. We’ve been advocating for this for a long time and we’re not going to stop now.”


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NEA’s Read Across America Rebrands With New Mission

Linda Estrada grew up in Donna, Texas, the border town where she now works as a campus secretary at Runn Elementary School. Fifteen miles from the Mexican border, she worked alongside her parents and three siblings as a migrant farm worker until she started kindergarten.

“My parents didn’t want us to fall behind in our studies like they did growing up as migrant workers, spending more time in the fields than in the classroom,” says Estrada.

By the time she was 10 years old, her mother was the only one working and the family subsisted on $60.00 a week she earned cleaning a local hotel.

“Not much with four children to support and in those times, no government assistance either,” says Estrada.

“But my mom was a miracle worker. Aside from paying bills, buying groceries, and clothing us, she made sure we were surrounded by books.”

Estrada says she never realized that they were poor.

In a home filled with love and books, her world was enriched beyond material things. She became an avid reader and recalls devouring the Little House on the Prairie books and Nancy Drew mysteries, even World Book Encyclopedias. But in school, there were few books about her own heritage and culture. It wasn’t until she was an adult working at Runn, a dual language campus, that she encountered books about Cinco de Mayo, 16 de septiembre, and Dia de los Muertos.

“Becoming an [education support professional] ESP at Runn Elementary was the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Estrada. “I was able to reconnect with my culture.”

Now, as chair of NEA’s 17-member Read Across America Advisory Committee, she connects students with their cultures and exposes them to the cultures of their classmates.

“Through books, they get a better understanding of the all the different diverse cultures in America today,” she says. “My hope is that they will learn that although they may be different, they also share many similarities.”

New Logo, New Website

Our student populations are ever-changing and evolving and every year there are new children’s books that reflect that diversity. That’s why NEA’s Read Across America is rebranding with a new logo to appeal to students of all ages and backgrounds and a continued mission of “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers.”

Of course, children still love Dr. Seuss, and his birthday on March 2, also Read Across America Day is still an ideal time for a school-wide reading event when you can serve green eggs and ham, but with the broadened scope of NEA’s Read Across America, there are activities, resources, and ideas to keep students reading all year long.

A colorful printed calendar and an interactive resource calendar (find it at offers book suggestions for different age groups and provides ideas for applying lessons from the books to the classroom.

Kicking off this school year, the book for August 2019 was All Are Welcome Here. No matter how you start your day, what you wear, when you play. Or if you come from far away. All are welcome here.

The lively picture book sends a clear message that our public schools are places where every child is welcome. The calendar suggests hosting a community-building back-to-school event that opens opportunities for talking about individual differences, diversity, and how we can learn from each other.

Use Books Featured in the Calendar Any Time of the Year

Lubna and Pebble, the June 2020 book, explores the wrenching world of refugees where a little girl’s only friend is a treasured pebble she found on the beach she landed on with her father after fleeing war at home.

Pebble listens to her stories; its smoothness comforts her when she’s scared. But one day, Lubna realizes that a new boy in the “world of tents” might need Pebble more than she does.

Lubna and Pebble is one of the books that I am looking forward to sharing,” says Carol Bauer, a fourth-grade teacher at Bethel Elementary School in York, Va.

Bauer, who is the past chair of NEA’s Read Across America particular month, it can be shared any time during the year.

“Students in fourth grade hear the word ‘refugee’ but don’t have a good understanding of what that might mean.

This book will help with their understanding,” she says. “I also have my students collect money using the ‘Trick or Treat for UNICEF’ program. This book will be another way to allow my students to understand where the UNICEF money goes and who it helps.”

Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Feature Diverse Themes and Characters

The Hero Next Door, featured in the Read Across America calendar in the middle-grade section, reminds students that not all heroes wear capes. They can look just like them. They can even be them.

“The New Kid could have been my superhero name,” writes middle-grade novelist Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, editor of The Hero Next Door, a collection of middle-grade short stories from some of the best known diverse books authors. “School after school, classroom after classroom, playground after playground … I’d swoop in, hoping to dazzle and impress, save the day somehow.

Each time I hoped to get it exactly right; each time I got it so, so wrong.”

When she was the new kid again in sixth grade, Rhuday-Perkovich’s mother asked the principal to make sure she’d have classes with other black children. For too long, she’d gone to schools where she was the only student of color. Her mom saved the day, and the school year, which isn’t surprising. All moms are superheroes with special powers, she says.

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Rhuday-Perkovich writes, “These are the stories of everyday heroes in our midst, the ones in plain sight and those yet to be discovered. In ways big and small, these stories motivate, inspire, make us laugh, and, yes, cry. Do you know all the heroes in your life? How are you a hero to someone else? To your community? To the world? It’s my hope that these stories remind you of the power you have to speak up, sit down, and stand with, to do and be a hero in
your own unique way.”

All students, no matter what their background or personal story, should be celebrated and that’s exactly what NEA’s Read Across America hopes to achieve with its calendar and selection of diverse books.

“NEA believes diverse literature enables students to see themselves as the heroes of the story, while also showing them that all kinds of people can be the heroes too,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It is important that we emphasize books that are telling children of color or of different gender identities that they belong in the world and the world belongs to them.”

The Calendar is a Jumping Off Point For Deeper Lessons

With an entire year of book suggestions for kindergartners up to high school seniors, educators can deepen lessons across the curriculum, using the books to broaden students’ understanding of history, the arts and music, science and environment, social studies, and current events.

Cliff Fukuda, Read Across America Advisory Committee member and history teacher at Aiea High School in Aiea, Hawaii, says the books in the calendar provide educators with “a jumping off point to explore all sorts of themes and cultures, from simply learning about an unfamiliar experience or culture to comparing and contrasting personal experiences with those featured in the books.”

“The books featured in the calendar are only the tip of the iceberg of diverse literature and diverse authors,” Fukuda says. “Teachers who may be unsure how to branch out into other types of cultures and literature can use the books in the calendar to start with, then explore further as they research and find other great readings with similar ideas, cultures, and themes. The calendar can point you in a direction, and teachers, resourceful and curious as they are, can fly from there.”

Ready, Set, Read Across America! 
It’s as easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3 to plan for Read Across America Day in March and get involved in year-round reading fun in
your community:

A.  Review the recommended titles in this calendar and the
Read Across America poster.

B.  Choose from event activity ideas in the calendar and
at that best fit your school or
community. Plan one big March event or schedule monthly
reading fun—or plan both!
C.  Look for ways to tie-in featured books and activities to
existing events on your school calendar and your curriculum.


1.Use these titles and resources whenever and however it works best for you. These books and activities can fit anywhere, anytime of year.

2. Get inclusive stories for your students through First Book! Visit the NEA Read Across America section on the First Book Marketplace to find titles featured in the calendar and the poster, as well as other great, high-quality titles. First Book makes these titles available at affordable prices to educators serving children in need. (Look for titles not available from First Book at Scholastic)

3. Need more help? Join us on Facebook and visit for ideas to help you celebrate reading on special days, every month, or on Read Across America Day, along with helpful promotional and communication tools—like our new Read Across America logo.

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Educators, Parents Derail Charter Industry Scheme to Defy Will of Voters

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters rejected Question 2, a ballot referendum financed by the charter school industry to raise the cap on charter school expansion. The vote, 62 percent to 38 percent, wasn’t close, sending a clear signal across the state that public education wasn’t for sale.

To the surprise of … well, no one, school privatization advocates didn’t get the message. Charter school CEOs and their allies licked their wounds and regrouped. An opportunity soon presented itself in New Bedford, Mass., where a 2018 proposal to expand one charter school soon morphed into a transparent scheme to pry open the door to a statewide expansion.

“It was an attempted end run around the will of voters,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “But our members and the alliances were at the ready.”

Educators and parents launched an unrelenting campaign against a proposal they believed was tantamount to extortion. By May 2019, the plan had stalled in the legislature and charter school advocates soon abandoned the effort.

The proposal—a deal brokered behind closed doors—was dangerous on many fronts. Most alarming to public school activists was the plan to carve out an attendance zone for the Alma Del Mar charter school, making it the first neighborhood charter school in the state. Students in the proposed zone would, by default, become charter school students.

“In what world is it acceptable to tell a child they have to go to a privately-run charter school?” asked State Representative Chris Hendricks.

Alma Del Mar would have been the first neighborhood charter school, but most definitely not the last, said teacher and activist Cynthia Roy.

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”

Coercion, Not Innovation

The drastic underfunding of New Bedford public schools is visible to anyone who visits a campus, says New Bedford parent Ricardo Rosa.

“You would immediately see tiles hanging or falling from the ceiling. Certain schools don’t run air conditioning in classrooms or hallways. We have schools built on toxic sites…We’re underfunded by about $40 million every year.”

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”- Cynthia Roy, teacher and co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools

And yet, in late 2018 lawmakers were considering a mind-boggling 1,200-seat expansion for Alma Del Mar, in a city that was already losing more than $15 million every year to charter schools.

“The financial hit this would have delivered to our schools would have been devastating,” said Rosa, co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools (NBCSOS), a grassroots organization of families, community activists, and educators.

The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the New Bedford Education Association, helped sink the proposal soon after it was unveiled.

That wasn’t the end of it. In January, a deal engineered by Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, Alma Del Mar CEO Will Gardner, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Schools Superintendent Thomas Anderson emerged from behind closed doors. Hailed as a “compromise,” the new plan would actually have a more far-reaching impact than the original expansion.

Although the number of new seats would be reduced to around 400, the new proposal would allow Alma del Mar to open a new campus at a former city elementary school property (at no cost) and enroll students within a neighborhood attendance zone, instead of using a citywide lottery. Students would automatically be enrolled in Alma Del Mar unless their parents opted out – but that would still require the approval of the superintendent.

Because the proposal signified a major shift in charter school policy, existing state law would have to be changed. In a dubious maneuver designed to skirt this process, sponsors presented the proposal to the state legislature in the form of a home-rule petition, setting the stage for a dangerous precedent.

“It would have allowed that substantive changes to education policy or charter school finance can be done through maneuvers which evade scrutiny, favor the charter industry, and subvert the will of the people,” said Roy.

Furthermore, if the deal was rejected, the state made it clear it would move ahead and grant Alma Del Mar a 594-seat expansion.

“The whole plan was based on coercion,” Rosa said. “This was a model for survival to skirt citizen resistance. It had nothing to do with innovation.”

Throwing Sand Into the Gears

It was clear to MTA that the charter industry was eyeing a “portfolio model” for New Bedford. A competition-based strategy championed by privatization advocates and already implemented in some cities, portfolio models carve up districts into smaller, individual “portfolios,” which are then “diversified” with more options for parents and students. Unaccountable charter schools and private schools usually flourish, while public schools are squeezed out.

As columnist Clive McFarlane wrote in May, if the New Bedford’s home rule petition was approved, “you can be sure that charter school entrepreneurs will be drawn to the city like gold miners of old to San Francisco.”

Luckily, the coalition that led the charge to defeat Question 2 two years earlier was still very much intact and ready to mobilize.

“There’s no question that that campaign motivated and educated parents and community members across the state,” Najimy recalled. “Everyone was ready.”

The strong partnership between MTA and NBCSOS was critical in lifting the barriers that can hamper a successful resistance.

“It was seamless because of a shared commitment to democratic principles and quality public education,” said Roy, a NBCSOS co-chair.

Coalition leaders held community forums and canvassed neighborhoods not only to engage parents and others about the dangers of the proposal and privatization in general, but also discuss what it takes to build a quality public school system.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy (center) listens to a New Bedford parent at a community forum to discuss the charter school expansion. (Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools)

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” recalls Rosa. “The turnout at these events was tremendous. It was multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-generational. …These communities were all pushing back, saying ‘no, we do not want this.’”

It was important that the coalition “moved the table,” Rosa added, so that dialogues could be held in families’ homes and in their schools to include as many people in the conversation and empower them to take action.

MTA worked closely with the New Bedford Education Association to provide necessary resources on the ground and kept the pressure on wavering lawmakers in the legislature to reject the home rule petition.

In May, MTA and NBCSOS filed a lawsuit arguing that, by appropriating public money or property toward an entity that is not publicly owned and operated, the proposal violated the state constitution. The suit also charged that the proposal would “open the door wide to political abuse stripping poorer municipalities of their assets.”

Every step of the way, said Najimy, the goal was to “throw sand into the gears, and we did. And it worked.”

Indeed, by April 2019, the public confidence expressed by the plan’s sponsors began to wane. The home-rule bill was on life support, and on May 31, they pulled the plug.

The demise of this particular scheme followed another setback dealt to the charter industry in Massachusetts earlier in the year. In February, educators and parents in Haverhill were successful in stopping the creation of a 240-seat Montessori charter school that would have siphoned off more than $1.6 million a year from district public schools.

With each defeat, charter industry allies grumbled in the media about lawmakers “doing the bidding” of the union and paid professional organizers – compelling evidence, said Najimy, that they have yet to grasp the growing resistance in communities to the privatization agenda.

“This proposal was defeated because of parents’ activism. As a union, we used our power, but we used it to support families and communities who were vehemently opposed to a charter school expansion and model that they knew was detrimental to public schools.”

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Don’t Junk Your Old School Bus, Repurpose it!

Birmingham City Schools Transportation Shop Foreman Anthony Gary with Alabama Education Association UniServ Director LaMonica Harris.

When Birmingham City Schools decommissioned Bus 90-36 after more than 25 years of service, BCS Transportation Shop Foreman Anthony Gary proposed a new idea.

“Once a bus gets past a certain age, the district would junk it. But we said, ‘Let us take it and do something good with it’,” Gary recalls. The district agreed, and a unique project got under way, led by Gary and his whole team at the district’s transportation shop.

“All the fellows decided to come together and take on this project, to use this bus as a dropout recovery program,” he explains. “Everybody’s not going to go to college, so we promote career technology. We want to show students that they can do anything they want to do with their hands.”

The project plan was simple: to renovate and modify the bus (nicknamed “Shorty”) in the various ways that would illustrate the skills and accomplishments available through studies in career technology.

“What we wanted to do is promote career technology, demonstrate to children in the Birmingham schools that there’s another option — if they’re not going to college — besides doing nothing,” Gary says.

A video plays on a screen inside the bus, showing the evolution of the bus. “We did it from the inside-out, upside-down, painted it right here — and did it all for free,” he declares. “It didn’t cost the board anything. Our vendors got on board because they understood what we were trying to do with career technology.”

Among the renovations, the team installed hardwood floors, nearly a dozen flat-screen video monitors, and a state-of-the-art sound system. Every surface, from floor to ceiling, was repainted and polished to a high shine. New LED lighting was mounted on the walls and ceiling, even under the hood and below the engine.

“Shorty” now has hardwood floors, nearly a dozen flat-screen video monitors, and a state-of-the-art sound system.

When Shorty was finished in 2017, district recognized the transportation department’s achievement and initiative with a luncheon, and its debut was captured in a published collection of photographs.

