5 Things We Learned From Election 2018


(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The 2018 midterm election results gave educators much to celebrate. More than 1,000 teachers, professors, education support professionals (ESP), and administrators from both major parties won state and local legislative seats across the country. That’s about two-thirds of almost 1,800 current or former educators from K-12 and higher education who sought office this campaign season, according to NEA. About 100 other educators ran for top state or federal seats, with many more running for seats on school boards and other local offices.

In addition, many gubernatorial and other candidates at the state level made public education a centerpiece of their campaign, second perhaps only to health care or the economy depending on the state or district. Teacher-led protests that swept states last winter and spring lead to a high level of activism among educators, students and parents, and other community members.

“We had a good night,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, during a November 9 panel discussion sponsored by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

As educators look ahead to the next two years and the 2020 presidential election, here are some of the midterm’s key issues, trends, and takeaways.

An infrastructure has been established from the unprecedented level of political activism among educators

While not all educators were victorious on Nov. 6, just being on the ballot increased activism among NEA members and other educators to unprecedented levels of engagement, according to Carrie Pugh, NEA Director of Campaigns and Elections.

“NEA activism was at an all-time high,” Pugh said. “Texting, phone banking, canvassing … we drove an historic movement.”

The massive teacher walkouts, protests, and strikes that took place in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, highlighted the opposition to decades of cuts to public education budgets, teacher salaries, poor working conditions, and in some cases, changes to public pension and retirement plans. Those walkouts and demonstrations were largely organized at the grassroots level and became known as the #RedForEd movement.

The midterm elections were regarded by many as a durability test of the educator uprising after just a few short-term contract and policy gains in states like West Virginia and Arizona. In Oklahoma, for example, legislators were immediately persuaded to invoke teacher raises and make historic investments in public schools – underwritten by a tax on the oil and gas industry.

The sustainability of the #RedForEd movement was later proven in Oklahoma during primaries and runoff elections when eight Republican incumbents who voted against the tax measure that increased funds for public schools and raised teacher pay were unseated. Some were replaced by Republicans who pledged to support strong education policy in the next legislative session.

The movement’s success was further sustained as educators nationwide were inspired to run for office while others volunteered on political campaigns in unprecedented numbers.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools.”

“That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for the #RedForEd wave,” she added. “It raised public awareness of the decrepit conditions of some classrooms.”

Says Pugh: “Educators who stepped up for re-election, or for the first time, will move up and down the pipeline for years to come. A lasting infrastructure has been built.”

A new diverse generation of female, minority, and first-time candidates support strong public schools.

A record 260 female candidates and 195 people of color were on the ballot this year. Many of them were first-time candidates who were also Democrats. While they had varied backstories and a wide range of reasons for running, they emphasized in speeches, forums, and debates about the need to fund public schools and pay teachers and ESPs competitive wages.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said at the Press Club. “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

NEA officials have been encouraged by candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

The diverse freshman class will include two Native American women who won seats in the House of Representatives: Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas. Both have spoken about the need to rethink education in tribal schools. Rashida Tlaib and IIhan Omar are one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively.

Education had a good night, but still much work to do

Democrats entered Election Day needing to flip 23 House seats to retake the chamber. They exceeded that goal by winning at least 37 new seats. While Republicans lost control of the House, they picked up seats in the Senate. Many Republican House members who embraced President Trump lost, but some Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates who backed the president won. The exit polls showed a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s job as president — yet turnout was high among Republican voters.

Ultimately, proponents of building strong public schools will have to shift their focus away from school choice schemes such as vouchers and back to funding good schools for every student.

In Arizona, for example, voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked hard to promote the proposition with voters, but “we made sure they (voters) knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

In general, nearly 50 percent of voters “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance in office, compared to roughly 30 percent who approve of the job he’s doing as president, according to election night CNN exit polls. A little more than 50 percent of voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

“The bottom line is this: if you have a poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools,” Eskelsen García said. “That’s what we’re going to take on.”

Educators with actual classroom experience and training will now help shape education agendas

With more than 1,000 teachers, professors, ESPs, and other educators ready to take the oath of office in January, debates over education budgets and policies will take a different turn than in the recent past. Teachers and other educators will hold approximately 15 percent of state legislative positions nationwide as a result of the midterms, according to the National State Legislative Council.

In states like Kentucky, for example, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, 14 out of 51 teachers and educators won their elections.

“Their voice, credibility, and perspective are invaluable,” said Pugh.

Their expertise is also in dire need, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a report titled, “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” the center found that over the last 10 years, 25 states are still providing less total funding per student than they were in 2008.

In Colorado, ESP Rochelle Galindo, 28, won her state House race. Galindo, who served on the Greeley City Council, is a member of the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association and head custodian at Lafayette Elementary School.

NEA Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss (center) campaigns with Rochelle Galindo (far right). On Nov. 6, Galindo won a seat in the Colorado State House.

“Our schools continue to grow yet have to fight for a small pool of funding,” Galindo says on her campaign website. “I will fight to provide schools with the funding they need in order to establish a quality education for all Colorado students.”

At the national level, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became Connecticut’s first black representative. Rep.-elect Hayes is a former high school teacher who campaigned on strengthening the public-school system.

The new resistance insists on being heard over the voices of Trump-DeVos and incumbents like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

“The Women’s March in Washington was an answer to President Trump’s inauguration,” Pugh said. “A number of women candidates stepped up, won primaries, and are now going to Congress.”

At the time of the march, which took place one day after Trump’s inauguration, Republican officials and conservative pundits said the activism would not last. Clearly, the movement sustained its energy and mission and has translated into real political change.

“It shows the importance of ongoing commitment and infrastructure,” Pugh said. “It led to the increased turnout.”

Pugh also stressed the importance of recruiting and training good candidates, such as through programs like NEA’s See Educators Run.

At the Press Club, Eskelsen García stressed that public education issues gained momentum from mainstream voters who oppose Trump policies involving vouchers, school privatization, and the appointment of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

According to Politico, DeVos was mentioned in $3 million worth of political TV ads and dozens of Facebook ads, overwhelmingly Democratic. Her advocacy for vouchers, charter schools, dampening civil rights protections for students, and promoting loan servicing companies over student borrowers motivated voters in the opposite direction.

Says Eskelsen García: “Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our website, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public.”

Education was the No. 2 issue in campaign ads for most of the 36 gubernatorial races, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers, the current superintendent of public instruction, defeated Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, primarily on a pro-education platform. According to polling by Marquette University Law School, approximately 40 percent of voters in Wisconsin put K-12 education as one of their top two issues.

Walker took office in 2011 and soon spearheaded passage of an anti-union act that dismantled collective bargaining rights, which accounted for median educator salaries dropping by 2.6 percent and median benefits by 18.6 percent.

Governor-elect Evers proposed increasing investment in all levels of education.



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How Public Education Shaped Election 2018


Votes are still being counted in many states, but the final tally is not going to change the bottom line: Big change is on its way to Washington D.C. and state capitals across the nation.  Come January 2019, newly-minted lawmakers will have to get down to the job of governing and delivering on the promises they ran on.

This includes the many candidates, particularly at the state level, who made public education a centerpiece of their campaign. In 2019, education was a top tier issue, second perhaps only to health care. Did it really drive voters to the polls last Tuesday? What role did the  #RedforEd movement play? How will education policy in individual states actually change?

These were some of the questions before a panel of experts assembled by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club on Friday. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, and Scott Pattison, executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association joined moderator Daarel Burnette of Education Week to review the education issue’s impact in Election 2018 and look ahead to 2019.

Burnette first asked each panelist for their top takeaways from an election that saw impressive wins up and down the ballot for candidates with pro-public education track records.

The level of political engagement among educators, Eskelsen García said, was extraordinary.

“[NEA] has never see anything like it. We saw an 165% increase in folks who said they would do something more than vote. They saw this as a pivotal election.”

Eskelsen García credited the #RedforEd movement, not only for fueling educator activism across the country, but also for fundamentally changing the conversation about public schools.

The teacher-bashing rhetoric of the past was nowhere to be heard. Instead, both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García said, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools. That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for those teachers in the #RedforEd wave.”

Scott Pattison was also struck by the dominance of the education issue – along with health care and jobs – in stump speeches and campaign ads.

“Twenty years ago, every gubernatorial candidate wanted to be known as the ‘education governor.’  Then everyone was the ‘jobs governor.’ Now those two have been put together,” Pattison explained. “There’s a broader expansion in how they see education effecting these other issues, including the opioid crisis.”

Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? …We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”- NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

While Frederick Hess agreed that the 2018 election results were good for public education in that candidates were “saying nice things about schools,” he was less sure of education as a critical factor in any race. Hess questioned whether public education actually motivated many people to vote and called the success rate for educator candidates and pro-public education ballot initiatives underwhelming.

“I’m just skeptical of the political saliency of the education issue,” Hess said.

As Pattison pointed out, however, no candidate in 2018 wanted to be seen as being hostile to public schools.

“In this environment, no one wanted to face the voters as someone who wanted to  cut education,” Pattison said. “There was at least a strong desire [among incumbents] to be able to point to their record and say ‘I increased spending on education.’”

While it is true that many educators who ran for political office were defeated, the importance of getting into the race and talking about the future of public education cannot be overstated.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said.  “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

Eskelsen García also argued that the debate over the future of public education has reached far beyond educators and policy wonks. In addition to the attention over the plight of underfunded schools, the appointment of Betsy DeVos – and the intense opposition it triggered – signaled education’s standing as an urgent national issue.

“Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our web site, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public,” Eskelsen García said.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, Scott Pattison of the National Governors Association (left) and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Election 2018 and public education at the National Press Club on November 9.

Burnette asked the panelists about the challenges governors will face next year in finding the revenue to increase education funding.

Pattison replied that governors and legislatures are limited in what they can do because an anti-tax climate still exists, even in those states that elected new leaders.  “There’s not a lot of flexibility on the revenue side.  It comes down to the decision-making process, but there are a limited parameters and all kinds of competing priorities. And the economy may face a downturn in the next few years.”

Eskelsen García said the nation needs to take a hard look at those “priorities.”

“Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? It’s always called an “economic development program” but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize,” Eskelsen García said. “We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”

To be successful, however, the conversation also has to shift its focus away from “school choice” schemes that siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools. On Tuesday, voters in Arizona rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked overtime to sell the proposition to the voters, but “we made sure they knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

“We need to stop taking about these distractions,” she added. “The bottom line is this: if you have a  poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools. That’s what we’re going to take on.”



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Election 2018: Voters Deliver Big Wins for Public Education


Last Spring, educators in state after state took to the streets to demand greater investments in public schools. The protests launched the #RedforEd movement to elevate public education as a top national issue and harness the energy of educators everywhere and carry it to the ballot box in November.

On Tuesday, they delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates – many of them former or current educators – into office at every level of government.

The victories marked a major victory for students and education and serve as a mandate for real change in our public education system.

The 2018 election may prove to be a turning point for public education, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” said Eskelsen García. “Candidates across the country witnessed unprecedented activism by educators in their races. Standing up for students and supporting public education were deciding factors for voters, and educators will hold lawmakers to their promises.”

The balance of power will shift in Washington D.C. as the Democrats’ new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will serve as an important check on President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 100 women were elected to the House, the most in U.S. history.

It was the gubernatorial and state legislature contests, however, that delivered the most impressive wins for pro-public education candidates. Education policy is decided primarily by these legislatures and the bulk of money allocated to public schools comes from state and local coffers. Winning these races was critical, which is why NEA focused its mobilization efforts most sharply in individual states.

At least 290 state legislative seats and seven state chambers were flipped to pro-public education majorities, many in states that have suffered through a decade of devastating cuts to education and relentless attacks on educators and other public sector workers. Beyond that, at least seven governorships were flipped, including Tony Evers, who put an end to the Scott Walker era in Wisconsin and J.B. Pritzker defeated Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

Walker, of course, led the attacks on public sector unions with Act 10, the 2011 anti-collective bargaining law. In 2015, Rauner was chiefly responsible for pushing the Janus case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Other big wins included former high school teacher Tim Walz in Minnesota, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Janet Mills in Maine, Brad Little in Idaho, Laura Kelly in Kansas, and Michelle Lujan-Grisham in New Mexico.

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election. That’s a 165 percent increase in activism engagement this election cycle compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

There were a number of state ballot initiatives put before the voters that effected education funding. Maryland voters approved Question 1, whichwill require casino revenue to be set aside for schools, potentially raising $500 million annually for K-12 education. Montana voters approved LR-128, a $6 million levy to support the state’s public colleges and universities.

The 2018 elections also saw an unprecedented number of educators step up and run for office. According to an NEA analysis, nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats this year and more than 100 more vied for top state or federal offices. Many of these candidates hailed from states that experienced #RedForEd walkouts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators who were on the general election ballot.

While results were still being tallied on Wednesday, the message sent by these candidates is loud and clear.

“After decades of starving education funding, educators said, ‘I can do better,’” said Eskelsen García. “They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve,” said Eskelsen García.

Despite the victories in Election 2018, Eskelsen García added, educators will continue to engage with our elected officials so they stay focused on delivering for the nation’s students.

“Educators have had enough of empty promises from politicians. We told them we’d remember in November, and educators keep their promises,” Eskelsen García said. “As a result of the historic #RedForEd movement and the 2018 midterm election, educators have found their voice, and they are going to continue to hold lawmakers accountable after this election.”

For all the latest updates on Election 2018 results, visit NEA Education Votes.



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The Bittersweet Experience of Teaching Overseas


Judi Nicolay has taught in Brussels for 24 years (Photo: Leilani Hyatt)

Randy Ricks teaches at Lester Middle School located on Kadena U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a short plane flight away.

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture,” says Ricks, a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA). “The opportunities to travel are great.”

In Brussels, Judi Nicolay teaches English, history, and finance to the children of military service personnel and foreign diplomats at the annex of the U.S Army Garrison. Cities like Hamburg, Germany, Paris, and Vienna, are a drive or train ride away.

“It’s one of the advantages . . . seeing new places,” says Nicolay, who has taught in Brussels for 24 years out of her 30 as a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the civilian branch of the Department of Defense that serves more than 70,000 students of service members and civilian staff in 11 nations, seven U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For 28 years, Stacey Mease taught school in South Korea and Turkey before her current assignment at Robinson Barracks Elementary School in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The military community is really a melting pot,” says Mease, a former military dependent who attended four DoDEA schools growing up. “I enjoy working with people from all over America who have different backgrounds.”

The combination of living overseas for years, while firmly planted in U.S. military culture, helps some FEA members cope with being away from family back home, according to Rhoda Rozier Cody, who teaches at Humphreys Central Elementary School at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in the middle of the South Korean countryside.

“Day to day life is pretty normal, but when we travel it is to places that we may not be able to visit if we were working in the States,” she says. “It is a global experience working overseas.”

DoDEA’s Changing Landscape

Weekend train trips across Europe. Basking in the Middle Eastern sun. Wandering the cobblestone streets of ancient Asian cities. That’s only part of the experience of working overseas for DoDEA. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of negative aspects to the job.

“There are many reasons why I joined DoDEA that are no more,” says a veteran teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some teachers fear losing their jobs.”

Stacey Mease

Stacey Mease teaches in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Sabrina Wilson)

While DoDEA schools have adequate resources, there are many components that make the job challenging.

“DoDEA used to provide very good professional development both during the summer and school year that really met the needs of teachers,” says a teacher, who has worked with DoDEA since the 1990s. “In recent years, professional development has been one-size-fits-all.”

After more than 30 years of teaching within the DoDEA system, as well as growing up in a military family, a second educator expresses dismay about a lack of support from DoDEA officials.

“These last few years, we are having an issue getting respect from our leaders,” the teacher says. “It is a shame, because living overseas, our teachers, administrators, students and parents have always been more like a family.”

According to several accounts by FEA members who were attracted to DoDEA by the chance to work in a variety of countries, opportunities to transfer to a different location within the system have all but vanished.

An Imperfect System Getting Worse

DoDEA salaries and benefits are commensurate with those in school systems based in the U.S. As federal employees working overseas, teachers receive benefits that include health insurance, retirement contributions and allowances for housing and transportation.

Under the tax law passed this year, allowances and assistance for airfare and the shipment of vehicles, clothing, furniture and other household goods are now being considered as income and therefore taxable. DoDEA has not clearly communicated the change to new teachers entering the system, FEA says. Consequently, new teachers and retirees are being blindsided by a high tax debt.

“There is a current effort by the federal government to place an unfair tax burden on employees who receive moving assistance from the government when entering or leaving federal service,” says FEA President Chuck McCarter. “In addition, too many people are not receiving their proper pay or having their pay docked for bogus debts the government claims they owe. FEA continues to press management to resolve these issues.”

Chuck McCarter

Federal Education Association President Chuck McCarter (Photo: Courtesy of FEA)

Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken bargaining rights, union representation, and employees’ rights to due process government-wide are affecting DoDEA teachers.

“They (DoDEA officials) are also forcing bad contracts on our stateside and overseas bargaining units,” says McCarter. “They all stem from DoDEA management’s complete lack of respect for its school-level employees.”

McCarter says DoDEA senior officials possess a pervasive attitude of: “If you’re not happy, make an adult decision and leave.”

“Management simply does not care what building-level educators—the people who actually work with students on a daily basis—have to say about the learning and working environment in our schools,” says McCarter, who spends weeks at a time meeting with FEA members, who belong to eight DoDEA school districts containing 166 schools in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.

