NEA and Social Justice: 60 Years and Counting

In 1857 100 teachers united as one voice on behalf of public education. NEA has worked since then to improve the conditions in which educators work and students learn.

When the organization was founded, reading and writing was a privilege for most children, and it was a crime for enslaved Africans to learn to read.

Today, public education and the teaching profession work to ensure that every American child receives a free education, despite race or gender, citizenship, religion or spoken language, social class or disability. Here’s a look at NEA’s important work through the decades:

1954: At the 1954 Representative Assembly in New York City, the Association adopted a resolution that urged all citizens to approach integration in public schools with the spirit of fair play and good will.

1965: NEA lobbies to pass the Civil Rights Act.

1966: Merger between NEA and the historically Black American Teachers Association takes place.

1968: NEA leads the effort to establish the Bilingual Education Act

1972: In the first case ever litigated on behalf of a gay K-12 teacher, NEA funds a federal lawsuit against Maryland’s Montgomery County Board of Education.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act passes in 1975.

1974: U.S. Supreme Court case backed by NEA makes it unlawful to fire pregnant teachers or force maternity leave. At the NEA Representative Assembly, delegates support Title IX by adopting a resolution that affirms the Association’s commitment to providing male and female students with an equal opportunity to participate in athletic programs at all educational levels.

1975: NEA works for passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act—now known as the Individual with Disabilities Education Act—which opens the door for many students with physical disabilities to attend public schools.

1984: NEA wins passage of a federal retirement equity law, which ends the ability of retirement funds to discriminate against women.

1987: NEA releases “And Justice for All,” a series of reports—and first of its kind— on the education of black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian and Pacific Islander students. The report reveals serious barriers preventing students of color from obtaining an adequate/excellent education and underscores the need to create equality of educational opportunities for all students.

Shannon Faulkner

1993: NEA provides first local leader training to local presidents incorporating issues and concerns of gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees.

1994: Shannon Faulkner endures insults, intimidation, and death threats for trying to attend The Citadel—a state-supported military college that for more than 150 years barred admission to women. NEA signs onto friend-of the-court briefs supporting the challenges to single-sex institutions.

2005: As key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire, NEA lobbies for reauthorization.

2013: NEA is a vocal, unequivocal advocate of commonsense immigration reform, pushing Congress to stand by Dreamers; preserve the unity of family, and create
a realistic path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens who already call America home.

2016: NEA Representative Assembly delegates adopt a resolution to prevent acts of discrimination and violence targeted at people who identify as LGBTQ. The Association
files several amicus briefs challenging discriminatory laws, including North Carolina’s H.B. 2., which bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

2018: NEA files an amicus brief on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning
travelers and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries, stating that the ban violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by disfavoring a religious group and gives oxygen to the fires of bias, bullying, and discord. NEA launches #BlackLivesMatteratSchool, a site that provides educators with resources for discussions about race, highlights stories of educators and students who have stood together for racial justice, and links to art and videos to support and inspire activism. NEA supports thousands of educators in #RedForEd, a national movement that lifts the veil on inequity in public education.

Visit NEA EdJustice to learn more.

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The Best and Worst of 2018 in Public Education

2018 was by most measures a pretty great year for public education. It seemed that finally – finally – the conversation about the future of public education was headed in the right direction. The country was actually listening to educators. There were many other successes for public schools in 2018, but also enough disappointments and outrages to splash a little cold water on any year end celebration.

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights for 2018. (It’s hardly an exhaustive list so use the comments field to add your own suggestions.)

Cheers – #RedforEd

The sweeping mobilization of educators demanding reinvestment in our schools and respect for their profession was the education story of 2018. In February, 6,000 teachers and education support professionals in West Virginia, fed up with empty promises by lawmakers and the exodus of their colleagues to neighboring states, launched a statewide strike and, in the process, a national #RedforEd movement to protect the future of public education.

In early April, educators in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado took to the streets. Weeks later, Arizona educators voted to walk out in the largest state-wide action yet. Every one of these campaigns resulted in victories for increased funding for students and higher pay for educators. Momentum is only growing as more actions in a new crop of states are planned in early 2019.

Polls in 2018 also showed that the American public overwhelmingly support more money for schools, professional salaries for teachers and the use of strikes to bring about these changes.  After a decade of “blaming teachers first” – a message cultivated by privatization proponents and the national media  – the country, thanks to #RedforEd, got a look at the true safeguards of our public schools and liked what they saw.

Jeers – DeVos Dismantles Civil Rights Protections

In addition to pushing a national expansion of private school vouchers, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been spending most of her time rolling back civil rights protections for our most vulnerable students. She wasted no time after her contentious confirmation in February 2017 when she rescinded the Obama-era guidance that schools should allow students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in accordance with Title IX.

In November 2018, DeVos undermined Title IX further when she weakened protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities.

In December, the Trump administration released the report from the Federal Commission on School Safety to address gun violence in schools. The report recommends stripping protections that seek to prevent racial disparities in student discipline. These guidelines were put into place to address the wide racial gap in school suspensions and expulsions.

The move by the Department of Education could reverse the progress schools are seeing as they introduce alternative, less punitive discipline policies, says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

In a recent column co-authored with Christopher Edley, Darling-Hammond writes: “Given the extensive research base behind the guidance, and its capacity to help prevent exclusionary and discriminatory discipline practices, rescinding it will exacerbate the inequities in our education system, while rolling back progress on school safety and student attainment.”

Cheers – Election 2018

One of the offshoots of the #RedforEd movement was the unprecedented number of educators who decided in 2018 to step up and run for public office. Their efforts helped generate the enthusiasm that delivered major wins for students and public schools on election day. Nearly 15 percent of all state legislative seats in the United States will be held by elected educators, according to an NEA analysis. Come January, the majority of Americans will be led by governors with a proven track record of championing public education.

The lesson on November for lawmakers was simple, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will.”

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote in 2018 –  a 165 percent increase in activism engagement compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

Jeers – Corporate Tax Breaks Breaking U.S. Schools

During the 2018 election cycle, no candidate from either party wanted to be seen as a champion of cutting education funding. Quite the opposite. Boosting spending on schools is a politically popular position, and the election of candidates who made this a central part of their platform  means the public wants them to deliver on this promise.

A good place to start strenghtening school revenue sources, said Eskelsen García at a recent post-election panel at the National Press Club, would be economic development tax incentives granted to corporations.  “It’s always called an ‘economic development program ‘ but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize.”

And then there’s the jaw-dropping cost to public schools. According to a report by Good Jobs First, in 2017 schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives.

Although proponents of these tax giveaways argue these deals boost development and investment and grow local economies, they ignore the economic impact of starving the education system.

“It is no exaggeration to say that when tax abatements cause school districts to have fiscal stress and reduce school quality, they are undermining the local ‘business climate,’” the report states.

What could this money have been used for? If it were reinvested in hiring new teachers and reducing class size, the ten most affected states alone could add more than 28,000 teachers.