“We had a ball,” Gary says. “The career tech folks came over, brought the kids. We did a lot of training here in the shop, let them have hands-on opportunities, showed them we need skilled people in this world.”

“We show that you can paint if you want to, be a mechanic, lay hardwood flooring, install a sound system, install video equipment and all, if you put your mind to it,” he adds.

This year, the team showed Shorty in the “World of Wheels,” a regional car show that comes to Birmingham annually.

“We’re definitely very proud of Shorty,” Gary explains. “We entered Shorty in the show, so we could show everyone what Birmingham City Schools is all about, that we could get together and do something positive for our kids.”

When the day’s trophies were awarded, Shorty won first place in its category. The trophy now stands in the shop’s office, and a sign announcing the award hangs over the office door.

For now, only mechanics are allowed to drive Shorty, in part because its drivers must have CDL licenses. Due to its modifications, the state won’t allow it to be used for its original purpose: transporting students. “We chopped the seats, lowered it four inches. But we can carry the bus to schools, set it up, and let students see what they have the opportunity to do if they decide not to go to college.

Offering a tour of Shorty in the center of the shop, Gary opens wide its rear door to reveal a video monitor mounted on the inside, facing rearward.

“Now it’s an outdoor classroom,” he says. “You can seat 15 or 16 children inside, put more seats outside, and use the USB ports to plug in your technology and show lessons on the video screens if you want.”

Students have responded positively. “They love it. They climb in and out of it, look it over, sit down. We’re definitely real proud of it.”

The district is forward-thinking about preparing students and educators for the digital age.

“Birmingham City Schools has always been innovative when it comes to advancing educators to the technology age,” says Alabama Education Association President Sherry Tucker. “Our members have learned through technology how to balance and create financial reports, enroll students, create lunch numbers, create class schedules, allow students to take tests on computers and now they have made technology mobile. BSC is a pacesetter and model for all schools in the State of Alabama when advancing technology.”

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Teacher Spending on School Supplies: A State-by-State Breakdown

Spending their own money on school supplies is for teachers as integral a back-to-school ritual as classroom seating arrangements, new lesson plans, meeting parents, etc.  At a time when they are standing up for more education funding and a fair salary, public school educators continue to dip into their own pockets – to the tune of at least $459 every year, according to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

This figure, writes EPI economist Emma García in a blog post, “does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts …The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9 percent) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.”

Nine out of 10 educators will not be reimbursed for their back-to-school purchases, whether it’s pencils, notebooks, whiteboards, posters, even software.

García looked at data from the 2011-12 and 2015-16 Schools and Staffing Survey survey, The earlier survey was a little more useful because it included state-by-state data. The numbers in the map – adjusted for inflation – are not indicative of a post-Great Recession spike, notes García, because spending by teachers increased in subsequent years. The 2015-16 survey shows that teachers spent on average $479 on school supplies.

California educators forked over about $664 annually. Spending by North Dakota educators came in at $327.

García says these discrepancies do not suggest that educators in certain states are more altruistic or dedicated than their colleagues elsewhere.

Educators Speak Out on Buying Their Own School Supplies
In 2018, NEA asked educators to share their #OutOFMyPocket stories – how much they spend annually on classroom supplies, what they purchase, and why they believe it’s necessary to dig so deep into their own paychecks.

“State-by-state spending differences are likely due to a combination of factors, including students’ needs, how schools are funded in the state, the cost of living in the state, and other factors.”

García points out that the lowest percentage of educators spending their own money on school supplies without compensation isn’t low at all – 91% in Mississippi.

“The dollar amounts and shares paint a unifying, generalized pattern of generosity across the country,” she writes.

Unsurprisingly, teachers in high-poverty schools shell out more of their own money. In 2015-16, these educators spent $523 compared to the $434 average for low-poverty schools.

While the dollar figures are too high, the fact that educators are spending their own money on school supplies isn’t “in and of itself a major problem,” says García. Teachers are excited about the new school year and want their classrooms to be enriching learning environments.

Still, reimbursed spending is another burden educators take on as other pressures continue to mount, “potentially affecting perceptions of the teaching profession, teacher recruitment, and teacher retention,” García writes.

That is why it is necessary, says Ryan Knight, a music teacher in Indiana, to call attention to the great lengths educators go for their students.

“I do these things out of love for my kids and I don’t ask for a refund from anyone. But I think the community ought to know the real amount of money teachers are putting into their classroom, school, and kids’ overall education.”

Source: Economic Policy Institute



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ESP Rights In the Spotlight on the World Stage

Education International gave voice to education support professionals across the globe at its 8th Annual World Congress held last month in Bangkok, Thailand.

Education International (EI) is a 400-member federation of global teachers’ trade unions representing 32 million education personnel, and its World Congress is a meeting of the decision-making body that determines the policy, programs, and budget for the organization.

This year the World Congress voted unanimously in support of the rights and status of Education Support Personnel (ESP) and to officially declare May 16th as World ESP Day to recognize their work and contribution to quality education.

Attending the congress was an NEA delegation that include ESP members Lois Yukna and Saul Ramos. Ramos, a paraeducator from Massachusetts and the 2017 ESP of the year, addressed the World Congress in favor of the resolution to support ESPs. NEA Today spoke to Ramos about his experience at EI.

What was your goal in addressing Education International’s World Congress?

Saul Ramos: I wanted to convey to the Congress that ESPs are a vital part of public education and how we all need to work together, not only in our schools but in our unions. I wanted them to know how proud I am to be a part of NEA and to set NEA as an example of equality for all educators — that ESP members are recognized as partners and colleagues and are celebrated and honored. Speaking to a World Congress with representation from over 170 countries is something that I never would have imagined doing, and to have them vote unanimously in favor of the resolution and understand the importance of was beyond emotional. I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

How did your address impact other ESPs from around the world?

Saul Ramos at the EI World Congress in Thailand in July.

SR: I met leaders from other countries interested in organizing their ESP colleagues. A leader from Italy told me they have organized their ESPs but was interested in the NEA model and asked for more information. A leader from Africa told me my speech had inspired him to begin organizing his ESPs and bring them into their union. Union leaders from around the world recognized that ESPs all have similar issues: low pay, a lack of respect, a lack of relevant professional development, and the threat of privatization. Fortunately, many countries are moving forward in recognizing their ESPs and fighting for their rights.

Did you have any “small world” moments?

SR: I spoke to a leader from the Dominican Republic who was excited I spoke Spanish so we could communicate in his home language. He asked me what state I was from and when I said Massachusetts, he lit up and said, “Really? My daughter lives in Massachusetts near Boston in a city named Worcester.” When I told him that is exactly where I live, his eyes opened wide and he said, “Oh, wow! It really is a small world after all.”

Aside from addressing the World Congress, what was another highlight of the meeting?

SR: I had the opportunity to meet EI President Susan Hopgood from Australia. When I gave my speech, she congratulated me for being the 2017 NEA ESP of the Year. Later, at the ESP Round Table, she thanked me for my speech and remarked on how much she enjoyed my conclusion: “You can’t spell ‘Respect’ without ‘ESP.’” She now has one of our NEA “rESPect” pins.

Watch Saul Ramos address the World Congress:

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Parents Continue to Stand Beside Educators In Fight for Funding

Almost eighteen months after educators ignited the #RedforEd movement to call for greater investment in our public schools, parents – and the general public – are unwavering in their support.

According to the 2019 Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 74 percent  of parents and 71 percent of all adults say they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay. Furthermore, 84 percent of parents would support a strike for more school funding, and similar numbers would support a strike for greater teacher voice in a school’s academic policies.

For the eighteenth consecutive year, adults surveyed in the PDK poll named inadequate funding as the most pressing problem facing U.S. public schools.

The PDK poll has been tracking public opinion on schools since 1969. For the first time in 18 years, the poll this year includes responses from educators.

While the #RedforEd movement has scored multiple victories in communities across the country – not only securing more education funding but also changing the national conversation around the future of public education – the movement is only getting started. Politicians now recognize that teachers and education support professionals are a force to be reckoned with, one that’s getting ready to make an impact in 2020.

“Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of NEA members and parents have stood together for the public schools our students deserve,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “And yet, while the #RedForEd movement has helped more students and educators get the support they need, today’s PDK poll should remind everyone that there is still so much more work to be done to correct the years of inadequate funding of our public schools.”

Still, as the poll results make clear, the majority of teachers remain frustrated and angry.

Sixty percent of teachers say they are unfairly paid, and 75 percent say schools in their communities are underfunded. Sixty-one percent of parents and 60 percentof all adults agree.

But as any educator will tell you, the importance of being paid close to what other college-educated professionals make is only part of the story. It’s also about respect and support. According to the PDK poll, only 52 percent of teachers say their community values them.

Feeling valued, unsurprisingly, is often connected to better pay. Among teachers who say their salary is fair, 68 percent say the community values them. If they do not believe their salary is fair, that number falls to 42 percent.

The PDK poll found that inadequate pay, stress/burnout, and lack of respect are the top three reasons why teachers have considered leaving the profession over the past few year. Fifty-four percent of teachers say their schools are underfunded have thought about making this change, compared to the 39% who say their schools are adequately funded.

A recent city-by-city analysis by USA Today found that new teachers can’t afford the median rent almost anywhere in the nation. Second, even third, jobs are commonplace. Add to undue stress and lack of support to the mix and many educators find they cannot continue in a job they otherwise love.

“Low educator pay comes at a very high cost,” Eskelsen García said. “To recruit and retain talented teachers for the long haul we have to pay them what they’re worth. In the end, it’s students who pay the price for low teacher salaries.”

PDK survey respondent Deanna, a mother of two from Colorado, agrees.

“They are the people who are with our kids day in and day out. They are rearing our children along with us. You wouldn’t want just anybody to be part of your village. Our school district rarely retains good teachers. Who would stay when they’re not being paid a livable wage?”

The 2019 PDK survey also took parents and the public’s temperature on a number of controversial, although important, issues affecting public schools.  Here are some of the findings:

  • 77 percent of parents and 75% of all adults believe that the best way to assess a school’s performance is to look at student progress over time, instead of a test score at any given time.
  • 97 percent of all adults believe schools should be teaching civics. Sixty percent of parents and 70 percent of all adults also say it should be required.
  • 58 percent of all adults say schools should offer Bible studies as an elective, and 6 percent say it should be required, totaling 64 percent who favor Bible classes in some form. Sixty-eight percent of parents and 58 percent of teachers agree.
  • Among parents, 69 percent believe mediation is an effective approach to managing school discipline, compared to 72 percent of teachers. Overall, two- thirds or more of parents, teachers, and all adults see mediation or counseling as more effective than detention or suspension.
  • A slim majority (54 percent) of parents and the public believe academics should be a school’s focus. Forty-five percent of teachers believe it should be preparing students to be good citizens, while 37 percent say academics. Only about 2 in 10 of parents, teachers and all adults say workforce preparation should the top goal.

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The Educator-Activist’s To-Do List – NEA Today

Whether you are a new or veteran educator, the start of a new school year can be overwhelming. The entire community counts on educators to set up the school, help students get situated, and solve whatever problems crop up along the way.

But your community is also counting on you to keep advocating for the resources your students deserve, by telling local, state, and federal policymakers what your kids need to succeed. The educator voice is trusted and needs to be heard.

For Alaska special education teacher Winter Marshall-Allen, being an educator-activist means calling for better school funding and restorative justice practices to ensure that her special needs students are treated fairly and receive the services they need.

Marshall-Allen uses more than just facts and figures to make her case with policymakers. It’s the personal stories that resonate, and her own story is a starting point.

“I would not have my current job and opportunities as an educator were it not for the efforts of social justice and civil rights activists who preceded me,” says Marshall-Allen. “I had an Individualized Education Plan for visual impairment thanks to the American with Disabilities Act. Now, I am able to advocate for those who might be seen as less able or undeserving because they differ from societal expectations.”

True, it can be hard to find time for advocacy work, which can be emotionally taxing. But it’s worth it, says Marshall-Allen.

“Fighting with one’s heart is the most rewarding and significant display of love we can show our students,” she says. “Advocating for education and seeing how that affects my community and my students reaffirms that the struggle is worth it.”

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Add Everyone Who Represents You to Your Mobile Contacts

Include all elected leaders—from your district school board members to your members of Congress—with their D.C. and back-home office numbers! Be ready to hold them accountable, and thank them when they do right by public schools.

Get the News that Public School Advocates Need is an essential resource that helps busy educators stay in-the-know on state and national politics, legislation, and events that affect public education. It offers quick and easy ways to support good initiatives, speak out against bad ones, and to share your story with decision makers.

Follow EdVotes on Facebook and Twitter and you won’t miss a beat. For more on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, sign up for NEA’s Education Insider. You’ll receive federal legislative updates on the topics of most interest to you, plus action alerts to let you know when it’s time to reach out to the folks who represent you in Congress.

Finally, check out your state association website and make sure you’re taking advantage of the insights and information their political experts have to offer. Follow your state association on social media and sign up for legislative newsletters or text alerts.

Start Spreading the Word

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Make sure everyone in your networks knows that you care passionately about public education—and show them how they can help us defend it!

“Like” Speak Up for Education & Kids, and share EdVotes articles on Facebook and Twitter (follow our feed!). And make sure you’re connected to your state association’s social media, too.

But don’t forget what always works best—face-to-face conversations are still the most potent tool for engaging others. Activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family, colleagues and people you meet. By knowing your issues and actively listening to what others have to say, you are more likely to encourage others to get involved in the fight to invest in our public schools.

Make Your Voice Heard in the 2020 Presidential Election

November 2020 is more than a year away, you say? True, but the presidential candidates are defining their education policy right now, and will soon debate the issues.

That’s why NEA has already launched its Strong Public Schools 2020 campaign. Now is the time for educators to get involved and ensure that their voices are heard—by their union, by the presidential candidates, and within their own communities.

Go to to:
• Find information about the 2020 candidate and compare their positions on important issues;
• Find events hosted by presidential candidates and NEA;
• Learn about every step of NEA’s candidate recommendation process

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At NEA Representative Assembly, Educators Prepare to Make an Impact in 2020

Galvanized by the historic mobilization of public school educators that caught the attention of the entire nation, educators converged on the George E. Brown convention center in Houston, Texas on July 4 for the 157th National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA). The theme of the 2019 RA was Our Democracy. Our Responsibility. Our Time! After four busy and exciting days, the more than 6,000 delegates left Houston ready to carry the momentum of the #RedforEd movement into 2020 and play a pivotal in choosing the next president.

“This movement has created something better for millions of students and educators, but it’s bigger than that,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told delegates in her keynote address. ” We’ve created something better for communities—for this country that we love.”

And that unnerves people like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the army of billionaires who are funding the school privatization schemes that driver her agenda. But if we are to bring real change, Eskelsen García said, we need to look to the top.