When it comes to curriculum, decisions are made by people based at DoDEA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., “who have not been in the classroom in years,” says McCarter.

A separate survey by FEA reveals the following:
– 82 percent of members say DoDEA is not heading in the right direction.
– 17 hours per week, on average, is the time members work outside the duty day.
– 19 percent of members’ workday is spent on non-essential duties assigned by management.

“Decisions are made with no input from the field and no thought to how they’ll be implemented, how to train the school-level staff to use new resources, or how these new programs and initiatives dreamed up by management will impact classroom learning and the amount of time educators have to work directly with students,” he adds. “There is also a disturbing trend toward the micromanagement of classrooms, ignoring educators’ professional judgment.”

Last spring, DoDEA management lobbied Congress—which, along with the Pentagon and White House, serve as DoDEA’s de facto school board—to create a new law governing DoDEA schools that would have gutted bargaining and due process rights.

“Fortunately, with help from NEA members who wrote to Congress on our behalf, we were able to convince lawmakers that DoDEA’s proposal was a bad idea,” says McCarter.

In a 2017 report of the best places to work in the federal government, the Partnership for Public Service ranked DoDEA in the bottom 5 percent—322 out of 339 agencies. The report is an assessment of how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, considering leadership, pay, innovation, and other issues.

Sheltering Members

“As public employees, our members are often afraid to point out problems and shortcomings of DoDEA out of fear of management targeting them for retribution or even dismissal,” says McCarter. “It’s not a healthy environment and certainly not one that would promote improvements in the system.”

The Federal Education Association is NEA’s state affiliate representing more than 8,000 faculty and staff in the DoDEA system. FEA represents two bargaining units: Stateside (including Guam) and Overseas (including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

The overseas unit is divided into two areas:
– Europe, where members are located primarily in the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.
– The Pacific (South Korea, Okinawa, and mainland Japan).

Randy Ricks

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture. The opportunities to travel are great,” says Randy Ricks (Photo: Courtesy of Randy Ricks)

FEA members worldwide include teachers, counselors, school psychologists and speech/language pathologists. Education support professionals (ESP) are part of FEA’s stateside bargaining unit but are represented by other unions overseas. FEA also has an active NEA-Retired membership.

As federal employees, FEA members have strict limitations on their actions and speech in the work place.

“The Association does its best to shelter members, but we simply can’t stop all of the blows when the whole system right now is rigged against federal employees and their unions,” says McCarter.

But there is a bright side to working for DoDEA, he says.

“The faculty and staff in our schools enjoy great respect and support from the military parents and communities we work with,” says McCarter. “And, of course, our members have the utmost respect and appreciation for those military personnel and their families, whom we are honored to serve.”

A Pacific Tale

The U.S. government regularly looks for teachers to work abroad. When Mary Anne Harris was teaching at a Catholic grade school in the early 1990s, she attended an international teachers’ recruitment fair.

“I found the international schools tended to serve the elite members of both American and local nationals near U.S. embassies,” says Harris, in her 26th year with DoDEA, based at Kadena Middle School in Okinawa. “In contrast, DoDEA schools provide educational opportunities for the children of servicemen, like my father.”

Like many FEA members, Harris grew up in a military family. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force.

“I liked the idea of serving those who serve our country,” she says. “DoDEA teachers are a unique group of individuals who left home to seek adventure overseas.”

Harris says her students experience the hardship of frequent residential moves and parent deployments, but still maintain “a resilient moxie that is totally amazing.”

“We are a highly successful school system that provides students with loving, motivational and educational learning opportunities,” she adds.

The same could be said of educators like Harris who in October lived for several days under lockdown and without electricity after Okinawa experienced a massive typhoon.

“We managed,” she says.

Salary Schedule

Educators working overseas are considered defense civilian personnel and are compensated according to a public law (86-91) created for overseas DoDEA schools.

According to figures for the 2017-2018 school year, the pay range is $44,170 (Step 1) for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree through $89,205 at the top of the scale (Step 18) for a teacher with a Ph.D. A teacher with a master’s degree would start at $48,490 (Step 1), reach $64,735 at Step 10 and top out at $78, 795.

Steps 15-18 are longevity steps payable upon completion of four years of service in Steps 14-17, respectively.

Salaries for educators overseas are set at the average pay for educators compiled from more than 250 urban school districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of at least 100,000. Figures for the current school year were still being tabulated at press time.



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How Educator Voices Help Win Fair Contracts


Last year on October 3 the Fresno Teachers Association held a strike vote. With one voice, the membership overwhelmingly supported the move with only 20 out of 3,000 voting against it. It would be their first strike since 1978.

Nobody wanted a strike but FTA was willing to take it that far if for a contract that better served the 74,000 students of their district. Ultimately, a strike was avoided, and a year later, after an historic joint labor and management meeting between the district and the union. Fresno Unified has a new agreement with an 8.5 percent salary increase and a promise to reduce class sizes.

In a news conference with the FTA last month, Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson said that the union and the district are turning “conflict and chaos” into “collaboration and cooperation” between labor groups, district leaders and community members.

“In our community, the poverty level is about 80 percent. For those students, education is beyond just knowledge, it’s life or death,” FTA President Manual Bonilla says. “That’s the way I see it. It’s that critical. We need to serve them as a system, not just as teachers or administrators. We need to work together.”

It was a journey, and Bonilla explains below how they got there and the lessons he learned along the way.

Find Common Ground

Three members of district leadership and three members of union leadership met with a conflict resolution team at Fresno Pacific University, known for strong programs in teacher education and peacemaking and conflict resolution. Through that process, we agreed we had the same goals. We want to serve our 74,000 students and our community, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in America. And we agreed that finding solutions together would have a better impact. So that became our foundation going forward – we have the same goals, let’s have the same solutions. We decided we’d be an example of how systems can come together to effect change.

Expand the Circle

To allow everyone to participate and share their voice, we had to expand the circle. We started with three on each side, but then district invited the union to the principals’ institute and cabinet meetings. We invited the superintendent and his staff to our Representative Council. But there were more voices to be heard. We invited all school site representatives to bargaining meetings. That way we could see that issues that come up to the leadership level are probably system-wide, not just site based.

When I was teaching over the past decade, we weren’t involved in the decision making process on how to achieve the goals of best serving students. Now we – the educators, the union — are more involved than ever. Besides the parents, teachers spend the most time with students. We know better than most what these students need in the classroom. We must be at the table to share our expertise and collaborate. When teachers realized they were being heard, more came forward to share their ideas.

We still have tough conversations and we still will disagree, but how we go about that, different way. Our leaders have emerged and showed us different ways.

Listen and Act

Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla (left) and Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson.

We set up meetings to talk to the parents, teachers, students and community at all seven high schools and each of the middle and elementary schools. We have 106 schools in our district and we wanted each of them to be involved in the process. We asked them what their issues were. What did they want to see? Lower class sizes came up time and time again, and we turned that into bargaining language for the contract. They wanted more social and emotional supports, and that was put into the language, too. Now the contract was seen in the right light – as a direct means to improve education, not just as a business transaction.

You can’t just listen. You must take action, and that won over the community. But it also got teachers more excited. Teachers hadn’t been involved with the union in the past because they didn’t see its role in the day-to-day work of the profession. Now they were seeing how the contract was interwoven into education. Now they were getting involved and we made sure all of their voices were heard.

Be Totally Transparent

We wanted to allow our members to hear everything about the process. We had a core bargaining team that worked during school hours, but we also had an evening team so teachers could listen to what was going on. At the first meeting, maybe 150 educators showed up. By the next, it grew to 400, and to 900 the next time. It just grew and grew. Everyone was invested in the process. Everyone felt like they had a voice. We shared bargaining updates on social media to communicate with members, but also with the community.

We were very, very open. We wanted them to know we have nothing to hide. We were breaking the narrative that collective bargaining is about is about partisan issues and showing them it’s about improving education.

Give Professionals the Voice they Deserve

No matter the field, professionals will be motivated and empowered if they understand the goals of the organization where they work. Beyond wanting to be treated as professionals, we heard from our educators that they need to understand the district’s vision. They want clear expectations and a full picture of where we’re going. They want more communication and they want to feel that their time and expertise is valued and taken into account.

Video: Fresno Teachers Association Strike

If you listen, you can hear a slight sigh of relief, the sound of the ice beginning to crack. I don’t think every single educator feels as if their voice is being heard, but we planted a seed of hope. Are we having great conversations at the district level and leadership level? Yes, but until it filters down all the way to the classroom, we are not done. This meeting was first step. We’ve begun the journey. Everyone feels like this is new and different. It feels different. It feels better. The question, what will show that it’s different? What will the evidence be. Hopefully we’ll see that through the actions we take over the course of this contract.

Stay Union Strong

This process didn’t start two weeks ago. It’s not lost on me that we had to take a strike vote first. Had we not done that, had we not been unified and engaged with our members, we wouldn’t be here. The district leadership need to know that the teachers are speaking with a unified voice. Until you do that, they have no real motivation to bargain seriously. The only reason I was able to be in that room to have those tough conversations was because I knew we had the power of the membership behind me. Going forward, we must keep the members engaged to keep the union strong. That’s how we serve our students and schools.



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Years of Persistence Lead to Double-Digit ESP Wage Hikes


Across Washington state, education support professionals (ESP) have negotiated record-breaking contracts that include pay raises from 21.7 percent for nutrition service workers of the Spokane Education Association (SEA) to hourly wage increases that top off at more than $24 in Touchet and $37 in Bridgeport — an 11 percent increase.

In the southern part of the state, secretaries in Woodland gained an average pay hike of 15 percent starting at $18.33 and topping off at $24.80. Office personnel located at the four schools which comprise Elma School District in Elma received an 18 percent increase.

It’s been an extraordinary bargaining year for ESP members of the Washington Education Association (WEA). While negotiators followed a familiar story line for the first half of the year — fighting in favor of pay raises and against reductions in work hours – the plot took a twist in June when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state would finally comply with the court’s 2012 McCleary Decision. Because of McCleary, state funding for K-12 basic education increased substantially.

“All of a sudden, there was a pot of money on the table,” says Mike McCloud, president of the Bainbridge Island Educational Support Professional Association (BIESPA). For example, the Bainbridge Island School District received an additional $9 million on top of its annual budget allowance.

“We bargained in good faith with school board representatives,” McCloud says. “They wanted to retain and attract skilled people and now they had the means.”

The 18 percent wage increase that BIESPA members received in September provides a starting salary of $18.88 per hour, maxing out at $51.91. Members of the Bridgeport Classified Public Employees Association (BCPEA) members received $17.94 to start while in Touchet, ESP members received an average 13.5 percent increase giving them a starting hourly salary of $14.57. The SEA nutrition service workers starting pay is set at $14.70 per hour, topping off at $30.45.

“In ordinary years, school districts don’t have this kind of money,” McCloud adds. “We were all bargaining for the common good on behalf of students and schools.”

Small Town, High Costs

“Our new wage schedule rightfully rewards those who have stuck with their positions through all the years of minimal increases and reductions in hours and hopefully will attract a new generation to the many roles classified staff fulfill,” says Marcia Millican, BIESPA vice president and a paraeducator at Wilkes Elementary School.

Millican was one of six BIESPA representatives on the bargaining team, which started meeting in February several months before the start of negotiations with the school district. The negotiating team reached a tentative agreement in late July. At a general membership meeting in August, members who were present voted almost unanimously in favor of the agreement.

“Our main objective was to honor the input our members gave us, which was overwhelmingly to obtain wage increases,” she says. “But our work is not done. We will continue to advocate for our members as the demands of our positions are ever-changing.”

Bainbridge Island is in Puget Sound, a short ferry ride from Seattle. It is a small, scenic town with good schools, quaint shops, and a high cost of living.

“Most of BIESPA’s 180 members live on or near the island,” says Jill Van Glubt, a UniServ Director who worked with the bargaining team. “They are subject to that high cost of living.”

Bainbridge teachers also received an 18 percent raise.

“We all (ESPs and teachers) received excellent support and advice from WEA,” says McCloud.

The McCleary Case

“We are proud that WEA members have been at the forefront of the fight for better school funding for decades, including the McCleary court case, which WEA has supported from the start,” says WEA President Kim Mead. “Our years of hard work and advocacy are paying off for the students of Washington.”

The organizing effort culminating in the McCleary Decision started as early as 2004 when WEA members agreed to increase their dues to pay for the expenses related to the beginnings of the lawsuit. The McCleary case was filed in 2007, and a superior court judge ruled in support in 2010. In its 2012 McCleary Decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution:

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

In McCleary, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the state’s 1.1 million students. The court also retained jurisdiction in the case and ordered the state to report back on its progress in complying with the court’s order.

In 2014, the court found the Legislature in contempt for its failure to establish a plan for fully funding K-12 public education by 2018. The Supreme Court responded to this failure by fining the state $100,000 a day. Last June, state compliance with the court’s 2012 order brought closure to the case and a windfall of dollars to school district coffers.

Due Diligence

Located in the Seattle-metropolitan area, members of the Mercer Island Classified Public Employees Association (MICPEA) benefitted from the influx of funding when they received an average increase, this school year, of 16 percent, starting at $23.18 per hour and topping off at $43.23. In another part of the state, Federal Way ESP (FWESP) members received an average increase of just under 17 percent, starting at $23.65 per hour and topping off at $30.34.

The Supreme Court order was not only thing Mercer Island and Federal Way members had in common with BIESPA members. They also had the support of legislators, parents, and school board members who recognized the need to pay ESPs, teachers and other educators a salary commensurate with their training, seniority, and education levels.

“This is a much-needed generational realignment of pay for educators—both teachers and ESP members,” says Mead.

While many WEA ESP locals successfully negotiated significant pay raises, ESP members in several other Washington districts are still at the bargaining table. In districts like North Thurston, Tumwater and Port Angeles, obstinate school boards and superintendents have so far refused to negotiate the pay raises their support employees need and deserve. With WEA’s full backing, ESP members in those districts continue to battle for pay raises.

“Every education support professional deserves fair pay,” Mead says. “WEA will continue to support our ESP members in their ongoing fight for competitive, professional salaries and the respect they deserve. We won’t back down.”



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Retired Teacher Donates Family Farm for Foster Children Housing


Judy Singleton (center) with Randall Greene and Melissa Bailey of Sunrise Children’s Services (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Judy Singleton remembers running up and down the hills on her Kentucky farm as a child. “I used to love to do that as a kid!” Hers was a childhood full of farm activity and animals—a pet lamb, a pet cow, a pet pony, pet dogs, cats, chickens…

But these days, the retired kindergarten teacher isn’t looking back. She’s looking forward to the farm’s future, when it will be transformed into Solid Rock Children’s Ranch, a foster-care home where siblings in foster care can stay together. Last year, Singleton donated her 130-acre Winchester, Ky., family farm to Sunrise Children’s Services, a 150-year-old, non-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to caring for Kentucky’s abused and neglected children, which will use the land to construct two five-bedroom foster homes.

“This was a vision that God placed in my heart,” says Singleton. In her 35-year career as a full-time teacher, plus recent years as a part-time Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher, Singleton has seen an increasing number of children in crisis, who live with grandparents or with parents who can’t capably care for them.

“As I worked with the kids, I began to see all these problems, and God placed in my heart that I could do more.

“I’ve still got some good years ahead of me, and I want to help these kids,” says Singleton, 65, who will continue to live on the farm during her lifetime. As a certified respite caregiver, Singleton can welcome the children into her home, and do crafts, cooking, Bible study, and other after-school activities with them. “I want my home to be a place where they can come and just talk, and know it’s going to be okay. Whatever they need, I want to be that for them.”

With the number of children in foster care rising across the nation, her gift couldn’t come at a better time, notes Melissa Bailey, director of marketing for Sunrise Children’s Services. “When folks like Judy, and other donors, supporters and prayer warriors, find us and contact us, it’s so important to our ministry.

“There are more and more children to help.”

An Epidemic of Need

As opioid addiction has soared across the nation, the need for foster care also has climbed. In 2016, the number of U.S. children in foster care rose for the fourth year in a row, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. By the end of 2016, they numbered about 437,500. For more than a third of those children, a parent’s drug abuse was a factor.

Making matters worse, at least half of U.S. states have seen their foster-care capacity decrease since 2012, according to a Chronicle of Social Change report. Either these states have fewer beds and more youth in foster care, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by the skyrocketing number of children who don’t have parents who can care for them.

Kentucky is no exception. The state’s painkiller and heroin epidemic parallels a 23 percent jump, between 2012 and 2017, in the number of children in foster care. State officials say 71 percent of those children came into foster care as a result of drug abuse.

“Kentucky certainly does have an epidemic on its hand,” says Bailey. “This year, we’re approaching 10,000 kids in state care. We’re at crisis level. So the work that Sunrise Children’s Services does, and other state agencies, is vital.”

Singleton knows these children—and she knows how important it is for them to stay together. “One time, I had this little boy in kindergarten who was actually taking care of his younger siblings! There were three little boys, like stair steps. And when he got to first grade, it was his job to get the kindergartner to school. Eventually they went to live with their grandparents, but it was heartbreaking to see his burden at 5 or 6 years old.”

More recently, as a part-time RTI educator who works specifically with children with challenges, Singleton has found that most of her students are living with grandparents or “in home situations that they should not be in,” she says. “A few years ago, I had a family of five—four girls, one boy—I was working with the boy the year they were removed from the home, and I was very concerned that they would be separated but they were actually placed with an older lady together.”