Cheers – Student Activists Show the Way

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

The headlines were becoming numbingly familiar: “Another School Shooting Traumatizes Students, Community,”  followed days or maybe weeks later with “No Action on Gun Violence Expected.”  Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of student activists, however, politicians were not going to get off easily in 2018. Following the shooting in February in Parkland, Florida, student activists stood up and  revitalized the stalled movement to demand action to end gun violence.

Student are also making their voices heard in the #MeToo movement and the campaign to end zero tolerance and bring restorative practices to schools.

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” student activist David Hogg told NEA 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.”

Jeers – Arming Educators

The recent report by the Federal Commission on School Safety backed off from mandating schools arm and train teachers,although the proposal is still offered in the report as a possible solution to gun violence in schools. So while it was downplayed somewhat, this preposterous idea lives on.  President Trump and Betsy DeVos immediately floated the measure following the Parkland shooting in February 2018. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers, eager to divert the public’s attention away from real solutions to gun violence, were all too eager to run with it.

The response from educators, parents and many law enforcement officials was swift: arming teachers was a ludicrous and dangerous idea. According to an NEA poll, 74 % of educators opposed the measure. Eighty percent said they would not carry a gun in school. Even among NEA members who own guns, 63% said they would not agree to be armed in school.  Two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Cheers – Unions Flex Their Muscle

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, that requiring fair-share fees in the public sector violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. With the decision, the court weakened the right of educators and other working people to come together in unions and to bargain collectively, effectively siding with corporate interests intent on rigging the economic system further in their favor.

While the Janus decision has undoubtedly created a more challenging climate for unions, it has also served as a rallying point, said Eskelsen García. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Unions will continue to be the best vehicle on the path to the middle class.”

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 across the country. Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina spoke up and advocated for their students.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Opponents were hoping to see a downsizing of union organizing around the 2018 elections, which clearly didn’t materialize. Educator activism was at an all-time high as the NEA and its affiliates mobilized their members across the country – even helping many of them to run for office.

“Educators are still organized, still aware of their rights, and still ready to defend those rights when they deem it necessary,” Sarah Jones recently wrote in New York magazine. “Janus did not eliminate the incentives for union membership. Organizing still works, and as long as that holds true, people will continue to join unions.”

Jeers – State Policy Network

This mobilization by educators and their unions comes at a time when the same corporate interests that bankrolled the Janus case have turned their attention to conducting well-funded, deceptive campaigns that are urging union members to stop paying dues.

Their goal is no less than to “defund and defang” public service labor unions.

Credit: SourceWatch

The entity behind these campaigns is the innocuously-named State Policy Network, a coalition of 66 separate “think tanks” funded by the Kochs, Mercers, Waltons, and other billionaires who will not rest until the “public” is permanently taken out of public education. In addition to knee-capping unions and pushing school vouchers, the SNP is funneling millions of dollars into campaigns to undermine public pensions and Medicaid.

Cheers – School Privatization Takes a Hit

On election day, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program to all of the state’s 1.1 million public school students. The vote wasn’t even close.

In California, former charter school executive Marshall Tuck was defeated by Tony Thurmond in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California. Thurmond opposes diverting public money to charter schools (“I intend to be a champion of public schools,” he said in his victory statement). The charter school industry spent more than $30 million boosting Tuck’s losing campaign, a stunning defeat in a state where charters had enjoyed almost unfettered growth.

Across the midwest, gubernatorial candidates cruised to victory running on platforms opposing any type of school voucher program and calling for more accountability and oversight over charter schools.

To be sure, school privatization remains a major force. It’s march across the United States over the past decade is going to be difficult to reverse. Still, there’s little doubt that momentum has stalled, perhaps significantly.  Despite school vouchers making inroads in many states, the majority of the U.S. public oppose the idea of siphoning off money from public schools to pay for private school tuition.  The proliferation of charter schools, on the other hand, has slowed down as scrutiny over mismanagement and mixed academic results has intensified. (The colossal failures of cyber charter schools have been a major embarrassment.)

Looking ahead to 2019, Jon Valant of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution told the Associated Press, “There’s not a ton of optimism for charters and choice I think there’s a cultural and political shift on what charters are that actually presents a more fundamental problem.”

Jeers – Dreamers Still in Limbo

One year ago, in December 2017, the U.S. Congress adjourned for the holidays without taking action to find a permanent legislative solution for our nation’s Dreamers —young people brought to the U.S. as children, who received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The 800,000 Dreamers were hoping for an agreement that would provide them with permanent legal status.

One year later, Congress still hasn’t taken action.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump, in a callous move, rescinded the program, and then told lawmakers to come up with a solution. The move only sparked fear and uncertainty among  the 600,000 who are high school or college students, and the nearly 9,000 who are educators.

Despite overwhelming public support for the Dream Act, efforts to find permanent solution have been held hostage by political posturing over immigration policy and border security.

The grueling setbacks have not dashed the hopes of these hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans.

“They don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built,” says Karen Reyes, a teacher in Austin, Texas. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.” (For more information and resources on supporting Dreamers, visit NEA EdJustice.)

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Community Support Helps Schools Recover from Disaster

Jones Middle School students march in their town’s Christmas Parade with donated instruments.

From east coast to west coast, the U.S. has endured several devastating natural disasters in 2018. It’s been a hard year for many people, and if the seemingly endless negative news cycle has you feeling grinchy this holiday season, read on. Though they suffered enormous loss, disaster-hit communities are still feeling hopeful.

When Hurricane Florence swamped Jones Middle School in eastern North Carolina, it wiped out everything, including all of the band equipment and music library, which had taken years to collect and curate. But even though the massive storm destroyed their instruments, it didn’t stop the music.

The middle schoolers found a new home in the neighboring high school, and band teacher Alexander Williams was determined to keep his music program alive.

The students drummed on buckets, clapped rhythms with their hands, and struck notes on the few xylophones that could be salvaged.

“We made it work and the kids hung in there and kept good attitudes,” Williams said, though he admits he was stressed about how to keep them engaged without the musical instruments he’d relied on for his 30-year teaching career.

Then, a holiday miracle. All of the band equipment was replaced, each and every instrument, along with the music the students had been rehearsing.

After hearing about the school’s loss, the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children sent a call out to the community, and the community answered. People dusted off their trumpets and trombones and donated them. Others pooled their money together to buy new clarinets and cymbals, flutes and French horns, whatever was needed.

And just when they thought they’d have to skip it this year, the Jones Middle School band marched in the Christmas parade, proudly wearing school band t-shirts and jeans because they haven’t replaced the band’s uniforms yet.

“When the instruments came in the kids were so excited they wanted to start playing right away, but we hadn’t even put them together yet,” Williams says.

‘People Actually Do Care’

He was thrilled to have new instruments for the students and that they were able to play in the annual Christmas parade, but the best part, Williams says, was the generosity of the community.

“People actually do care. We hear so much bad news, we don’t hear about the good stuff often enough,” he says. “We are very grateful that so many people who don’t even know us still wanted to help us be successful. I’m hoping our students will remember this and pay it, and play it, forward.”

Williams said that though their community will be rebuilding for many years to come, “at least they had something to come back to.”