Electing a new U.S. president in November 2020, she said, should be a priority of anyone who cares about public education. And public school educators should not shy away from working toward that goal.

“Political action isn’t subversive,” Eskelsen García said. “It’s the essence of democracy. … We will use our collective power to listen and learn and teach and reach and engage and organize and convince.”

At this year’s RA, NEA took a big first step in leading the conversation around public education and Election 2020 with the #StrongPublicSchools presidential forum.

For two hours, ten presidential hopefuls – former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren – made their case to the delegates (and viewers nationwide who watched the forum via livestream). They fielded questions from NEA members on everything from education funding, privatization, testing, school safety, and student debt.

Although NEA members undoubtedly had their preferred candidates, most came away impressed by the substantive conversation and the fact that – as Eskelsen García pointed out in her opening remarks – while educators were hearing from the candidates, “the candidates were listening to you.”

“They have clearly been listening to teachers,” said Oklahoma teacher Brendan Jarvis. “Only a strong and large organization can make an event like this possible, and give teachers a seat at the table in the next administration.”

‘Our Kids Deserve Better’

Taking a seat at the table (and keeping it) is a goal shared by all teachers and education support professionals, said 2019 NEA ESP of the Year Matthew Powell. Powell, a custodial supervisor in Kentucky and one of the most politically active educators in the state, addressed the RA on July 6.

“I want to remind all of us of the influence and power we have in the lives of our students, in our schools, and our communities,” he said. “That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways …Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”

National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson carried the inspiring message forward with a powerful speech later in the afternoon. Robinson, a social studies in a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, made an impassioned plea for diversity, inclusion and greater educational opportunities for our most vulnerable students.

“We have hit the point of a national emergency, as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over this great nation, and we need leaders who are willing to stand with us,” Robinson said.

In his closing, Robinson put lawmakers across the country on notice.

“Thousands of students, teachers, parents, and administrators are stepping up and saying enough is enough. And I promise you your judgement day will not be on your final day on this earth, but on Election Day when millions of Americans–led by every single person in this crowd-march to the polls, break down the doors, kick you out of office and say our kids deserve better!”

Strong and effective activism sometimes starts with a strong image. Hundreds of delegates discovered that when they visited a designated area in the hall, where artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers helped them create powerful protest art for signs, posters, and parachute banners.

“Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement,” said Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

John Stocks, in his last address as NEA executive director, urged the delegates and educators everywhere to embrace their growing power. “We need you to come together and make this country whole. Our democracy is calling out for social justice patriots.

“Let’s be perfectly honest. An educator can do more for our democracy in five minutes than some lawmakers can do over their entire career,” said Stocks.

Dolores McCracken, former president of the Pennsylvania Education Association, posthumously received the NEA’s highest honor, the NEA Friend of Education Award. McCracken’s two adult children accepted the award.

The RA awarded David Schneider, a communications professor at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in University Center, Mich., as the 2019 Higher Educator of the Year.

What Democracy Looks Like

It wouldn’t be an RA, however, without New Business Items, lots and lots of New Business Items. The RA is a democratic body, so delegates spend most of their time debating and voting on new NBI’s – policies, resolutions, amendments that will direct much of the Association’s work in the coming year.

This year, delegates adopted more than 60 out of 160 proposed, dealing with topics as far ranging as the impact of technology on students, the opioid crisis, immigration advocacy, charter school “co-location,” and ethnic studies.

RA delegates also elected two educators to NEA’s Executive Committee, the Association’s highest-level governing body. Robert Rodriguez, a special education teacher from San Bernardino, Calif., and a champion for diversity and LGBTQ rights in schools, was re-elected to a second two-year term.

RA delegates debate a New Business Item.

The newest member of the executive committee is Christine Sampson-Clark of New Jersey, also a special education teacher.

“I’m honored to join NEA’s Executive Committee and look forward to representing the voices of my fellow education professionals in this role,” said Sampson-Clark. “Our members deserve professional respect as well as the resources needed to provide all our students with great schools. NEA is vital to these goals.”

RA delegates got the chance on the last day to say hello to NEA’s new executive director, Kim Anglin Anderson, who effective Sept. 1 will replace John Stocks. Anderson was previously with NEA for 15 years, creating and leading NEA’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach in 2016 before leaving to serve as executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance.

In a brief address to the RA, Anderson told the delegates how thrilled she was to be “coming home” to the NEA.

“What’s in my heart is what’s in yours: a love of the students we serve. And the responsibility we share to instill the values of democracy and equal opportunity in order to model in our schools what a just society should look like.”

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2019 Teacher of the Year: ‘Everyone Benefits From Diversity’

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly.

Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, brought the 7,000 NEA Representative Assembly delegates to their feet on Saturday with an impassioned plea for diversity, increased opportunity for our most vulnerable students, and a day of reckoning for politicians who refuse to fully-fund public education.

“When we talk about education justice,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, “Rodney lives it every day.”

Robinson teaches social studies at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Richmond, Virginia. He became a teacher to honor his mother, who was denied the opportunity due to poverty and racism in rural Virginia.

As Robinson told RA delegates, his mother was still his greatest teacher, imparting life lessons that shaped his career as an educator – namely an early understanding of the need for equity. Not all children grow up on a level playing field and some need more help in order to achieve.

“A one-size-fits all model of equality does not work in education and education funding,” Robinson said. “Equity ensures that the students suffering from multi-generational poverty receive the same resources and education as those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.”

The staggering budget cuts that have devastated the public education system in so many parts of the country have to be reversed. “The national economy has recovered from the Great Recession and is surging at record highs.  It’s time the children of America received their fair share of the nation’s resources!” Robinson said.

Economic and resource equity is integral and long overdue, but Robinson shifted the focus of his speech to another urgent gap that deserves the same level of attention.

Cultural equity, Robinson explained, continues to be a staggering challenge for the U.S. education system.

Robinson singled out the nation’s severe shortage of teachers of color in our classrooms. While more than half of the school-age population are students of color, 80 percent of teachers are white. Study after study has demonstrated the undeniable benefits of a more diverse teacher workforce – particularly for students of color.

“We need to make sure students have teachers who look like them and values their cultures,” Robinson said. “All students deserve teachers and role models who appreciate and understand the unique gifts they bring to the table no matter their race, religion, gender status, or sexual orientation.

“We need more teachers of color in American because everyone – and I mean everyone- benefits from diversity!”

Watch Rodney Robinson’s Speech

Robinson told the delegates about TJ, one of his recent students.  TJ’s story is in many ways sadly familiar: He was born into poverty to a drug-addicted mother, misdiagnosed in school and placed in an underfunded special education program. TJ then attended a dilapidated, mold-infested, overcrowded and understaffed high school where he never received the attention he needed. He was soon arrested and convicted for a violent offense and sent to the diversion program where Robinsons teaches.

With Robinson’s help and the assistance of a full-time psychologist, TJ began to show real signs of progress.

“We were able to give him the academic, mental, and social help he needed to be better because we are a fully funded school with teachers who look like him and understand his culture,” Robinson told the delegates.

Still, Robinson is worried. TJ will soon return to the same underfunded, understaffed school that was unable to provide him with the attention and resources he needs.

“He doesn’t have any counseling at the school to improve his mental health,” Robinson said. “I hope it works out for him but it doesn’t look good. He needs special resources and they are not available to him… Why does a kid have to go to jail to get a full-funded school and the resources they need to be successful?”

Robinson closed his address with a powerful plea for educators everywhere to join their colleagues already on the frontlines to step up and say “enough is enough!”

“We have hit the point of a national emergency …I ask the legislators of America, what is your life’s blueprint when it comes to the kids of this country?” Robinson said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King.

“I promise you, your judgement day will not be on your final day on this earth but on election day when millions of Americans led by every single person in this crowd march to the polls, break down the doors, kick you out of office and say “Our kids deserve better!”

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NEA Representative Assembly Honors 2019 ESP of the Year

2019 ESP of the Year Award Matthew Powell addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 6, 2019.

Matthew Powell, the 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year, took the stage at the NEA Representative Assembly on Saturday. Introducing him to the almost 7,000 delegates gathered in the George E. Brown Convention Center in Houston, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García commended Powell for his “commitment to public education and our students.”

“Technically, he has the title of custodial supervisor,” Eskelsen García added. “But that is just one of the many hats this talented man wears.”

In addition to his work as a custodial supervisor, Powell is also the night watchman and fills in as a bus driver when the district needs substitute drivers. He works at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Powell, who was named ESP of the Year at the annual NEA ESP national conference in March, is a passionate advocate for teaching the whole child—and for the critical role ESPs play in that effort. In his speech to the RA, Powell highlighted the lasting impact every school staff member has on students and their community.

“My ‘class’ includes all 538 of the students in my school,” Powell told the delegates. “My classroom is on the bus, in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the halls, at the outside koi fish pond, and many other places around the school.”

Powell took time in his speech to salute four educators—a teacher, a bus driver, a “lunch lady,” and a school custodian—who affected him growing up and helped him become the educator he is today.

“What these educators really did was create an atmosphere where I felt supported, fed, and safe. They created an environment for me to enjoy and thrive in school. They had different roles, but they seized their unique opportunity to make a positive difference in my life,” Powell said.

Powell recounted how in May 2016 a tornado swept across western Kentucky, leveling large swaths of Graves County, where he teaches. While his school was spared, Powell and his colleagues sprang into action to help the community recover, assisting in the delivery of supplies to students and their families.

Sharing this story with delegates was not intended as a “trip down memory lane,” Powell said.

“I want to remind all of us of the influence and power we have in the lives of our students, in our schools, and our communities. That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways,” he said, to applause from delegates.

Powell, a dedicated political activist for public schools in Kentucky, pointed to the powerful alliance between teachers and ESPs in igniting the #RedFor Ed movement across the country.

“ESPs have valuable experience and expertise that should inform our schools about decisions made inside our schools,” Powell said.  “We know our students well and many of us live in the community where we work…We deserve a seat at every table where policies and decisions are made that impact our work,our students and our communities that we serve.”

Powell was a vocal advocate for the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees (RISE) Act, which acknowledges the outstanding contributions of ESPs and classified school employees in the nation’s schools.

“It established the first-ever federal recognition of ESPs,” Powell told delegates. “It was a victory that would not have been possible without the educators who reached out to members of Congress and shared their voice. It was an amazing achievement, but one that was long overdue.”

Quoting Helen Keller, Powell urged delegates to remember that “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

“We must keep using our collective voice and telling our stories to elevate our profession and demand what we need for our students,” Powell said, in closing. “Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”

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Energizing Educator Activism With Art Build

Art Build at the Experience Area during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 7, 2019

Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson found her happy place at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in the delegate experience area, where paintbrush in hand and dozens of cups of paints around her, she put the final daubs on a fabric panel saying “Fund Public Education.”

“I love it. I feel like, especially as an elementary art teacher, we’re often forgotten, and art is so incredibly important,” said Gustafson. “Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement.”

While attending the annual meeting, this year in Houston, Tex., hundreds of NEA members worked with artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers to create and contribute to graphic depictions of collective action. Together, they turned massive parachutes into protest banners saying, “Ready to Strike” and “Red for Ed,” or painted patches with slogans like, “Teachers—We Work for The People” and “Public Schools—The Heart of Our Community,” to take back to their classrooms and communities.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

The RA-based “art build” is the latest in a line of art builds across the country, supported by NEA and organized jointly by Art Build Workers and local unions, such as the United Teachers of Los Angeles, California’s Oakland Education Association, and the Prince George’s County Education Association in Maryland. The way it works is that the professional artists associated with Art Build Workers first talk to union leaders and community members about the needs of their community, brainstorming slogans and images, and then they work with local educators, parents, students and others to create the art that amplifies their message and goals.

“I want them to feel connected to something larger,” said Paul Kjelland, a Milwaukee artist and Art Build Workers member who manned the screen printers in Houston, churning out hundreds of fabric panels that delegates could finish with their own brushed paints. “Especially when we’re working with unions prepping for strikes, we want to bring people together. We want to create a safe space where educators and community members can bridge gaps in their community, spend time together, and make something together that’s meaningful.”

Ashley Whyte

Often, what’s most important is not the art itself, but the process of making it, said Milwaukee art teacher Jeannette Arellano, who provided the template for the “ready to strike” parachute, based on an image of her sister, a Houston community organizer. “Gaining community, building relationships—that’s the powerful part.”

The first art builds were done in Milwaukee, in partnership with Voces de la Frontera, a local advocacy group. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) members assisted with the process, and were inspired to do the same for state budget hearings, said Joe Brusky, a MTEA member who travels with Art Build Workers to document their work in photographs. In 2017, at the Wisconsin State Capitol, they built 600 picket signs and two parachute banners to carry through the streets.

Last year, art builds supported #RedforEd strikes in Oakland, California, and in Los Angeles, where hundreds of community members, over three days, created eight 24-foot parachute banners, 1,600 silk-screened picket signs, 1,000 posters, and 30 banners that decried school privatization and corporate greed, and championed smaller class sizes.

At the RA, Ohio kindergarten teacher Ashley Whyte selected a “Fund Our Schools” panel to paint. “I am crafty, but I am not an artist,” she said. “But I was attracted to this because it gives me some time to sit and relax and create art for my classroom.”

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Threatened and Attacked By Students: When Work Hurts

Shannon Macaulay, teacher at Meadowbrook High School. (Photo: Luis Gomez)

The student was extremely upset about something. A paraeducator approached him to inquire. In response, the student kicked her squarely in the stomach. She fell to the floor gasping for air.

Fortunately, Danielle Fragoso and another teacher were in that
cooking class last summer. The two teachers had no choice but to try
and restrain the student. He began to scream, kick, and punch. Fragoso was hit in an eye.

It got worse. The student eventually grabbed a large chef ’s knife from the counter.

“I was able to grab hold of the hand with the knife right around the wrist area,” Fragoso recalls. “He kept trying to stab me and the other teacher.”

At one point, the student started screaming to no one in particular asking why it seemed so difficult to out-fight two women.

“He was also shouting that he wanted us dead,” says Fragoso, a special education teacher at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Conn. “After 15 minutes, we finally got the knife away and he ran out the room without cutting anyone.”

In her 15 years as a teacher, Fragoso was experienced enough to not panic at the sight of a knife-wielding student. She’d been there. A student once stabbed her in the back with a pencil, requiring Fragoso to seek medical attention.

“Luckily there were two of us or the outcome would have been much different,” she says. “My only thoughts were of my students and hoping none of them would get hurt.”

Many teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESPs) are at risk of being bitten, kicked, scratched, and punched while at work.

Some assaults are intentional acts of violence while others are the result of, for example, working with students who have mental challenges.

Whatever the circumstances, more and more educators are ending up in the emergency room. While some are forced to use their medical leave, others choose instead to resign.

“It’s not as rare an occurrence as most people might think,” Fragoso says.

