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

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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​ ​​.

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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Illinois Education Support Professionals Stand Their Ground During Challenging Strike

When 450 members of the Education Support Personnel Association (ESPA) in Palatine, Illinois, staged a strike last October at 20 locations, they were confronted with a judge’s temporary restraining order for 168 striking members to return to work at Palatine School District 15. The judge stated that their absence could cause a “clear and present danger” to the safety and health of the district’s special needs students. That was on day two.

“On the one hand, the district did not want to give these people a raise as low as 11 to 25 cents an hour, while on the other hand they were willing to go to court to bring them back to work because they were so essential,” says Bridget Shanahan, media relations director of the Illinois Education Association (IEA).

As the strike reached its fifth day, district officials released to the public a letter written two weeks earlier informing ESPA members that if they went on strike, all salary, health insurance (including drug prescriptions) and other “board-paid benefits shall cease for striking members.”

While district officials said they had communicated to ESPA members the ramifications they would encounter should they go on strike, members were not given a specific day when insurance coverage would halt.

“That was extremely disheartening,” Shanahan says.

Disinvestment in Schools

Before the end of the 10-day strike, those on the picket line received seemingly random emails stating that their prescription drugs were no longer covered and that their medical co-payments would increase.

“With no paycheck and no insurance, if you’re a single mother with children, then you are in financial trouble from day one,” says paraeducator Rosella Bartoli, ESPA’s medical and financial aid coordinator. “Our insurance should not have been cancelled. It was prepaid.”

According to UniServ Director Debbie Gorecki, it was the first time in Illinois history that an employer canceled health insurance during a labor strike.

“The district weaponized insurance by cancelling it on a rolling basis,” says Gorecki, who helped facilitate the strike team. Some members learned they no longer were covered for medical services only after they tried to use their insurance cards at a drug store or other medical facility.

“There are 20 schools and they only canceled a handful of members’ insurance in each school in order to scare folks to cross the strike line,” Gorecki says. “Many members also lost wages from second and third jobs in order to participate in strike.”

As with the success of the historic nine-day strike by West Virginia’s teachers in securing overdue pay raises and other walkouts by educators in Arizona, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, Palatine education support professionals (ESP) banded together on the picket line and in February secured a five-year contract. Like their teacher colleagues, ESPA members stood their ground under tense conditions while protesting long-running, systemic disinvestment in public schools.

District Had the Resources

District 15 is the state’s second largest school district. When the strike began October 16, the two sides were divided by retirement policies and rules over when workers would serve as substitute teachers. And by wages.

“We did the research,” Shanahan says. “The district had the money to pay for the raise.”

During the strike, schools remained open for the district’s 12,800 students. ESPA members include nurses, paraeducators, sign language interpreters, and clerical service workers.

“Voting to go on strike was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make at work,” says Angie Drazkowski, ESPA president. “We work hard every day to make sure our students’ needs are met, yet we are barely able to support our own families.”

Many ESPs in the district earn approximately $12,000 a year, according to media reports.

“This means most of us have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet,” Drazkowski says. “Our members work with the most vulnerable students in the district and also happen to be among the lowest paid.”

Nationwide Support

During the strike, IEA and Association locals in Illinois and across the nation contributed $70,000 to assist those on strike with various family and personal expenses.

“I’m humbled by the financial help that came in from NEA unions across the country,” says Bartoli. “We helped members with funds to buy groceries, pay utilities, make car payments … the usual daily expenses.”

Some members also received financial assistance to help meet child care, rent and mortgage payments. Interest-free loans through IEA were also available to members who missed pay periods.

“I spoke with members one on one and reviewed their bills,” says Bartoli. “It was emotionally difficult at times for me to listen to them describe the financial struggles they were facing.”

Despite tremendous hardship, fewer than 20 employees crossed the picket line, according to news sources. Before the end of the strike, the judge withdrew the restraining order and the 168 nurses and paraeducators returned to the picket line.

Building Student Trust

The contract agreement reached February 15 is retroactive to when the previous contract expired last June. The agreement includes a two percent average annual wage increase, single-employee health insurance (fully paid by the district), and stipulations of fulltime status at 5.5 hours per day or 27.5 hours per week. Also, up to eight ESPs per year will be eligible for a $9,000 retirement bonus with the provision ending 2020.

“With that, we can now focus on rebuilding and reconnecting with the district,” Drazkowski says.

Each of the 20 school buildings in the district have one or two ESPA building representatives.

“With so many members spread out across the district, a lot of us didn’t know each other,” says Bartoli, who works at Lincoln Elementary School. “The strike helped bring us together. A lot of friendships were made.”

In addition, Bartoli stresses that the new contract is meant to help attract and retain the best and brightest ESPs possible.

“The district should want to have more consistency in the lives of our students,” says Bartoli, who has worked in the district for 18 years. “We are neighbors to these kids and their families. We know their older brothers and sisters because we were here when they came through these schools.”

By retaining dedicated and qualified educators, student safety and learning conditions will improve, Bartoli says.

“We want to be here for students on a long-term basis so they can get to know and trust us throughout their school years,” she adds. “How much is that consistency worth to students and the district? A lot I would think.”

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Striking the Right Tone: Staff Collaboration Key to a Healthy School

Nurse Sheryl Lapp (right) often meets with staff members like teacher Sandy Doyon to coordinate students’ health care needs.

Three students with food allergies are sitting at the nut-free table during lunch at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, N.J. In accordance with a new school protocol, they have invited several friends to join them.

“It used to be that they could invite only one friend to sit with them,” says school nurse Sheryl Lapp. “But one student had several friends and couldn’t pick just one, so we worked to create an environment of acceptance instead of exclusion.”

Among some students, it is socially prestigious to have lunch in the peanut-free zone. Among teachers, food service workers, and paraeducators it is imperative to know the health plans of students with food allergies. They must also be trained to recognize symptoms of a first-time allergic reaction in a previously undiagnosed student. In case of an emergency, working as a unit is vital.