“In Northern California, there are no schools, no homes, no structures at all to come back to,” he says. “We’ve suffered a loss, but there are others who need our help.”

Hope in Paradise

In Paradise, California, all but one of its nine schools burned to ashes after the massive Camp Fire raged for more than two weeks across northern California. Like in North Carolina, the community stepped up to help. On Giving Tuesday when a California business man and restaurant owner hand delivered $1000.00 checks to each and every student and staff member in the Paradise district — most of them homeless, with the clothes on their backs.

“I felt terrible for them,” Bob Wilson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘How can I help?’”

What the students need most is a sense of normalcy after the trauma of the fire that incinerated their town. Recognizing that need, educators are finding ways to provide it. They’re holding classes at their kitchen tables, in hotels where many students are now living, in libraries in neighboring towns, even in shopping malls.

Virginia Partain has taught English at Paradise High School for more than 20 years. Now she’s holding classes in a former LensCrafters at the mall in nearby Chico.

“We just want to bring a sense of healing back to our community,” Partain, who fled the campfire taking nothing but her cats and her students’ college essays because, as she told CBS News, “there’s some part of us where we’re always the teacher and they had to get their essays done to get into college.”

Third-grade teacher Robin is sharing one room at a school in Oroville with four other teachers but they’re remaining optimistic.

“We’re going to color, have PE, talk to each other…” she said. “It’s not about the academics for us. It’s about loving each other and building the kids up…The kids need to see we all made it. We are safe. We’re just going to move on.”

To find out how you can help visit the California Teachers Association Disaster Relief Fund for information.

NEA-Alaska Launches Online Fundraiser for Schools Hit By Earthquake

A few weeks after the Camp Fire disaster, Alaska was rocked by an earthquake, and once again the community stepped up to help.

NEA-Alaska in coordination with the Anchorage Education Association (AEA), the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA), and Mat-Su Classified Employees Association (CEA) launched an online fundraiser to help defer some of the costs associated with replacing classroom materials that were damaged or destroyed in the November 30th earthquake. Fundraising information is available

“I want to thank every single teacher, classroom aide, and public school employee, for helping to keep our students safe during this traumatic event,” said Tim Parker, NEA-Alaska President. “The outpouring of support from parents, community groups, and educators is remarkable.”

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Educators Reinvigorate Organizing and Activism With Art Build

Photo: Joe Brusky

On a typically warm and sunny Saturday last week in Venice, California, Kristie Mitchell sat outside at a table surrounded by Sharpies and a pile of posters. Each one featured the same basic illustration – an outline of an African-American woman and three school-age children with the words “I Stand For” across the top. It was up to Mitchell and the other public school parents and children around the table to decorate the poster with whatever color or flourishes they preferred, but also to include what they believe their school needs the most.

Mitchell had already created two posters – one declared “I Stand For School Nurses Five Days a Week,” the second, “I Stand for Smaller Classes” – and was busy working on a third.

“We need to give teachers a stronger voice,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have the resources to teach our kids. Everybody in the community should help give them more power. When we get together like we are today, that’s what we are doing.”

Mitchell was just one of the many parents who joined hundreds of educators, students, artists, activists and who converged on a three-day community Art Build hosted by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to create protest art supporting public education. The event was held at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a popular community arts center housed in an old art deco building that until the mid-1970s was the Venice Police Station.

A few feet in front of Mitchell at a longer table, a row of educators, parents and students were dipping into tins of black and orange paint to decorate a large banner adorned with the proclamation “Fight For the Schools LA Students Deserve.”

A little further away, a few students had begun applying the first layers of color to four 24-foot parachute banners that cloaked the  outdoor parking lot. At the studio inside, artists were churning out silk screen picket signs with messages denouncing school privatization and corporate greed and championing smaller class sizes and solidarity with educators.

Parents, teachers and students at UTLA’s community Art Build for public education.

“Anyone here is reminded of how much kids love art,” said teacher Julie Van Winkle, “and why we need it in our schools.”

By the time the event wrapped up on Sunday night, participants had produced 8 parachute banners, 1,600 picket signs, 1000 posters, and 30 banners. Every last piece will be carried at a the March for Public Education in downtown Los Angeles on December 15, and a possible UTLA strike in January.

Events like Art Build, said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, are a demonstration of the power of art in social movements and how passionate the people are about public schools  “and the fight we are in.”

“We should take confidence from this. The community is with us.”

Art in Action

Art Build is a “transformative experience” for educators and their allies, says Nate Gunderson, an organizer with the National Education Association. Gunderson, who organized the UTLA event, witnessed the first Art Build in Milwaukee in 2017, and helped coordinate subsequent events in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gunderson believes Art Builds, regardless of the location, inspire educators and communities and open up new paths for advocacy and union organizing.

“It’s the creativity, the collaboration, the inherent power of art, and the democratization of images and messages,” says Gunderson.

Joe Brusky, a fourth grade teacher in Milwaukee and member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, was instrumental in organizing that city’s Art Build and was onhand in Los Angeles documenting UTLA’s event on social media. He recalls how Art Build became “entry point” into the union for many educators.

“The event energized them,” Brusky says. “Afterwards, people were getting involved for the first time. I remember seeing them at Art Build and then suddenly they were at school board meetings.”

UTLA Art Build 2018


Where there is grassroots support for public eduction, there is potential for an Art Build. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) will be hosting its own event on January 18-20. OEA President Keith Brown visited UTLA’s Art Build to lend his support and preview some of the logistics.

The Social and Public Art Resource Center was an ideal partner. SPARC not only provides studios for silk screen and digital printing and the necessary outdoor space to unfurl 24-foot parachute banners, but offers invaluable guidance to organizations looking to create public art for social change.

Last November, Gunderson put out a call for educators, artists and activists to submit images and slogans promoting public education. The Art Build Committee reviewed the submissions and selected those that would go on to form the basis of the posters, banners, picket signs and parachute banners that were delivered to SPARC in December.

Gloria Martinez, UTLA Elementary Vice President, was struck not only by the creativity of students and parents in bringing these objects to life, but by the conversations they were having.

“You ask students what they wanted for their schools, and they came up with these long lists,” Martinez recalled. “Smaller class sizes, more art, or just more money for schools in general. And their parents are listening to them. It’s great to hear them and their children talk about our issues and then use those discussions creatively.”

A LAUSD student gets a silkscreening lesson at Art Build. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, it was important that everyone understood that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“Projects like this, when we come together with the community, show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda explained.

There’s something else about Art Build, said Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA/NEA Vice-President, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Yes, it takes our activism and our visibility to the next level. But you know what? This is a also stress-reliever for our members. They need this. It’s fun and will build resiliency. It’s been a difficult time and we may have a lot more work to do in January.”

“We All Want the Same Thing”

Myart-Cruz is referring to a possible strike early in 2019. In August, UTLA’s 33,000 members voted overwhelmingly (98%!) to authorize such an action if an agreement between teachers and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cannot be reached.

After two years of negotiations, educators are refusing to retreat from their demand that LAUSD end an era of austerity and privatization that has starved public education across the city.