Classrooms in Crisis

According to a government on school crime and safety, 10 percent of public school teachers reported being threatened with injury by a student from their school and 6 percent reported being physically attacked by a student from their school.

Published in 2018, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” was compiled by agencies from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.

“Being attacked or threatened in one’s workplace should not happen
anywhere, especially in a classroom environment, where we want our
students to feel safe and loved,” says Fragoso, who spoke earlier this year at a public hearing conducted by the Connecticut General Assembly.

More than a dozen teachers and Connecticut Education Association
(CEA) officials testified to education committee members, while more
than 100 others submitted written testimony describing behaviors that create unsafe learning environments for students.

Fragoso, CEA officials, school counselors, and other educators urged lawmakers to address the crisis of violent student behavior which is occurring in rural, urban, and suburban schools. They asked legislators to support House Bill 7110: An Act Concerning Enhanced Classroom Safety and School Climate.

CEA President Jeff Leake (top) and CEA Vice-President Tom Nicholas testify before Connecticut state lawmakers about classroom and school safety.

The bill would require schools to help students exhibiting extreme behaviors, provide increased student supports and teacher training, and address children’s mental health and social-emotional needs. Gov. Dannell Malloy vetoed a similar bill last year, but the latest proposal has been updated with more specifics.

Students as young as five are biting, kicking, punching, throwing items, urinating on teachers, and lashing out in other destructive ways that put students and others in danger, Jeff Leake, CEA president, told the committee.

“They are coming to school with complex needs, and schools don’t have the resources to address the root causes of these incidents,” he explained.

“These pieces are key, as too many of our teachers have been pressured to not report or tell others of the incidents that are happening in their classrooms.”

Tom Nicholas is a school social worker and CEA vice president. He described how last school year, in just one month’s time, he had been hit and kicked about 15 times, had a student threaten to kill him with a gun, and fractured three vertebrae trying to protect a student who had run outside the building.

Fragoso testified that she felt supported by her school district administration and was encouraged to speak out to protect her students and colleagues.

“We need systems in place not only to help teachers who are fearful of reporting incidents of threats, and to ensure that they are protected and heard, but also to provide supports and treatment to the students who need help,” she told committee members.

Insufficient Resources

Members of the Bristol-Warren Education Association (BWEA) in Rhode Island organized a sick-out in February to get the attention of school board members as well as state legislators regarding the need for more school resources officers, counselors, and therapeutic services for students.

“For three years, we went through the grievance process asking for interventions for our most needy students,” says Michelle Way DaSilva, BWEA president.

“We do not have sufficient mental health services for students experiencing trauma and who lash out in unpredictable ways.”

DaSilva recalls a recent incident where a kindergarten student hit a teacher in the arm after the teacher asked for the student’s cell phone.

Violence Against Teachers – An Overlooked Crisis?

Violence against teachers is a “national crisis,” says Dr. Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And yet, the issue is generally ignored or at least underreported by the media and given inadequate attention by scholars – a deficiency that has widespread implications for school safety, the teaching profession and student learning.

Fortunately, at that age, they are not strong enough to do serious damage. But if they are not disciplined correctly, that behavior will continue as they grow and develop, says DaSilva.

“In middle school, the number of teachers being assaulted and disrespected is getting worse,” she says. “Some of our middle school students are bigger than some teachers, so it is very unsafe for all involved.”

As in schools across the nation, the discontinuation of counselors, paraeducators, social workers, and services for special education and other needy students has caused a disrupted learning environment.

Earlier this year, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) published, “A Crisis of Disrupted Learning: Conditions in Our Schools and Recommended Solutions.”

Some assaults are intentional acts of violence while others are the result of, for example, working with students who have mental challenges. Whatever the circumstances, more and more educators are ending up in the emergency room. While some are forced to use their medical leave, others choose instead to resign.”

According to the report, disrupted learning environments occur “when student behavior significantly interferes with instruction and/or school staff members’ ability to maintain a stable classroom or ensure student safety.” At times, students can become dangerous to themselves or the classroom as a whole. These incidents can often result in clearing a classroom of students to ensure everyone’s safety.

Over three years, OEA members shared stories of extreme behaviors in Oregon schools. According to the report: “These behaviors have made classrooms feel unsafe for students and educators, and everyone is feeling their impact. Student needs are going unmet and educators have very real concerns about whether they can provide safe, welcoming and inclusive learning environments for all with the resources they have.”

“The issue was not being addressed,” says DaSilva, a teacher for 23 years, the last 21 at Kickemuit Middle School. “So, naturally, it was getting worse.”

In May, DaSilva and BWEA agreed to withdraw several grievances after school administrators signed a memorandum ensuring that viable plans would be put in place.

“We want to get students what they need to be successful,” DaSilva says. “We also want our schools to be safe.”

Reaching Out

In Minnesota, a bill introduced in 2016 would have required school boards to automatically expel a student who threatened or inflicted bodily harm on an educator for up to a year. The bill was introduced in part as a response to a 2015 incident in St. Paul in which a high school student began to strangle a teacher after slamming the teacher into a concrete wall. The teacher suffered a traumatic brain injury.

The bill died in committee after fierce opposition from Education Minnesota (EM) and other state education groups, which instead promote restorative practices as a response to student discipline.

James Parry is the supervisor of the REACH program at Stewartville Middle and High School. The acronym stands for: Relationships, Education, Accountability, Character, Hard Work. The REACH class at Stewartville is an elective for students in seventh through 12th grades. It follows a restorative practices model that helps students to understand and take responsibility for their actions, rather than be punished under zero-tolerance policies. For his part, Parry considers students who may suffer from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and the effects of poverty, such as housing or food insecurity.

James Parry supervises the REACH program at Stewartville Middle and High School.

“Just yesterday, I was in our school cafeteria for lunch duty when I heard one of the food service workers scream for help,” Parry recalls from a May incident. “I turned to see two boys in a physical fight, one of them from REACH.”

Parry calmly stepped in between the two students and said: “Really?”
The student in the REACH program later approached Parry.

“He apologized and said he knew he was wrong, but that he just “flipped his lid” in response to remarks from the other student,” Parry says.

“Sometimes conflicts like this are between students and sometimes a teacher is involved.”

The student eventually apologized to the service worker.

“This is unbelievable growth for this student,” says Parry, who was
awarded the 2019 EM Human Rights Award. “In REACH, we (adults) focus on things like gratitude, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, honesty, integrity, and perseverance as a way to connect with students about real life.”

For students, Parry stresses that all people, at whatever age, have stressors in their lives that sometimes get the best of them.

“I identify roadblocks, triggers, and our responses to them,” Parry says.

“It is not any one trigger that makes one “flip their lid” and be aggressive or violent at school.”

It is when these triggers “pile on top of each other that it becomes difficult to control our emotions,” Parry explains.

In his own case, Parry shares with students that any combination of three or four of the following are too much for him: Tired, hungry, thirsty, rushed.

“I am good with one to two of those, but add the third and maybe a
fourth, … it is just too much,” he says.

“We (educators) need to regulate ourselves first if we really want to help our students do the same.”

When discussing restorative practices with teachers, Parry stresses that “when a student comes into the classroom agitated, it is rarely the teacher who has caused this. It is something that happened earlier in the day, at home last night, or something in their near future that they are worried about. We have the power to offer unconditional love and non-judgmental support. Combined, these allow us to put our students in a better mindset to be able to engage in the educational process.

Surveying the Landscape

Sonia Smith is president of the Chesterfield Education Association (CEA) in Virginia. When it comes to students assaulting teaches and education support professionals (ESPs), she fears that many suffer in silence.

“Many do not report assaults from students for fear of retribution from administrators,” says Smith, an English teacher on fulltime release with CEA. “Our village is fractured and we need to heal the village.”

In April, a 15-year-old male student threw a backpack and two chairs at a teacher, hitting her in the face and breaking her glasses. She was rushed to the hospital. Days later, another teacher was hurt after a violent incident at another school.

Sonia Smith (Photo: Luis Gomez)

“After those two incidents, people reached out to me in private,” Smith says. “There are more incidents happening that go unreported. It’s systemic.”

The calls that Smith began receiving prompted her and three other CEA members to create an anonymous online survey to find out who in the district has experienced verbal abuse and violent assaults from students.

“We’re not asking for names,” Smith says. “The goal is to share the findings and collaborate with the school board on implementing solutions.”

The survey is comprised of seven multiple-choice questions with text boxes that invite personal stories about past incidents and how administrators responded when told.

“That’s where people open up,” Smith says.

The survey can take as little as three minutes to fill out or more depending on the level of description and number of experiences revealed by the participant.

“I feel good about the survey,” says Shannon Macaulay, an English teacher at Meadowbrook High School. “It means that central office is listening to us.”

Macaulay would like to see more policies in place that are consistently enforced across the board.

“Most of my students are pretty mature and want to graduate so they know how to behave at school,” she says. “But there are some who stare you down, walk out of class when they feel like it, and disrespect you without any consequence from the front office.”

Earlier this year, a female senior student ripped up a quiz in dramatic fashion in one of Macaulay’s classes. After that, she removed a shoe and tossed it at the teacher.

“She reached into her backpack for another shoe and then threw that one at me,” says Macaulay. “It escalated with her kicking a trash can and threatening me.”

After Macaulay called the front office, two security guards restrained the student until the police showed up. The student was handcuffed and driven away.

“This student comes to us with a lot of anger,” Macaulay says. “I have sent emails to administrators out of concern, not blame. But nothing is done.”

In cases like this, Macaulay says the survey gives her hope that district officials will develop policies on how to consistently respond to students under these circumstances.

Smith is already getting calls from the media about when the survey results will be released.

“We are going to deal with the data internally at first,” she says. “This is not a public shaming, but if the results will help legislators take action to help out students, then that would be a favorable outcome.”

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West Virginia Lawmakers Out to Punish Educators for Taking a Stand

(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

In October, the West Virginia Legislature promised to give educators a pay raise. It failed to deliver on that promise and so a special session was called to hash out the details. As many suspected, strings would be attached.

“Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation,” wrote Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, in an editorial in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “but even we’re a little shocked at how far West Virginia’s [senate] has gone to punish public school teachers and service personnel for striking two years in a row to defend their livelihoods and the kids they teach.”

On June 3, the state senate narrowly passed an amendment to its Student Succeeds Act (S.B. 1039), which does include some provisions educators support, like providing more social workers, counselors, and nurses. But the bill also comes with a heavy dose of bitter pills: banning teacher strikes, removing local control from county superintendents to close school districts for a strike, canceling extracurricular activities during work stoppages, and docking the pay of teachers and staff who go on strike—or firing them altogether.

Additionally, the bill proposes an unlimited number of charter schools and diverts public dollars toward voucher programs.

“[T]he Student Success Act … [was] never about students at all,” Lee explained. “[T]his late addition is petty and vindictive, and probably what Senate President Mitch Carmichael … wants more than anything, after being embarrassed by the teachers, school service personnel, and their unions two years in a row.”

In 2018, WVEA members statewide went on strike for nine days, which lit the fire for #RedForEd across the U.S. Thirteen months later, they showed their power again with another work stoppage over charter expansion and vouchers.

West Virginians Ignored

The Student Success Act is similar to a previous senate bill (S.B. 451) that died in the house in February 2019. The main discord between the two chambers was over charter schools and vouchers.

Wendy Peters, an elementary school teacher, told MetroNews at the time, “Some folks in leadership are more beholden to these out-of-state interests, who have poured a lot of money into this,” she said. “They let charter school and education savings account (voucher) folks have three hours to answer and ask questions in the (Senate) Finance Committee, and then they gave the teachers, the principals, and the superintendents of the state 70 seconds (each),” referring to a February public hearing.

We need to show up. I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.” – John Quesenberry, West Virginia teacher

Peters may still be right.

Charters and vouchers are back in West Virginia and have even captured the attention of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who tweeted her support for these unproven schemes.

John Quesenberry, a civics and history teacher of nearly 31 years in Beckley, W.V., has taken note, saying that DeVos’s input only “strengthens our resolve to continue to stand for our kids because we don’t want what she did in Michigan to take a foothold here.”

“When it comes down to it, Betsy DeVos doesn’t have a vote in the legislature,” he says “and that’s what we’re fighting against: people from outside of the classroom and out-of-state special interests telling us (educators) what to do.”

While DeVos may not have a vote, West Virginians do.

Remember in November

This latest attack on educators is “stressful, but it also makes people angry that a handful of politicians can dictate what they want regardless of what the people say,” explains Quesenberry.

The West Virginia Department of Education recently produced a report the captures the public’s thoughts, opinions, concerns, and expectations about public education. Thousands of West Virginians shared their resounding support for increasing teachers’ compensation, more student support services, and addressing the math teacher shortage. Charters and vouchers we’re at the bottom of the priority list.

WVEA members, however, continue to organize and work with their allies. “Bridges have been built and people are working together…it’s empowering,” says Quesenberry, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association.

Educators are now contacting their representatives and meeting with them face-to-face to push back against the provisions educators see as detrimental. They’re also organizing to show up to the state capitol on June 17, when the house is set to consider the Act.

“We need to show up,” says Quesenberry, “I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.”

Despite the outcome on June 17, the work will continue, as educators have their sights on the November 2020 election.

Linda Pentz of the Monongalia County Education Association commented via Facebook, “It’s heartbreaking to watch leaders make such poor decisions for the children of WV. It is time for WV to take control of who is representing our state.”

Officials at WVEA echo this sentiment. “The issue will not go away as long as the same people remain in place,” says WVEA President Dale Lee.

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50 Years After Stonewall: LGBTQ Pride in America’s Schools

NEA EdJustice 
Resources and stories for creating safe, affirming schools for LGBTQ students.

Take Action: Tell the Senate to Pass the Equality Act
More than half the states in the U.S. lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections, leaving millions of people subject to potential discrimination in their daily lives.

NEA’s Read Across America Calendar
Educator-recommended, age-appropriate titles that explore identity and can blend effectively into existing classroom activities and units of study.

NEA Center for Social Justice Trainings
Designed for all NEA members, particularly those committed to addressing bias around sexual orientation and gender identity, this program teaches school personnel how to create a safe school climate for students and staff.


HRC’s Welcoming Schools Program
The nation’s premier professional development program providing training and resources to elementary school educators to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students.

The national organization championing LGBTQ issues in K-12 education since 1990.

GSA Network
LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.

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Union Stands Behind Counselor Punished For Advocating For Students

High school counselor Kris Bertsch Rydell (photo: courtesy of California Teachers Association)

A Santa Rosa High School (SRHS) counselor is being punished for standing up for her students. So say students, parents, and her colleagues in the Santa Rosa Teachers Association (SRTA), who are rallying behind the highly decorated and respected veteran high school counselor, Kris Bertsch-Rydell.

As a veteran counselor, Bertsch has instructional history and knows how the counseling system works. “I’m a strong voice. I’ll advocate for my colleagues as professionals and for our students who don’t have a voice. That’s the reason I became a school counselor,” she says. “There are too many students and families who feel like they don’t have a voice. Someone’s got to speak for them.