At Kennedy, teamwork, camaraderie, and mutual appreciation are the pillars upon which the school operates. This spirit of staff cooperation stems from the same impulse present at most if not all public schools: the desire to help one another succeed on behalf of students.

“It’s the tone of the building,” says teacher Sandy Doyon, vice president and building representative of the South Plainfield Education Association (SPEA), which includes 450 paraeducators, secretaries, and teachers. “We have great administrators and educators who put students first and know how to work together.”

Kennedy can boast almost 100 percent participation in SPEA.

“The folks here are very supportive of NJEA (New Jersey Education Association),” Doyon adds.

In Sync

At most schools, a principal’s leadership style pervades the buildings, playgrounds, cafeteria and all points in between. Whether positive or negative, it trickles down through the staff.

“Our principal is very supportive and fair, calm, and friendly,” Lapp says. “He can work with everyone here as well as the superintendent and board members.”

Principal Kevin Hajduk arrived at Kennedy in 2015 after serving as principal of South Plainfield Middle School.

It’s one thing to state that staff workers at Kennedy work well together. Educators at many schools do that. It’s another to see their teamwork reflected in the smallest detail.”

“Kennedy was known for its progress on state assessments, great programs, and very supportive staff,” says Hajduk. “Immediately, you can see they are a close-knit group.”

It’s obvious that Hajduk’s loyalty runs deep. After all, he was born in South Plainfield and graduated from South Plainfield High School in 1995.

“We are a family-oriented team,” he says, “with students at the center of the discussion.” Of the school’s 55 staff members, only Hajduk and the physical education coach are male. The unity around gender may be a factor in the team’s success, though Hajduk chooses to credit each individual’s willingness to try new things, resolve disputes quickly, acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses, address certain concerns in private, compliment each other on jobs well done, forgive one another when mistakes are made, and offer feedback when asked.

“It takes all of us, working together, to know our roles and to execute them effectively,” he says. “Respect, trust, and good team communication are our keys to success.”

School Hub

The second grader entering nurse Lapp’s office rushes past a teacher in Lapp’s office and blurts a quick “Hi.” The student is distracted by debris lodged in her eye.

“Let me see…don’t scratch,” says Lapp, whose multi-purpose office is a school hub of sorts.

The sun-soaked space includes a vast storage area for medical supplies and two private restroom facilities—one for hurried teachers and another for students who might experience a stomach-related emergency.

“Sometimes, it’s like I’m the school mother,” says Lapp, who joined Kennedy in 2013 replacing a nurse who had been at the school for 25 years.

“You never hesitate to ask Mrs. Lapp for anything,” says paraprofessional Juliann Bickunas. “She’s well-trained for the job and works well with everyone.”

In a corner across from Lapp’s orderly desk is a wheel chair, oxygen tank, and low-rise bed where students rest after Lapp has tended to a nose bleed, bruised eye, knee scrape, or puncture wound that could be located almost anywhere.

Even teachers are known to visit Lapp’s office for a quick consultation.

“I’m here for them, too,” she says. “Staff members consult me about their own pains, bumps, and bruises as well as those of their students.”

At Kennedy, Lapp works as closely with education support professionals as with teachers and administrators on the academic progress, and emotional and physical health of the school’s 280 preK–fourth graders.

“We talk a lot amongst ourselves,” says Amy Leso, third-grade teacher and a 2002 graduate of South Plainfield High School. “When I have a student with an allergy, I’ll mention it to other teachers and staff.”

Staff are trained to maintain student confidentiality but to also collaborate on care.

All for One

It’s one thing to state that staff workers at Kennedy work well together. Educators at many schools do that. It’s another to see their teamwork reflected in the smallest detail.

Custodian Marilu Hernandez, who has worked at Kennedy for six years, often collaborates with Lapp on choosing the safest cleaning products for students as young as age 5. They read bottle labels together.

“Always, students come first with Mrs. Lapp, the teachers, principal…all of us,” says Hernandez. “When a teacher calls me [after a student has an accident], I go quickly.”

Nurse Sheryl Lapp at work in her multi-purpose office.

Teacher Heather Hearne-Pascale says Hernandez and Lapp are familiar faces in her classroom of nine K–second graders with multiple disabilities. Each student has a different health care plan involving seizures, diabetes, or life-threatening allergies.

“The majority of my students can’t tell me what they’re feeling, especially when it comes to toileting,” Hearne-Pascale says. “We have a lot of little accidents.”

Five paraeducators work with Hearne-Pascale on helping students with everything from language and communication skills to toilet training and personal hygiene.

Outside the classroom, paraeducators are responsible for escorting the students to the cafeteria, gym, music, and other classes.

“All our teachers know these students by name,” Hearne-Pascale says. “We look out for each other and each other’s students.”

Special education teacher Brittany Lillis, who teaches third through fifth grade, also credits caring parents with helping to maintain a healthy school climate.

“We listen to them and they to us,” she says. “You get to know them, which helps us even more to serve our students.”

The margin for error regarding student health and safety becomes slimmer when parents are factored in, explains teacher Alicia Berardocco.

“Parents are very accommodating here,” she says. “We communicate on a daily basis with some of them.”

Crisis Contained

Last fall, Lapp had to rush out of her office to help a student having a seizure in a classroom.

“Most seizures last about five minutes,” she says. “This one went on for almost 15.”

Fortunately, classroom staff knew to remain calm, began tracking the time and the length of the seizure, monitored the student’s breathing and protected the student’s head until Lapp arrived and activated EMS.

“Our secretary knew whom to call…our maintenance staff were on standby to help with whatever was needed,” Lapp recalls. “We are very lucky that our school administration recognizes the importance of having a full-time nurse in the building.”