The situation was exacerbated in May when the Los Angeles school board selected  Austin Beutner as district superintendent. Beutner is the quintessential corporate “reformer”: a billionaire investment banker with zero experience in school or district leadership and a tireless appetite for school privatization. He has dismissed calls to slow down the expansion of charter schools (which currently cost the district more than $600 million annually) and refuses to tap into the district’s $1.6 billion reserves to properly fund the city’s schools.

“We are in a battle between Austin Beutner’s vision to downsize the public school district and our vision to reinvest in the public school district,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl wrote to the membership in November.

Unless UTLA stays strong, he warned, Beutner will be back for “another pound pound of flesh every year in a downsizing plan that includes layoffs, school closures, cuts to services, and healthcare cuts.”

From the start, the successful forging of partnerships – a tenet of “bargaining for the common good – has strengthened UTLA’s resolve and its position. The bond between parents, their children and educators at Art Build is striking, said Julie Van Winkle.

“We’re all on the same side. We want the same thing. We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” Van Winkle said as she motioned to a group of students hard at work on a banner that read “Give Our Kids a Chance.”

By Sunday night, that banner would be complete, ready to be added to the abundant stockpile of strike ready art. Next stop: downtown Los Angeles for the March for Public Education.

If a massive rally of educators, students, parents and community members doesn’t push the district into an agreement with UTLA, then there will be a strike, but “it will then be a strike of the city, not just of a strike of teachers,” said Caputo-Pearl,

“And if we’re on the picket lines in January, then this art will again be right there with us.”

Posters and Banners from UTLA Art Build

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Neutrality in the Classroom Shortchanges Students

When teaching about U.S. elections or politics many educators will strive for neutrality. They may insist these discussions have no place in the classroom, while others argue that standardization and a lack of time make them a non-starter. Even if there was an opening, the slightest hint of bias could attract the ire of an administrator or parent. In this hyper-polarized political climate, that’s a line that’s easy to stumble across.

All this neutrality or avoidance may work for the teacher – but what about the student?

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, believes that a strict adherence to “neutrality” – not expressing your views to students and/or avoiding political topics – is a tactic that can actually marginalize many students.

Neutrality is itself a political choice, Dunn argues, and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.

To be clear, Dunn is not talking about a teacher who stands in front of the class and reads aloud endorsements for local, state and federal political office and then urges students to go home and tell their parents to vote accordingly.

The kind of neutrality that concerns Dunn is, for example, a decision to avoid discussion of  “controversial” issues – racism, inequity, climate change, or gun violence, for example – out of fear of appearing political or partisan.

Education, at it’s core, is inherently political, says Dunn.

“Everything in education—from the textbooks to the curriculum to the policies that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning—is political and ideologically-informed,” she explains. “Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.”

Especially after as the election of Donald Trump.

Although political polarization didn’t begin with his candidacy, Trump’s incendiary, crude, and divisive rhetoric about race, religion, gender, and immigration that marked his campaign (and his presidency) has been deeply unsettling to many, if not most, Americans.

“I don’t care what my school administration says. My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 presidential campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms…particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

Yet, as Dunn and her colleagues Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh and Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University concluded in a recent paper, many teachers continue to feel pressured to remain neutral when discussing Trump and are generally uncomfortable addressing racial and social justice issues in the classroom.

“This pressure (to stay neutral) is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy and professionalism for teachers in our current climate,” the study, published in the  American Educational Research Journal, concludes.

The researchers surveyed 730 teachers from 43 states to gauge how their pedagogical choices were affected after the election.

Some respondents made it very clear they did not adhere to what they saw as misdirected directives from school or district officials to stay away from anything Trump-related.

One middle school teacher explained that despite the fear many of his students had of deportation and harassment, “my school, tied by a never-ending desire to remain ‘unbiased,’ did nothing and told teachers to limit conversations about the elections because such conversations were not included [in the standards].”

“I don’t care what my school administration says,” the teacher continued.  “My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

Generally, however, responses from educators were littered with words such as  “fearful,” “anxious,” “unsure,” and “scared,” even as they acknowledged that a more engaged, proactive approach in the classroom may be necessary.

One educator from Massachusetts summed up the dilemma this way:

“Trump unlike any other presidential candidate stands for everything I work to combat: racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. My students fall into categories of people he wants removed or controlled, in his America. I do not know how to talk to my students about this and be neutral (as per country policy).”

According to the study, teaching after the election was most challenging for those who were “ideological outsiders” – Clinton voters in areas where the majority of voters were pro-Trump and vice versa.

“Teachers had to negotiate if and how to talk about their own beliefs knowing that their students’ parents and/or colleagues may disagree with them,” Dunn says.

For example, an elementary teacher from a predominantly White school in Michigan explained,

“I always feel nervous explicitly discussing politics in my classroom due to the variety of views of my students’ parents and my own fear that parents will be upset or complain about me if my own view come up explicitly in classroom lessons/discussions. I know I have students whose parents supported both candidates passionately and I do sort of feel a responsibility to respect their parents’ views (no matter how much I may disagree)”.

It doesn’t help that so much of our discourse is labelled “political” or “partisan,” including discussions about human rights and social justice. Pedagogical choices, the researchers argue, should not be confined by this false construct.

“Making justice-oriented pedagogical choices is not about partisanship or controversy but, rather, is reflective of an overarching commitment to equity,” they write.

Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.” – Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Michigan State University

Anchoring discussions to a justice and equity framework can provide educators with a path forward. Still, many of the respondents in the survey did not feel particularly well-prepared to take this on, let alone publicly challenge the presumed virtues of a neutral classroom. The study concludes that teacher training programs need to better prepare educators in adapting their classrooms to help students understand current events and political upheavals. The researchers recommend that current teachers, especially those “ideological outsiders,” seek out networks across schools and districts that can serve as “restorative and supportive communities.”

While Dunn and her colleagues are careful not to downplay the pressures educators face, they emphasize that, ultimately, teachers are charged with preparing their students to work toward a more democratic society.

With 2019 and 2020 shaping up to be just as tumultuous as the previous few years, what are the chances more educators will feel empowered and better prepared to talk politics (for lack of a better word) in their classrooms?

Don’t count on the administration to lead the way, at least not yet. “Districts are still issuing bureaucratic demands on teachers that take their time away from the most important thing they can do in the classroom: create responsive and relevant curriculum for their students,” explains Dunn.

And while too many parents still believe the classroom door should always be shut to any political discussion, they may be “ignoring the reality that such a move is never really possible,” Dunn says.

teaching controversial issuesTeaching the ‘Hard History’ Behind Today’s News
For educators, uncomfortable discussions come with the territory. The challenge is to help students grapple with controversial issues without turning into enemies. The job is also to prepare people with multiple points of view to survive and thrive in self-government.

NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.

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Want to Prevent Harassment and Assault in Schools? Listen to Students.

For more than a year, the U.S. has engaged in a much needed public dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace, and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. The conversation marks a long overdue cultural shift toward a movement that has been driven largely by survivors of harassment and assault who have bravely gone public with their stories via the #MeToo movement.