“Now my union is speaking for me.”

Santa Rosa City Schools management filed a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct (NUC) because Bertsch is advocating for her students, says SRTA President William Lyon.

SRTA filed an unfair labor practice charge that district management discriminated against Bertsch and interfered with her rights protected under California labor law.

Management’s claims involve Bertsch asking questions about school board policies. Cited examples include sending polite, professional emails to the superintendent, school board members and SRTA leaders asking for clarification on board policies on issues such as credit recovery, online schools and new graduation requirements for math. “I asked if we can offer Pre-Algebra to make sure students are prepared. That was ‘unprofessional,’” Bertsch says with a sigh.

“As counselors, we need board policies as guidance for how we do our job. When I ask the question, I’m advocating for myself as a counselor to do my job, as well as for my students and my school. We all have the same concerns.”

I didn’t truly realize this before, that when I spoke up for my students, my union has my back.” – Kris Bertsch-Rydell

Management also charged that she used school email to do union business, which is in fact protected by California labor law. “But it’s not just union business, it’s counseling business,” she notes. “It’s related to how to do my job, so my colleagues can do their jobs.”

“I didn’t truly realize this before, that when I spoke up for my students, my union has my back,” Bertsch adds. “SRTA has stepped up in such an amazing way to help me. It validates that what I did and am doing matters. If I can’t advocate for students when I see a wrong and do something about it, I shouldn’t be sitting here. My students depend upon me to make things right for them. Or at least, to speak up and try to problem-solve in ways that will make things right for them.”

Hundreds of people have sent letters of support and showed up at school board meetings sporting orange ribbons (SRHS school colors are orange and black). Students are showering her with support.

In the school newspaper, The Santa Rosan, staff writer Emilie Davis noted that Bertsch “works tirelessly every day to make sure all of her kids are doing well, both in their classes and in their personal lives. … She did her job. She stood up for her students and did what she thought was right. She was repaid by having her job threatened.”

In the article “Why a dedicated counselor deserves to stay,” Davis noted the absurdity of district management criticizing Bertsch for using the word “dude” in an email. “It’s time the district starts walking the talk and stops punishing educators who put their kids first,” Davis wrote.

The timing of the story in the student newspaper was good, because it was a particularly low point for Bertsch.

It’s time the district starts walking the talk and stops punishing educators who put their kids first.”SRHS Student Emilie Davis

“So many times we do what we do and get negative feedback. The students’ support validates what I do every day, and my goal of serving students,” she says, adding that the student support has helped her get out of bed some mornings “because it’s been pretty stressful. I’m a pretty strong person, and I’ve gone through the grinder a few times. This has been beyond detrimental.”

SRTA’s contract calls for progressive discipline, requiring a conversation, notice, and plan for improvement before threatening discipline and termination. In this case, district management skipped the first steps.

Lyon contends this behavior is in retaliation for advocating for students by asking difficult questions. “Kris Bertsch has had fantastic reviews by the eight administrators she worked with during her 25 years in this district. She is an advocate for students, and we’re concerned district managers are trying to intimidate teachers by trying to muzzle Kris. She is being punished for standing up for her students and her profession. And that’s not acceptable.”

“When members are bullied or threatened, it has a chilling effect on their ability to speak up for themselves, each other, and their students,” adds Lyon. “The most effective way to combat this is to stand up for each other.” He is concerned about educators being bullied for supporting Bertsch, noting some of her supporters have received non-re-election notices. “We stand for respectful treatment of all SRTA educators.”

To date, district managers have not taken further disciplinary action. SRTA members and students will continue to advocate for Bertsch, they say, just as passionately as she has advocated for students and colleagues for the past 25 years.

This story originally appeared in California Educator

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How Closing Schools Traumatizes Students and Communities

A student walks down a hallway at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, on the final day of school Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. The school was one of 50 slated to be closed by the city.(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Since 2004, Oakland Unified School District has closed 16 schools and is now targeting an additional 24 by the start of the 2019-20 school year. District officials call it “right-sizing,” a term borrowed from corporate America – appropriate given that many of the shuttered schools will be converted into for-profit charters. While policymakers see failing or “bad” schools, parents, students and educators see pillars of the community that have not been adequately funded and are worth fighting for.

Closing down his school, one Oakland seventh grader testified in January, “is like putting me up for adoption ..[My school] made me who I am.”

These are scenes that have been playing out in urban school districts across the country. In 2013, Chicago announced it was closing 50 schools, 90 percent of which served all-black student populations. The plan triggered massive protests from parents, educators, students and community members.  The mobilization to save their neighborhood schools is recounted in “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” by Eve L. Ewing.

In the book, Ewing, who in addition to being an assistant professor at the University of Chicago is also a poet and podcaster, vividly describes the anger, destabilization and sense of displacement felt by the families impacted most by school closings. 

These are the voices that need to be heard as policymakers make decisions that put children’s lives on the line, Ewing says. And, as she recently told NEA Today, no amount of  bureaucratic jargon and cherry-picked data can conceal the racist underpinnings behind the top-down, punitive policies that have dominated the education agenda over the past two decades.

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard” should be read by any official who actually makes these sort of decisions, but what other audiences do you most want to reach? Did you happen to see the teacher in Boston publicly handing out copies of your book to members of the School Committee who were considering closing the school where she works?  That must have been gratifying. 

Eve L. Ewing, author of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard.”

Eve Ewing: Yes, I did see that story. The photo of the teacher holding the book up was profoundly moving. So certainly I’m interested in lawmakers reading the book, but I also wanted to reach the people who have been closely impacted by these decisions to close schools – the parents, teachers, community members. Many have told me that the find the book to be validating. It makes them feel like they didn’t dream this up, you know?  It’s really unfortunate that the world we live in makes people feel that those sort of experiences are not being legitimated. I hope the book can be a lesson for researchers to take people at their word about how they are so deeply affected.

Another audience is young people. I want them to understand the history and context of the social system in which they find themselves, but also the history and context of struggle and how the people who came before them have worked really hard to try to make a better world.

You taught in Chicago public schools. How did that experience shape the way you approached the book and your work in general?

Ewing: With all the research I do, whether it’s about school closings or anything else, I’m always trying to think about how people on the ground who are actually living with the consequences of how things actually play out.

Every public school teacher has had the eye-rolling experience of being handed something to try in your classroom where you are like, “Ok, this is not going to work.” Had anyone talked to me or had any respect for me, I could have told them that, but no one ever asked.  So I don’t want to be that researcher. I try really hard to think closely, and to ask people about their actual lived experiences, rather than assuming my own expertise.

ghosts in the schoolyard coverI also worked as an aide in a couple of other schools on the South Side. All of them were 100% black and low-income, but I saw real differences in how the teachers approached the students. I saw teachers who were punitive and, frankly, cruel, and teachers who were what we call in the literature “warm demanders” – very loving, very caring,  but also had high expectations. So I saw how the tone, tenor and climate of the schools – and how what the students were able to do – changes when someone treats them like human beings.

Reading about the sense of loss felt by students, parents and educators was difficult. This was a traumatizing experience for them. Were you prepared for that when you interviewed them and listened to their testimony?

Ewing: I think I was intellectually prepared but I don’t think there’s any way to be emotionally prepared. Because some of these experiences were mirrored in my own life, I sort of knew what to expect. But I spent lot of time listening to recordings of children crying. On a very visceral level, that’s very difficult, but it’s important for me to have that perspective.

Yeah, people tell me all the time that reading the book was upsetting. But that affective reality, that sort of emotional reality, should be part of the calculus when we make these decisions that impact the lives of children so deeply. So no, while the trauma experienced by these families wasn’t surprising to me, it might be surprising to the people who were the engineers of this policy.

The avoidance to talk about the role of race in any of these decisions is pretty strong, right? 

This community’s choice to resist a school being characterized as “failing” is in fact about much more than the school itself: it is about citizenship and participation, about justice and injustice, and about resisting people in power who want to transform a community at the expense of the people who live there.” – From Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s Southside by Eve L. Ewing

Ewing:  People are comfortable talking about race when they are talking about how some racial groups are not performing up to par, when it’s through the lens of talking about deficits that are perceived in students of color, particularly black students.

It would be a different if we pushed ourselves to talk about race and education policy in terms of the way that current policies reinscribe and reinforce racial inequalities, and the way the education system interacts with other stratified systems in our society to ensure that students don’t have the same resources or opportunities based on race.

There’s a difference between talking about race and talking about racism. Scholars before me have established that that sort of deflection can in many ways be a racist tactic. The idea that it’s not racism, it’s this other thing, has been a very effective way of silencing any sort of critique.

As you say in the book, racism can be just as much, if not more, about the outcome as opposed to the intent. To what extent has it saturated our recent education policies?

Ewing: Well, the speaker goes to 11! To me, these questions are entirely about race. What underlies all these supposed reforms has so much to do with how much we control black people, how we control black children, how we assimilate immigrant groups, how we commit cultural genocide against native people. All of these in their way are the underlying projects of school reform.

“We Need to Be Disruptors of Institutional Racism in Our Schools”
To tackle institutional and systemic racism, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the South by SouthWest conference in March, we have to be aware of every part of the system, including the silence of implicit bias that blinds us to the larger system and what needs to be disrupted and dismantled.

So much goes uninterrogated about how and why our schools look the way they do. Why, for example, are people are so attracted to curriculum reforms that supposedly elevate test scores and graduation rates to astronomical levels simply by ensuring that children live under an intense disciplinary regime – one that minimizes their capacity for free expression and maximizes the degree to which their bodies are under control?

These are the costs that people are willing to pay for the supposed dividends of test scores, right? And even a lot of policymakers who identify themselves on the left and who are White still advocate for policies for children of color that they would never dream of implementing if their own children were in the classroom.

More room has been made recently for a serious discussion about funding inequality in our education system. How far can that conversation go without talking about race?

Ewing:It’s a start, but it depends on how much we want to scratch below the surface. If we want to talk about funding inequality, we have to talk about property taxes. If we want to talk about property taxes we have to talk about residential segregation. We have to start talking about wealth inequality, right? We have to start talking about the transference of wealth. We have to talk about opportunity hoarding.

I often bring up about the analogy and the sneeze and the cold. One is the symptom and one is the actual virus. At some point you have to talk about the virus if you’re sitting around sneezing all the time. What is it that is actually making us sick?

Are you optimistic about the heightened awareness of how many of these policies are affecting students? There’s been quite a bit of progress on some fronts, including charter schools and overtesting. 

Ewing: Well, I’m not really sure we’re seeing all that much progress yet. I do think we’re seeing rhetorical progress and that is a really important first step. And I do think that people across racial groups are beginning to see the brunt of some of these policies. So that’s a real potential for solidarity.

But I don’t know that the heightened awareness has been matched by the policy environment. Under Betsy DeVos, I think we’ve been regressing on quite a few areas, just thinking about vouchers for example. But there is a potential of something powerful happening there, for sure.

closing schools and race

The nine-day strike in February by the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association forced the district to put s temporary hold on its plan to close 24 schools.

You’ve said that people shouldn’t conflate “schooling” and “education.” Schooling are those institutional practices that, as you said earlier, emphasis control and standardization, whereas education is genuine discovery and learning. To what extent are competing visions or ideas about the role of public education getting in the way of transformative change?

Ewing: We live in a hyper-individualist society. So when many people think about schools, they see them as an engine to attain the most material gain that they possibly can for their individual child. And I think that’s fine. It’s a natural human impulse, especially for parents.

But we should expect policymakers to have a different lens. They have to think about how we build systems that work for all students, that are not based on principles of competition, but instead on principles of resource provision. So how are we meeting  our ethical and moral obligation to provide all children regardless of their social position with adequate resources?

But I think a deeply-rooted anti-blackness undercuts that. A lot of research bears this out. When people are choosing schools, when people are assessing what a good school is and what bad school is, when they are thinking about what kind of curriculum they want to implement in schools – if the children being served are black, the game changes from one of thinking about nurturing and resource provision to one of punishment and control.

People see blackness as a proxy for low-quality and the presence of black children as a proxy for badness. So that and hyper-individualism are two mindsets that have to change, but policymakers and politicians have to take a lead on that. We can’t sit around and wait for people to suddenly be better people in order for our school systems to be better. We have to demand courage and innovation to create the policies that are going to create conditions of equity. And then everybody else has to catch up or not.

“A System That Blames Children”
relay program for teachersMass school closures in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other cities has created a multi-tier system where academically strong schools at the top are located in higher-income neighborhoods and not readily available to all students. Closing schools not only has a negative impact on student performance but also creates hardship for communities already struggling with disinvestment.

Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School

Black girls make up 16% of girls in U.S. public schools, but 42% of girls’ expulsions. What forces have made these students targets?

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Serving the Whole Child Involves Every Educator

Meeting the needs of the whole child in our nation’s public schools requires an integrated approach to include social, emotional, and academic learning. And the federal government wants to help the cause to the tune of $260 million.

“It’s not like you can do just one of these,” said Jessica Cardichon, a director with the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which sponsored a recent discussion at the U.S. Capitol titled, How Federal Policy Can Empower States and Communities to Provide Whole Child Education For All Students

“It’s a comprehensive approach across school systems,” said Cardichon, who moderated a panel of education, research and policy experts who stressed the need for federal funding to support the implementation of research-based whole child approaches that foster 21st century skills. “Additional after-school services are also essential to some students to reduce the negative effects of poverty.”

In April, the House Appropriations Committee released a fiscal year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) funding bill, which includes $260 million for a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative to support a whole child approach to education.

“It’s not groundbreaking,” said panelist Philip Tizzani, a staff member with the House Appropriations Committee. “It’s been a slow-build.”

Tizzani said the SEL initiative, which is pending, would require districts to match federal funding. Federal funds make up approximately 9 percent of states’ education spending along with state and local efforts.

“We (Congress) need to make investments in these policies,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who delivered introductory remarks at the event. “We need to embrace proven holistic policies that educate the whole student.”

Child-Centered Environment

Panelists discussed how sufficient funding would help schools meet whole-student needs and what states, districts, and schools can do to provide a multi-tiered system of student support.

“When kids enter school, they are not all at the same starting line,” said Deborah Delisle, president and CEO of Alliance for Excellent Education. “How do you bridge that gap?”

One solution: States and districts can provide professional development for school staff to help create child-centered environments that foster students’ well-being and encourage creativity, according to panelists.

“It’s also important for educators to be engaged in their own learning,” Delisle said.

Abbe Futterman is the principal at The Earth School in New York.

“You have to know where the child is in their development,” said Futterman, a panelist. “Teachers need to be prepared to support children as they come … fostering an emotionally and culturally supportive environment.”

The Learning Policy Institute has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and the District of Columbia. Its staff includes researchers, educators, public policy and communications specialists who work with policymakers, educators and community groups to promote and advance fair and equitable education policies.