Sibling Power

Studies show that siblings placed together in foster care are less likely to run away, less likely to have behavioral issues, and more likely to succeed academically. They feel safer and more supported. And federal law does require states to make a reasonable effort to keep siblings together, unless there are safety reasons not to do so.

“It’s traumatic enough that they’ve been removed from their biological home and parents,” says Bailey. “Breaking them up is really detrimental to their healing.”

But keeping siblings together isn’t easy. Not many foster homes can accommodate more than one or two children, notes Bailey. “In an ideal situation, we’d have siblings working together, healing together, under one roof. But when you have a sibling group of four, five, six kids, which we see from time to time, we don’t often have one roof for them to go under together.”

Sunrise and Singleton’s vision for the Solid Rock Children’s Ranch calls for the construction of two, five-bedroom cabins where siblings can stay and heal together. The first phase will establish the necessary infrastructure—a new access road, plus water, septic and electric systems—and the first of the two cabins, and cost about $500,000.

So far, Sunrise has raised about $20,000. “We’ve got a little ways to get there,” says Bailey, “but we’re confident the Lord will provide and our friends and supporters will gather.”

“I know God didn’t bring me this far for it not to be finished and completed.”



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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael


This Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, center, in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA via AP)

The devastation to the panhandle of Florida will likely be catastrophic as Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the area in more than a century, makes landfall.  An extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, it is a life-threatening event for large portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, where residents have never experienced such a powerful storm.

After devastating coastal communities with a storm surge that could climb to 13 feet in some areas, flash flooding is also a concern. Forecasters predict the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, southeast Alabama and parts of Georgia could receive four to eight inches of rain, with some spots getting as much as a foot.

Once again, the National Education Association and its members stand ready to help.

“Hurricane Michael has swelled to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds that could tear through the region today and tomorrow,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.  “In the spirit of solidarity and compassion, NEA is asking its members and the public, as we did last year after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and just last month after Hurricane Florence, to help educators and schools affected by Hurricane Michael. Communities in North and South Carolina are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Florence.”

NEA members, their students, and communities will need ongoing contributions to make it through the relief and recovery phase, which is often months, if not years, long.

“They need to know we are with them, that we share their sorrow and empathize with their losses. Our compassion and generous donations will help restore their hope that tomorrow will be better,” says Eskelsen García.

Donations can be made to the NEA-MB’s GoFundMe page for Hurricane Michael Relief Fund, which will go a long way to replace belongings and the many expenses educators and their families will certainly incur in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“All of us can play a role in rebuilding the lives of those impacted by these natural disasters, standing strong for our members and their families, and mending communities,” said Eskelsen García. “On behalf of affected NEA members, thank you for your prayers and generosity.”

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

NEA Member Benefits is here to support educators in tough times. For members affected by Hurricane Michael, including damage to a house, auto, or classroom as the result of the hurricanes, visit www.neamb.com/disaster-assistance.htm for more information about which NEA MB Partner offers might apply to you and your situation. You may also contact the Member Service Center toll-free at 1-800-637-4636.

NEA Resources

Educators know that when disasters such as Hurricane Florence strike, children are often traumatized and they need help from families and educators to cope and heal. NEA is providing resources and information to help deal with students’ fears and questions.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)
A step-by-step outline of what to do before, during, and after any school or community crisis like a natural disaster. NEA offers best practices that address the full spectrum of crisis response from how to prevent and prepare for a crisis to how to respond and recover in the minutes, days and weeks following the event.

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

American Red Cross The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety central web site for North Carolina response.

The American School Counselor Association provides an extensive list of resources for helping kids deal with hurricanes and floods.

Colorin Colorado Colorin Colorado is a bilingual web site for educators and families has information on how to help children after a natural disaster and additional resources.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network “After the Hurricane: Helping Young Children Heal”.

Harvest Hope Food Banks are in need of donations for food banks across the Carolinas.

United Way provides basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine, as well as the long-term recovery services.

Additional Resources

Tips for Parents: Helping Kids Cope with Hurricane Harvey (Save the Children)

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: 15 Moving Books for Kids of All Ages (Brightly)

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)

 

 

 



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School Funding Goes Directly Before the Voters


As voters head to the polls on Nov. 6, educators in Florida are going to be particularly eager to bring the Rick Scott era to a close. As governor, Scott kept the state’s education funding to crippling lows and never came across a school privatization scheme – or a tax break for the state’s wealthiest citizens – he didn’t wholeheartedly champion.

The Florida Education Association is supporting Andrew Gillum, who has called for increased funding for public schools and a brake on the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Electing Gillum – not to mention like-minded state legislators – is critical. But in 2018 that victory by itself may not be enough. Further down on the November ballot voters will also find a proposed state amendment that could potentially straightjacket any new plans to reinvest in public education.

It’s called Amendment 5. If approved, it will require any new revenues for any purpose be approved by at least a 2/3 majority of legislators in each house. (Currently, the legislature needs a simple majority to pass any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones). This supermajority threshold essentially empowers a small number of legislators to block budget proposals that invest in key public services, locking into place Rick Scott’s legacy of austerity for public schools and tax breaks for corporations for decades to come. (Needless to say, Amendment 5 does not extend to efforts to further cut taxes for the wealthy.)

Amendment 5 would likely force even deeper education cuts in a state that already already ranks low on many education funding and performance measures. According to an analysis by the Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Florida ranks 47th in attracting and retaining effective teachers, 44th in high school graduation rates, and 42nd in spending per K-12 student.

The FPI report warns those rankings could dip even further in an economic downturn:

“The rising cost of competing priorities could shift support away from education. If a two-thirds majority cannot be reached, then local lawmakers would be forced to choose between raising local taxes or reducing support for schools and other local priorities.”

As in Florida, the underfunding of public schools has taken center stage across the nation this campaign season. Educators are out in force, leading a #RedforEd movement to sweep pro-education candidates into office (there are 554 educators on the ballot this fall) and push an aggressive legislative agenda to reinvest in their students.

Elections aren’t just about candidates. In many states, voters in 2018 may be determining the future of public school funding.  State ballot measures – the good, the bad and the ugly – have risen the stakes.

florida amendment 5

‘Schools Cemented Into a Permanent Recession’

Florida isn’t the only state where powerful interests are using ballot measures to choke off revenue streams for public services and secure tax breaks for the wealthy. A similar scheme is underway in North Carolina, another state another still reeling from decade of deep cuts to education.

Senate Bill 75 would cap the state income tax rate at 7% (a decrease from the current constitutionally-mandated 10%). Supporters like to call the proposal merely a way to protect taxpayers. What it is, says Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, is “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.”

According to estimates, an income tax cap would drain $3.5 million annually from the state’s coffers, damaging any effort to make significant investments in public schools and students. Jewell says it would also force lawmakers to increase other taxes, such as property and sales taxes, which disproportionately burden working families.

A flexible income tax helped keep the state afloat in the previous two recessions.  According to the North Carolina Justice Center, “state policymakers enacted temporary top brackets on high-income taxpayers to raise revenue that minimized cuts to public schools, public health, and other investments that were important to the long-term well-being and economic success of the state.”

If a cap is implemented, the state’s public education system will face dire consequences. Progress NC Action called SB75 the “sound of North Carolina’s public schools cemented into a permanent recession.”

Public education activists in North Carolina and Florida believe the experience of other states serve as cautionary tales.

north carolina income tax cap amendment

In November, voters in North Carolina will decide whether to cap the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates at 7 percent. Mark Jewell of the North Carolina Association of Educators calls the proposal “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.” (Photo: NCAE)

Since 1992, Colorado’s schools have been under the thumb of the so-called “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” (TABOR), a voter-approved referendum that drastically limited the amount of revenue governments could collect and spend.  Although lawmakers have loosened its restrictions, Colorado spends $2,000 less per student on average, compared with other states. Teacher pay is well below the national average, and schools are constantly struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified educators.

Colorado, meanwhile, has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.

In June, activists delivered 175,000 signatures (significantly more than the required 100,000) to place Amendment 73 on the 2018 ballot. The amendment would raise $1.6 billion a year in additional revenue for Colorado’s public schools, bringing the state closer to the national average in school funding.

Getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is no easy task in Colorado. Activists had to collect signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in all 35 Colorado Senate districts, a new rule implemented in 2016 to make it more difficult to change the state’s constitution.

In such a healthy economy, the state has run out of excuses not to bolster school funding. “It is up to all of us to get Amendment 73 passed by voters to ensure students and educators across Colorado have access to a high-quality public education no matter where they live,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.

Sharing the Growing Economy With Students

Educators in Hawaii and Utah are also determined to open new revenue streams for their students.

Utah educators are campaigning for Question 1, which asks voters to approve a small increase in the gas tax (costing the average driver only $4 a month), with 70 percent invested in public education and 30 percent to improve local roads.

If Question 1 is approved, it could generate more than $100 million in new funding for Utah schools, money that goes directly to classrooms and teacher salaries. “Question 1 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, which worked with community members across the state and the legislature to get the measure on this year’s ballot.

Writing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah teachers Aaryn Birchell, Valerie Gates, Allison Riddle, and Gay Beck called attention to how the funding generated by Question 1 will empowers those who know their students best:

“Individual schools would create a plan detailing how their allocation will be invested to meet the needs of their students, while the school board verifies the funds are used only for academic purposes. This innovative approach allows each community to participate in how the funding is spent, measure what results are achieved, and ensure that funding isn’t used toward district administration or school construction.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), voters in the state will vote on a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would permit the Legislature to place a “surcharge” on investment properties valued at more than $1 million, with revenue to be used to fund public education.

No state in the nation allocates a smaller percentage of both state and local revenue toward education than Hawaii.

“If the 1 percent want to call Hawaii home then they should be giving back — and that starts with paying their fair share to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president.

“Every year we say education is a priority,” he added. “But we don’t do enough to improve chronic underfunding of public education while Hawaii’s children are falling behind and schools struggle to prepare students for 21st-century jobs.”



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No Food, Paper, or Pencils Left Behind


Boxes of donated school supplies are ready for shipment to schools in Puerto Rico.

Shiny apples, carrot bags, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, full containers of applesauce, sealed cartons of raisons, and unopened milk cartons. That’s what paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess would see students tossing into the trash every day as she supervised lunch at Davies Middle School in the Hamilton Township of Atlantic County, N.J.

A shocking amount of food meandered from lunch line, to tray, to trash. It was nearly enough to fill several 50-gallon cans, the educator says. In a county struggling with food insecurity, Von Ness refused to stand idly by. She began to investigate ways to fix a system that she says was clearly broken.

“I was appalled by the food waste at school,” Von Hess says. “We have two food pantries in our town overwhelmed with people in need.”

Showing Community Spirit

Seeing an abundance of food in one corner of her life and a severe need for food in another, Von Hess knew what to do.

First, she contacted the cafeteria food services manager who informed her that all food was funded by a state grant which required by law that students receive an item from each food group. Once food hit the tray, it could not return to the kitchen. The obvious destination for unwanted food? The cafeteria’s large gray trash cans.

Von Hess continued to search for information. She found no rule that said the unconsumed food couldn’t be earmarked for a destination beyond the cafeteria.

Making Connections

Pointing to the closure of nearby Atlantic City casinos between 2014 and 2016, Von Hess recalls how the closures rippled into households.

“They’re struggling to keep their homes and feed their families,” Von Hess points out.

Many of the area’s families depend on food pantries to survive. And donations help to fuel the survival of the food pantries. Von Hess, a member of the Hamilton Township Education Association, explained the donation idea to the food centers in her area. They loved it!

Next, she created a detailed proposal, and headed to a meeting of the district school administration bearing a detailed plan with a name created by her son: “No Food Left Behind.”

“Administrators were excited by the idea,” Von Hess says.

The program began at Davies in March 2015 and exceeded expectations. According to Von Hess, students were eager to donate unwanted food items.

Here’s how it works: Students drop unwanted food in boxes. After lunch, paraprofessionals sort the items into categories for delivery to food pantries the same day.

Over the summer of 2015, Von Hess collaborated with principals and paraprofessionals from neighboring schools to help them start their own programs. By that September, several schools were collecting food too.

“The food that we take to the pantries helps a lot,” says Von Hess. Collectively, the schools donate about 40 reusable grocery totes of food to area pantries per week. Von Hess says schools contact her often seeking advice about pioneering their own programs.

“That’s very rewarding,” she says.

“My role as a paraprofessional has helped me to see community problems,” says Von Hess who is proud that her school got the ball rolling with “people who did not hesitate to jump in to help.”

Students deposit unwanted food items in boxes at the Davies Middle School in New Jersey for delivery to local food pantries. (Photo:Kathryn Coulibay)

Responding to Tragedy Across Borders

In La Grange, Ill., Mary Ann Rivera, a special education paraeducator, was overcome with grief in 2017 as she watched television coverage of Hurricane Maria destroy her childhood neighborhood in Puerto Rico. She was compelled to act.

“The fact that my island has suffered so much and has been ignored, hurts me,” she says. “I had to do something.”

Rivera works at Lyons Township High School. At the end of last school year, she noticed students and teachers carrying loads of unused school supplies from their classrooms and thought they might want to donate supplies to students in Puerto Rico.

“Being an educator, I knew that I wanted to help the schools,” says Rivera. “I knew they would too.”

Like Von Hess, rather than wait for a solution to providing school supplies or food to those in need, Rivera took the bold step to bring educators and community members together for the common good.

Several months after the hurricane hit, Rivera’s husband surprised her with a July trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

”I was so happy, but I reminded him that we would have to help students in some way once we were there,” says Rivera, a member of the Lyons Township Paraeducators Association.

Before departing, she called teachers and principals in Yabucoa, a coastal community deemed “Ground Zero” for the hurricane. She learned that more than anything, they needed school supplies.

Beyond Expectations

At first, Rivera collected supplies by word of mouth at her school. She also posted an announcement on social media and handed out flyers for distribution in her area.

Initially, Rivera planned to pack the school supplies in a suitcase. But to her delight, her home was flooded with notebooks, pens, pencils, and paper. She soon had to ask for donations to cover boxing and shipping costs.

In the end, Rivera collected 84 boxes of school supplies and $6,700—a feat she “never imagined,” she says. Rivera, now wants to connect educators in Puerto Rico with NEA members across the country to establish an “adopt-a- classroom” program.

“It’s important to get involved in helping others,” Rivera says. “By doing so, others will jump in.”

Want to serve your community by starting a donation program? Here’s how to get started:

IDENTIFY A NEED: Then invite ESP at your school to get involved.

LEARN THE RULES: Ask about school liability policies, particularly regarding perishable food items.

BE PERSISTENT: It’s good to be annoying on Facebook.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: Provide easy contribution options like Venmo or Paypal.

THINK LONG TERM: Find ways to expand your project, even after immediate project goals are met.



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10 Challenges Facing Public Education Today


Whether you’re a classroom teacher, school counselor, paraeducator, bus driver, cafeteria worker or school secretary, everyone who works in a public school faces a new school year ready to do the job they love. But they are also prepared to confront undeniable challenges. These challenges may differ district to district, school to school, but one thing is clear: the voice of educators is needed now more than ever and their unions are providing the megaphone. It’s not up to our teachers and school staff to shoulder this burden themselves. Administrators, parents, communities, lawmakers must do their part. But as the mobilization of educators that began earlier this year has demonstrated so powerfully – the “Educator Spring” as NEA President Lily Eskelsen García calls it – the nation is finally listening to what they have to say.

 

When educators from around the country walked out of their classrooms last spring, their message was clear: Our students deserve better. By taking this action, they said no more jam-packed classrooms with 40-plus desks, no more decades-old textbooks held together with rubber bands, and no more leaky ceilings, broken light fixtures, pest infestations, and cuts to basic curricula that are essential to a well-rounded education.

“We are truly in a state of crisis,” says Noah Karvelis, an educator from Arizona, where cuts to public school funding have been deeper than anywhere else in the country.

Public school funding has been cut to the quick all over the country after excessive and reckless tax cuts.

It’s been more than 10 years since the Great Recession, but many states are providing far less money to their schools today than they did before the crash. Our schools are crumbling and educators are leaving the profession in droves, unable to pay off student debt or make ends meet on stagnant salaries.

As of the 2017 – 2018 school year, at least 12 states had slashed “general” or “formula” funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Seven of the states—Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—enacted tax cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year, instead of restoring education funding.

“To add to this heartache, new teachers in our state of North Carolina have never known anything different, and many even believe our current reality is normal,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher and president of North Carolina’s Guilford County Association of Educators. “While the wealthy and corporate elite recovered from the recession of 2008, public school teachers and their students did not. North Carolina public school teachers make more than 11 percent less on average than we did 15 years ago when salaries are adjusted for inflation.”

But it’s the students who suffer the most from budget cuts, particularly poor students. Public education has been a pathway out of poverty for families for generations, but that pathway is blocked when schools are unable to offer a decent education.Too often, low-income students end up in schools with the lowest funding, fewest supplies, the least rigorous curriculum, and the oldest facilities and equipment, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On average, school districts spend around $11,000 per student each year, but the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of students of color get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color, the study says.

No more, says Todd Warren.

“There are enough of us to say, ‘Enough!’” says Warren. “It is time to leverage our power now.”

Join millions of voices fighting for our nation’s public school students and educators. Take the #RedforEd Pledge! 

 

A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center conducted two months after this year’s February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., showed that 57 percent of U.S. teenagers are worried that a shooting could take place at their own school. One in four are “very worried” about the chance.