As a result, painful questions have begun to haunt educators and parents: “What about #MeToo at school? Do some schools unwittingly foster a culture of sexual harassment and abuse? How can school administrators, educators, students and parents open up a discussion and address such issues?” Before the national conversation began, one California community was already addressing the issue via Alliance for Girls, an organization based in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2016, the non-profit conducted focus groups with 74 girls of color who attend Oakland public schools in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods. The project was created to hear the girls’ thoughts on improving school discipline policies, but the discussions quickly veered.

Facilitators were shocked by what they heard.

In the Oakland Unified School District, some male elementary students had created a tradition they called “Slap Ass Fridays.” It was so pervasive, said one 4th-grade girl, that she and all her friends would stand with their backs against a wall every recess and lunch period to avoid being slapped.

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early,” says Emma Myerson, founding executive director of Alliance for Girls. “I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in third grade and fourth grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

Other girls talked about how boys in their schools regularly called them “bitches,” “sluts,” or “hos.” Still others talked about unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors.

“We are all hypersexualized by society,” said one older girl. “Every male that you have some type of relationship with will think he is entitled to you—you are here as a girl of color for that reason, to be sexual— that’s the worst stereotype.”

It’s not just in Oakland. According to research from the American Association of University Women, nearly half of students in grades seven through 12 reported that they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment in the 2010 –11 school year. Girls were harassed at a higher rate than boys, and more likely to say that the incidents caused them to have trouble sleeping and made them want to skip to school.

Brave students from across the country shared their stories of harassment
and abuse at school under the #MeTooK12 hashtag, launched in January 2018 by the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

#metoo at school

Alliance for Girls’ Student Leadership Team (Photo:

Unequal Treatment Among Victims

While all girls face harassment and assault, when it comes to reporting incidents, girls of color often face more difficult challenges than white girls.

“In the research we’ve looked at, there hasn’t necessarily been a significant discrepancy in the prevalence of sexual harassment between girls of color and white girls,” says Elizabeth Tang of the National Women’s Law Center.

“But when girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Tang attributed this in part to negative stereotypes about black girls being louder or more angry. “If a young woman is having her bra snapped in class and a boy keeps doing it and she slaps him back,” says Tang, “she could be suspended because suddenly now she’s the aggressor in the situation. Because now she’s the angry black girl.”

There is also a Catch-22 of school “push-out”: Students who have experienced harassment or assault are chronically absent if they don’t feel safe at school, or face discriminatory and excessive discipline or suspensions.

The result? Their absenteeism rises even more, and they fall further behind in class.

“If you want girls to stay in school, you need to give them the supports they need to stay in school,” says Tang.

“That can mean extra time on tests, that can be homework extensions. It means not disciplining them for skipping school because they don’t feel safe at school. Because then they miss even more school and that makes no sense.”

Momentum for Change

When they occur in school, sexual harassment and sexual violence are both a type of civil rights violation. Unfortunately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back civil rights protections established during the previous administration to support survivors and make more equitable proceedings related to sexual harassment and violence.

“Rollback of these critical protections for survivors is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and it is arbitrary and capricious,” says Myerson. “But those are a floor, not a ceiling.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life. It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really matters.” – Emma Myerson, founding Executive Director, Alliance for Girls

States can still go above and beyond what’s happening now along the federal landscape, and they can restore those protections at the state and local level.”

Alliance for Girls worked closely with Oakland’s students, administrators, parents and community organizations to implement a stronger, revamped sexual harassment policy. Under the new policy, each school has a designated point person who handles sexual harassment and assault complaints, and the reporting process for students, educators and parents is clearly delineated.

The model policy—find it at—is a starting point that communities can use to create a foundation upon which to build a final policy that includes the perspectives of all key stakeholders — including students, educators, administrators, schools boards, parents and community organizations Alliance for Girls also created “Meeting the Needs of Girls,” a toolkit for educators that outlines steps and suggestions for creating healthy relationships with girls. This includes making sure they have someone at school with whom they feel comfortable discussing problems.

For an individual girl who has been harrassed or abused, it can be hugely important to find one adult at school who truly listens.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life,” says Myerson. “It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really

For resources that can help your school empower girls, end sexual harassment and assault, and protect students’ civil rights, visit

sexual assault in schoolsThe Secret of Sexual Assault in Schools

Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.

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#RedForEd Comes to Alabama – NEA Today

Wearing red jackets and waving signs that demand state officials #ReturnOurRaise, more than 600 Alabama educators traveled to the state capital on Wednesday for the largest-ever rally in support of public education at the Alabama Supreme Court.

The rally coincided with state Supreme Court testimony in the Alabama Education Association (AEA)’s lawsuit against the state’s public employee health insurance plan, known as PEEHIP. AEA leaders filed the suit two years ago over a secret meeting of the PEEHIP board, which took place in violation of the state’s open meetings law. Immediately after that secret meeting, the board voted to hike educators’ rates, which cost some Alabama educators every penny—and more—of the 4 percent salary bump that state legislators had just given them.

Last year, a circuit judge ruled in AEA’s favor, ordering PEEHIP to refund the $132 million that they took from educators’ paychecks. PEEHIP appealed, and the money has been sitting in an escrow account since then.

“For over two years now, in almost every conversation we’ve had with educators in the schools, this is at the top of their mind,” AEA President Sherry Tucker told the Alabama Political Reporter. “They are asking us what will be done, why did PEEHIP take their 4 percent raise and what can they do to help? Now, we’re asking educators to show the Alabama Supreme Court they won’t stand for being the subject of an illegal, secret meeting that took their first real pay raise in nearly a decade.”

On Wednesday, educators from every one of Alabama’s 67 counties answered the call and came to Montgomery, including busloads from Huntsville, Mobile, Fort Payne, and Birmingham. Meanwhile, thousands more teacher and education support professionals (ESP) who needed to stay home were wearing #RedForEd in support. Inside AEA headquarters, phones “buzzed off the hook” in support of Alabama’s #RedForEd moment.

“This is more than an educator pay or benefits issue,” AEA Assistant Executive Director Amy Marlowe told At its heart, the AEA case is about the state insurance board’s obligation to meet and vote in the public’s eye.

According to NEA state rankings, Alabama teachers earned an average $50,391 in 2017, which put them at 35 th in the nation—but this doesn’t account for the hefty price that state educators pay for their health insurance. “When we received our ‘raise,” I actually brought home LESS!” wrote Khrista Walker, an Alabama paraprofessional on AEA’s Facebook page.

“Bills went up. Pay went down,” wrote librarian Crys Hodgens. “The ‘raise’ resulted in pushing us pushed down the economic ladder.”

The consequences are real for struggling educators and their families: “Bills got consolidated, vacations shortened or not taken at all, oil changes put on the back burner, etc…Besides making us feel the pinch, [it] also makes us feel very used and unappreciated,” wrote Mobile teacher Melissa Manning.

And it’s not just Alabama. Growing frustration with state-sanctioned neglect of public schools has fueled a national #RedForEd movement. It started last spring with a nine-day strike in West Virginia, and grew to encompass Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and other states. Public school educators and parents are fed up with bottom-of-the-barrel pay, taped-together textbooks, falling-down classroom ceilings, and legislators’ neglect.