The student received efficient care and was back in class within several days. The student is among 8 percent of children in the U.S. diagnosed with food allergies. Of this group, 40 percent have the potential for a life threatening severe reaction known as anaphylaxis, which causes blood pressure to drop and airways to constrict.

Anaphylaxis can be fatal without rapid treatment. According to EdSource, a non-profit education news website, almost 20 percent of severe allergic reactions at schools happen to children who have not been diagnosed.

“Sometimes you don’t know until the first time,” says Lapp.

The incident at Kennedy was an example of the high level of collaboration and commitment to the health and safety of students.

“In a school environment that stresses communication and collaboration, I think you’ll find low levels of absenteeism and high levels of [staff] morale and student achievement,” Lapp says.

In Good Hands

Lapp maintains a drawer in the front desk reception area filled with student-specific and stock EpiPens organized in baggies. EpiPens are auto injectors with spring-activated needles and can be administered in a thigh through clothing. Each baggie contains a printout of the student’s medical history and photo, and the EpiPen.

“Many of our staff have been trained to recognize symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, how to administer an injection and follow-up procedures,” she says.

The school’s specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) also collaborate on student psychological assessments and case management.

“She (Lapp) tests thoroughly,” says speech therapist Peggy Monagle. “The students we work with have many medical conditions which require in-depth knowledge of their situation and cooperation from everyone.”

School psychologist Ashley Kellett recalls the many cross-departmental meetings between social service workers, teachers, and others where student health issues are analyzed.

“With certain students, you have to determine what’s causing the (psychological) problems,” Kellett says. “For that, you have to be organized and work together.”

For More:
Nurse Sheryl Lapp and other staff from Kennedy are featured in a video as part of the Classroom Close-up NJ series sponsored by NJEA. The video premiers May 6. View here:

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Educators Take to the Streets in Oklahoma and Kentucky

The crowd cheers during a rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 2, 2018. Educators were holding separate protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky on Monday to voice dissatisfaction with issues like pay and pensions. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

More than 30,000 angry and frustrated educators from across Oklahoma walked out of schools and swarmed the state Capitol on Monday to demand that state lawmakers invest in public education, while thousands more in Kentucky also rallied to protest legislative neglect.

“Why are we walking? There are 700,000 reasons why! Our students deserve better,” said Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Alicia Priest in a video statement. “We’ve all heard stories from students, parents, and teachers affected by 11 years of [budget] cuts to our classrooms. They see broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, and class sizes that have ballooned.”

Meanwhile, as state lawmakers turn their backs on students and educators, Oklahoma teachers are selling plasma to make ends meet.

“This is a man-made crisis,” echoed NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who joined Oklahoma teachers in their protests Monday.

“You are part of a movement that cannot be stopped,” Eskelsen García told the crowd. “For a dozen years, we sent emails and letters and phone calls and visits. For years, we’ve explained what was happening as they ignored the needs of public schools. And they ignored us. And now we are taking to the streets.”

Oklahomans aren’t the only ones who are fed up with state lawmakers who pay lip-service to public education. On Monday, thousands of protesting Kentucky educators gathered in Frankfort alongside NEA Vice President Becky Pringle to demand increased investment in schools and to decry a state bill that would decimate their pension. And, in Arizona, too, thousands of educators rallied in Phoenix this weekend to call for increased funding and pay raises.

Many educators are looking for inspiration in West Virginia, where teachers and education support professionals in a massive, sustained show of strength and solidarity walked out in every one of the state’s 55 counties for nine days last month, forcing reluctant state lawmakers to invest in teacher pay and commit to reducing health insurance costs.

“There’s a tipping point where people say enough is enough, we need to make some noise,” Eskelsen García told MSNBC on Monday. “We need to make everybody see what’s happening to our students.”

The frustration has been building for years, as state lawmakers have increasingly cut funding for public schools rather than raise revenues to pay for the services that students need. Arizona is the worst: between 2008 and 2015, lawmakers cut per-student funding by 36.6 percent, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Oklahoma, it fell 15.6 percent; and, in Kentucky, 5.9 percent.

“You are in the front of the lines to ensure your students have the kind of education that inspires their imaginations and unleashes their brilliance. So don’t be shy about your business. Don’t be afraid of your power”- NEA Vice President Becky Pringle

As a result, in 2016, Arizona’s average teacher pay was last in the nation, while Oklahoma’s ranked 47th, according to the NEA Rankings and Estimates report. In both states, teachers can make $10,000 or $15,000 more just by driving across state lines. This makes it extremely difficult for principals or superintendents to hold onto qualified teachers, even as research shows that a well-qualified teacher is the key to student success.

But this uprising of educators isn’t just about teacher pay. It’s about investing in public school students. Last week, Oklahoma lawmakers put together a funding bill that union leaders called a “down payment” on education. “It’s enough to buy about one textbook per student, and our kids need a whole lot more than one textbook,” said Priest. “They need art and music and advanced classes, smaller class sizes and everything else they’ve lost in the past 10 years of budget cuts. One textbook per child isn’t going to cut it. The legislature needs to raise more revenue for our children.”

In Arizona, teachers are calling for a $20,000 pay raise, and also for education funding to be restored to pre-recession 2008 levels. “Every single kid that I’ve ever had deserves more than this,” said Arizona Education Association member Noah Karvelis, an organizer of Arizona Educators United, to NPR. “There are kids who are not being given a fair chance here.”

In Kentucky, schools in 20 counties closed last week and many closed on Monday because of teacher protests over pensions. Last week, House and Senate lawmakers passed a surprise bill that will move all new teachers into a 401K-style retirement plan with no guaranteed returns. It was originally filed as a wastewater services bill, but changed without public notice to a pension bill. The legislative bait-and-switch made it impossible for Kentucky educators to speak to legislators about their opinions on it.