Those numbers are staggering but hardly surprising given the rash of school shootings that have captured headlines this year, and in previous years. Since the shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in April 1999, more than 187,000 U.S. students have been exposed to gun violence in school.

Fed up with lawmakers’ inaction, students across the nation in 2018 are leading a national movement to bring common sense to the discussion.

Educators understand if students don’t feel safe at school, achievement suffers. It’s the paramount duty of everyone in the community–and the politicians who represent them–to help create safe learning spaces.

Arming teachers and school staff is not the answer. According to an NEA survey, seven in 10 educators said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Educators across the U.S. stood up to reject the idea that more weapons would help save student lives. As of May 2017, only one state had passed a law that mandated arming teachers and staff.

“We don’t want to be armed. We want better services for our students,” says Corinne McComb, an elementary educator from Norwich, Conn. “More psychologists and counselors who can be present for the students more than one day a week or month. We need services for families. We have the money, we can do this.”

 

Kathy Reamy, a school counselor at La Plata High School in La Plata, Md., says the trend is unmistakable.

“Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever,” says Reamy, who also chairs the NEA School Counselor Caucus. “There’s just so much going on in this day and age, the pressures to fit in, the pressure to achieve, the pressure of social media.”

It doesn’t help, adds Denise Pope of Stanford University, that schools have become “a pressure cooker for students and staff…and student and teacher stress feed off each other.”

According to a 2018 study by the University of Missouri, 93 percent of elementary school teachers report they are “highly stressed.”

Stressful schools aren’t healthy for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure, a little nervousness over an exam, or a teacher who wants students to succeed. We all feel pressure, but something else is going on.

The causes and convergence of teacher and student stress has been a growing concern over the past decade. Research has consistently shown that stress levels in newer educators especially is leading many of them to exit the profession within five years.

Teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom. If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.

One solution for students could be more one-on-one time with psychologists and counselors. But that’s a challenge since so many of those positions have been cut and are not coming back. That said, more and more schools take the issue of stress seriously, and have begun to look at ways to change policies over homework, class schedules, and later school start times to help alleviate the pressure many students feel.

“People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what that does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement,” says Pope. “Schools and communities know stress is a problem and they want solutions.”

 

Think back on the days when you were in middle school and high school. Remember the awkwardness, anxiety, and angst that hung over you like a cloud? Your students, no matter their behavior, are probably grappling with the same troubling emotions, says Robin McNair, the Restorative Practices Program coordinator for Prince George’s County in Maryland.

“When you look beyond behavior, when you truly look at the person behind the behavior, you’ll often find a cry for help,” says McNair, whose work in Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) aims to drastically reduce suspensions and expulsions, increase graduation rates, and transform student behaviors.

RJP has proven to be the most effective way for educators to break the school-to-prison pipeline, a national trend where children—mostly low-income and children of color—are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through harsh “zero tolerance” discipline policies for even minor infractions.

In the 2013 – 2014 school year, the most recent nationwide data available, black students were three times more likely to receive both in-school and out-of-school suspensions than white students.

Rather than casting out students after wrongdoing, RJP seeks to reintegrate them into the classroom or school community to make amends and learn how to handle problems more positively. 

Simply put, students are better off in school than they are when they’re kicked out and left to their own devices in an empty home or apartment, where court involvement becomes more likely. But all students who participate in RJP—even those not directly involved in a conflict—report feeling safer and happier.

McNair suggests that educators strive to create a tight-knit community, even a family, in their classrooms from day one so that students not only know each other, but genuinely care about each other. 

“Restorative practices aren’t only for use after a conflict or incident. These practices allow us to proactively build community within a classroom and within a school by nurturing relationships between teachers and students,” McNair says. “When students know that you care about them they are more likely to follow the rules and more likely to stay in the classroom and do the work,” adds McNair.

Learn more about restorative practices in schools.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), about 8 million students missed more than three weeks of school during the 2015 – 2016 school year, up from 6.8 million the previous year.

Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year. This translates  to roughly 18 days a year, or two days every month. Chronic absenteeism is usually a precursor to dropping out. And dropouts often wind up before the court.

Educators like Lois Yukna have created innovative ideas designed to keep kids in school. Others can learn from what Yukna is doing. 

For more decades, Yukna was a school bus driver in Middlesex County, N.J. Today, Yukna is a school attendance officer in New Jersey’s Woodbridge Township School District. Her job now is to make sure that once students get to school, they stay. 

When students don’t attend school regularly, Yukna works closely with students, parents, and the courts to turn the situation around.

“Something needed to be done because the main goal is to educate students, and they can’t be educated if they’re not in school,” says Yukna.

She noticed that students who were frequent no-shows at school were the same ones whose behavior when they attended resulted in detentions, suspensions, and sometimes, trouble with police.

Yukna and a guidance counselor in the Woodbridge district put their heads together to come up with something that would emphasize restorative practices instead of suspension and encourage students to return to and stay in school.

Supported by NEA grants, the program exposes about 100 students “to a world of possibilities through internships, mentorships, and achievement incentives.” Parents have classes on nutrition, health, and the impact of social media and family dynamics on learning. “They learn how to motivate their children to come to school and do their best,” Yukna says.

In the first year, approximately 85 percent of the students improved in at least one area: academics, attendance, or attitude. In the second year, all of the students improved in each area. Best of all, of the participants who were seniors, 100 percent graduated in 2017.

—Contributed by Joye Barksdale

 

In the last few years, schools and states nationwide have spent a lot of time designing new plans to coincide with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016. 

Now that ESSA state implementation plans are done, what should educators expect in the new school year? 

Expect to see more schools identified for improvement under the law’s expanded accountability system. Some states, like Washington, have already released their list of schools, which were identified through multiple measures of academic and school quality indicators, not just test scores.

The challenge here is that while the accountability system was expanded, the money to help support the additional schools identified for improvement was not. These schools will be put on tiers of support. The greatest amount of money will go to the highest priority and trickle down. 

As the school year continues, district leaders will need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also paraeducators, nurses, librarians, counselors, and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical. 

“Get in front of it,” recommends Donna Harris-Aikens, director of NEA’s Education Policy and Practice department. “It is possible that the principal or superintendent in a particular place may not be focused on this yet.”

To learn what’s available at their schools, educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school, and the Opportunity Audit, a tool that is rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

While some may be discouraged by the thought of placing more schools on an improvement plan, the truth is that despite some funding challenges, ESSA remains a promising opportunity. 

 

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

If the last several months are any indication of the challenges educators will face around the immigration status of students, they should expect uncertainty and fear.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Dreamers—young people brought to the U.S. as children, who have received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protections over the five years of the program. In September 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA. Five months later, he vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. In April, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“We have a lot of students on hold,” says Hugo Arreola, a campus lab technician for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. A DACA recipient himself, he sees his students and community in turmoil. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared. The environment is very tense.”

Hugo Arreola

“It’s hard being in this limbo,” says Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in Deaf Education and Hearing Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“One moment you have your hopes up, thinking a deal might happen, and then there’s a tweet and people think you’re back to square one,” she says. That’s not the case, she explains. “But they don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.”

Arreola and Reyes are active union members helping to inform, engage, and empower the immigration community in their respective hometowns.

Through Arreola’s unions, the Arizona Education Association and Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, and local allies, he’s involved in various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights. “It starts in the local area and making sure you have representatives who understand the realities of the situation and how this impacts their area,” Arreola explains.

Reyes has been involved with citizen drives, sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. 

Educators can take steps in their own communities to fight the uncertainty and fear undocumented students face.  Go to NEA Ed Justice to learn more about Safe Zone school board policies and NEA’s toolkit for “Know Your Rights.”

 

Every few months it seems educators get inundated with stories about the next big thing in classroom technology—a “game changer” set to “revolutionize” teaching and learning. Sound familiar? It should. Education technology, for all its benefits (and there are many), tends to be subject to egregious hype. A lot of money, after all, is to be made and many school districts—eager to demonstrate that their schools are on the “cutting edge”—can make some rather questionable purchasing decisions. 

Just recall the 2013 decision by Los Angeles Unified School District to proceed with a $1.3 billion plan to put an iPad loaded with a Pearson curriculum in the hands of every student. Technical glitches and lack of teacher training were just a couple of problems that eventually crippled the initiative.

Educators know better than anyone that healthy skepticism or at least caution about the latest classroom technology will end up serving their students best. It’s a stand that gets teachers branded as resistant to change, a convenient and unhelpful label. It has more to do with what’s best for student learning. 

The good news is that the impulse to buy into the latest hype has been curtailed somewhat over the past few years as educators have taken a seat at the table. If you want to try the latest and greatest virtual learning, gamification, personalization, the first question always has to be “What is best for my students?” As Tracey Matt, a language arts teacher in Albia, Iowa, says. “It takes a great teacher to foster independent learners. This must be done with the use of technology on the forefront, but it should not supersede the importance of an instructor.”

Technology will continue to advance and more “game-changers” are invariably lurking around the corner. Maybe they can revolutionize the classroom, but it’s the educator who is best suited to determine how and why new tech should be used to best serve students. 

 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may be privatization’s most visible and stalwart proponent, but school privatization has been a threat to public education for more than 20 years and is financed and championed by a network of corporate interests. Their goal: to use their financial muscle and propaganda to undermine the mission of public schools and position the nation’s students as commodities upon which to draw a sizeable profit. 

Still, DeVos’ appointment to lead the nation’s education agenda in 2017 was a huge boost just as charter schools and voucher programs were losing a little steam. (Vouchers have been voted down at the ballot box every time they’ve been attempted through referendum.)

DeVos is a vocal advocate of cutting education spending and freeing up federal dollars to expand charter and voucher programs nationwide. Charter schools have expanded dramatically since their introduction in 1992, and currently serve about 5 percent of the nation’s students. 

Educators, however, are determined to stop vouchers from taking hold in the way charters have done. Voucher schemes drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from public school students to pay the private school tuition of a select few.

They “are destructive and misguided schemes that use taxpayer dollars to “experiment with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

Educators and activists are making a huge difference in their states by lobbying lawmakers to reject vouchers (often rebranded by their advocates as “education savings accounts” or “tuition tax credits”).

In 2018, New Hampshire educators led the way in defeating a plan to establish so-called “education savings accounts,” which would have diverted a massive chunk of taxpayer money from public schools to fund the private school education of some students. Private schools would have to accept public funds but provide “no access to financial records, student achievement data, and no say in how the school is run,” says Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire. “The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste, and abuse in current voucher programs across the country.”

NEA: Vouchers Cost Kids

Voucher proposals have been defeated in other states but their proponents are nothing if not relentless. Which is why, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, activists must stay alert to the ongoing effort to push school voucher initiatives and to hold them up to public scrutiny.

“There’s a need to be vigilant in every state where governors and key legislators support these bills,” Sciarra says. 

Join in the fight against vouchers and pledge to protect quality public schools for all students.

 

Did you yell at the TV when you heard Betsy DeVos confuse proficiency and growth during her confirmation hearing? Are you disturbed by out-of-touch lawmakers like Arizona’s John Allen, who said teachers work second jobs so they can afford boats and big homes? Do you cringe at the fact that some Kansas lawmakers have tried to skirt the state supreme court’s ruling that they must remedy the woeful underfunding of schools?

 The reality is that too few elected officials at the local, state, and federal level have the in-depth knowledge of public education that only comes from working as an educator. And it shows in their policies and their budgets. 

 As if educating students every school day weren’t enough, it’s also on you to make sure officeholders understand the issues you face in the classroom and how to make progress solving them.

 The key is to show up and speak up.

 “We have to make our voices heard by the people who are making decisions that affect our classrooms,” says Maryland music teacher Jessica Fitzwater.

Balvir Singh, a high school math teacher from Burlington, N.J., won a seat on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders in November. Singh, an alum of NEA’s See Educators Run candidate training program, previously served on his local
school board.

“Elected officials need to understand that it’s not just dollars and cents, students’ entire lives will be impacted by these decisions,” she adds. 

That means showing up and sharing your story at school board meetings, lobby days with state lawmakers, and town halls when your members of Congress are back home. Check your state association website and attend your next local association meeting to find out how to get involved. 

And if your elected leaders still aren’t listening, throw your support behind people who will.

 This November brings a critical opportunity to elect (or re-elect) pro-public education candidates who are not beholden to those who want to privatize education, and who are willing listen to educators and parents. 

Educators are reliable voters. But you can inspire others to head to the polls for pro-public ed candidates as well.

 Latwala Dixon, a math teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., says talking to people about the importance of voting in past election cycles has made her even more passionate about the issues that affect her as an educator and a citizen.

 “I tell a lot of people, if you don’t use your right to vote, you will lose it,” Dixon says. Some of the people she speaks with—friends, acquaintances, colleagues—have responded enthusiastically, but others indicate they do not believe their vote makes a difference.

“So what you’re only one vote? Your vote counts,” Dixon says emphatically. “What if all of you ‘only one vote’ people got out there and voted? It could really turn the tide.”

Here’s another “tide turning” way to make sure elected leaders invest in schools—become one yourself! If you’re considering a run or supporting a colleague who is running for office, check out NEA’s candidate training program for members at SeeEducatorsRun.org.



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NEA President: Kavanaugh Is a Poor Choice for Students


Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks to the crowd after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/ Abaca Press (Sipa via AP Images)

This week, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. circuit court judge who once predicted that the Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of school vouchers, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

His nomination was immediately decried by pro-public education groups, including NEA, who predict that the 53-year-old could tip the balance for generations on Court decisions of critical importance to public school students and families, including school vouchers and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

“Americans deserve a Supreme Court nominee who will apply the law fairly for all and not favor corporations, the wealthy and the powerful; Judge Kavanaugh is not such a nominee,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We oppose this nomination and urge all senators to do the same.”

Visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh could play the deciding role on Court decisions that include whether it’s constitutional to divert taxpayers’ money to pay for private schools; whether educators have a voice on the job in advocating for themselves and for their students; and whether all Americans, including children and families, will have access to health care. Other issues that may face the Court include reproductive health, guns, voting rights, and separation of church and state.

Kavanaugh would replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been a critical swing vote on the court for nearly three decades, sometimes voting with more liberal judges on issues like LGBTQ rights and the death penalty but also voting with conservatives on voting rights and gun control.

Almost certainly Kavanaugh would push the court to the right on issues that matter to students and families. His record shows support for school vouchers—during his 2004 Senate confirmation group, he said he previously served as co-chair of the Federalist Society’s “School Choice Practice Group,” and that he worked on voucher litigation in Florida “for a reduced fee,” Politico reported on Tuesday.

His record also shows support for school prayer—he headed the Federalist Society’s “Religious Liberties Practice Group”—and opposition to the consideration of race in college admissions. In 2016, he also argued against the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has aggressively assisted students victimized by for-profit colleges and predatory lenders.

Additionally, in 2011, when the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—Kavanagh dissented, voting against ACA, which has provided health care for millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

He is exactly the “rubber stamp” nominee that NEA expected—and will not stand for, Eskelsen García said. “President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and their wealthy and powerful allies envision an America where public schools lose public funding to private, religious, and for-profit schools, and educators lose their ability to advocate for themselves and their students,” said Eskelsen García.

“These ideologies have been at the core of the Trump administration’s playbook, and the majority of Americans continue to reject them. Yet, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump’s agenda would be more than a temporary departure from our ideals and values.”

With the stakes for students so high, Kavanagh “can’t be trusted to protect the interests of students and educators,” said Eskelsen García.



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Educators Advocate and Organize For Big Wins!


(Photo Maryland State Education Association)

From West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky to Colorado and Arizona, educators took to the streets last spring to rally for adequate K–12 funding, properly equipped classrooms, better wages, and stronger public schools. And in all sorts of other places, they’re winning victories that serve students, create stronger public schools, and strengthen the education profession. Here are a few of
these important wins.

Massachusetts—Ban on Bilingual Education Repealed

For four decades, Massachusetts has required public schools to provide language acquisition programs for all English learners. Districts with large numbers of English learners in a single language group typically used transitional bilingual education—teaching in a mix of the students’ native language and English—with an increase in the use of English along the way. In 2003, that all changed when a Massachusetts law made sheltered English

immersion the default model and greatly restricted the teaching of students in their native languages. No more.

Last November, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) supported a successful coalition effort to enact the new Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act. The new law gives school districts the flexibility to implement programs that best meet the needs of their students. It also provides parents with more power to ask for alternative language acquisition programs.

“This new law respects the diversity of learners and their native languages and cultures,” says MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “It is especially meaningful that parents will have more voice in advocating for the needs of the children.”

North Carolina—Education Community Pushes Back on School Takeovers

Two years ago, North Carolina’s general assembly created the Innovative School District (ISD), a state managed district that typically—like Tennessee and Louisiana—turns public schools over to charter operators. This year, several local school districts were in line for a takeover by for-profit charter companies.

That was until parents, educators, principals,advocacy groups, and some school board members pushed back.

In Durham, five schools were among 48 tapped for a takeover. Organizing efforts by members of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and other allies, brought out thousands of people who pressed the state to remove all five schools from the takeover list.

The momentum spread to other districts, like Nash-Rocky Mount Public and Northampton County Schools, where schools were removed from the takeover lists. Robeson County was originally home to five potential school takeovers. But after local pushback, only one school—Southside-Ashpole Elementary School—was selected.

Although four schools were saved, the takeover of one is still hard to swallow. “The weight of balance was either close a school and subject 300 children to an extra hour ride on a bus—and [loss of] a foothold in the community—or submit to a school takeover,” says Dee Grissett, president of the Robeson Association of Educators (RAE). And in rural areas, like Robeson, shuttering a school could mean the demise of a community.