Collaboration between schools, health care agencies, housing and other community groups also helps students to reach their full learning potential.

“A strong community that supports robust relationships is a key factor in whole child education,” said Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, LPI president, in a statement. “Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are key members of this community, fostering safe, positive learning environments as they work with students in and outside of the classroom. Their work is critical to meeting the needs of the whole child.”

ESPs: A Rich School Resource

There are almost 3 million school support professionals working in the nation’s K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs, who are organized by NEA into nine career categories.

“One third of the adults interacting with children in our K-12 system are ESPs,” said Tim Barchak, an NEA senior policy and program analyst who attended the event. People such as paraeducators, school secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, food service and health workers, security officers, and others “help students succeed not only in school but in life,” he added

During the question-and-answer segment, Barchak remarked that given their responsibilities, ESPs should be provided with sufficient professional development to reflect the role they play in assuring student safety, health and other SEL needs.

“That workforce should also be stabilized with fair compensation and by ceasing privatization,” Barchak added. “Preparing students for the future requires more than looking exclusively at instructional methods and curriculum.”

Panelist Charles Kamasaki, a senior advisor with UnidosUS and the National Council of La Raza, said in response to Barchak’s comments that “the most diverse segment in a school are ESPs.”

They often act as confidants and translators between Latino and Asian parents, teachers and school administrators, he explained.

“I’m in one hundred percent agreement with you (Barchak) that funds should be provided for their (ESP) training,” Kamasaki said. “They are often the entry point and great supporters of kids who are ELL (English language learners).”

Added Delisle: “Every adult who interacts with that child, like the bus driver, should be trained to understand their (student) needs.”

Within NEA, the whole child framework is built upon five tenets where each student:

  • Enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Engages in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Gains access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Is challenged academically and prepares for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP) also work to remove barriers to student learning. School staff in this category include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, library media specialists, speech pathologists and others.

“School support professionals are key to assuring students have the services they need to succeed academically and socially, inside and outside the classroom,” Barchak said.

LPI has produced several publications addressing whole child issues, including Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, and Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.

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Labor Movement Comes Back Big After ‘Janus’

In January, Virginia teacher Nicole Loch attended a #RedForEd rally at the statehouse in Richmond. She arrived on a charter bus sponsored by the Fauquier Education Association (FEA), even though Loch had never joined the union—a decision she had resisted for 11 years.“It was a bus full of other educators from my county,” says Loch, a civics teacher at Auburn Middle School in Warrenton.

“When I got to Richmond, I saw the power of mobilization and strength in numbers,” she says. “I knew then I needed to join.”

Loch marched and chanted for a mile—from Monroe Park to the capitol steps—where the crowd numbered 4,000. Standing there—holding a sign with the words “I Teach, I Matter”—she realized that many of the 250 FEA members at the rally had been meeting for months to organize their road trip, produce T-shirts and signs, and arrange meetings in the offices of legislators to discuss education policy and funding in Fauquier County.

nicole loch

Longtime teacher Nicole Loch joined her local association the day after attending a statehouse #RedForEd rally. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

“I felt I had been left behind,” she says. “I had no idea what people in my county had been doing to prepare for the event because I wasn’t a part of FEA.”

A mere 24 hours after the rally, Loch had joined FEA and the Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union.

“Being an FEA member has emboldened me to speak out about the value of public education and demand action from local officials to do what’s best for children and educators,” says Loch, who became a building representative soon after joining FEA.

The Perfect Civics Lesson

Loch attended the rally, she says, because she wanted to show her students what it means to advocate for public schools.

“I teach them to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak out when they see injustice,” she says.

Loch had read about the massive 2018 educator walkouts in “red” conservative states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, which attracted 26,000, 45,000, and 35,000 protesters respectively. Within months, 267,000 more educators in Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina organized walkouts. She heard how educators, with the support of their unions, attracted public support and forced reluctant legislators to invest in schools and increase educator pay.

Arizona educators rally for school funding in April 2018.

The perfect civics lesson fell into Loch’s lap when Oklahoma educators took their fight to the polls last November and ceremoniously ousted 15 of 19 legislators in the state House. Why? They had voted against raising taxes to fund education. The previous spring, Oklahoma educators had organized a nine-day #RedForEd protest that ended when lawmakers approved a tax increase to pay for $6,100 average pay raises for teachers and $1,250 raises for education support professionals (ESPs).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. workers initiated work stoppages only seven times in 2017, the second-fewest since the agency started keeping records in the 1940s.

In 2018, aggrieved educators, parents, and other community members participated in 20 walkouts. That’s nearly three times the amount of the previous year. In addition to walkouts, innovative organizing strategies, social media campaigns, and town hall meetings have marked a new labor movement unseen in a generation.

Looking back, Loch says she was impressed by the solidarity of colleagues across the country but not enough to join her own union in the Commonwealth, a right-to-work state.

“I earn below what a professional with 11 years’ experience and a master’s degree should make,” she says. “I couldn’t make sense of the expenditure.”

Power in Numbers

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) decision last June. The plaintiff, Mark Janus, was an Illinois state employee who received the raises and benefits negotiated by his union. The ruling allows him and other public sector workers the right to benefit from union contracts without having to pay their fair share for that representation.

kember kane

Maryland teacher Kember Kane speaks at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2018 during Janus deliberations. (photo: Jay Mallin)

Janus overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—the 1977 case in which the court unanimously upheld fair share fees that support collective bargaining. Each state was left to decide whether to permit such fees. With Abood, workers who didn’t want to join a union didn’t have to. Rather, they paid a reduced “fair share fee” or “agency fee” to cover the cost of union representation and bargaining services that unions provide for the benefit of all employees. Such fees were reduced amounts charged to workers who opted out of union membership. By law, the fees could not be used for political purposes.

“There are many educators in my building—as in many schools—who don’t know how powerful they are until they organize,” says Loch. Since the Janus ruling, almost 30 new members have joined FEA, bringing total membership to 460.

Bargaining for the Common Good

NEA had projected a loss of as many as 200,000 members in addition to 90,000 agency-fee payers after the Supreme Court decision. Instead, as of March, more than 217,000 new members had joined NEA since the Janus decision, and the Association has more members today than it did last year be-fore the Court’s decision. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.7 million members, added 88,500 members by the beginning of this year, which offset the 84,000 agency-fee payers the union lost after the ruling. Even case defendant AFSCME reports that for every member opting out since Janus, the union has gained seven new members.

david jeck

Superintendent David Jeck granted educators of Fauquier County Public Schools professional leave to attend the January #RedForEd rally in Richmond. Jeck is an FEA member. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Almost 15 million Americans still pay dues to unions, according to BLS. Increasingly, those unions are supporting campaigns that benefit the entire community. Across the country, unions are helping to champion improved public transportation, healthcare, and public education.

In the nation’s new non-agency fee environment, NEA has supported grassroots #RedForEd movements by providing expertise in digital communications, logistics, member mobilization, research, and legislative strategy. In states across the nation, NEA has helped parents, students, and educators win billions of dollars in increased funding for public schools.

Since 2014, the NEA Center for Organizing has worked with local and state affiliates to develop union leaders, expand membership, and engage educators. Through Education Summer, for example, the center trains members for six to eight weeks to become education organizers who can identify local issues, recruit new members, and establish community relationships.

The center’s New Educator Campaign is another example of NEA’s efforts to recruit and retain members. Operating year-round, the campaign works with incoming teachers, ESPs, higher education members, and association leaders to build a culture of organizing in a post-Janus world of voluntary union membership.

At the state level, for example, more than 19,000 North Carolina educators with support from NEA rallied last year in downtown Raleigh to demand better pay and increased funding for public schools. The power of collective action was exhibited again in Raleigh at a second march in May with 20,000 more educators in attendance.

On a local level, the California Federation of Teachers funds the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)—an advocacy group for low-income communities of color. Before Los Angeles teachers organized a walkout in January, ACCE members and other groups—like Reclaim Our Schools LA—articulated demands for smaller class sizes, reduced random student searches, and more social services, that the union brought to the bargaining table—and won.

‘Janus’ Was Personal

Nationwide, educators are publicly and audaciously voicing their opinions about how to recruit, support and retain teachers, ESPs and higher education members.

Officials with NEA-Rhode Island (NEARI) had predicted a 20 to 30 percent membership loss in the first year after Janus. Instead, NEARI had gained about 275 members by March.

Sarah Markey is a NEARI UniServ director, and co-presenter of a workshop titled, “Engaging ESPs After Janus.”

“After the Janus decision, we were heartbroken,” says Markey. “It felt very personal, intended to hurt the people we care about most: educators and students.”

Markey’s co-presenter, Kristin Chase, is president of the 160-member East Providence Teachers Assistants (EPTA). Statewide, she says members were prepared for a worst-case scenario after Janus.

“I’m happy to say that a vast majority of our locals remained steady,” says Chase, who is the NEARI vice president for ESPs. “We saw no noticeable difference in any membership category.”

Kristin Chase (left) and Sarah Markey of Rhode Island conducted a workshop at the
NEA ESP conference in March involving the ‘Janus’ ruling.

Chase and Markey say this positive result is due primarily to one-on-one member engagement, which they stress in their presentation.

“Getting more members to step into leader-ship roles is a huge component in sustaining active participation for the long term,” says Chase, who helped EPTA achieve 100 percent membership.

Anti-union organizations, think tanks, and right-wing activists backed by corporate donors, including ultra-conservative billionaire David Koch and his brother Charles; U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family; and the Bradley Foundation, had long been preparing for a case like Janus as part of a larger campaign to undermine the power of unions.

On the heels of the Janus decision, these anti-union forces have funded dozens of lawsuits across the country designed to weaken the labor movement. And with an increasingly partisan judiciary, unions cannot rely on the courts to do justice.

“It is the continued activism of educators that will lead to a better future for public schools and students,” says Markey.

Stay Ready

“It’s clear that corporate interests want to get educator associations out of their way,” says Brian Nelson, who is president of NEA-South Kingstown (NEASK), and a math teacher at Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown. “Their goal is to privatize the education system and turn it into a profit bearing institution.”

In the months before the Janus ruling, Nelson attended educator meetings and union gatherings at schools across the district to discuss the ramifications of the case.

“I explained that if collective bargaining is weakened or eliminated, it would impact their salaries, health care quality, retirement benefits and workplace environment,” he says. “We didn’t lose members after the Janus decision. No one opted out.”

To increase their community presence, and to enhance their own team spirit, many of the 310 members of NEA-SK bowl together and organize other social outings. “At times, I felt each school was on its own island,” Nelson says. “Bowling nights help to bring us together and provide community members with the opportunity to approach us and discuss our work with students.

Brian Nelson welcomes the new post-‘Janus’ era.

“While building a more public profile, NEA-SK members have already won a formidable victory. During the summer and fall of 2018, they worked with other community groups to prevent the closure of a beloved elementary school, which was opened on time in September. And last November, four out of the five pro-education candidates endorsed by NEA-SK for town council won by large margins.

“The election was our golden opportunity to create the change that our members deserve,” Nelson says.

Approximately 865 NEARI members reside in South Kingstown—even though they work in other towns and belong to other locals. If spouses and domestic partners are included, the number jumps to 1,730 allies.

“We capitalized on that affiliation and had a strong show-ing on Election Day that flipped the council,” says Nelson. One of the council members elected was NEARI’s Sarah Markey.

NEA continues to work to support affiliates across the country as they plan collective actions on behalf of their students and schools. This work is the manifestation of New Business Item 48, passed by delegates to last year’s NEA Representative Assembly. The measure called on NEA to support a national campaign of labor action to save public services, fight for union rights, and improve NEA members’ living and working conditions. Educators in affiliates nationwide are leading the campaign. And NEA is helping them win.

“It’s been amazing to see what educators are doing for their schools, students, and communities,” says Markey.

Empowered Educators

About 250 people attended a March budget meeting of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in Warrenton, Va., many of them wearing red T-shirts with the words, “Advocates for Change.”

All but one of the 46 speakers addressed education funding, teacher and ESP pay, campus facility upgrades, and other school issues.Two days later, at a joint work session between the board of supervisors and county school board, FEA President Lauren Brill sat in the front row with FEA colleagues Carolyn Leach and Bobby Jenkins.

“Until recently, people felt like they weren’t being heard,” says Brill, a teacher at Margaret M. Pierce Elementary School in Remington. “Richmond was a spark for change.”

“However, being heard and being funded are two different things,” she adds.

Virginia is the 11th wealthiest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as Number One for business. Yet, the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 32nd in teacher pay.

“Virginia teachers are paid about $8,500 less than the national teacher’s average salary,” says Superintendent David Jeck, who granted professional leave to educators wanting to attend the rally. “With regard to state funding for schools, we are still below 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation.”

In Virginia, teacher pay scales can vary from one county to the next due to state funding, property values, and variations in local tax policies. In neighboring Loudoun County, for example, a first-year teacher with a master’s degree earns $55,941 per year, or about $1,000 more than a teacher in Fauquier County with a master’s degree and more than 10 years’ experience.

Together with a higher cost of living, four out of 10 educators are forced to live outside the area where they work, says Leach, a teacher at C. Hunter Ritchie Elementary School in Warrenton, who lives in neighboring Midland.

“The state does not give us that much funding,” she says. “This affects school conditions, pay scales, and where people can afford to live.”

FEA members Carolyn Leach (left), Bobby Jenkins, and Lauren Brill meet regularly with school administrators. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Superintendent Jeck is a former teacher, coach, and principal, and current FEA member.

“It just made sense to join FEA,” says Jeck, who wore a red T-shirt at the Richmond rally and addressed the crowd on behalf of Fauquier County educators. “Their messaging is right.”

Jeck and Brill often meet informally to discuss education issues. They share pride in the county’s 96 percent graduation rate, close-knit community, and collaboration between educators and administrators.

“We have monthly sit-downs,” says Brill.

Jenkins is a county school bus driver and FEA’s vice president. He and other ESPs meet with FEA member and Assistant Superintendent David Graham at least once a month for breakfast.

“He (Graham) use to drive a school bus,” Jenkins says. “We understand each other.”

As in many parts of the country, Virginia educators have not been discouraged by Janus or any other anti-worker, anti-union court rulings. Instead, they took matters into their own hands, taking the battle to the steps of the statehouse and the public sphere. They signed up new union members, rallied against the underfunding of public schools, and joined a labor movement with broad public support.

“Wherever you live in this country, policy makers need to hear from us and be held accountable,” says Jenkins. “The union gives us leverage and a voice.”

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“If We Don’t Do Something, It’s Never Going to Change”

(photo: Joe Brusky)

At the panel discussion on educator walkouts at the National Education Writers Association (EWA) conference this week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was asked what was driving this unprecedented activism happening across the country, including the latest action in Oregon this week.