Meanwhile, Kentucky also has suffered cuts in education funding. On Monday, Pringle told Kentucky educators: “You are in the front of the lines to ensure your students have the kind of education that inspires their imaginations and unleashes their brilliance. So don’t be shy about your business. Don’t be afraid of your power. My question this morning to you is, ‘What are you prepared to do?’”

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Alaska Paraeducator Named 2018 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle (left) and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss (right) with 2018 ESP of the Year Sherry Shaw

In an environment known for its icy cold climate, Alaskan Sherry Shaw knows how to keep warm. She stays busy, inspired by her work as a special education paraeducator and coach at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, and member of NEA-Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Classified Employees’ Association (MSCEA).

Her advocacy on behalf of students and colleagues includes extensive volunteer work with the Special Olympics and other community organizations. Shaw can expect to add a few more items to her calendar in the upcoming year after being named the 2018 National Education Association (NEA) Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year during Saturday’s ESP of the Year Award Banquet at the NEA ESP Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“I work in special ed and I just love my students! I dedicate every moment I’m there showing them love and what they can do without limits. I’m at a loss for words right now, thank you so much!” said Shaw, to the rousing applause of more than 800 school support staff, administrators, and other educators from across the country who are participating in the 27th annual conference.

At the banquet, NEA Vice President Becky Pringle presented Shaw with a commemorative trophy, bouquet of red roses, and $10,000 check. Shaw also received a coveted ESP of the Year Hall of Fame plaque.

“Now, some people will tell you it’s not what you do but how you do it that counts,” said Pringle. “Sherry not only does 12 things at once, but she does them all phenomenally well.”

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.

The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.

“NEA congratulates Sherry and thanks her for the dedication and passion she has for her students and her job,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “She understands that in order to nurture student success, educators must work hand-in-hand. Sherry’s drive and dedication to making sure her students start and finish the school day on a positive note serves as a reminder of just how important education support professionals are as members of the education team, helping students succeed and achieve.”

More than 2 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems, with more than 75 percent living, shopping and voting in the school communities in which they work.

The conference theme, Education Support Professionals Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Educators, and Successful Students, set the tone for the dozens of workshops and discussions which focused on NEA’s goals and priorities including supporting the whole student, engaging early career educators, racial justice in education, effective teacher-paraeducator teamwork, and ensuring that the voices of educators are heard by legislators on Capitol Hill, and in city halls and statehouses across the nation.

“First in the building every day and typically last to leave, she is focused on creating the best experiences for all students as well as adults,” Tanaina Elementary School Principal Cheri Mattson stated in her recommendation letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “If it needs to be done, she is doing it, knowing it will help the students or adults gain confidence and success in the end.”

In addition to a career as a special education paraeducator, over the years Shaw has coached volleyball, basketball, cross country running, track and field, and cross-country skiing.

“My goal is to ensure students have a positive, fun experience,” she stated in her letter to the selection committee. “But not that they should just learn the fundamentals of the sport, but also the fundamentals of life, such as integrity, sportsmanship, working together as a team and how to be successful and achieve their full potential.”

Within the 900-member MSCEA, Shaw is a building representative at Tanaina while also representing MSCEA at other schools during discussions about workplace issues.

“I enjoy sharing how our union is working hard for us and answering questions they may have,” she states. “I encourage all paraprofessionals to take a more active role in our local chapter.”

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 to ESPs in the district.

In Wasilla, Shaw helped to establish and manage a program to help families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness by providing food, clothing, hygiene products, and advice on how to access resources from the state.

School support professionals make up more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESPs 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.

“I have seen her in the hallways, on the field, and in the classroom doing what she does best … being an amazing educator,” stated MSCEA President Karen Salisbury. “She works with students, parents, staff, and community members with such uniqueness that each person feels special.”

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A Celebration of Diverse Books and Readers

Hundreds of third and fourth graders in a rainbow of Read Across America t-shirts packed into the NEA auditorium in Washington, D.C. today to kick off March’s month-long reading celebration.

“This is such a special day,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the students, who came from schools “We are going to celebrate Read Across America for the whole month because there are so many good books to read! Books about different cultures, races, languages and traditions.”

This year’s theme is “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers” and the event showcased best-selling diverse authors Kwame Alexander (Booked, Crossover), Jesse J. Holland (Who is the Black Panther?), and Gene Luen Yang (Secret Coders, American Born Chinese, Shadow Hero) as well as a 20 authors of diverse books featured in the Read Across America Resource Calendar. The books are not only written by diverse authors about diverse characters, but they are written in diverse formats – graphic novels, comics, poetry and prose – which allows students to enter the world of reading through a doorway that appeals most to them.

Gene Leun Yang told the gathered students to always try new things, and to keep trying. He told them about his “Reading Without Walls” challenge,  which challenges students to read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you, read a book about a topic you don’t know much about and to read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.

“Our students need to see themselves in what they’re reading,” says Judy Marable, a reading specialist who came with her students from Flintstone Elementary in Oxon Hill. “When they see themselves in the characters, or in the authors, they realize they can have different careers, lifestyles, and adventures – that everything is open to them, not just to some. Books open their eyes and their worlds.”

Books have opened the eyes of Madison Bartley, a third grader at Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park, Maryland. She says she loves reading, and her current favorite is the Dog Man comic book series by Dav Pilkey about a “crime biting” canine.

“I like the books because they are comics and because Dog Man explores the world,” Bartley says.

The students, from diverse schools across D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, divided up into groups for a series of reading and writing activities led by volunteers and local authors, like Leah Henderson, who wrote One Shadow on the Wall, a middle grade book set in contemporary Senegal that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, courage, and creating your own future.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for me to interact with students and share our enthusiasm for books, especially diverse books,” Henderson says. “We’re fortunate now that there’s much more diversity in children’s literature. Now rather than just one book where students might see themselves, there are four or more books to choose from. It increases self-esteem and courage when you see characters who look like you, and also helps encourage a love of reading.”