The collaborative efforts to gain knowledge, find answers, and seek resolution for their students united RAE members and the community. Together, they will remain vigilant.

“We united teachers, parents, clergy, and community leaders,” says Grissett, “and together we will hold the charter operator accountable for the performance of Southside-Ashpole.”

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, says that the state association “has strong local presidents and members across this state who have been leading and standing up in community events and forums to educate our citizens about this unproven and unaccountable takeover scheme that does nothing to improve student achievement.”

‘Test Reform Victories Surge’ Nationwide

After pressure from parents, students, and educators, many states and local school districts rolled back the amount of testing and reduced high-stakes exams, according to a report released by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). The report, “Test Reform Victories Surge in 2017: What’s Behind the Winning Strategies?” detailed victories that eliminated tests such as graduation exams or reduced testing time. It promoted better forms of assessments, too.

Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest and the report’s lead author, explained in a news release that “these wins often resulted from effective grassroots advocacy by parents, teachers, students, and their allies. They reflect the growing public understanding of the damage caused by the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.”

The report brings to the forefront the hard work of public school educators, with their unions and other allies.

Here are some of the biggest wins:
Cut the amount of state or district testing or the time spent on testing. Maryland capped the time districts can devote to testing and ended its requirement to test all kindergartners. New Mexico eliminated the requirement that ninth and tenth graders take at least three assessments each year in reading, English, and math. West Virginia ended English and math tests in grades 9 and 10. Hawaii dropped three end-of-course high school exams along with the ACT in grades 9 and 10.

Districts that eliminated or significantly reduced local testing mandates include Las Cruces and Santa Fe, N.M.; San Diego and Sacramento, Calif.; Knox County, Tenn.; Clay County, Fla; Vancouver, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn., and Jefferson County, Ky. Victories often occurred in districts with large percentages of low-income, African American, or Latino students.

Stopped or reduced use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In 2017, Connecticut dropped this requirement. At least seven states have done so since former President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. New Mexico joined several other states in reducing the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations.

Now allow students to opt out of tests. New policies in Idaho and North Dakota brought to 10 the number of states that allow parents to opt their children out of some or all exams.

Implemented performance assessments. Half of New Hampshire’s school districts have replaced standardized tests in most grades with local, teacher-made performance assessments. Nationally, many districts that cut their testing mandates are joined by local unions in developing better assessments.



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2018 NEA Representative Assembly Energized By Red for Ed, Student Activists


Delegates stand to vote during Red For Ed Day at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 5th 2018. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

The 2018 National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) convened less than week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against working people with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME. How to thrive in post-Janus  world was just one of the many pressing issues on the minds of the 6,200 delegates the as they entered the Minneapolis Convention Center on July 2.

The challenges to educators and public schools are mounting, but by the closing gavel four days later, the delegates left Minneapolis ready to harness the energy of burgeoning Red for Ed movement and meet them head on.

These are dark days, NEA President Lily Eskselsen García told the gathered educators in her keynote address, because “billionaires have placed themselves over the rest of us; they have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers.”

But there is a groundswell of energy and support for public education  that is already having an enormous impact. The movement started in West Virginia in February and quickly spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” Eskelsen Garcia told the cheering delegation.

Educators have a powerful ally in students. Whether its demanding lawmakers properly fund our schools or take action to help keep students safe from gun violence, young people have taken up the call.

“You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission,” Eskelsen Garcia said, before she yielded the stage to one of those student leaders, David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland school shooting and outspoken advocate for common sense gun laws.

Student activist David Hogg speaks at the NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Calvin Knight)

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg said. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

In a display of union solidarity, Eskelsen Garcia bought to the stage Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to address the delegation.

Building union strength and national coalitions was the focus of NEA Executive Director John Stocks’ speech.

“We can’t be in a movement by ourselves and for ourselves,” he said. “What the Red for Ed movement has shown us is that when members and non-members, parents, communites, and students stand together, we are a formidable force and together we can fight and win.”

The RA also honored three of the nation’s most outstanding educators of 2018: Education Support Professional of the Year (ESP) Sherry Shaw, Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, and – for the first time ever – the NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Bagsdell.

2018 ESP of the Year Sherry Shaw on the RA stage (Photo: Rick Runion)

Shaw, a special education paraeducator in Wasilla, Alaska, manages a program that provides food, clothing, and hygiene products to families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. In her speech Shaw urged the delegates to “crack the code” of students’ worlds.

“They show up in our classrooms, our hallways, on our busses, and in our cafeterias in all kinds of ways,” Shaw said. “Often, there is no room for learning. They are just trying to figure out how to survive the day.”

ESPs play critical roles in helping these students navigate through this uncertainty.  “We get up every morning before the sun rises and do our jobs, and do them well,” she said. “We care for our kids. We nurture them. We love them. We educate them. We challenge and guide them,” Shaw said.

RA delegates celebrate July 4th. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

Teacher of the Year Manning spotlighted immigrant and refugee students, a population she serves so loyally  at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

Manning introduced two remarkable students to the delegation, Iya and Fayaah. Both came to the United States with their families only a few years ago and have thrived in their public schools, thanks in large part to the educators who looked out for them.

“[Students like Iya and Fayaah] are showing us how it’s done,” Manning said. “They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”

And the first-ever NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell addressed the RA on July 4. A self-described “guerrilla educator,” Ragsdell said she educates at every opportunity — “the grocery store, the laundromat, Macy’s! I like to think I was born with a textbook in one hand and a lesson plan in the other.”

2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning backstage at the NEA RA with students Fayaah (left) and Iya.

The RA also heard from Ted Dintersmith, entrepreneur and author of “What School Could Be,” and the 2018 recipient of the 2018 NEA Friend of Education Award.the

Speeches and celebrations are always a highlight of any RA and 2018 was no exception, but the business of the RA is … business. Delegates spent the lion’s share of their time in the Convention Center debating and adopting new policy statements, resolutions, amendments to existing policies and more than 100 new business items, which, taken together, create a detailed NEA education policy blueprint for the upcoming year.

RA delegates also held elections for NEA’s Executive Committee.  This year, Eric Brown, a biology teacher in Evanston, Illinois, was elected to the Executive Committee for a second three-year term.  Shelly Moore Krajacic, a high school English and drama teacher from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, also won re-election to the Executive Committee.

The delegates also sent a new face to the committee: California special education teacher Robert Varela Rodriguez.  Delegates elected Rodriguez, from San Bernardino City Unified School District, for a one-year term to begin September 1.

Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell acknowledges the cheers of the RA delegates (Photo: Rick Runion)

“We are living in difficult times, but I believe that only through organizing and collective action can we effect change,” Rodriguez said.

On the final day of the RA, Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, stood on the convention floor to deliver remarkable news about how educators and RedforED are creating this change.

On July 5, public education activists in her state submitted 270,000 signatures (100,000 more than was nedded) to put an initiative on the November ballot that, if approved, could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding.

“This spring, when we walked out, we walked out for our children, and we did with the support of NEA,” Garcia said as the delegates stood and applauded. ” We knew you were with us, and when we go to the polls in November, we will win!”



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2018 Teacher of the Year: Our Students Give Us Hope


2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning at the NEA Representantive Assembly in Minneapolis.

Washington educator Mandy Manning was named the 2018 National Teacher of the Year in April for her unwavering commitment to the immigrant and refugee students she teachers at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. Her devotion to newcomer students was on display today at the NEA Representative Assembly. Honored by the more than 6,000 delegates at the Minneapolis convention center, Manning spoke briefly so that she could pass the microphone to two students who, she said, “teach us how to keep on marching, and, ultimately they give us hope.”

When Manning, a member of the Spokane Education Association,  visited the White House in May, she handed President Trump notes from some of her immigrant and refugee students expressing their concerns about the current toxic political climate. Manning’s students come to the U.S. from all over the world: Syria, Chuuk, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Her students’ fears, Manning told the delegates, have been confirmed by the inhumane rhetoric and policies that have come out of the White House in recent weeks.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved, enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

While there’s a lot to talk about in one speech, Manning chose instead to share her time on the RA stage with two newcomer students. “They are the ones most impacted by these policies and because, frankly, right now, our students are our role-models. They’re showing us the true power of a collective voice,” she said.

With that, Manning introduced Iya, a Hmong student from Laos, who just graduated from LEAP high School in St. Paul, and Faaya, a Muslim student from Oramia, who is about to attend FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis.

Iya came to the United States only three years ago. She recounted how happy she was at LEAP.

“I felt happy and excited going to school everyday. LEAP is a small school with less students and loving teachers and that’s all I want,” Iya said. “It is a safe community and is another place where I can call home. It gave me hope.”

Faaya is about to become a freshman at FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis. She’s more comfortable in school now, but the transition was difficult. When she was in 7th grade, students teased her and pulled off her hijab. 

After a teacher stepped up to stop the bullying, school life began to get easier for Faaya.

Educators should always be prepared to create safe and culturally-inclusive learning environments, Faaya said.

“Take the voice you have to speak,” she urged the delegates. “Students are your stars and you are the night sky. The power of education has no borders.”

During her speech, Mandy Manning turned the microphone over to newcomer students, Iya (right) and Fayaah.

Visibly moved by the students’ remarks, Manning returned to the microphone and closed by telling the audience about one of her own students, Safa, who arrived in Spokane in 2012 as a refugee from Sudan. A dedicated student, Safa graduated from high school in 2016. Now a junior at Eastern Washington University, she is studying to be an elementary school teacher and she recently became a citizen

Safa recently appeared with a proud Manning before a legislative K-12 committee at the state capitol to advocate on behalf of English Language Learners.

“Just like these amazing students you heard from today, Iya and Faaya, Safa is a shining example of the potential all of our students represent,” Manning told the delegates.

“They are showing us how it’s done. They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”



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NEA RA Celebrates 2018 Education Support Professional of the Year


Education Support Professional of the Year Sherry Shaw addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Scott Iskowitz)

Following a video introduction by one of her students from Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska, Sherry Shaw confidently took the stage Monday at the NEA Representative Assembly. Not only did she hold a copy of the speech she would deliver as the 2018 NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year, but she was carrying a gray Osprey backpack.

With photographs of her students in the background, Shaw, a special education paraeducator and member of NEA-Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Classified Employees’ Association (MSCEA), said her students, “are the reason I do what I do.”

Shaw asked her fellow educators to imagine they were carrying a 100-pound backpack around all the time.

“That would be about the equivalent to the baggage some students are carrying around that we don’t see,” she said.

Students don’t leave the trauma of poverty and exposure to violence, insecurity, loss, hardship and neglect, instability in their homes and communities at home, she added.

“They show up in our classrooms, our hallways, on our busses, and in our cafeterias in all kinds of ways,” Shaw said. “Often, there is no room for learning. They are just trying to figure out how to survive the day.”

She acknowledged that she was once one of those students carrying a “heavy backpack.”

“School was tough, but you know what I had,” she said. “I had a teacher, an ESP, and a coach who helped me unload my backpack and refill it, with empathy, love, respect, grit, drive, and tools to be successful.”

In Wasilla, Shaw manages a program that provides food, clothing, and hygiene products to families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. Many of those affected are students.

Cracking the Code
For 13 years, Shaw has worked closely with teachers to prepare classroom materials, modify curriculum, work one-on-one and in small groups with special education students, as well aid in the students’ socialization and behavior management.

“As educators, we’ve seen it all,” she said “Some students lash out. Some tune out. Some are preoccupied, impulsive, unable to concentrate, distrustful or nervous.”

Shaw told delegates they need to ask what is in students’ backpacks and then work to “crack the code” of students’ worlds.

Pointing to an image over her shoulder, Shaw spoke of one of her students with severe autism who she worked with when he was in fifth grade.

“There was one thing he loved and that was, Star Trek,” she said. “That’s all he cared about. That was his world.”

To connect with the student, Shaw began to study the interstellar adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew aboard the Starship USS Enterprise.

“I even wore the blue Star Trek uniform that Commander Spock wore,” she said, while a photo of her and six other educators in Star Trek attire was displayed.

After a few months, Shaw said her student started to separate the fiction of Star Trek from the real world and he began to read and communicate.

Amid applause from the audience, Shaw said her student finished eighth grade and is set to start at a career and technical high school in the fall.

“Now, his backpack is a little lighter because he is stronger,” she said.

Leadership and Professional Growth
As a local leader, Shaw has helped to promote ESP Appreciation Week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District by raising funds for gift packages going to ESP. Within the 900-member MSCEA, Shaw is a building representative at Tanaina.

During her speech, Shaw celebrated the launch of a new initiative focused on identifying universal standards of professional practice by ESP that contribute directly to student-centered learning environments. It’s called the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.

“With the launch of the continuum and with the continued emphasis in leadership development, we have the opportunity to own our (ESP) professional learning journeys,” she added. “This is clearly an exciting and important time for ESP professionalization.”

Shaw then acknowledged the “pain and struggle” of working as an ESP.

“We get up every morning before the sun rises and do our jobs, and do them well,” she said. “We care for our kids. We nurture them. We love them. We educate them. We challenge and guide them.”

According to NEA, more than 2 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems comprising more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESP are categorized in nine career families:
• Paraeducators
• Clerical services
• Custodial and maintenance services
• Skilled trades
• Technical services
• Security services
• Transportation services
• Food services
• Health and student services.

“No matter if we drive the bus, serve the food, clean the halls, or support our teachers, we cannot allow the winds of indifference to sway us away from our beliefs and values,” Shaw said. “We must continue to be united, engaged and involved at all levels of the Association.”



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‘Refuse to Be Silent’ NEA President Tells Representative Assembly


NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

On the first day of the 2018 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García used her keynote address to stress the challenges facing educators and public school. While the climb ahead is steep, she assured the more than 6,000 delegates that a growing army of activists – educators, parents and students – are showing a way forward.

There is something different about this particular moment in our history, Eskelsen García said.  “Billionaires, like Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers, have never been more embedded in political power. Billionaires are trumping the rights of working people to organize.”

The recent Supreme Court ruling in  Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  a case bankrolled by corporate interests, dealt an undeniable blow to the ability of educators to come together and bargain collectively on behalf of students. But the assault isn’t ending there.

Billionaires are not only selling out our public schools in favor of voucher schemes and unaccountable charter chains, but they are bolstering an administration that is pushing inhumane and unjust immigration policies.

The bottom line, said Eskelsen García, is that billionaires have placed themselves over ordinary people and are determined to escape blame from the escalating crises engulfing the nation. ”

“They have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers …They demand our silence. They demand we pretend. Instead of speaking out on racial injustice, they demand that we stand in silence and pretend that everything’s just fine.”

“These are dark days, but Martin Luther King reminded us, “…only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars,” Eskelsen García said. “And we have seen true stars align. We have seen the people march and speak up and refuse to be silent and refuse pretend; we have seen the resistance rise?

In 2018, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have been speaking up and advocating for their students. They are speaking out against broken chairs, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, mold on the ceilings, classrooms with more students than desks, and four-day school weeks.

“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” Eskelsen Garcia told the cheering delegation.

“But I’m not sure that any shine brighter than our own fearless students,” said Eskelsen Garcia, who, through their tireless and inspiring activism, have put lawmakers on notice that that they will not stand by and allow elected officials to fail them any longer.

In a first for the RA, Eskelsen García then yielded the RA stage to one of the most visible student leaders, David Hogg, recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate.

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg told the delegates. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

Arm educators? Yes, said Hogg. Arm them with books, papers, pencils, computers, and the supplies and resources school staff need to help all students succeed

Student activist David Hogg at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

“We want our schools to be places for learning…where hands are raised for discussions and debates, not to show SWAT teams that we’re unarmed.”

Students across  the nation are ready and energized, Hogg continued, and they understand that they have the power. “They know that when they show up this time, the young people will win.”

It’s the passion in Hogg and the countless other young people who have taken up the call that should gave us all hope in these dark times, said Eskelsen Garcia.

“You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission; they’re not waiting to be saved; they’re not pretending. They are demanding something from all of us and demanding something of themselves.”

Eskelsen García closed her speech by urging the delates to stay angry and motivated but not to resort to the destructive, polarizing tactics deployed by many of our opponents.

“I feel like we’re in danger of losing something. And I want it back.  I don’t want to turn into what I’m fighting.  I don’t want to use fear and hate to win.You win by saying what you love.”

Read NEA President Lily Eskelsen García’s full remarks to the 2018 NEA RA



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Supreme Court ‘Janus’ Ruling Deals Blow to Working Families


 

The collective voice of American workers was undermined today by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in ​Janus v. American Federation of County, State Municipal Employees.

In a 5-to-4 decision, which casts aside decades of precedents and laws, the court has eliminated a public-sector union’s ability to collect “fair share” or “agency” fees from workers who choose not to join as union members but are still protected by union agreements. The ruling undermines the ability of educators to come together and bargain collectively on behalf of students.

“A strong union and collective bargaining agreements are what help to ensure students receive the tools and resources they need to succeed in school and in life,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We’ve seen it in the resources available to our students, and we have felt it in our paychecks.”

The ruling comes in a case that has been bankrolled by corporate interests wanting to rig the economic system further in their favor while robbing teachers, education support professionals (ESP), higher education faculty, corrections officers, sanitation and other workers of the freedom to join together to earn a decent living, provide for their families, and advocate for the needs of students.