“A moment in West Virginia became a movement,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “It is inspiring. It’s energizing. And it’s always a little scary because no one knows how these things will turn out, but so far we’ve had 100 percent success in that every place where teachers have raised their voices and thrown on their #RedForEd t-shirts and gone to the public, they’ve won support. [It’s about ending] the absolute neglect of education funding and giving kids the programs and services they need.”

People are hearing what educators have been saying for years: There is much more that should be done to support public education. It hasn’t been enough for decades.

“Parents, the public, have all marched with their educators in support of more funding for education.” Eskelsen García said. “They’re asking, ‘What do you mean you have to pay for your own supplies? What do you mean you have 40 students in classrooms.’ ”

Panelist Kathereine Strunk, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said we know that kids who miss school on a day unexpectedly miss learning. “If you miss five days of school for a snow day you miss learning,” she said. “We expect to see studies about kids and learning loss from strikes. These are not costless to them.”

Educators walkouts have resulted in more funding for students, Eskelsen Garcia responded, but she’d never seen kids win a million dollars for their school after a snow day.

Dov Rosenberg, an educator from Durham Public Schools in North Carolina who joined his state walkouts, said they are taking action because for the students who are not getting what they deserve and that parents and teachers want the same thing for their students.

“We demonstrate because we feel nobody is listening; it’s necessary to do something we know will have an impact,” he said.

If we don’t do something, it’s never going to change. Teachers keep picking up the slack.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

To lesson the impact, Rosenberg told the panel how they had organized food distribution centers so the kids who rely on them can still receive free breakfasts and lunch.

“We can’t provide childcare, and it is a hardship, these aren’t easy,” he said. “We stay mindful of how we can serve students on days we are striking so there is less hardship.”

Many students, he added, marched with their parents alongside their educators, getting a real-life education in civics and political action.”

Shar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports more charter schools, told the audience that the unions would have the public believe that walking out is the only lever they have to pull. Jeffries said educators should exhaust every lever before leaving the school or classroom to protest.

Rosenberg responded that political action isn’t harming students when the whole point of a walkout is to improve students learning.

“It is the last lever. We tried phone banks, letters to representatives, and supporting legislation that would increase funding, and it didn’t work. We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor. We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

Madeline Will of Education Week, who moderated the panel, asked how unions are faring in the wake of the Supreme Court Janus decision.

“Our membership is up all over the country when we were supposed to be plummeting,” said Eskelsen García . “We are energized. This is about the Koch brothers and their ilk trying to get rid of our membership. We know the only power we have is a collective voice…. And we have three million professionals who love their students and stand ready to put their boots on the ground.”

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Say Thanks on Teacher Appreciation Day

It’s that time of year again: Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Teacher Day is May 7!

Over the past year, more than ever before, teacher voices have been heard  – and not just in classrooms. These educators are making a difference across the country and in their own communities.

The #RedForEd camapign  has united educators, parents and students in a powerful movement to advocate for and protect the nation’s public schools. After years in which funding for public schools has stagnated or even fallen, teachers are demanding the support and learning environments that students in every neighborhood deserve. The campaign has been waged on the streets, on social media, in the legislatures, and at the voting booth.

Supported by the National Education Association’s 3 million members, National Teacher Day 2019 has two main goals: thanking teachers for their commitment to students, and encouraging talented and committed individuals to consider becoming teachers.

On Wednesday, May 8, NEA is encouraging the public to support #RedForEd and show appreciation for the educators who are advocating for better learning conditions for their students and pay and benefits commensurate with the demands and responsibilities of teaching.

The campaign is asking people to show solidarity and wear red, and to share their reasons for supporting the campaign on social media.

·       #ThankATeacher with NEA’s help using our Thank a Teacher Toolkit.

·       You can show your appreciation for the teachers in your life and teachers across the country by sending a card through social media or download the cards for print here.

·       You can print a Certificate of Appreciation for your favorite teacher here.

So thank you to all educators. Whether it’s your first year or fourth decade in a classroom, we know the job is enormously challenging. Still, you connect with students, inspire them, unlock their potential. Thank you for your dedication, creativity and passion! 

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Virginia’s Rodney Robinson Named 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in Richmond, Virginia, was named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year on Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Robinson, a 19-year veteran of Richmond Public Schools, teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center. CCSSO commended Robinson for creating “a positive school culture by empowering his students – many of whom have experienced trauma – to become civically-minded social advocates who use their skills and voices to affect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities.”

Robinson says he looking forward to helping lead a conversation about the students he calls “the most vulnerable in society” and how the nation can address the school-to-prison-pipeline that has pushed too many kids out of school.

“This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America,” Robinson said.

At the Virgie Binford Education Center, which serves youth ages 10-18, Robinson uses a social studies curriculum that centers on juvenile justice and the prison system. Robinson collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Forman Jr at Yale University in developing the unit. The curriculum allows “students to step outside of themselves and examine the system and the circumstances that have led to their incarceration and a better understanding of how to avoid future incarceration,” Robinson wrote in the introduction.

Robinson, who previously taught at Armstrong High, Wythe High, and Brown Middle School, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to being published three times by Yale, Robinson has received numerous awards for his accomplishments in and out of the classroom, most notably the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.

A proud member of the Richmond Education Association, the Virginia Education Association, and the National Education Association, Robinson is a vocal and dedicated union activist, and was a featured speaker at the VEA Fund our Future rally in Richmond.

Robinson is standing up for students who “feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and undervalued in America,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  “He is not only a beacon of light but also a mentor, a leader and a role model in the fight for racial and social justice in education….Every student in every public school in this country deserves a teacher like Mr. Robinson no matter their ZIP code or their circumstances.”

Robinson has focused great deal of his efforts on the need for mental health services in schools and singles out the stigma surrounding treatment. As teacher of the year, Robinson will have a heightened platform to advocate for the students who are being left behind by budget cuts and a system that emphasizes punitive discipline over preventative and rehabilitative measures.

“I want school counselors, I want conflict mediators, I want restorative justice, I want people to come in and actually work with the kids and not just put a kid in handcuffs whenever there is a minor disagreement,” Robinson told WCVE Radio in Richmond.

Robinson says the positive influence black educators can have on the lives of vulnerable students cannot be overstated. When he was a student at King William County High School in the 1990s, Robinson admits he struggled “to find his place” and looked up to his band director Mr. Calvin Sorrell, who at that time was the only male, black teacher in the district. Today, only 15 percent of licensed teachers in Virginia are people of color.

“It’s important to have role models of all races and ethnicity — especially for students of color,” says Robinson.

After graduating high school, Robinson set his sights on becoming the kind of educator many students who have made mistakes desperately need.

“Most are in survival mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week… but they still persevere and strive for success. They are my inspiration, and I will fight to my last heartbeat for them,” Robinson says

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For ESPs, Being the Best for Students Requires Continuous Learning

Andrea Beeman (left), Matthew Powell, and Kimberly Scott-Hayden have helped implement the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.
(PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

It’s common knowledge amongst educators that professional development for education support professionals (ESPs) is largely non-existent or irrelevant, if offered at all. Whether five or 20 years on the job, ESPs receive limited access to career learning opportunities unless they provide it themselves.

“Everyone thinks professional development is for teachers only,” says Matthew Powell, custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. “But ESPs also need the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers.”

After working for 12 years as a special education paraeducator, Powell returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in educational studies. To meet expenses during this time, he worked as a school custodian on the night shift.

As a member of NEA’s ESP Careers Committee, Powell is working alongside ESPs and teachers from across the country to increase professional learning opportunities for school support professionals. Already, the committee has led to the development of new universal standards that provide a pathway for professional growth for ESPs throughout their careers.

These universal standards are outlined in the ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC).

“At the end of the day, if ESPs increase their skills and knowledge, it’s students who ultimately win,” says Powell, recently named the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year.

The PGC provides the first ever career continuum for ESPs grounded in eight universal standards within three levels of practice: Foundational, Proficient, and Advanced/Mastery. This landmark resource describes applicable standards and levels of practice across all NEA ESP job categories.

Participants can choose to work independently or join a group, known as a professional learning community. Several NEA affiliates across the country are working with members and other education leaders to develop student-centered learning opportunities aligned with the PGC to support ESPs in their professional practice.

“It goes back to wanting to be the best we can be for our students,” says Powell, who helps implement PGC standards for custodian and maintenance service workers at Grave County Schools. “The PGC gives us that opportunity.”

Local Successes

In New Jersey, Kimberly Scott-Hayden led the development of trainings for East Orange Maintenance Association (EOMA) members using PGC standards. The program started after Scott-Hayden approached Dr. Kevin West, East Orange School District Superintendent.

“Before anything, you need to effectively communicate a message, a perception, or a theory,” says Scott-Hayden, who first enticed Dr. West with an idea about training ESPs to communicate more effectively at work.

In East Orange, EOMA’s original 32 members were the first to join the training sessions. Scott-Hayden and Dr. West decided to begin with this question: How can I grow professionally to become more culturally aware and effective in communicating with students and colleagues?

Scott-Hayden and the team found that discussing culturally sensitive issues can be difficult. Still, they asked participants how they collaborate with members from culturally diverse groups, how they evaluate their ability to recognize reactions in individuals different from themselves, and how they address the consequences of inequities based on identity or group membership.

“Understanding the culture of your community gives you a better sense of your students,” says Andrea Beeman, a paraeducator who serves with Powell and Scott-Hayden on the NEA board and ESP Careers Committee.

Once educators saw the passion of Scott-Hayden and her team, the New Jersey program quickly expanded across East Orange. The team was awarded one of NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grants for $90,000 over three years starting in the 2018-2019 school year. She says she could not have predicted the spike in membership after the grant was issued, which reached 370 members to now include teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and security guards along with the original maintenance workers.

Members of the ESP Careers Committee met in March at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.                 (PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

“Just based on the work they are seeing, people have said, ‘I’m buying into this.’ It builds capacity,” says Scott-Hayden. “It gives you an opportunity to show your district that you are an important stakeholder in your career development. You can use PGC to bargain, as leverage to increase your salary, or for career advancement. It will cultivate leaders.”

In Ohio, Beeman says trainings aligned to the PGC will help close the achievement gap.

“In order to do my job effectively, I have to know a student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations, hopes and dreams,” says Beeman, who works at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights.

Along with opportunities for professional growth offered by PGC is the chance to better connect with students, Beeman explains. She says students want to know a few things, such as: Will you help me, do you care about me, and do you see me as an individual.

“Responding to that begins with gaining a clear understanding of a student’s racial and cultural background,” Beeman says. “My focus is to meet my students where they are and on their terms.”

How the PGC Works

While the continuum provides a career path toward personal and professional growth, it is not meant to be linear or hierarchical. The model is fluid so ESPs can build their professional capacity in one or more standards. Participants might be “proficient” in one standard and “advanced” in another based on how skills compliment on-the-job experiences and training.

NEA offers an opportunity for members to conduct a PGC self-assessment and strengthen their knowledge and skills through NEA micro-credentials, which are short, competency-based recognitions that allow educators to demonstrate mastery in a particular area. Micro-credentials are available for each of the eight universal standards outlined in the PGC. By completing micro-credentials, ESPs can learn how to use the standards to reflect on current levels of skills and knowledge and map out opportunities to grow in their professional practice.

“As educators progress through the levels of practice, increased knowledge and skill levels are going to help them when they engage in difficult cultural conversations with students,” Beeman adds.

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‘A Deal is a Deal’: Sacramento Educators Go on Strike

The #RedForEd wave hits Sacramento. Today, April 11, more than 2,800 Sacramento educators are on strike to protest the Sacramento City Unified School District’s (SCUSD) bad faith bargaining and to support a fair settlement that includes additional resources, such as art and music, smaller class sizes, more school nurses, and psychologists. The contract also includes an 11 percent increase in teacher salaries.

“[The strike] grows out of frustration of the failure of the superintendent to honor a contract that he signed more than a year ago, and the continued treatment of our contract [as] optional, [instead of] something that’s binding on both parties,” David Fisher, a second-grade teacher and president of the  Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), said in an interview.

The superintendent is Jorge Aguilar, whose refusal to honor the contract has led to the city’s first strike in nearly 30 years. SCTA members voted by 92.3 percent to protest the unlawful, unfair labor practices by superintendent and the school board.

In November 2017, after more than a year of bargaining, SCTA and the district settled and signed a bargaining contract with a commitment to reprioritize resources toward students and classrooms. Since then, the district has committed 31 unfair labor practices. Now, the district is back tracking on the mutually agreed upon contract that meets the needs of students.

Thousands of educators, students, and parents will hit the picket lines to demand that SCUSD keep its promise to lower class sizes and increase student services—and to act lawfully and remedy its illegal actions that are hurting nearly 50,000 Sacramento public school students.

Sacramento’s Kara Synhorst, an English teacher of nearly 20 years, captured the sentiments of many educators in a video posted to Facebook: “I’m offended and insulted at the way teachers are being portrayed…My union has offered ways for the district to save money…If anyone is refusing to come to the table, it’s Mr. Aguilar and the district. We have a contract. Don’t ask us to negotiate a new one when you won’t even implement the last one—because [as] my students already know: A deal is a deal.” Synhorst was speaking directly to Aguilar.

The local argues that instead of honoring the contract, the district mismanaged funds and is now $35 million in the red. A state takeover threat looms over the district, too. But this wasn’t always the case.

The district was in the best financial position in its history up until 2017, when the contract was being bargained. Discussions centered on how the reduced costs in the district’s healthcare plan would generate more money. The plan was to negotiate further down the road and apply those savings toward schools.

Instead, the district went on a “spending spree, adding more than $6 million in vacation buyouts for top administrators,” explains David Fisher. This resulted in deficit spending for the first time in years.

In an interview with Education Week, Fisher said, “This really feels like a betrayal…If a district can just throw up their hands and say, ‘Yeah, we know we agreed, but now our budget situation has changed, so we’re not going to do it anymore,’ that sets a terrible precedent for what districts can do when they sign agreements.”

The strike is currently scheduled to last for one day.

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Congress Approves National Award Program for ESPs

After the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (H.R. 276) by a vote of 387-19 in February, the Senate quickly followed suit with its own unanimous approval in March.

“This recognition is way overdue,” said Debby Chandler, president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP), which works within the National Education Association (NEA) to represent the interests and issues of education support professionals (ESP).

It has taken more than a decade of seemingly endless meetings between elected officials in Washington, political appointees from two different presidential administrations, and numerous NEA staff, board members, lobbyists, ESPs and other activists for the bill to get this close to becoming law.

“The voices of our board members and activists who contacted Congressional members in the first few months of this year made the difference,” said Marc Egan, NEA director of government relations. “We had worked behind the scenes and knew we had a moment to try to capitalize on.”

Popularly known as the RISE Act, the bill has been sent to the president for review.

“Lobbying for a bill like this is one of those moments where you realize how fortunate you are to work on behalf of educators nationwide,” Egan said. “Over the many years we fought for this bill, I would say to members of Congress, ‘This is as much of a mom-and-apple-pie bill that you can find.’”