NEA and Reading is Fundamental (RIF) co-sponsored the Read Across America event to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ 114th birthday. An estimated 45 million educators, parents and students will participate today and tomorrow in events nationwide.

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Educators Bring Corporate Tax Avoidance to the Bargaining Table

School districts across the nation have been hammered by relentless budget cuts for almost a decade. Even today, as the economy improves and massive tax giveaways to the wealthiest are a top legislative priority, public schools are still told that the well is dry, and key programs and positions must be once again slashed to close deficits.

The 3,700 members of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT), however, are not willing to accept austerity as reality. With contract negotiations around the corner in 2018, the educators in this 40,000-student district served notice that finding new revenue streams – notably pressuring the city’s wealthiest corporations to pay their fair share – was on the bargaining table.

That St. Paul schools needed more money was not in dispute. In 2017-18, the district faces a projected budget shortfall of more than $27 million. State aid has lagged behind inflation, class sizes have increased, key positions such as nurses and ELL teachers have been cut, and new programs with proven track records, such as restorative justice practices, were being squeezed out. For a district with large numbers of English learners, homeless students and students eligible for free and reduced lunch, the inability of funding to keep up with student needs has had severe consequences.

As bargaining got underway, the district insisted that there just wasn’t any money for these programs.

But St. Paul educators were having none of it. The money to help restore funding could be found in the massive tax breaks, loopholes and subsidies granted corporations and the property taxes private colleges and major non-profits don’t have to pay.

“Scarcity is a myth,” said SPFT president Nick Faber.  “Tax avoidance by some of the wealthiest members of our community is depriving schools of tens of millions of dollars.”

With an expanded bargaining team that included school and community service professionals, educational assistants, and teachers, SPFT offered 10 proposals in bargaining, developed after meetings with parents and community stakeholders, including smaller class sizes, expanding restorative practices, adding more support staff for students in special education programs, and increasing support for English Language Learners. SPFT also asked the district to collaborate on a joint effort to lobby for changes in state tax policy, negotiate with corporations and other entities on larger voluntary payments to schools, and partner on a property tax referendum for the November 2018 ballot.

The union’s decision to merge broader funding and equity issues with more bread-and-butter concerns in the negotiating process was seen as a bold and groundbreaking move. Educators however were refusing to be limited – “pidgeonholed” says Faber – to negotiating over wages and benefits.

Rejecting Business as Usual

With the district sticking to its austerity script, tense and combative contract negotiations led to a standstill by late January. On January 31, SPFT voted to strike for the first time in St. Paul since 1989 if an agreement was not met in a week. After eight straight days of mediated talks, a settlement was reached and the strike was called off.

St. Paul educators came away with clear wins, securing additional staff and other supports for ELL and special education students, new class size measures, and expansion of the restorative practices program.

District officials also promised to explore “joint agreements” with large corporations and wealthy medical and higher education non-profits, lobby for education funding together on a state and federal level, and examine the possibility of the referendum.

corporate tax avoidance

Source: ‘Sacked: How Corporations on the Super Bowl Host Committee Left Minnesota’s Public Schools Underfunded and Under Attack’ (St. Paul Federation of Teachers, 2017)

While the district didn’t commit to any one specific new funding proposal, SPFT success at elevating the issue –  along with protecting language around class size and restorative justice –  marked a victory for “bargaining for the common good,” a thriving, if not altogether new, approach to bargaining and organizing that expands the playing field of  to focus on equity, social justice and other community-wide concerns.

Using collective bargaining to build a larger movement has been at the forefront of SPFT’s organizing for years and the recent contract campaign only solidified its position as a national leader in this brand of unionism.

Rejecting “business as usual” and calling attention to the scarcity myth around school funding was the lynchpin in the union’s strategy as it geared up for contract negotiations in 2017.

A Case Against Working People
A handful of greedy CEOs and special interests don’t want educators to have a seat at the table to advocate for better schools and the resources their students need. Learn about Janus v AFSCME, a case that looks to divide and limit unions members’ collective bargaining power.

“If we really want to insure that we have equitable schools in St. Paul,  we have to bring more money into the district,” said Jenna Styles Spooner, a kindergarten teacher at Riverview Elementary. “Corporations paying their fair share is one way this could be achieved”

Over the five years she has been in the classroom, Styles Spooner has witnessed firsthand how budget cuts have affected her teaching and her students. In her first year, she and her colleagues benefitted from support provided coaches in the district Office of Early Learning (OEL) to help implement a new kindergarten curriculum.

By her second year, budget cuts had weakened the program, triggering an exodus of coaches – positions that haven’t been refilled. “The impact on the early learners in our district has been great,” said Styles Spooner.

“What it boils down to is us being less able to meet our students’ needs, especially those most vulnerable or already underserved in our community,” she added. “The needs of our students are only increasing while our funds are decreasing.”

‘The Message is Resonating’

Minnesota is a rich state and its largest corporations pay lower rates for state income and state property taxes than they did in the previous decade. Corporations also pad their pockets through off shore accounts and other loopholes in the tax code.

The egregious catering to business interests at the expense of local communities is a nationwide and longstanding problem. State and local governments give away at least $70 billion a year to business subsidies, most of it in foregone tax revenue.

St. Paul is also host to an abundance of major non-profits and private colleges who are also shielded from property tax laws. Almost one-third of the property in the city is tax exempt due because it is owned by non-profits or government entities.

Local property taxes are the most significant tax most corporations pay and are the backbone of local school finance, supplying almost a third of the budgets for K-12 education.

If we really want to insure that we have equitable schools in St. Paul,  we have to bring more money into the district. Corporations paying their fair share is one way this could be achieved” – Jenna Styles Spooner, teacher

In December, SPFT released a report calling attention to these tax avoidance practices to coincide with the hype surrounding the 2018 Super Bowl, hosted next door in Minneapolis. “Sacked: How Corporations on the Super Bowl Host Committee Left Minnesota’s Public Schools Underfunded and Under Attack” is a primer on the various schemes – aided and abetted by local and state law – Big Business deploys to reap huge financial gains while contributing less and less to the community.