“All over the country, they are cutting funding for arts and PE, up-to-date textbooks, recess, and class sizes that allow for one-on-one instruction,” says Eskelsen García​. “Many of our schools have faced serious funding cuts that are likely to grow even worse.  Collective bargaining has been a critical tool to push back against these cuts and demand the resources our students deserve.

Fair-share fees help cover the cost of union representation and bargaining services that support high quality public schools and benefit employees by ensuring that their union can strongly advocate for them. This court decision comes as millions of American workers recommit to their unions and launch new organizing drives, and as support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years.

“Regardless of today’s Supreme Court decision, we must remain united and make it clear that no court decision can stop our union,” says Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota (EM). “Neither this ruling nor the right-wing groups that will weaponize it, will silence the voices of Minnesota’s professional educators.”

A strong union and collective bargaining agreements are what help to ensure students receive the tools and resources they need to succeed in school and in life. We’ve seen it in the resources available to our students, and we have felt it in our paychecks.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

The Janus decision will affect millions of workers in the nearly half of the states that require payments from nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining.

“We will still stand for effective and welcoming schools for our students, proud and healthy communities for their parents, and salaries and benefits that will sustain the families of Minnesota educators and those across the nation,” Specht says.

The​ ​National Education Association​, the nation’s largest union with more than 3 million members, filed an​ ​amicus brief​ in the case with the​ ​American Association of University Professors and many NEA affiliates​. The brief highlighted the radical nature of the plaintiff’s arguments, including their legally unsupported claim that public-sector collective bargaining itself is constitutionally suspect.

The claimant, Mark Janus, is an Illinois state social worker. He argues that his First Amendment liberties were violated because he had to pay an agency fee to the union even though he is not a member and might disagree with its political policies.

In 1977, the court’s unanimous decision in ​Abood v. Detroit Board of Education​ said localities and states could authorize public-employee unions to charge nonmembers for the cost of collective bargaining (fair share fees) but not for the union’s political activities. By overturning ​Abood, ​the court eliminated non-members’ fair share fees, though unions are still required by law to represent them. As a result of the decision, some workers will now have to make up for the costs others inflict on the union but decline to pay for. Allowing some employees to opt out of paying their fair share for union representation will make it harder for all public employees to advocate for the quality services that everyone depends on.

But this case was never about merits or law. It was about politics and rigging the system, economy, and democracy in favor of the wealthy and corporate CEOs.

“Strong unions build strong schools and strong communities,” says Alex Price, band director and instrumental music teacher, Belmont High School and Wright Brothers Middle School in Dayton, Ohio. “Fine arts programs were being cut from my school and students were missing out on subjects like arts and music. My union negotiated with the district to bring back music so our students could have a well-rounded curriculum.”

When some school principals tried to renege on the agreement, “as a union, we stepped in,” says Price, a member of the Dayton Education Association. “Educators came together through our union and spoke out for what our kids need.”

Public opinion of teachers’ unions is robust. According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of those polled approve of teachers’ unions, three-quarters approve of educators’ right to strike, and just one in four believe educators in this country are paid fairly.

Take the #RedForEd pledge and stand with NEA as we continue to build a strong union that advocates for the opportunity students need to succeed.

Recent #RedforEd actions in states like West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kentucky have highlighted how educators are leading a nationwide movement to better fund our schools and better support our students. This action is yielding not only public support but measurable wins for students and educators as well as gains in members. NEA membership is at its highest level in the past five years, including fast growth in states where anti-union laws already exist.

Some 39 briefs signed on to by hundreds of amici​ — representing all levels of government, public officials, civil rights organizations, academic experts, and others — were filed with the court in support of the respondents. Weighing in on the case have been 22 states and the District of Columbia, dozens of cities, and several dozen Republican lawmakers. School district and public hospitals also exhibited their support of fair share fees as helping to boost the effective management of public services.

For more information about the case, including links to “friend of the court” briefs, editorial columns by experts opposing the lawsuit, and other data, go to​ ​www.neatoday.org/janus​.

Keep up with the conversation at #union and #unionstrong





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10 Must-See TED Talks for Educators


Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders

TED Talks are a source of inspiration, knowledge and motivation for countless educators. Dig deeper to find more, but here are ten presentation teachers may find most useful and informative.

North Dakota teacher Kayla Delzer seeks to change how technology is viewed in the classroom. Instead of a force for distraction, she believes students and teachers can learn more by utilizing common apps and technology in the classroom. (For more on Delzer, check out “Farewell Desks, Here Come the Starbucks Classrooms”)

Teaching Teachers How to Create Magic

Dr. Christopher Emdin of the Teachers College at Columbia University argues that we need to transform how teachers are trained if our schools are going to reach and engage all students.  (Read NEA Today’s interview with Emdin)

Forget the Pecking Order at Work

Management expert Margaret Heffernan argues that working together, asking questions, and helping others is the key to the most successful and productive workplace. These are lessons educators of varying experience can bring into their workplace to help create the best learning experience for their students.

Prepare Our Kids for LIfe, Not Standardized Tests

Standardized testing isn’t preparing our kids for their futures and is driving the joy and real learning from our classrooms, says innovation expert Ted Dintersmith. It’s time to empower those who own the consequences of what happens in the classroom — our teachers and students. (Read “In Teachers We (Should) Trust,” NEA Today’s interview with Dintersmith)

Why Do We Sleep?

The mental and physical wellness of educators is integral to the success of our shools. In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Russell Foster urges everyone to check your health by prioritizing sleep.

Sleep deprivation affects educators as much as it does the students they are teaching. Wendy Troxel, a sleep researcher, believes sleep deprivation among teens is a serious public policy issue. Troxel believes that middle and high schools should not start before 8:30 am for fear of severely impacting adolescent health. You can find her Ted Talk here.

“How to Make Stress your Friend”


Stress and burnout are pitfalls many if not most educators face in their careers. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, doesn’t want your stress to hold you back, but says it can, believe it or not, be a positive force.

“How to Get Better at the Things You Care About”


Every job is important and has room for improvement and change. Whether it’s your professional or personal life, your box only exists because you let it, according to Eduardo Briceño.

The Economic Case for Preschool


Author of “Investing in Kids,” Timothy Bartik, offers a unique perspective on why preschool and education are important. There are economic benefits along with bettering the lives of young children.

“What Adults Can Learn from Kids”


Educators have the unique and powerful opportunity to empower youth. This TED Talk by child prodigy Adora Svitak is a fun look at how working with and uplifting children can change your perspective on life and education.

“Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson delivered what would become the most popular TED Talk of all time – a plea to reverse the standardization and rigid compliance that has drained creativity out of our schools. Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Robinson’s diagnosis remains relevant today.



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Never Be Afraid to Advocate for Students, Says 2018 Teacher of the Year


2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Teacher Mandy Manning hopes to create a sanctuary for her refugee students. This is just one of the reasons why she was named 2018 National Teacher of the Year. Manning has taught English and math at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash. for seven years, and her refugee students come from countries all over the world, inlcuding Syria, Mexico, and Sudan. While her students don’t often feel safe in the current political climate, Manning has helped transform her school by providing a welcoming and supportive environment.

Manning is an active member of her local and state union and serves on the executive committee of the Washington Education Association. On Monday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García sat down with Manning at the NEA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and took questions on Facebook Live. Here are a few of the highlights from Manning’s responses:

On How to be Fearless:
I’ve learned how to be fearless from my students. I teach immigrant refugee students. My students have gone through unspeakable circumstances to come to the United States, a nation that gives them hope to be someone. I watch their innate hopefulness and fearlessness in coming into this new community, a community that in many ways has not welcomed them. They come to school everyday; they’re focused, they’re dedicated, they’re committed to their dreams, and becoming productive members of society and citizens. So, all I have to do is look at them, and they teach me how to be fearless.

On Meeting President Trump at the White House:
Our current administration has not been welcoming to my students, and I wanted to ensure my students that I was there for them. There was a question: Should I go? And they all said, unanimously, “Yes. Because he needs to know about us.” And so we sat down and we had the students write letters about their journeys to the United States and what it meant to them: their dreams and hopes, and how they want to give back to the United States. There was also advice for our current president on how he can help improve their lives in the United States, like using supportive language that doesn’t diminish them as whole groups of people. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if he used loving, kind and welcoming language when talking about these amazing members of our community?

On “Othering” Herself:
I’d always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and it completely changed me. I went to Armenia. It was such a tremendous experience because I’d “othered” myself. I put myself into a situation where I knew no one else was going to look like me, act like me, speak like me, or think like me. I went into it with no expectation, so then I was open to the experience of just being there.


But ultimately, because I put myself in a situation where I was “other,” it helped me get a little bit of perspective on what my students are experiencing, or anyone who has been othered for any reason. I think that’s so important, because we need to seek experiences that challenge our perceptions because our way of thinking, being and doing is not the only way of thinking, being and doing. And in order to be a society and a community that is safe and connected, we need to be open and willing to reach across differences and be willing to get to know each other.

On Public Advocacy:
Everytime educators leave the classroom in order to advocate collectively, our love for our students is used against us. Sometimes, we have to leave the classroom to get the things we need for our kids, because at the heart of every teacher is our students. At the heart of every decision is what our students need. It’s very comfortable to be in our classrooms. But, just like my pin says right here, ‘Life happens outside your comfort zone.’ We have to be willing to get uncomfortable and face some of that negative messaging that we might receive in order to really make deep impacts on what we know is best for kids.

If the decisions that are being made are negatively impacting our kids, we cannot sit idly by, even if it means we’re going to face challenges in the community. Because ultimately, if students truly make up the foundation of our arguments about why we are outside the classroom advocating, no one can argue with us.

On “Real Teaching”
There are different ways of thinking about teaching. There are teachers who are in love with their content. And there are teachers who are in love with their students. The long and short of it is, if you don’t know your students but you know your content, chances are your kids aren’t gonna learn the content.

So, really knowing your kids, using that information intentionally to create lessons that meet their needs, and making them a brighter light than they were when they came into your room – that’s real teaching.



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Health Tips from an Educator Walkout


Over the past few months, educators across America have staged walkouts and demonstrations to bring attention to abysmal conditions facing our schools and students after decades of funding neglect.

It took courage, and also stamina. Marching and rallying for hours a day, several days in a row, in the elements, is not for the faint of heart. But neither is standing all day in classroom or walking around a school full of kids. As we head into the last weeks of school, Audrey Cunneely, a health assistant in Tucson and Arizona ESP of the Year, says the healthy lessons she learned during her state’s walkout can be applied to your school day, too.

Get Enough Sleep

Not only does lack of sleep cause physical exhaustion, making it difficult to stand on your feet all day in a walkout or in a classroom, it impairs your judgement, lowers your ability to cope with annoyances – like a heckler at a demonstration or a disruptive student – and makes organization and planning much more difficult. You need the mental acuity of a good night’s sleep to advocate for your cause in a walkout and to manage a classroom full of students.

Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

Say no to the donuts! While delicious and filling in the moment, a donut is full of sugar and refined carbs that will cause you to crash. You need a nutrition powerhouse for breakfast to give you the energy you’ll need during a walkout or a full day at school. Go for lean protein and fruits. Keep your energy going all day with more lean protein, like chicken or fish, nuts and vegetables. Pack a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread or a chicken salad. Snacks like almonds and apple slices are tasty and healthy, and will keep your blood sugar stable. Avoid sugary, salty snacks that will dehydrate you.

Audrey Cunneely (right) during the Arizona educator walkout with Jason Freed, president of the Tuscon Education Association and Margaret Chaney, vice-president.

Stay Hydrated

Speaking of hydration, drink plenty of water. You need water to maintain your temperature during the heat of a walkout or in a stuffy classroom. Every part of your body, from organs to cells, rely on water for overall health. To avoid scrambling to find a bathroom during a walkout or having to leave your class for a bathroom break, take frequent but small sips of ice water.

Protect Your Voice

Drinking water will help a lot, but shouting at a rally or talking over a rowdy class can be very taxing on vocal chords. Avoid shouting – use a megaphone if you have access, or join in a group chant to amplify your message. Try to project without screaming. In your classroom, take frequent breaks from talking while students work independently. To get students’ attention, turn the lights on and off or clap your hands rather than shouting above the din.

Get – and Stay – Fit!

You can’t be a couch potato and stage a walkout with our colleagues or be at your best in the classroom. You’ve got to be heart healthy, and that takes exercise. During the school day find time to go for a brisk walk. If you have recess duty, walk as much as you can. During lunch, take 10 minutes to walk around the building outside for fresh air, or up and down the halls on a rainy day – add a flight of stairs if you can – or invite colleagues to walk laps in the gymnasium. If you have planning time with colleagues, suggest an outdoor “walk and talk.” All of it adds up quickly, and if and when you march on your capitol, you’ll have the stamina to go as many days as necessary.

Stress Less

It’s very stressful to walk out of your school and fight for your rights and the rights of your students, but with a positive mindset, it’s empowering. The stress of poor school working conditions can also be overwhelming, but finding ways to cope with that stress will improve your mental wellbeing and overall health. Take deep breathing breaks throughout the day – at school or at a rally. Take a moment to gently stretch parts of your body where tension builds. Find something beautiful to look at – a tree, a picture of a child or pet, a patch of blue sky, artwork framed on your desk or in your classroom. Pause, reflect, and breathe. You’ve got this.



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Merging of Bargaining Teams Strengthens Educators’ Hand in Negotiations


Bargaining team members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers assemble after negotiating their contract.
(photo: Patrick Mulvaney)

In December, Educational Assistants (EA) and School and Community Service Professionals (SCSP) bargaining units of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) in Minnesota filed for mediations with the state at the same time as the unit comprised of teachers and other licensed staff.

Faced with negotiating three separate contracts, officials with St. Paul Public Schools followed their usual protocol: They met with teachers while ignoring the education support professional (ESP) units.

“The EA team finally received a date for a meeting approximately six weeks out, while the SCSP team didn’t get a date assigned at all,” says Ellen Olsen, an ESP member of the bargaining team. “We feared that the district would give everything they had to teachers while we (ESP) would split the leftover crumbs.”

Having to beg for residual funds was indicative of a larger problem facing the union’s 400 EA and 150 SCSP members, according to Leah VanDassor, a teacher at Highland Park Middle School.

“While in a bargaining session, it was eye-opening and actually disgusting how some district representatives talked down to ESP members — like they didn’t really matter or that their demands were entirely unnecessary,” VanDassor says. “I have not experienced that as a teacher on the bargaining team.”

On January 31, more than 85 percent of SPFT’s 3,600 members voted to strike if an agreement was not met in a week. The same night that votes were counted and ratified, executive board members voted to merge the three units into one bargaining team of 26 members.

“The district team was surprised and angry,” says Olsen, SPFT director of non-licensed personnel. “State mediators supported our legal right to choose our team, so the district had to negotiate our contracts together.”

After eight days of mediated talks, including more than 30 hours over a weekend, a two-year agreement through 2019 was reached and the strike averted.

“Because the bargaining teams stood together, our threat of a strike was even more credible for the school district,” says Patrick Burke, SPFT communications organizer. “The merger also highlighted how jobs in our public schools are connected.”

Says VanDassor: “We can now help each other become even stronger by learning how issues impact all three groups the same and differently.”

Breakthroughs All Around

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 40 percent of public school employees are ESP. Nationally, 51 percent of K-12 school support staff work at least 40 hours per week (2017 NEA ESP Data Book).

A member of the bargaining team, Sylvia Perez noticed that some school board members knew almost nothing about her duties as an SCSP — behavioral specialists, cultural specialists, after school program coordinators, and other workers at the district’s student placement center.

“Some of them had no clue who we were and what we did,” says Perez, a cultural specialist at Crossroads Elementary School. “I think they now see our contributions more clearly. We are not invisible anymore!”

Until the merger, some teachers also admitted to not knowing these workers well enough.

“I didn’t really understand the SCSP perspective, nor how many different roles they play,” VanDassor says. “After the merger, we now better understand how our jobs align for students.”

Erica Schatzlein is vice president of SPFT and a member of the bargaining team. At Nokomis Montessori School, where she is a teacher, there are no SCSPs.

“Teachers as well as board members now know more about how we contribute to students’ educations. It takes all of us — teachers, EAs, SCSPs, and other staff — to nurture students and keep them safe.” – Sylvia Perez, Crossroads Elementary School

“A few years back, I didn’t know what issues our SCSPs faced in their daily work,” she says. “Bringing us together deepened our understanding of each unit’s work and interconnectedness.”

At the bargaining table, Schatzlein recalls how some board members responded to ESP issues.

“I saw firsthand how our EA and SCSP members were dismissed or pushed aside,” she says.

At one point, says Schatzlein, a district administration member said they wanted to settle the SPFT contract first, and then deal with EAs and SCSPs, implying that ESP members were an afterthought or somehow subordinate to other members.

“That use of language told me how my EA and SCSP brothers and sisters are sometimes viewed as “others,” and not part of SPFT,” she says. “In fact, they are an essential part of our union.”

Says Perez: “Teachers as well as board members now know more about how we contribute to students’ educations. It takes all of us — teachers, EAs, SCSPs, and other staff — to nurture students and keep them safe.”

Before Merger, Board’s Disrespect Reigned

The decision to merge the three units unfolded against a backdrop of insulting treatment by school board trustees toward ESP members that went back to previous EA and SCSP contract campaigns.

“Our EAs and SCSPs negotiated good contracts, but they still felt disrespected by the school district, which waited until after teachers settled to finish negotiations with the other two bargaining units,” says Burke.