A decision in AEA’s case isn’t expected for several months.

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Educators Share the Power of Stories

Sonia Galaviz at the “Keeping the Promise of Public Education” symposium.

“I shouldn’t even be here… I shouldn’t even be breathing…for much of my youth, I lived in this darkness,” Jake Miller, a middle school history teacher from central Pennsylvania, told a packed auditorium of educators, parents and public school advocates at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C. October 5.

“In an economically depressed area of a Rust Belt, forgotten America, I lived in more homes than I attended grades,” Miller recounred. “I made bad decisions. I chose drugs and drinking — and my friends reflected that. They ended up in jail, psychiatric hospitals, and in the obituaries. But I escaped this darkness because of my teachers. They were my light. And they saved my life.”

He spoke of the educators who “smothered him in high expectations and love,” and of those who taught him to think critically, to become a math nerd, and to walk in the fire. He credits his senior year English teacher with inspiring him to “enter this noble profession of bringing light.”

Miller was one of fifteen storytellers invited to share their wisdom, passion and experience at an NEA Foundation symposium, Keeping the Promise of Public Education.

Stories Lead to Diverse Thinking

“Everyone’s story matters. We have learned through our work over the years that it is only through our collective and diverse thinking, and actions, that the true promise of public education is held — and kept,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO, The NEA Foundation.

The symposium kicked off the NEA Foundation’s 50th year, and brought together storytellers from education, philanthropy, and business, including Daniel Lubetzky, a Mexican-American social entrepreneur and founder and CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks, whose mission includes elevating kindness and empathy in society. To scale this mission, Daniel established The KIND Foundation and its signature initiative, Empatico, to connect classrooms around the world through meaningful interactions that help students explore their similarities and differences and expand their worldviews.

Rachna Sizemore Heizer, a public school parent from Fairfax County, Va., shared the story of her son, Jake, a teenager with autism. Jake is a musical prodigy whose unique needs have helped, rather than hinder, his education, and Heizer explained her hard won fight to get the district to focus on his abilities rather than his disabilities. The audience got a first-hand look at his abilities when he came onstage to perform.

Other speakers talked about the migrant student experience and what it’s like to walk in their shoes, how poetry can reach students grappling with depression, incarceration, and other challenges, and how mindfulness can help students resolve conflicts in school and life.

‘We Are All Ellis Island’

Sonia Galaviz, a fifth grade teacher from Boise, Idaho, told the story of her father who, along with his 12 brothers and sisters, was a migrant worker picking cotton along the border of southern Arizona. He’d head to the fields before and after school, and while his siblings stopped school in third or fourth grade, he made it to eighth grade before his circumstances forced him to stop.

Jake Miller

Jake Miller

“Growing up in the ’40s and ’50s in the segregated migrant towns of southern Arizona was no easy feat — the Chicano workers and families were treated as second-class citizens, and my father remembers signs in store windows saying ‘No dogs. No Mexicans,’” Galaviz said.

But his promise to her was to give her the opportunities he never had in education. He made clear that hard work was non-negotiable. That service was a necessity. But that because she was poor and Chicana, she’d need ganas, a Spanish word for something stronger than desire.

“The notion of hard work, service, and ganas became my mantra in the classroom, with my students, in my union work, and with my own children,” Galaviz said. “I find myself echoing my father in my classroom, not allowing any of us to make excuses for our responsibility to our education. I want my students to have the opportunities so many of our family members were denied because they were immigrants, because they were poor, because they were marginalized in some way.”

We are all still Ellis Island, she reminded the audience.

“Public education is still the gateway to all those who have hopes and dreams and the ganas for something more.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie closed the storytelling symposium. The award-winning Nigerian novelist spoke of the power of stories — of sharing your own story, but importantly, of listening to the stories of others, particularly students.

“It’s important to listen to children,” she said. “They can teach you how to teach them if you listen.”

She encouraged the educators in the audience to always choose truth, have honest conversations, guide curiosity, and to pay attention. Her best teachers, she said, paid particular attention to her and her classmates, truly saw them for who they were, and that she will always be grateful for that gift.

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Chronicling the Voices Fighting for Education Justice

A young girl handcuffed to a pole at a police station for the crime of doodling on her desk or a boy dragged by his collar through the mud and back through the school entrance before he could explain that his IEP allowed him to be outside are outrageous examples of institutional racism we don’t often hear about but that happen in our schools with alarming frequency. The new book Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement, features voices of a new movement for educational justice. Each essayist tells the story of how black and brown parents, students, educators and their allies are fighting back against profound and systemic inequities and mistreatment of children of color in low-income communities.

NEA Today spoke one of the contributors, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, who writes about how her African American son was pushed out of preschool. She is National Field Organizer for Dignity in Schools Campaign and she co-founded Racial Justice NOW! to provide a voice for parents facing racism in schools. Within a few years they won a moratorium on pre-K suspensions in Dayton schools. We also spoke with Lift Us Up co-author Mark Warren, a professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Warren studies and works with community and youth organizing groups seeking to promote equity and justice in education, community development and American democratic life.

How did you become involved in the educational justice movement?

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar: I came into the work as a parent pushing back on the treatment of my then three-year-old son who’d been labeled as a problem and a disruptive student. They used words that I thought were typical of three year olds, like temper tantrum or trouble transitioning. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time as a racial justice issue or what the stereotypes around me might have been. They’d ask me if there were problems at home, and I was a working class black mother, and I sort of internalized what was being projected on me and my family.

I was actually a part time employee for the state of Ohio and also a full time graduate student. That child care facility was on the campus and it had an excellent reputation. But the preschool is very expensive – $1000 a month – and I qualified for title 120, a welfare program that allowed children to attend the preschool for free if their parent is working at or attending the school. When I signed up for the voucher I was treated brusquely and the woman said, “You know, we only accept so many of these.”

And then, my very bright, energetic and normal three year old who loved going to preschool was starting to have emergency removals where they’d call me and ask me to pick him up for what I know realize are minor issues typical of energetic kids. I started to see his little bright light starting to dim. Before they expelled him, I removed him because I didn’t want that to be his experience. He’d tell me, “Mommy, I don’t think my teachers like me.” At only three years old and already feel you’re not wanted! I then co-founded Racial Justice NOW!

lift us up bookWhy aren’t more people aware of institutional racism and the biases experienced by students of color?

Mark Warren: A lot families of color are aware, but as a white person who interacts mostly with white communities, the reality is that they’re really unaware of what’s happening in communities of color. There are two Americas. People are shocked when they hear these stories. But because of the segregation that still exists, these stories aren’t well known.

The point of the book is to bring these experiences out into the wider world, not just to expose the individual biases but how these practices are systematic in our schools with harsh zero tolerance policies, and also the strong and pervasive inequities with schools that are under-resourced with less qualified teachers and wider issues of poverty.

Can you describe the educational justice movement and how it began?