From the beginning of the contract campaign, St. Paul educators forged strong partnerships with parents and community members – a pillar of a “common good” campaign – so that their input was used to formulate the bargaining demands. The bargaining sessions were open to the public.

SPFT also assembled a group of parents, educators, and community members in a group called the TIGER Team (Teaching and Inquiring about Greed, Equity, and Racism) that is tasked with investigating how money has been taken away from public schools to support private interests and what can be done to reverse the trend. TIGER team members have given presentations to different community groups, school site councils and parent organizations, and groups of educators.

SPFT representatives also met with Ecolab, U.S. Bank and other beneficiaries of property-tax breaks to discuss possible common ground. Unsurprisingly, the union’s requests were met with polite indifference.

Still, bargaining for the common good is a long-term strategy and SPFT have built alliances that will only strengthen as educators and district officials set out to explore generating more revenue for their schools.

“The message is resonating,” said Faber. “We have enough money in our state to fully fund public schools. We just have to have the courage and the will to bring it back to our students. “

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Standing Up for the Rights and Freedoms of Working People to Organize

Photo: Jay Mallin

Union and non-union workers from across the nation stood together and raised a strong collective voice Monday morning outside the U. S. Supreme Court in their fight for working people’s right to join unions.

At issue in the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) case being argued inside the courtroom is the question of 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 for contract negotiations.

Outside of the courtroom, one speaker after another commented on the impact Janus could have on public employee unions and the need to beat back wealthy special interests and their attack on workers and communities.

“The Janus case is extremely harmful to labor,” said Terrence Wise, a fast food worker from Kansas City, Mo., and labor leader with Fight for $15, an organization advocating to raise the national minimum wage. “In the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘All that harms labor is treason to America.’”

When the Rev. Michael Seavey from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Ore., took the podium, he quoted Pope Francis: “There is no good society without a good union.”

“A true community transforms society,” the reverend said. “Go back home and form those true communities.”

The Rev. Seavey and Wise were among a dozen speakers representing a wide range of social justice, civil rights and labor organizations. Another speaker, kindergarten teacher Kember Kane from Silver Spring, Md., said it is through negotiating collectively that educators can advocate for the conditions that support student learning such as safe schools, small class sizes, and for resources that help educators do their jobs.

“The Janus case is a threat not just to working people but to children themselves,” said Kane, a member of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). “The National Education Association (NEA) is built on unity. NEA advocates for all of our needs and for all of us.”

Make no mistake about it, we are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires at the expense of American working people.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

A media conference was also held on the court’s plaza following the conclusion of oral arguments. Featured were attorneys arguing on behalf of AFSCME and working Americans, as well as for plaintiff Mark Janus, primarily supported by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. Janus is an Illinois state employee who is suing AFSCME while asking the court to reconsider long-standing rules that have made it possible for people to stand together with one voice at work and in their communities.

Illinois is one of 23 states that allow unions to charge “fair share fees.” At job sites, workers vote on whether or not to form a union in the workplace. Even if a majority votes for a union, workers who don’t want to join don’t have to, they just pay a reduced “fair share fee” or “agency fee” to cover the cost of bargaining and representation that the union is legally required to provide for all workers. Such fees are reduced amounts charged to workers who opt out of union membership yet continue to receive the union representation and bargaining services that unions provide for the benefit of all employees. These fees are not charged for any political purposes.

Janus argues that these fees violate his First Amendment rights on the theory that collective bargaining is inherently political and therefore requiring him to pay the fee is no different than forcing him to pay for political activity he disagrees with. But the Court has never found collective bargaining to be equivalent to straight up political activity. And Janus arguments on that score seem to be a stalking horse for attacking strong unions and the benefits they provide workers.

A Rigged System

In the nation’s 27 right-to-work states, where employees are not obligated to join a union as a condition of employment, union density is significantly lower and, as a result, educators have less negotiating power to advocate for student learning conditions. According to several speakers, as nurses, educators, firefighters, sanitation workers, and other public employees enjoy the benefits, job security, and other protections the union negotiates, it is only fair that all employees contribute to the cost of securing those benefits and protections.

“Today, thousands of working people rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court and around the country to send a message that, whatever the decision in this case, these oligarchs won’t stop working families from realizing our American dream,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Make no mistake about it, we are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires at the expense of American working people.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said at the post-hearing conference that the case was not about impinging anyone’s First Amendment rights.

janus supreme court

Photo: Jay Mallin

“This is a case where there are a group of very well-funded right-wing extremists that want to eliminate unions throughout this country,” Madigan said. “If that happens we are going to see an even steeper decline in the middle class and we’re going to see an even greater economic inequality than we already have.”

The corporate special interests behind this case are, according to Eskelsen Garcia, “dead set on eliminating the rights and freedoms of working people to organize, to negotiate collectively and to have any voice in working to better their lives. It is no shock to most that is has become harder and harder for working people to get ahead and provide stability for their families.”

In 2016, a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, asked the court to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — the 1977 case in which the court unanimously upheld fair share fees that support collective bargaining. Each state was left to decide for itself whether to permit such fees.

A decision in the Janus case is expected in June, before the court adjourns. The deciding vote might be the Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch. The other justices split 4 to 4 in the Friedrichs case, which was decided after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

If the court bans fair share, it will mean that some workers will have to pay for the benefits enjoyed by all workers. Also, such a decision will make it harder for teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public service workers to negotiate for decent wages and benefits. Every public employee who benefits from a negotiated contract should contribute to the costs of securing that contract.