Talk of a merger “had been floated at the teacher table by SPFT organizers at the beginning of negotiations, but when we started talking about striking, EA and SCSP members on the bargaining team and the executive board forcefully advocated for the merger,” Burke says. “The vote by the board was the catalyst for the formation of a unified bargaining team, but it only came about because of the advocacy of our paraprofessionals.”

Teamwork at the Table

The new collective bargaining agreement includes guarantees to hire more student placement specialists (SCSP) and at least 13 of the 23 new support staff hired for special education students have to be educational assistants.

“Teachers testified strenuously about the difference for them and for their students when they work with EAs,” says Olsen, and an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing students at Focus Beyond, which provides transition services to students through individualized instruction. “We argued together and won the first intentional new hires of EAs in these settings that we’ve seen in years.”

After the merger, we learned how much we all have in common. …Before, when we bargained alone, they (school officials) didn’t seem to listen to us. Now, the tone is different. Better. They know we are united and strong like a mountain.” – Yasmine Muridi, Four Seasons Elementary School

Saint Paul educators also won new class size measures, expansion of the restorative practices program, and a promise from district officials to collaborate in seeking joint agreements with corporations, health care and higher education non-profits. Administrators and educators also agreed to coordinate lobbing efforts for education funding at the state and federal levels.

During the bargaining sessions, teachers commented on how student learning is diminished when, for example, some educational assistants are summoned by administrators to interpret conversations from parents who do not speak English.

“Bringing out examples like this built respect and trust for the respective roles we play in schools,” says Shela Her, a student placement specialist with the district. “We ended up bargaining for the common good … for better school conditions and more support for students.”

Yasmine Muridi is a language interpreter at Four Seasons Elementary School. She is categorized as an EA, which in other areas might be considered a paraeducator. The EA unit includes library aides, testing coordinators, aides for special education students, adult learning educators, before and after school care workers, language, deaf and hard of hearing interpreters. Licensed practical nurses are also categorized under the EA contract while registered nurses are organized under the licensed contract.

“After the merger, we learned how much we all have in common,” says Muridi, a native of Somalia who speaks four languages. “Before, when we bargained alone, they (school officials) didn’t seem to listen to us. Now, the tone is different. Better. They know we are united and strong like a mountain.”

Shela Her signs the tentative agreement for the SCSP unit. “We ended up bargaining for the common good…for better school conditions and more support for students,” said Her.

Maintaining Momentum

On the heels of the agreement, SPFT and the district are working closer together seeking additional school funding.

“We are discussing a referendum for this summer and a door-to-door re-enrollment campaign to bring students back to our district,” says Burke. “We also will continue pushing for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program with large medical and higher education nonprofits and keep pressuring large corporations that avoid paying taxes to give back to our public schools.”

The PILOT campaign is related to SPFT’s TIGER Team (Teaching and Inquiring about Greed, Equity, and Racism), a coalition of parents, educators, and community members that is investigating how money has been removed from public schools to support private interests.

“The merger transformed us for the better,” says Olsen, an NEA board member. “We will not turn back.”



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Regardless of Janus Decision, ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’


(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With the U.S. Supreme Court only weeks, perhaps days, away from issuing a  potentially momentous decision in Janus v. AFSCME, what will the fallout be for unions, educators and schools? That was the question before a panel at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar in Los Angeles on May 16.

The panel, moderated by journalist David Washburn of EdSource, featured Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, William Messenger, staff attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Julia Koppich, president of J. Koppich & Associates, a San Francisco-based education consulting firm.

The issue before the Court in Janus is whether government employees who are covered by and benefit from a union contract, though not members of the union, should have to contribute to the union’s costs –  by paying an agency or fair share fee for their share of those costs  –  that support strong public sector collective bargaining. The petitioner argues that the First Amendment prohibits fair share fees. If the Court agrees, the rights and freedoms of working people to join together in strong unions will be significantly weakened.

Pressed by moderator Washburn about the actual agenda behind the Janus case (“Is this not just window dressing for union-busting?”), Messenger insisted that the only pertinent issue is the “freedom” to choose whether or not to be in a union. As far as whether or not unions lose members, and the impact on schools, “This is about choice only and I don’t see the connection,” said Messenger. “The case is a few degrees removed from any of those issues.”

Julia Koppich suggested to the audience that anyone who believed Janus was merely about the First Amendment was indulging in “magical thinking.”

“It’s important that we understand the malign intent behind Janus,” Koppich said, namely to severely reduce the bargaining power of public sector unions.

The case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation, Messenger’s employer, an is part of a well-funded network of corporate billionaires to use the courts to rig the rules against working people.

Eskelsen García told the reporters that NEA has only around 90,000 feepayers members out of 3 million. “I don’t think the National Right to Work Foundation will be satisfied with just that.”

It wouldn’t, she added, because “the case is just a pretext to get union members to drop their membership.”

Eskelsen García also pointed out that groups behind Janus already have launched aggressive drop campaigns seeking to persuade current union members to drop their membership and enjoy the benefits of membership on the dues paid by others. This exposes the true intent behind the case: divide and limit union members’ collective bargaining power and take away the rights and freedom of working people to speak up for themselves and their communities.  

“They want to keep the megaphone as small as possible,” she said. “This is about silencing voices.”

If the Court rules for the plaintiff, Washburn asked, how will unions change how they organize and engage. There’s no question that NEA and others will have to open “a new chapter,” said Koppich. “We don’t know yet what the impact will be on membership but unions will have to be creatively nimble moving forward. I do worry, however, that collaborative relationships in schools districts will be undermined. That can happen when fairness and due process, once embedded in the system, is no longer there.”

Eskelsen Garca agreed that the Janus case could make NEA significantly adjust. “We have to become more and more relevant. What we are doing has to touch the heart and minds of members and potential members. But it’s already happening.”

janus decision

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (far right) discusses the potential ramifications of Janus v. AFSCME at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar on May 16.

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives.

“Everyone is looking at what is happening across the country and are saying ‘listen to the teachers.’ ”

Koppich agreed. “Parents see teachers as being unfairly treated,” and schools underfunded.

Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have been speaking up and advocating for their students. They are speaking out against broken chairs, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, mold on the ceilings, classrooms with more students than desks, and four-day school weeks.

As Eskelsen García told the journalists in the room, educators in Arizona were quick to reject Gov. Dave Ducey’s initial proposal to end the walkout because it focused on their salaries, not on reversing the chronic underfunding that has plagued the state’s schools.

These red state walkouts, in states without fair share fees many of which have no or very limited state bargaining rights, show the power of educators and their unions as advocates for students, Eskelsen Garcia said.

The question for the Court is whether it would rather see the power of those unions at the bargaining table in a controlled form or in the streets of state capitols.

Regardless of the decision, however, “educators are awake. There will be a new chapter,” said Eskelsen García.

“We’re seeing a greater level of activity now that we ever have before. But we still have to have one-on-one conversations with every educator. They need to know how we can help. The collective voice is all we have…and we’re not going anywhere.”



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‘Angel Bus Driver’ Turns School Bus into Hair Salon for Students


(Photo: KSL TV)

Along with her school books, 11-year-old Isabella Pieri always packs a sturdy comb and brush for her bus ride to school in the Alpine School District of Salt Lake City, Utah.

She will smile at bus driver Tracy Dean as she boards. She then takes her seat, anxiously anticipating what has become a morning ritual at the end of the ride.

In the school parking lot after the last student has stepped off the bus, Isabella will hand over her comb and brush to Dean, so the driver can begin braiding her hair. Dean says she makes it a point to set apart extra time each morning to help Isabella look her best.

“It just breaks my heart for the little girl and it makes me feel like I’m not just surviving for my husband and my own children, but to also help these kids,” Dean says.

Overcoming Adversity to Help Others
The morning routine started when Dean noticed that Isabella seemed to always have the same bedhead ponytail and somewhat somber attitude.

“I just thought, well, I’m going to talk to her and be her friend, buddy, big sister, or whatever I can be to let her know that I’m here for her,” says Dean, 47.

As fate would have it, Isabella noticed Dean fixing one of her classmate’s braids. She mustered up the courage to ask Dean if she could get her hair done too.

Tracy’s response: “Yes! I would love to. Just make sure it’s okay with your dad. I don’t want to step on any toes.”

Eventually, Dean learned that Isabella’s mother had passed away in 2016 from a rare illness and that her father, Phillip Pieri, has to leave for work early in the morning.

“Originally, I just gave her a crew cut because I didn’t know how to … get the tangles out,” Pieri told a reporter from local station KSL-TV.

Dean herself was coping with her own struggle as a seven-year survivor of breast cancer.

The media learned of Dean’s good deed, and after several television and newspaper reports appeared across Utah, the story went viral. Within days, Dean was receiving letters of appreciation from faraway cities in China, Australia, England, Ireland, and other countries.

“[The international response] just makes me smile from ear to ear,” says Dean, a member of the Alpine Education Support Professionals Association and Utah School Employees Association (USEA). “It has been amazing that [the story] has gone so far.”


Building Trust

While fixing Isabella’s and another student’s hair each morning, Dean and the children share accounts of what they did in class, after school, and even over the weekend.

One of Isabella’s teachers, LeeAnn Freeze, says she has noticed a bigger smile, brighter eyes, and stronger laughter from Isabella since she started getting her hair braided.

One day, when Freeze asked who was braiding her so skillfully, Isabella responded, “My angel bus driver.”

Phillip Pieri also noticed a confidence boost in Isabella.

“I was amazed,” he says. “Tracy didn’t have to step up, but she did.”

Dean has taken it a step further by visiting the Pieri home to show Isabella how to properly wash her hair and maintain good hygiene.

“You just never know what [the students] going through, and you shouldn’t be quick to judge,” Dean says. “It may be their way of reaching out for a friend or for help.”



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Two Early Career Educators and Those Who Helped Their Practice


Ashley Kincannon, an English teacher from Arkansas, and Arun Puracken, a social studies teacher from Maryland, are early career educators (those within their first 10 years of teaching) who took different paths into the profession. Kincannon went through a college education program, while Puracken first taught provisionally and then earned an alternative certification. Along the way, they each received help in becoming the great teacher/advocates they are today. Here are their stories.

Kincannon is a fifth-year teacher at Lake Hamilton Junior High School in Pearcy, Ark., and she isn’t shy about sharing how her childhood was “unhappy [because of] a dysfunctional family background.” At 17, unable to tolerate her home life, she left and moved in with her boyfriend. When she graduated high school, she was nine months pregnant and married. Today, the couple have two children. Many said Kincannon would never amount to anything. But her teachers believed in her.

“My teachers were always kind,” she says. “They breathed life into me because I wasn’t getting that from anyone else,” says Kincannon, who attended a public high school in Jessieville, Ark.

Her teachers provided more than just emotional support. Like all great teachers, they set her on a path toward success. Two, in particular, encouraged Kincannon to pursue the teaching profession. “To hear someone tell me I could be a teacher and to know these teachers cared about me—because of them, I became a teacher,” she says.

After earning an English degree in secondary education, Kincannon became a teacher in 2013. She immediately connected with mentors who guided, encouraged, and reaffirmed her practice. “I sometimes needed a little support and encouragement. As a young, novice teacher, you’re a minority surrounded by seasoned educators. It’s sometimes scary, but it was helpful to have support from mentors,” Kincannon explains.

To hear someone tell me I could become a teacher and to know these teachers care about me – because of them I became a teacher – Ashley Kincannon, English teacher, Arkansas

The Arkansas Education Association (AEA) supports her, too. Kincannon became a member of her state association last year when she met AEA leaders who recognized her talent and passion, and encouraged her to join.

Kincannon was an AEA student member, but didn’t continue her membership. “I wanted to join AEA because I loved the consistency of community, the support, the education I was receiving, and the wisdom passed on to me about my profession as a student member,” she says. “But, I [thought] I had to pay the full dues amount up front. When I learned I could pay monthly, I decided to join and dove in head first.” She attended district meetings, became a building representative, and started networking with other members.

Kincannon’s experience as a young, first-year teacher, and the support she received, motivated her to support other early career educators. During the 2017 AEA Delegate Assembly she introduced one new business item to support educators who are new to the profession but seasoned in life, and another urging support for educators under the age of 35. Both passed and the work to support these groups is underway.

Kincannon says, “If we don’t create a place where early career and young educators can see themselves in our association, they may not understand the importance of advocacy or the value of being a member of this professional organization.”

Paying it Forward

Support also helped Maryland’s Arun Puracken, a fourth-year teacher at Accokeek Academy in Prince Georges County, to fully embrace his role as an educator and union member.

In 2016, he applied for, and was selected to participate, via his local, in an Early Career Leadership Fellows program. He became part of a cohort of educators who were new to the profession and unfamiliar with the association.

Since that first experience, Puracken has attended numerous trainings and conferences around the country, tackling topics such as school equity, support for early career educators, and political activism.

“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader,” says Puracken, “and they’re investing in me. I get to go to different places and converse with other colleagues in different areas of the country to talk about public education. [“It’s what helped me] learn about what it meant to do union work and why it’s important.”

Like Kincannon, who was encouraged throughout her profession and is now actively engaged in her association, Puracken is paying it forward, too.

“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader …and they’re investing in me.” – Arun Puracken, Social Studies teacher, Maryland

Last fall, there was a vacancy to fill a building representative position. Although he was hesitant to apply, says Puracken, he adds, “I had no choice. I’m being flown out to different places for union work to learn what it takes to be a leader, and here’s an opportunity to be a leader in my building. I had to take ownership.”

But all of that was just the beginning. Puracken is now running for a school board seat, with the support of the Prince Georges County Education Association, the Maryland State Education Association, and NEA. “I’ve been supported with all kinds of association workshops,” he says, “and I’m going to be the example of policy that works for students, educators, and families.”

Together, Kincannon and Puracken are proof of how support can keep new teachers in the classroom, and empower them to make a lasting difference in students’ lives.



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A Push for a Living Wage


ESP members of the Loudoun Education Association rally for a living wage at a board of supervisors public hearing. (Photo: Philippe Nobile)

In protest of low pay and cuts to education funding, education support professionals (ESP) in Virginia’s Loudoun County organized a campaign last December they called, “A Push for Living Wage.”

Their objective: An increase in wages and salary steps while opposing a reduction in force (RIF).

Their plan included blasting school board members with emails, generating local newspaper and social-media coverage, and rallying at board meetings in matching red T-shirts while carrying colorful homemade signs. The plan worked, to some extent.

At a March hearing of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, several dozen ESP members of the Loudoun Education Association (LEA) showed their tenacity by once again donning red T-shirts, waving poster board signs, and distributing pamphlets encouraging a visit to their Facebook page: #LCPSLIVINGWAGE.

“We are here to educate the public about the abysmal pay of many employees who work 12 months a year, eight hours a day, and are paid less than $32,659, which is a living wage for Loudoun County (for one adult),” said David Palanzi, president of LEA, which consists of 3,400 teachers and 630 ESPs, known in Loudoun as “classified employees.”

“Loudoun needs schools where our custodians and all employees are paid a fair wage for the hard work they do,” he told board members. “The budget should not be balanced on the backs of classified employees.”

As news of the living wage campaign spread within the district’s 90 worksites, Palanzi says more and more classified employees became active within LEA. In recent months, there has been a slight membership increase among ESPs.

At an April 24 board meeting, just five months after starting the living wage campaign, board members voted unanimously to increase pay by 3 percent for ESPs, teachers, and other employees beginning in September, while not inducing a RIF.

“The living wage campaign really caught on, particularly with one conservative member of the board who we weren’t sure we could reach,” Palanzi said.

While curtailing campaign efforts for the current school year, LEA officials are in the process of working with several ESP leaders to keep the momentum going in their efforts to gain a living wage for ESPs during the next budget cycle.

“We still have not achieved a living wage, but we are getting there,” Palanzi said.

Moonlighting to Make Ends Meet

In Loudoun County, an upscale suburb near Washington, D.C., many school employees have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet. Even then, many cannot afford to live in the district where they work due to high housing costs and steep property taxes.

Mohamed Osman lives outside the district and earns $31,000 working eight hours a day as a district bus driver. He has a second job in the evening that keeps him away from home until midnight.

“Some of the drivers here work as Uber drivers to survive,” Osman says.

Megan Fay is a fulltime health clinic specialist for the district with a physician assistant’s medical license and master’s degree in physiology. She earns $29,000 a year.

“My job requires making calculations for insulin doses and administering insulin to children with diabetes,” she says. “I’m here advocating for a living wage for all classified staff.”

Karen Tyrrell is a technology assistant at Belmont Ridge Middle School with 13 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University.

“After all these years, I still don’t earn a living wage,” says Tyrrell.

Technology assistant Paula Vorndran has worked 17 years for the district. Married, she earns less than $21,000 a year.

“If I was on my own I would not even be able to afford an apartment in Loudoun,” says Vorndran, who has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications. “I like the job, the people, and working with students.”

Under the current pay system that includes 28 steps, technology assistants are not paid a living wage until step 18 ($33,103). Health clinic specialists like Fay will not earn a living wage until step 13 ($32,861).

The Long Commute

One of the biggest issues for bus drivers who live outside county lines is their early morning commute.

“Many of the bus drivers live in neighboring counties an hour’s drive from Loudoun,” says bus attendant Maryann McHugh, who earns $26,000 annually after 12 years on the job. “Some of these drivers get up at 3:30 a.m. to be at work on time and don’t get home until around 7:00 p.m. They have dinner, go to bed, then do it again the next day.”