“After many years by educators of advocating for such a national award, Congress is right to recognize the unsung and often unseen heroes of the education professions – education support professionals and classified school employees.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

The legislation provides recognition by the federal government for the outstanding contributions of ESPs to the nation’s public schools and the students they serve. If signed by the president, the legislation will direct the Secretary of Education to establish a national award program recognizing the excellence exhibited by these public school educators in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Similar to the National Teacher of the Year award program, governors from each state will work with educators, associations, and other stakeholders on identifying nominees for final selection by the education secretary.

“Schools simply cannot run without us,” said Chandler, who is an NEA board member and a secretary at John R. Rogers High School in Spokane, Wash. “We ignite the love of learning while providing essential services to the whole student.”

There are almost 3 million school support professionals in our nation’s public schools, colleges, and universities. They comprise one-third of the public education workforce.

“Although they seldom seek the spotlight, this national award will increase awareness of the important roles we play,” said Matthew Powell, the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year, and a custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. Since 1992, NEA has recognized these educators annually with its ESP of the Year award. The award program will continue for NEA members even if the RISE Act is enacted.

Alfonso Salais teaches Spanish in the International Baccalaureate Program at Lansing Eastern High School in Lansing, Mich. He is a member of the NEA ESP Careers Committee and son of an ESP.

“My mom has been in the food and child nutrition service for over 35 years,” he said. “The level of expertise, dedication, and skills that she brings to her school district is second to none.”

Salais acknowledges that when most people think about educators, they have teachers in mind.

“This paradigm needs to change and broaden while highlighting all the important people at a school who play a critical role in the growth and development of children,” he said. “A bill like this will highlight the work of education’s unsung heroes — ESPs.”

Like his mother and family, Salais notes that ESPs “live in the same communities where they work, attend the same places of worship, and shop in the same grocery stores as their students and their families. They are an invaluable resource even outside of school.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career groups:

  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trade services
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“In all these capacities and services, we give hope, build bridges, heal and mend broken hearts, build self-esteem and nurture students,” said Chandler. “Passage of the RISE Act will spotlight the important work ESPs do to make a difference in the lives of students.”

For more information about ESPs, visit:

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2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell Does It All

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia introduces 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year Matthew Powell to the annual NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 23, 2019.

When he is not managing the custodial team at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky., Matthew Powell can be found serving as the safety officer for the crisis management team of Grave County Schools. When the need arises, he also fills in as a special events bus driver.

Even more, in 2016, Powell established residency on school grounds as a nighttime security guard to boost student safety, and for legal reasons. By claiming residence in a small housing unit located near the Graves County middle and high schools, Powell has been able to keep the city of Mayfield from annexing school property. According to Powell, the annexation would result in revenue loss for schools and a payroll tax hike for education support professionals (ESP), teachers, and other school employees. Standing his ground, Powell has self-financed a lawsuit against Mayfield which is currently pending with the Kentucky Supreme Court.

For his undying dedication and hard work on behalf of students, colleagues, and his community, Powell was named the 2019 National Education Association (NEA) ESP of the Year during the ESP of the Year Award Dinner at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.

“Matthew thinks in terms of possibilities rather than impossibilities, solutions rather than problems, do’s rather than don’ts,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Most of all, he believes that students should be at the center of every decision we make in our schools.”

Powell received a standing ovation from the more than 900 ESPs, school administrators, and other educators from across the country who are participating in the 28th annual conference.

“I will always fight for all of our students and ESPs, and public education together, said Powell. “Coming from Kentucky I know what it’s like to fight, especially when you have a senator who won’t listen. And I will continue that fight along with elevating ESPs.”

Eskelsen Garcia presented Powell with a commemorative trophy, bouquet of roses, and $10,000 check. Powell also received a coveted ESP of the Year Hall of Fame plaque.

“He not only cleans school facilities and looks out for students, but he catches potential members wherever he can and convinces them to join KEA,” said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), in her nomination letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “He is one of the most kind, tenacious, and hard-working individuals I have ever met.”

Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems, with more than 75 percent living, shopping, worshipping, and voting in the school communities in which they work.

2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell

The conference theme, Education Support Professionals: Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Educators, and Successful Students, set the tone for the 47 workshops, discussion sessions, and keynote speeches.

“Everyone knows that teaching is important, but even the greatest teachers need support from the professionals who transport students to school, keep the building safe and clean, prepare nutritious meals, offer support in the classroom and manage the front office,” Powell said to the West Kentucky Star.

Powell, a member of the Graves County Education Support Professionals and NEA board of directors. A graduate of Graves County High School, Powell has been employed with the school district since August 2007 and has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. He is a graduate of the KEA Fellows program and NEA Leaders for Tomorrow, Class of 2016.

While working for Graves County Schools, he earned a bachelor’s degree in educational studies from Western Governors University in 2012. He has also served as a district softball coach and team bus driver for the past three seasons.

“I am a strong advocate for meeting the needs of the whole student,” Powell told the Star. “This approach can only succeed when parents, teachers, administrators and support staff all work together.”

School support professionals comprise more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESPs are categorized in nine career groups:

  • Paraeducators
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Security services
  • Transportation services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services.

Also included in NEA’s school support job category are Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP), which includes speech-language pathologists, audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologist-counselors, nurses, social workers and others.

“ESPs are the backbone of our schools,” Powell has stated. “We do make a difference and deserve to tell our stories.”

At the conference, ESPs attended workshops which allowed them to earn credits to further their professional goals in the NEA ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC) and NEA Leadership Competency Framework (LCF).

Participants enrolled in the PGC could easily identify the workshops that align to one or more of the program’s eight universal standards: communication, cultural competence, organization, reporting, ethics, health and safety, technology and professionalism. Workshops were labeled with the PGC universal standard(s) with which it aligned. Newcomers to the PGC were advised to sign up by visiting the NEA Certification Bank.

Similarly, workshops indicated in the conference program their alignment with the six LCF domains – advocacy, communication, fiscal health, governance and leadership, leading our professions, organizing and strategy. These competencies are designed to prepare NEA members as community leaders particularly with regard to education associations.

As an NEA board member, Powell helped to develop and implement the PGC. He has stated that he was inspired to help establish the program so he could “advocate for ESPs so they can be champions like the support staff who championed for me.”

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During Lockdowns, Collaboration Among Staff Key to Student Safety

Shielding her students against a storm of gunfire is something Andrea Beeman hopes she will never experience. It is gut-wrenching to even ponder, says Beeman, a paraeducator at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Contemplating such a deadly scenario is tempered, she says, by knowing her school’s crisis response team includes administrators, teachers, and education support professionals (ESP) who participate in active shooter drills and have specific roles and responsibilities.

“The more collaboration among school staff during a drill, the better prepared we are to keep students safe,” says Beeman, who also serves as a building monitor. “My students will need to listen to my directions and trust me in an emergency.”

In today’s school climate, active shooter drills are as common as fire drills. Nine out of ten public schools currently conduct active shooter drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To prepare for an armed assailant on school grounds, it is advised that schools create a safety team that includes an administrator, mental health professional, nurse, security officials, educators, and even parents, according to the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers, who jointly published a guide book titled, “Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.”

Andrea Beeman

Planning for an active shooter situation should include the adult experience, personal skills, and professional knowledge of food service workers, custodians, and other ESP, says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA).

“Trainings and drills must be all-inclusive,” says Kivett, an NEA board member. “For example, if bus drivers are parked on campus during an emergency, do they stay or go?”

Whether mandatory or not, Beeman advocates for staging an active shooter drill within a month of starting school while communicating policies and procedures with parents.

“The start of the school year is when everyone in the education community is reviewing rules and procedures,” she says. “Parents attend open house events and meet with staff. Conducting a drill early on will show our emergency preparedness.”

With ESP located in all areas of a school campus, even during non-working hours, it is vital that they be included in school crisis plans, Kivett adds.


The NEA 2018 School Crisis Guide includes cafeteria, transportation, maintenance, and health and student service professionals among staff who are vital to a comprehensive approach in preventing unnecessary violence during an emergency, though this is not the case at some schools.

“Unfortunately, some ESP may not know what to do because they aren’t trained or fully involved in drills,” says Kivett. “It’s a safety issue that concerns me.”

Kivett trains security officers and helps to conduct emergency operations planning for the Redlands United School District. He’s particularly concerned about playground supervisors and building monitors who may not have been prepared for responding to a range of emergencies, whether caused by humans or by a natural disaster.

“People may reactively know what to do in a crisis, but do they know what to do when they’re responsible for dozens of children,” he says. “With a shooter or earthquake or chemical spill, for example, every second lost can be the difference between living and dying.”

Any School, Any Time

The Educator’s School Safety Network estimates that threats or actual violence happen about 10 times a day in U.S. schools. The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado heightened the need for schools to be better prepared to respond to armed assailants and other forms of violence, such as bomb threats. About 16 campuses lock down daily, with nine of those incidents related to gun violence or the threat of it, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. More than 6,200 lockdowns occurred during the 2017-2018 school year.

Dan Kivett

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Department of Education recommended expanding the lockdown-only approach for schools, which confined students and staff to their rooms. Instead, the department now recommends an options-based approach that allows school staff to make more independent decisions about how to protect their students depending on evolving circumstances, such as to evacuate a building rather than stay locked in a classroom.

These approaches include adapting the “run, hide, fight” model that was originally developed for adults in response to workplace violence. This expansion has spurred an increase in the number of school districts conducting drills.

“Drills really help staff consider the “what if” scenarios,” says Kivett. “If it’s a hurricane or fire, what do you do? If it’s a shooter, where do you go?”

Student Stress

While lockdowns may save lives during a real crisis, the drill itself can inflict “immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger,” according to the Post study. More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year.

A report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence indicates that some drills “foster fear and anxiety” and “can intensify the fear of gun violence children already suffer.”

“We encourage immediate access to a counselor in a safe space to ease any stress or anxiety caused by a drill,” says Beeman,  who works with high school students with developmental disabilities.

Should the need arise, NEA encourages schools to work with local hospitals and mental health agencies to aid students experiencing trauma.

Beeman faithfully meets students in the morning as they exit buses and stays with many of them until they are picked up after last bell and head home.

“I escort them to breakfast, lunch, electives, and help them develop soft skills needed to maintain a job after they graduate,” says Beeman, an NEA board member. “I can sense when they are experiencing undue stress. We are there for them.”

Says Kivett: “The point is not to scare students but to do all that is humanly possible to keep them safe in this era of violence.”

‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts

A skewed focus on target hardening neglects the time and resources needed to spend on professional development training, planning, behavioral and mental health intervention supports for students, and other best practices.
But research and experience consistently shows that a comprehensive approach is needed for school safety programs.

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DeVos Won’t Give Up on Vouchers

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

In her two years as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has seized on every opportunity to undermine public education. She has called for deep cuts to federal funding, rolled back protections for our most vulnerable students, and shilled for the for-profit college industry that has defrauded countless students.

DeVos has floundered, however, in advancing her pet cause: the federal expansion of school vouchers. Even with GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the strong backing of President Trump, Congress in 2017 and 2018 rejected DeVos’ efforts to create federal vouchers to attend private schools.

Despite this setback and the recent 2018 elections that sent a pro-public education majority to the House of Representatives, DeVos’ enthusiasm for school vouchers hasn’t dampened. This was evident last week with the introduction of  something called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

In a USA Today op-ed touting the proposal, DeVos, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Bradley Byrne, the bills’ sponsors in Congress, called it “a historic investment in America’s students.”

The majority of Americans who reject vouchers know better. DeVos’ proposal, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is just the “latest attempt to push an agenda that is academically ineffective, fiscally irresponsible and that funds discrimination at the expense of student opportunity.”

The good news is that Congress – who soundly rejected a similar proposal during the 2017 tax debate – isn’t likely to give this reboot a serious look. Still, the corporate interests who have doggedly pursued school privatization for more than a decade are nothing if not persistent, which is why public education activists aren’t about to let down their guard.

What is an Education Freedom Scholarship?

Quite simply, it’s a federal school voucher.  For years now, proponents, acknowledging that “vouchers” are unpopular, have worked tirelessly to reconfigure the scheme to 1) sidestep constitutional obstacles and 2) reintroduce them to a public that has consistently been in opposition, using friendly-sounding euphemisms to make them more politically appealing.

Whether they’re called “Education Saving Accounts,” “Tuition Tax Credits” or “Opportunity Scholarships,” the result is always the same: directly or indirectly, less money for public schools and more for private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarship is a tax credit program, similar to what 17 states already have on their books.

Under such a plan, individuals and companies earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students then can use the funds to attend private schools, including religious schools.

Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, calls the DeVos proposal a “supersized” version, because it offers a  dollar-for-dollar credit, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.

“The contributors to these programs wouldn’t have to put up a dime of their own money because the federal government would reimburse them in full,” he adds.

So what DeVos wants is the federal government to reimburse wealthy taxpayers with tax credits in return for providing funding to private schools on the states’ behalf.

“It’s a brazen effort to distort the tax code into a tool for funding private and religious schools with public dollars,” Davis said.

The Cost to Public Schools

In their USA Today column, DeVos and Cruz claim that “this program won’t take a single cent from local public school teachers or public school students.”

That is simply false. Tax credit vouchers will drain public funding from public schools. Under these plans, potential taxes are never paid, which in turn decreases the overall amount in the coffers. This makes less money available for public schools.

“This bill sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go. They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”- Carl Davis, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

“The voucher proposal peddled by Betsy DeVos will divert already scarce funding away from neighborhood public schools – where 90 percent of children go – and give it away to private schools, which are not accountable to taxpayers,” said Eskelsen García.

In a 2017 analysis, ITEP took a look at how these programs had impacted the budgets of the 17 states where they had been put into effect.  Taken together, these states were diverting more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via tax credits.

“Allowing certain taxpayers to opt out of funding an institution as fundamentally important as the nation’s public school system erodes the public’s level of investment in that institution–both literally and figuratively,” the report states.

Furthermore, “expanding these programs at the federal level would lead to a loss of federal and state revenue directed at public schools that would weaken the ability of public schools to serve increasing numbers of students in poverty as well as students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

 The Bill is Likely Going Nowhere But…

Soon after DeVos unveiled her proposal, U.S. Senator Patty Murray immediately declared it “dead on arrival.”

“Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts and she should expect nothing less here.”

With DeVos’ push to expand vouchers stymied (so far), the shift in momentum away from privatization may be modest but it’s unmistakable.

Educators across the nation have been calling attention to the dangers of school privatization as part of the #RedforEd Movement. In November, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program.

Still, by attempting to pry open the federal tax code to enable school voucher expansion, privatization advocates are demonstrating how relentless they are and will continue to be.

“While this bill isn’t likely to be enacted during this Congress, it sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go,” Davis warns. “They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”

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