Lee Saunders, president of the AFSCME, the nation’s largest public employee union and the defendant in the Janus case, said the intention behind the legal action was to gut the power of progressive forces.

“The billionaires and corporate special interests behind this case don’t believe we should have a seat at the table,” Saunders said.

Conservative organizations, think tanks, and other right-wing activists backed by corporate donors including the Koch brothers, the family of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and the Bradley Foundation, have long been preparing for a case like Janus as part of a larger campaign to break unions. Secretary DeVos, a staunch proponent of reducing the power of teachers’ unions attended courtroom proceedings.

Despite the potential for setbacks from Janus and other attacks, NEA and its affiliates will remain the leading voices of the education professions and will continue to work on behalf of students and public education.

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Politicians Create Havoc With Class Size Law, Hit Wall of Opposition

Educators across the country have been advocating for smaller class sizes for more than a decade because, as research has continually shown, class size is a key determinant of student outcomes. So when a state legislature actually passes a bill mandating smaller class sizes in every K-3 classroom in every district, that might be welcome news.

But if that requirement doesn’t attach the necessary funding and imposes an inflexible timeline, the result – as educators in North Carolina can tell you – is nothing but chaos.

In spring 2016, the GOP-led General Assembly slipped a provision into a state budget bill that lowered maximum K-3 class sizes from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students, depending on the grade level. So far so good. But the new policy was slated to go into effect in the 2017-18 school year, giving districts precious little time to implement the mandate.

And the necessary funding to hire new staff and build new classrooms? That was nowhere to be found.

According to an analysis by the North Carolina Justice Center, fully-funding the necessary increase in staff (4,375 new teachers) would cost $304 million statewide – not to mention the additional tens of millions of dollars for new classroom construction.

Why would they do this? It makes sense when you couple this move with the push to privatize public education in the state. This is about creating chaos and disruption in our public schools, to make them look less desirable to parents” – Todd Warren, Guilford County Association of Educators

It was an unfunded mandate, said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and compliance would force districts to make deep cuts to programs and staff. “That’s what we call a false choice,” said Jewell.

Lobbying from NCAE was instrumental in persuading the General Assembly to delay the mandate until 2018-19, but once again no additional funding was allocated. With the deadline looming, districts spent the better part of the school year scrambling to come up with plans to defray the costs and comply with the mandate.

To help pay for new teachers, districts were faced with placing so-called “enhancement” positions – arts, music, physical education, and technology teachers – on the chopping block. Without the money or time for new classroom construction, schools would have to resort to trailers or other temporary classrooms, including locker rooms or cafeterias to house students. Another option was packing more students into grade 4-8 classrooms to free up more teachers for K-3.

“The plan really threw us into budgetary and logistical chaos at the local level,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher in Guilford County, the third-largest district in North Carolina.

Just a case of lawmakers oblivious to the consequences of unleashing an unfunded mandate on a school system already wreaked by budget cuts? Not likely, says Warren, who is also president of the Guilford County Association of Educators.

“Why would they do this? It makes sense when you couple this move with the push to privatize public education in the state,” explains Warren. “This is about creating chaos and disruption in our public schools, to make them look less desirable to parents who may be looking at that charter school down the street as an alternative.”

Setting Public Schools On Fire

The past seven years in North Carolina, says Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center, have seen the steady deterioration of the state’s reputation for academic excellence.

“It’s been dominated by a series of not just bad policies, but bad policies that are incredibly poorly crafted,” explains Nordstrom. “Nearly all initiatives were moved through the legislature in a way to avoid debate and outside input from education stakeholders. The result has been stagnant student performance and increased achievement gaps.”

According to the 2018 Quality Counts Report Card released in January by Education Week, the state has dropped to 40th in the nation. As recently as 2011, North Carolina ranked 19th, the same year Republicans took control of the state legislature and proceeded to slash education spending (per-pupil funding has plummeted to 43rd, $3,000 below the national average), promoted unaccountable charter schools and school voucher programs, and eliminated due-process rights for teachers.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed another around of tax cuts, reducing the corporate income tax rate from 3 percent to 2.5 percent –  $100 million in revenue that could have been allocated to help schools adjust to smaller class sizes.

Against this backdrop, it’s difficult to believe lawmakers were merely blindsided by the “unintended circumstances” of an unfunded mandate.

“They’re just being more stealth in the way they create dissatisfaction with our public schools,” says Michelle Burton, a library media specialist in Durham County. “Who doesn’t want smaller class sizes, right? But they’re just using a common sense position to cloud what was an unfunded mandate that was going to cause disruption and result in a lot of teachers losing their jobs.”

Burton is particularly outraged at the term “enhancement positions” to describe arts, music, and physical education teachers.

Since the passage of the unfunded class size mandate in 2016, educators and parents in North Carolina have kept up the pressure on lawmakers to reverse course.

“Calling those key positions ‘enhancements’ makes them easier to cut. They’re trying to make them somehow dispensable. But we know how important they are to a well-rounded education,” Burton says.

On a brutally cold Saturday afternoon in January, Burton joined roughly 300 educators and parents at a rally in Raleigh, organized by NCAE and parent advocacy groups, to pressure the General Assembly to act. Public school advocates across the state joined the mobilization against the mandate, signing petitions, talking to lawmakers, and taking to social media to #StopClassSizeChaos.

Educators had an ally in Gov. Roy Cooper, who called the mandate “artificial class size change—one that shrinks classes on paper but in reality hurts students and teachers.”

“The pushback from NCAE and parent groups has been effective,” says Warren. ” I think some of the legislators began getting nervous about their prospects in the 2018 election if they didn’t address the concerns.”

Amid the mounting outrage, lawmakers, who had hoped to delay action until May, called a special session in early February to try to undo the mess they created.

“This body set fire to our public schools and now we are the firefighters,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, who opposed the mandate.