MW: Families and communities have been struggling historically for a long time. You can go back to the struggle of slaves fighting for the right to read. We’re in a new phase of that movement and that was the occasion for this book – to tell the stories of change led by parents, students, educators and their allies in this movement. Organizing groups like Racial Justice NOW! in Dayton, Ohio, were really struggling on their own and were isolated in local communities. Over the last several years they have found ways to come together and connect.

Through the Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Journey for Justice, and other national alliances, local groups are joining with other organizations around the country in an educational justice movement. Now they’re not fighting on their own and local groups have the resources and support from national alliances.

Why are parents critical to the movement and creating change?

lift us up book

Zakiya Sankara Jabar

ZS: One thing I found out in the process is that parents of color have been socialized to believe that they have no power, and it’s even more pronounced if you are a black mother who is poor or working class. There is a lack of respect and dehumanization. I say that from experience – personally and as an advocate. We have to work hard to change the narrative of how they see working class parents and how they pathologize us. There is an ecosystem and we must realize that if child has some needs, he has a parent with some needs.

We talk about this as a social justice crisis and systemic discrimination and poverty. These crises are always addressed and changed by the people most impacted by the inequities. Movements built and led by people most affected are the most effective, like the Civil Rights movement. We won’t have an education justice movement unless parents and students are at the heart of it.

What other groups are integral to the movement?

MW: Alliances are critical. Labor unions, service workers unions, hotel workers unions — where are their children going to school? They’re going to underfunded, low income urban schools. In Los Angeles, the janitors union negotiated for parent advocacy workshops as part of their contract so they could be advocates for their children in the schools. This is how you bring about systemic change. They also negotiated for time off in the contract so they can go to meetings at schools during work hours.

What role do educators play?

MW: If we want to transform schools, educators have to be part of the movement. Teachers in low income schools with no resources, teaching in old, decaying buildings and in districts that are dysfunctional – they need to be a part of this, but it isn’t an add on for them. They teach in the first place to help children and advocate for them. They can’t do that until they help change the policies, like ending the overuse of tests that prevents them from teaching real content and building relationships with students.

In the book, we show how educators can find ways to partner with their students, families and communities to change the way resources are being used. They can find ways to introduce restorative justice and improve school climate for all students. This isn’t an add on or an extra. This needs to be work they’re doing to fully educate children.

It’s also true that some teachers have to take a hard look at their own practices and examine personal issues of bias and stereotyping. Are they participating in practices that are pushing students out? We want to be there to support teachers trying to change and this book can help.

How do we change mindsets about different groups of students? In one essay a girl writes about being labeled “ghetto” — why are some students labeled in such a way?

ZS: That student’s experience with being labeled ghetto because of the way she dresses or acts is in accordance with middle class culture and vividly shows the gap between many teachers and the communities they serve.

Things can change when young people themselves stand up and become part of the organizing processes and challenge these mindsets. The students can demand that they be treated with respect. There are lots of students who look like, or even say, they don’t care and who have discipline problems, but as individual people they have tremendous potential and ideas just like every person does.

They need the resources that more affluent girls have to be given chances to realize their potential. In our two-tiered education system, some kids go to modern, resourced schools where students are respected and valued, while others go to schools where the ceilings caving in and their bathrooms are broken and they’re subjected to harsh discipline.

What are some key elements to a just educational system?

MW: There are lot of elements, but equity is at the top. We must offer the same quality of education to all of our children. Educational systems in low income communities will need more resources at the start because they have been systematically underfunded for years. Other elements include strong relationships between teachers, students and families; the removal of racial stereotyping; culturally relevant education; and a curriculum that builds upon African American and Latino cultures rather than solely on white Europeans. Finally, a just educational system empowers our students, allowing them not just to answer questions, but to ask them. Asking questions allows them to become agents of change.

What do you hope will be the impact of this book?

ZS: I hope that this book is shared widely and that it helps shift the narrative about communities that are over criminalized and seen as deficient. That it shifts the narrative about what it means for black and brown children to be educated. That they have the access to an education that is appropriate, culturally relevant, and not be pathologized for being uniquely who they are.

MW: I hope the book will inspire people to take action. I also hope the book helps people understand that to really create the kind of change we need, it isn’t going to happen by tweaking one thing or another. There is a profound question of social justice across the country, not just in education. We hope this movement sparks a resurgent social justice movement with education at the heart of it. Education is a critical institution for democracy. What will be the future of our black and brown children? Will they be fodder for prisons? Cogs in a capitalist society? Or will they be agents of change and social justice warriors for the future?

Learn more about the fight for Racial Justice in Education:

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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

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

NEA Resources

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

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

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)




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Empowering Educators to Find Voice

John Ross says of Oakwood Windsor Elementary School, “a school that will always have a piece of my heart.”


It almost reads like an old joke: an organizer and a policy wonk walk into a school, but instead of a slapstick punchline at the end, a genuine conversation occurred, a relationship was formed, and a new NEA member/leader was born.

This is the story of South Carolina’s John Ross, a K-5 math curriculum interventionist for the Aiken County Public School District and a member of the Aiken County Education Association, an arm of the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA).

Ross started his teaching career 11 years ago in Florence, S.C., as a math and science teacher, and was a member of his local association for a short time.

It was during the Great Recession, and he—like many across the country—struggled financially. His salary was low and cost of living was high.

Ross knew the local and state associations fought for the rights of its members and supported them professionally, but “as an early career educator, I couldn’t afford the $40 or $55 that came out of my paycheck,” says Ross. “I ended up dropping.”

After five years in Florence, he took a position at Oakwood Windsor Elementary School in Aiken. He held several positions there, including stem-lab instructor for the last two years of his six-year stretch. (Ross now works for the district.) He taught students things like electricity, simple circuits, weathering, and erosion. Within this time, Ross also started a family.

My family is my world. I love them so very much and I would do just about anything for them,” shares Ross, a husband and father of two children under the age of four. “I also love education and I love the students in my building.”

To support his family and continue in the profession, Ross picked up part-time work at Target, teaching Monday through Friday and moonlighting Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. His membership status remained “canceled,” until recently that is.

A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics states that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system. Even more, a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows how teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind the pay of comparable workers with similar experience and education levels.

#RedforEd Inspires Membership

It’s common to see state and national association staff set up a table in the teacher’s lounge to talk to members and potential members about the issues they care about most or the challenges that affect their students and profession. During this time, educators sign up to become members of their associations, too.

This is how NEA staffers—John Riley, a senior policy advisor, and Nathan Allen, a national organizer—met Ross in March 2018.

“He came during his planning time and shared his story with us and the issues that concerned him,” says Riley, a former special education teacher in Maryland. “We talked about ESSA and the power of educator voice, as well as joining (or considering joining) the association and working towards building schools students deserve. And then he left.”

As the school year continues, district leaders 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 specialized instructional support personnel such as  nurses, librarians, counselors, as well as paraeducators and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical.

Educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school. It is available at along with additional supports that are 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.

John Ross, pictured with South Carolina Gubernatorial Candidate James Smith and his running mate, Mandy Norrell, lobbies for more school funding at South Carolina’s State House during The SCEA’s Lobby Day.