In Loudoun, bus drivers do not begin to earn a living wage until step 10 ($33,306). The highest step pays drivers $53,582. Even after reaching step 28, a school cafeteria worker earns far less than a living wage: only $22,322. Paraeducators do not earn a living wage until step 23 ($32,823).

“Many of us live paycheck to paycheck,” McHugh says. “But we remain hopeful.”



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Arizona Teachers Poised for Largest Walkout in Nation


Teachers from Highland Arts Elementary School stage a final walk-in Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Mesa, Ariz. Communities and school districts are preparing for a historic statewide teacher walkout on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Today, the Arizona teacher with 48 students in one class period—and 43 English-language learners in another—will aim to speak with every one of her students. The elementary school counselor with exactly 1,430 children in her care will triage countless emotional and academic crises.

And at least one of their colleagues will say, “Put the rubber band back on that textbook so we don’t lose the cover,” or “Sit over here. The lights work here.”

Tomorrow, they’re not taking it anymore.

In what may be the largest educator walkout in history, these educators will join tens of thousands of teachers and educational support professionals (ESPs) across all of Arizona in walking out of their neglected classrooms. Led and supported by the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona Educators United (AEU) through its #RedforEd movement, Arizona educators are bringing their demands for adequate educational funding directly to state lawmakers in Phoenix, where they will be joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“I’m walking out because I know that my students—and all students in Arizona—deserve more. They deserve more. They deserve to be learning in a fully funded classroom,” says kindergarten teacher Amy Ball, who has taught for 12 years in central Phoenix. “Every single student in Arizona deserves to have the most opportunities for success.”

No state in the country has cut school funding more than Arizona. Between 2008 and 2015, state lawmakers cut funding per student by 36.6 percent, according to a national analysis by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Second is Florida, which cut funding by 22.2 percent during those years.)

This year, Arizona lawmakers are spending 13.6 less on students than they did in 2008. Even as the economy has rebounded from last decade’s Great Recession, Arizona lawmakers have opted for more tax cuts, instead of investing in public schools. Last year, Arizona lawmakers cut school funding by another 1.2 percent.

“We can no longer allow the status quo in this state go unchanged. We need to bring the change our students and families need,” said AEU leader and AEA member Noah Karvelis. “We have kids sitting in broken desks, studying out of 25-year-old textbooks in rooms with leaky ceilings. This is unacceptable.

“We are truly in a state of crisis.”

Arizona teachers and ESPs have had enough. Their #RedforEd movement started this spring with teachers wearing red shirts in solidarity. It has led to multiple rallies at the state Capitol over the past few weeks, and feeble offers of salary raises from state lawmakers.

Last week, nearly eight out of 10 Arizona educators voted to walk out on Thursday. Their effort may be larger than statewide walk-outs in three considerably smaller states—West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

“It is your courage, it is your voice, and it is your advocacy for all of Arizona’s students that have brought us to this historic [moment],” said AEA President Joe Thomas. “This is clearly a mandate for action.”

Pledge your support for Arizona’s educators as they try to get students the resources they deserve.

Salaries are not the issue—although they are terrible. The latest NEA Rankings & Estimates, released earlier this week, shows Arizona teachers earned an average $47,402 a year in 2017, putting them at 45th in the nation. Teachers describe earning so little money that their own children qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and yet they still invest hundreds of dollars a year to buy paper, books, mousetraps, and more for their classrooms.

What’s driving Arizona educators to take action is the lack of opportunities for their students. Arizona students are regularly denied physical education, music and art. Classroom technology is 22-year-old computers, held together with duct tape. Class sizes often top 30 in elementary schools and 40 in high schools.

“I’m walking out because enough is enough. I have spent 30 years in education and in that time we’ve seen cut after cut after cut and excuse after excuse. We’ve absolutely had enough,” says technology specialist Thomas Oviatt, an educator for 30 years. “Not only do I think Arizona students deserve better, I think every student deserves better.”

On the AEU private Facebook page, teachers describe how they struggle to provide what their students need to learn. “I teach in a self-contained special education classroom for students with high needs. Most are students with autism or intellectual disabilities. In the past four months I have spent over $500 on curriculum because I do not have any in my classroom,” writes one Arizona teacher.

We’re talking about school globes that spin to show two Germanys (the Berlin Wall fell in 1989…), or reading books that include “a cute dating story by Bill Cosby.” Teachers are using textbooks that are older than they are. Most Arizona school libraries haven’t had money to buy new books since 2008.

Forget about soap or toilet paper in the bathrooms. There are public schools that limit the use of air-conditioners from 10 am to 2 pm only. In one classroom, an inventive teacher set up a homemade air-conditioner using a Styrofoam ice chest and some electric fans. “The rooms were still about 90 degrees inside. The poor kids had headaches and couldn’t learn,” she describes.

“The 33 second graders in my classroom deserve to have smaller class sizes, they deserve to have updated technology, they deserve to have desks and chairs that aren’t broken,” says Phoenix teacher Alexis Aguerre.

Tomorrow, educators are going to let everybody know that Arizona can do better for its children: “I think the Red for Ed movement means hope,” says Aguerre. “It means that we are willing to fight for our families and for our students.

“Being a part of this movement has given me a renewed hope that we can do better for our kids.”



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Meet 2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning


Mandy Manning, an English and math teacher who teaches refugee and immigrant students in Spokane, Wash., was named the 2018 National Teacher of the Year on Friday by the Council of Chief School State Officers (CCSSO).

An 18-year teaching veteran, Manning has taught at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School for seven years, where she has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to students who are adjusting to life in their new community “Every student in this country deserves access to a teacher who is committed to their success,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of CCSSO, and Manning embodies that dedication and spirit.

“I am honored and excited to be the 2018 National Teacher of the Year,” Manning said. “This year I hope to engage the nation in a conversation about how we can encourage students to experience things outside of their understanding. When we move out of our comfort zones, visit new places, listen to others’ thoughts, and share our own opinions, we become compassionate and open. This is the first step in creating a more hopeful, safer, and kinder society where everyone can be productive, global citizens.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García called Manning  “a shining example of how teachers transform the lives of their students every day, engaging them and creating enthusiasm for learning. .. Mandy sees no barriers—only bridges.”

Manning began her career as an educator in the Peace Corps in Armenia, and has taught in Japan and in schools across the U.S. These experiences have instilled a global perspective in her teaching.

“Student-centered teaching is essential to my successes in the classroom,” said Manning. “Globally, we need to encourage others to explore, be fearless and embrace new experiences with compassion. I want to inspire educators and students as I have been inspired, to see potential in every voice and opportunity in every classroom.”

Manning’s students at Joel E. Ferris High School come to the U.S. from all over the world:  Syria, Chuuk, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, and Tanzania. Most of them are seeking safety, “but they don’t always feel safe here,” said Manning. The current political climate has only increased fear and anxiety, making it hard for newcomers to share and learn from others. Manning says her role in the classroom is to “help them understand current events, know their rights, and provide a safe and welcoming environment.”

As a National Board Certified Teacher, Manning is seen by her colleagues by her colleagues as a mentor and an enthusiastic collaborator. She was also instrumental in re-evaluating her school’s discipline plan. Manning led a committee of key stakeholders that adopted a progressive, evidence-based behavioral intervention plan that placed enhanced academic and social behavior outcomes over punishment. Implemented in 2016, the new plan led to a 74 percent decrease in suspensions in the first year.

In addition to her work in the classroom and as a coach, Mandy, an NEA member, is deeply involved in her local and state union. She started as a building rep, discussing important workplace issues with her co-workers, representing their interests and concerns at union meetings and getting them involved. She is currently on the executive committee of the Spokane Education Association.

“Mandy understands as a leader, being part of a strong union helps her students succeed,” said Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association. “As a teacher, I couldn’t be more excited to have her represent us.”

As the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Manning is looking forward to serving as a full-time spokesperson and advocate for teachers and public education.

“Public schools aren’t failing,” she said. “We are being successful, and we are changing lives.”



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Bargaining for the Common Good in Higher Education


The story around parking at UMass Boston is decades long, and rife with buried trash, political corruption, and imprisoned public officials. The latest twist is this: The university is building a new garage, and it plans to charge everybody—students, custodians, faculty alike—$15 a day to park.

“For students, across the school year it adds up to almost the cost of an additional class, and the university is saying that they can add that cost to their tuition bills…so, more debt!” says Annetta Argyres, a UMass Boston faculty union leader. “Also, consider our classified employees, who are our lowest paid employees. They are required to be on campus five days a week, 50 weeks a year. It adds up to an enormous amount of money, far more than any raises on the table.”

A possible solution is this: A growing movement around “bargaining for the common good.”

In common-good efforts, unions partner with community groups—students, parents, racial-justice organizations, etc.—around contract demands that benefit not just the members of the bargaining unit but also the wider community, explains Marilyn Sneiderman, director of the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization at Rutgers University. (Read more about it from Sneiderman, here.) Since 2012, several K12 NEA-affiliated unions, most notably in St. Paul, Minn., have used this strategy to win contract provisions that include more school counselors and librarians, and less standardized testing.

It makes sense to also use bargaining for the common good in higher education, especially at public institutions whose missions—and funding—are entangled with the well-being of their communities. They’re often the largest local landowners and employers, and fuel the economic development of their regions. Bargaining for the common good can transform institutions “from crucibles of inequality into epicenters of democratic…empowerment,” said Joe McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.

Recently, Argyres and other Massachusetts Teachers Association members, as well as leaders from the California Faculty Association (CFA), attended a convening at Rutgers, co-sponsored by NEA, with more than 200 union, community and racial-justice leaders, where they learned how to run these types of campaigns.

“We’re in a time and place where people are willing to look differently at their unions and the work that they do,” said CFA Vice President Charles Toombs, who led a delegation of CFA members to the Rutgers event. For CFA, this has meant re-writing its bylaws so that it focuses more on anti-racism and social justice.

“This social justice work is going to be a way to insure strong membership,” said Toombs. And, even more important, “in a state like California, to ignore these issues is to do a disservice to the students we teach, especially as we have so many students of color and DACA students.”

In its last contract, CFA won a new article that addresses “cultural taxation,” or the penalty paid by many faculty of color for the disproportionate work they do to support students of color. Now, money has been allocated to help compensate faculty, often in the form of release time, who do “exceptional work with those students,” said Toombs.

This is an example of common-good bargaining—it takes a common-good issue, like the success of students of color, and codifies it in contract language. “It’s a way to bring our concerns with anti-racism and social justice into the contract,” said Toombs.

Common-good bargaining is also a way for “not only our members to see why they need unions and what they do, but also our larger community to see why we need unions and what they do,” said Argyres.

In Boston, common-good bargaining may start with parking—the union’s proposal calls for no student parking fees—but it may lead to bigger issues around public land use and student services. “We need to get more bold and more creative about how we use our contracts,” said Argyres, who also plans to invite students to the faculty union’s next bargaining session with the university.

“We see no reason that they shouldn’t be there for open bargaining,” she said. “This is a conversation that affects all of us.”



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Educators Push Teacher Pay Penalty Into National Spotlight -NEA Today


“Something has to change,” says Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Trios Rios Elementary School just outside of Phoenix. Only in his second year teaching, Karvelis has already seen too many colleagues walk away from the profession in a state where the salaries are so low. Arizona ranks last in teacher pay and in per-pupil spending.

“Being a teacher isn’t a viable career choice here any longer,” Karvelis says.“No one got into this profession to get rich. But we do expect to be able to make a living. And in Arizona, that’s not the case.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Arizona educators increasingly fled the state for jobs in neighboring California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where teachers make on average $10,000-15,000 more than their counterparts in Arizona.

“Each day that goes by without action by our elected officials, another teacher decides to leave Arizona,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas.

In 2015, special education teacher Robin Edgerton left the Lake Havasu School District for a position in Needles, California, that doubled her salary. She commutes 40 minutes from her home in Lake Havasu.

“I went from living paycheck to paycheck, to where now I can buy a house,” Edgerton told The Arizona Republic. “With Arizona pay, it never would have happened.”

Over the past few weeks, educators across the state have mobilized to demand a 20 percent increase in teacher pay (which would still place Arizona below the national average) and a return of pre-recession school funding levels. With each unacceptable response from Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature, the #RedforEd movement has grown stronger, joining educator-led protests in other states that have pushed low teacher pay and the divestment in public education into the national spotlight.

The walkout of Oklahoma educators has entered its second week and their counterparts in Kentucky continue to protest funding shortfalls and a bill that would decimate their pensions. The fire was lit in February by the historic nine-day strike by West Virginia educators (“That victory has been incredibly empowering for educators in Arizona,” said Karvelis). Since then, it has swept through other states as teachers and other school staff have become fed up with inadequate resources and the penalties they have to endure to stay in a profession they love.

The dramatic resurgence of the teacher pay issue specifically, says Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, has been simmering for some time.

“You’re seeing two factors—the debasement of the teaching profession and the erosion of wages and benefits to the point where educators are rightfully angry,” says Mishel. “They’re determined to protect their families and their profession.”

Video: Tulsa educator Jennifer Thornton supports herself and her teenage son on less than $2K a month.

A Man-Made Crisis

“Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for many years,” says Mishel. This “teacher penalty” continues to grow,  forcing many educators out of the profession and making it less and less attractive to potential candidates.

And many who remain are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet. A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system.

According to a new EPI analysis by Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, teacher pay (adjusted for inflation) fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124. Even when accounting for benefits, the teacher compensation gap widened by 9 percent, to 11.1 percent over that same time frame.

In Arizona, teachers earn just 63 cents on the dollar compared with other college graduates—the widest pay gap in the nation. The gap is 79 cents in Kentucky, 67 cents in Oklahoma, and 75 cents in West Virginia.

It’s a gap that is abated by collective bargaining, according to 2016 analysis by Allegretto and Mishel.  They found that in 2015, “teachers not represented by a union had a 25.5 percent wage gap—and the gap was 6 percentage points smaller for unionized teachers.” (See Mishel’s recent summary of the research into collective bargaining’s impact)

Since the successful strike in West Virginia, in which teachers and education support professionals pressured Governor Jim Justice to agree to a 5 percent pay raise, the message around education funding and teacher pay has clearly struck a chord with the general public.

“We’re seeing an outpouring of support and respect for teachers in these states,” says Mishel.

A new poll by CBS found that 68 percent of Americans say teachers in their community are paid too little—a majority that cuts across political party lines.

This community support is absolutely critical. For too long, lawmakers have degraded the teaching profession with myths, exaggerations that serve to undermine public education and advance a school privatization agenda.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin pulled out this rhetorical toolbox last week when she compared protesting teachers to “a teenager who wants a better car.”

There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.” – Michael Leachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The remark was an offensive and clumsy attempt to divert attention away from the reckless tax cuts she and other politicians have championed that have decimated public services in their respective states.

“This is a man-made crisis,” NEA President Lily Eskeslen García told a rally of educators in Oklahoma City on April 2. “Tax giveaways to big business. Starving the revenue that pays for quality education—they’ve been digging this revenue hole for a dozen years.”

Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed the impact state tax cuts have had in Arizona and Oklahoma. While the individual tax breaks differ, the effect is the same: funding education has become increasingly difficult, which it turn makes it even harder to improve teacher pay.

Arizona and Oklahoma were cutting taxes before the Great Recession and haven’t stopped.

“While most states have gradually restored the school funding that they cut when the recession hit, Arizona and Oklahoma have not come close,” Leachman writes. “Most states have reduced average teacher pay since 2010, after adjusting for inflation, but Arizona and Oklahoma are among the deepest-cutting states.”

Although raising more revenue in these states is a daunting political challenge, the ground is shifting, says Leachman.

“There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.”

No More Nickel-and-Diming

Arizona educators are all-too familiar with this stubborn allegiance to tax cuts for the wealthy. Derek Harris, a band teacher in Tucson, sat stunned at a meeting with lawmakers at the state capitol last month as educator protests began to gather momentum.

“They told us to our faces that the tax cuts were absolutely necessary and that the reason we had these budget shortfalls was because the district was spending the money fraudulently,” Harris recalls.

This spring the legislature stands ready to approve a capital gains tax cut that will benefit almost exclusively the 183 richest Arizonans — those making more than $5 million a year — to the tune of an extra $27,000 each.

Meanwhile, Governor Ducey has offered teachers a 1 percent pay raise.

Arizona teachers and education advocates march at the Arizona Capitol highlighting low teacher pay and school funding on March 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“It’s just another slap in the face,” says Harris.“It’s too much. We’re not going to be nickel-and-dimed anymore.”

On April 11, as part of the #RedforEd movement, teachers, education support professionals, and parents across the state are holding “walk-ins” to educate the community about the funding shortfalls facing public schools. Large-scale rallies will be held outside school buildings and are expected to attract huge crowds. The goal right now is to mobilize as much community support as possible to pressure Ducey—who on Tuesday dismissed #RedforEd as “political theater”—and the legislature to change course.

In addition to the 20 percent salary increase for teachers and the restoration of school funding to 2008 levels (approx. $1 billion), educators are also demanding competitive pay for all education support staff, a permanent salary structure that includes annual raises, and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

What happens next is up to the legislature. If they take no action, lawmakers should not expect educators to put down the megaphone and go home, says Joe Thomas, president of AEA. “I  have not seen this many teachers this frustrated since I’ve been in Arizona.”

Educators will only be more empowered and determined to stand up for their students and their profession, adds Noah Karvelis.

“We are no longer willing to come to school each day unable to do the job that we love so much. An entire generation of students have not been given the education that they deserve. That’s devastating to all of us.”



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