Breathing Room –  For Now

On February 8, lawmakers announced a proposal to phase-in smaller class sizes over the next four years instead of lowering them at once in 2018-19. During that time, $61 million a year will be included to help school districts pay for art, music, and physical education teachers.

NCAE President Mark Jewell called the revision a step in the right direction that would, at least for the time being, allow schools to breathe a little easier.

“The phased-in plan has always been the more reasonable approach for local school districts, but whether the resources are adequate is still a question mark,” Jewell cautioned. “This doesn’t address the other class size challenges in higher grades, and it doesn’t provide funding for much-needed school construction, which many local districts will find a significant challenge.”

Jewell says any plan to reduce class size needs to be strategic, fully-funded, and involve educators at every step of the process. The issue is too important to be done haphazardly. “Class size affects all levels of the public education spectrum,” he said.

Although North Carolina’s public schools are still facing a largely unfunded mandate, Todd Warren believes the mobilization by educators and parents was critical in staving off the chaos that was on the verge of engulfing the entire system.

“Parents, teachers, NCAE, PTAs, and advocacy groups forced the General Assembly to take action that they otherwise would not have. Our organizing relationships and infrastructure are responding and growing more effective,” says Warren. “We’ll keep working and  redoubling our efforts.”

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How the ‘Janus’ Case Threatens Working People

It is no accident that more and more Americans are struggling to get ahead and provide economic stability for their families. For too long, corporate special interests and politicians who do their bidding have rigged the economy against working people – educators, nurses, firefighters, sanitation workers and other public service employees – to favor the wealthy and powerful.

Now those same special interests have brought a court case to divide and limit unions members’ collective bargaining power. Janus v. AFSCME, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, threatens working people’s rights and freedom to join together in strong unions. It is part of a multi-year, multi-million effort to rig the economy in their benefit—at the expense of the middle class and our communities.

When unions are strong, our communities are strong. They provide a path to the middle class and economic security, especially for women and people of color. Unions have helped build great public schools for students. Collective bargaining ensures educators can advocate for small class sizes, guaranteed recess, modern textbooks, and the technology that students need to succeed.

What is this case really about?
Janus v. AFSCME aims to take away the freedom of – and opportunity for – working people to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves, their families and their communities. When educators, nurses, police officers, firefighters and other public service workers are free to come together in strong unions, they win benefits like collective bargaining, better working conditions, better wages, health care, clean and safe environments and retirement security. But the CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case simply do not believe that working people should have the same freedoms and opportunities as they do: to negotiate a fair return on our work so that we can provide for ourselves and our families. They are funding this case through the so-called National Right to Work Foundation because they view strong unions as a threat to their power and greed.

What is the real impact of this case?
When working people have the freedom and opportunity to speak up together through unions, we make progress together that benefits everyone. If the billionaires and corporate CEOs behind this case get their way, however, they will take away the freedom of working people to come together and build power to fight for the things our communities need: everything from affordable health care and retirement security to quicker medical emergency response times and smaller class sizes in our schools. The CEOs and billionaires want to use the highest court in the land to take away our freedom to create the power in numbers to win better lives for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country.

What have people in unions won for all of us?
People in unions continue to win rights, benefits and protections not only for union members, but for all working people and their communities in and outside of the workplace. When nurses, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, and EMS workers belong to strong unions, they fight for staffing levels, equipment and training that save lives. When educators come together in strong unions, they can ensure small class sizes, guaranteed recess, modern textbooks and the technology that students need to succeed.

When union membership is high, entire communities enjoy wages that represent a fair return on their work and greater social and economic mobility. Without the freedom to come together, working people would not have the power in numbers they need to make our communities safer, stronger and more prosperous.

Who is behind this case?
The National Right to Work Foundation is part of a network funded by corporate billionaires to use the courts to rig the rules against everyday working people. For decades, the corporate CEOs and billionaires funding this case have used their massive fortunes to pay politicians and corporate lobbyists to chip away at the freedoms people in unions have won for every single one of us. Now they want the highest court in the land to take away our freedom to come together to protect things our families need: a living wage, retirement security, health benefits, the ability to care for loved ones and more.

Where did this case come from?
This case originated from a political scheme by billionaire Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois, to take away freedom and opportunity from working people to join together in strong unions so that he could advance an agenda benefiting corporations and the wealthy. Rauner launched a political attack on public service workers immediately after taking office, filing a lawsuit on his own behalf to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions. A federal judge ruled that Rauner could not bring this action because he was not himself an employee paying fair share fees. But the legal arms of the National Right to Work Committee and the Liberty Justice Center were able to carry the case forward by planting plaintiffs as stand-ins for Rauner in the federal lawsuit. The district court dismissed the case, based on long-standing precedent. The plaintiffs asked the lower court to fast-track their appeal and rule against them in order to more quickly get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

How is this case different from Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association?
Both cases deal with the same issues. Because Friedrichs was decided by a 4-4 decision after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the lower court’s decision went into effect and fair share fees were upheld. Having failed, the National Right to Work Coalition then backed the Janus case to try and limit working Americans’ freedom to join a strong union.

What are fair share fees and why are they important?
Unions work because we all pay our fair share and we all benefit from what we negotiate together. That’s how we have the power in numbers to make progress that benefits everyone. Corporate CEOs don’t want working people to have that power; that’s what this case is all about.

Is anyone ever forced to join a union or pay for politics?
No. The simple truth is that no one is forced to join a union and no one is forced to pay any fees that go to politics or political candidates. That is already the law of the land. Nothing in this case will change that. This case is about taking away the freedom of working people to come together, speak up for each other and build a better life for themselves and their families.

What is the Working People’s Day of Action?
Thousands of union members and supporters will gather on Saturday, February 24 in cities across the country to demand an end to the rigged system and those who seek to divide and silence us. We will stand shoulder to shoulder uniting for freedom — for men and women, for immigrants and native-born Americans, for people of every race, religion and sexual orientation.

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