But Ross returned later that afternoon and joined the SCEA because “I was inspired by the recent movement of educators across the nation—those in Arizona, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma—inspired by the fact that they had rallied together and said ‘enough was enough.’”

Ross had had “enough” of inadequate public-school funding. Since 2010, South Carolina schools have been underfunded by $4.4 billion, according to Statehouse Report analyses.

“My position as a stem lab instructor was cut because we couldn’t afford to keep it,” Ross says, “and this is where kids get the hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get in regular classrooms. It’s heart breaking.”

On the Go

Soon after signing on, Ross attended trainings from the NEA and the SCEA that have helped sharpen his leadership skills and speak up about his experiences and the resources needed for every student to succeed. He uses every opportunity to speak up, too.

In July, for example, Ross shared via Facebook how the SCEA sent him to the GOP’s Silver Elephant Dinner in Columbia. There, he met his state representative who asked Ross what he could do for him.

“I told him politely, he could help me by passing on to his fellow representatives that one out of every five educators has a part time job, and while we are appreciative of the one percent raise, we would certainly appreciate a larger percentage in the future, for I—like many of my fellow educators—work weekends to ensure that I am able to put food in the mouths of my babes.”

In June, the South Carolina House and state Senate budget negotiators gave teachers a 1 percent pay raise, pushing the new starting salary to $32,000.

Ross credits the association for his new voice. “While I am a relatively new member of the SCEA, I am grateful for the assistance it has provided me. That assistance has allowed me to find my voice, stand in front of my elected officials, and tell them that we want better for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves,” he wrote.

Ross also has been to college campuses to speak with aspiring educators about the importance of voting. He’s lobbied for more school funding at the state capitol and protested school budget cuts. Equally important, he’s been on social media, spreading the word about the happenings around his local, state, and national associations.

People need to understand that it requires effort to make change occur…but we need to come together under a banner of some sort—whether it’s the SCEA or #SCforEd. And it needs more than a few hundred teachers. It needs to be thousands of us at the state house making our presence known.”

One conversation around ESSA and educator voice led John Ross to join millions of other NEA members to stand up for their students and their profession. And, the association provides the kind of space and support for educators and allies to work together toward realizing common goals.

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Honoring Black Student Activists – NEA Today

In the summer of 2017, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black woman was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in her home as her three young children looked on. Lyles, who had called the police to report a burglary, reportedly suffered from mental illness. She pulled a knife out of her pocket when the police entered her home, but rather than tasing or subduing her with pepper spray, they shot her seven times.

Days after the shooting, seven black Seattle high school students formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about the young mother’s death and to organize in their school and community for racial justice.

The death of Lyles is a symbol of the injustices the group of students has experienced and witnessed in their communities and even within their school. They wanted to take action not just for Charleena Lyles but for all people of color, especially their fellow students.

New Generation receiving the Black Education Matters Student Activism Award.

“We’re students of color and we share similar struggles, experience the same disadvantages, and strive to become more than what society has labeled us,” says Chardonnay Beaver, who founded New Generation along with classmates Janelle Gary, Myles Gillespie, Kevon Avery, Israel Presley, and Umoya McKinney.

“We’ve discovered that action is the first step in turning ideas of equality into reality. Because we’re students we have the opportunity to reach our peers directly.”

New Generation was a recipient of the 2018 Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards (BEMSAA), which gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community.

Over the past three years, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization – New Generation — have been honored with the award.

The program was founded by Jesse Hagopian, an Ethnic Studies teacher and co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Just like New Generation was spurred by violence, the award program was a positive outcome of a clash with police.

Jesse Hagopian is pepper-sprayed by a Seattle police officer.

In January of 2015, Jesse Hagopian gave the final speech at Seattle’s peaceful Martin Luther King Day rally.  Shortly after, while the crowd dispersed and he was on the phone making arrangements for his son’s second birthday party, he was pepper-sprayed without provocation by an officer of the Seattle Police Department.  The incident was captured on video by an onlooker. He was ultimately awarded a settlement over the incident with the City of Seattle and used a portion of the proceeds to start the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award.

Recognizing Changemakers

“The bold and courageous work of standing up to racism is hard, and this award gives recognition for those with the courage to do it,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to create a space and an awareness that if you step forward for social justice, you will be lifted up in the community and by mentors who will support your work.”

Activism is at the heart of this award, Hagopian says, and all of the award winners have taken some kind of bold action to undo institutional racism.

“The examples are breathtaking,” he says.

One student organized a citywide movement to get for free bus passes for low income students. Another student started an Islamophobia global awareness day. One group got the Seattle School Board to endorse “Black Live Matters at School” and week of action, a movement that has spread to other cities and districts. A group of students fought for the addition of an Ethnic Studies program that is transforming Seattle’s schools.

“None of this would have been possible without student activism,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to find a way to recognize this critical work of young people who see that they are the changemakers – the ones who will have to bring about the changes they want to see.”

Hagopian encourages other educators to find ways to support youth who are organizing for a better world. The best place to start, he says, is at the school and district level and to build relationships with students and support activist work with mentorship.

A recognition program becomes much more powerful if there is a cash award and media coverage. He suggests grants or GoFundMe campaigns and seeking partnerships with artists and athletes, as he did with former Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett and Grammy award winning artist Macklemore who generously help fund the award program.

“More and more people are outraged with the direction our country is going,” he says. “They want to find ways to support a justice movement.”

Chardonnay Beaver of New Generation said receiving the award was an unforgettable moment for all of the group’s members.

“Our intention was to progress as a group and develop our understanding of leadership and resilience as a result of organizing,” she says. “But after just one year of organizing, we were acknowledged for doing something that really matters — not earning an A+ on a test a homerun on the field — but fighting for our lives.”

As for the future of the group and their goals for the year, she says, “with faith, the possibilities are endless.”

Learn more about the award program at where you can learn about previous winners and nominate students for this year’s award.

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Thousands of Washington Educators Stand Strong for Professional Pay

The #RedforEd movement has picked up steam in Washington state, where nearly 6,000 Washington Education Association (WEA) members in the western part of the state are on strike—all hoping to finalize their collective-bargaining agreements. Overall, at least a dozen locals have been on strike in western Washington. In recent weeks, thousands of other educators throughout the state have reached tentative agreements that come with significant pay raises, aimed at keeping the best trained educators in their schools.

The issue at hand? Superintendents and school boards in these nine areas refuse to negotiate competitive pay raises for teachers and education support professionals despite the state Supreme Court ordering it, the state legislature funding it, the governor signing it, and parents supporting it.

What’s happening in Washington has been bubbling for at least a decade in what is known as the McCleary Decision, when two families and several groups—including school districts, parent organizations, local education associations, and WEA—sued the state for not meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools. The state recently met its obligation by adding approximately $8 billion to the K-12 budget. Of the $8 billion, $2 billion was identified for teacher salaries that are to be allocated via collective-bargaining agreements.

‘Keep Great Educators on the Job for Our Students’

For Washington educators, the McCleary Decision is a generational realignment of educator pay that will now level their salaries with other college-educated workers and will provide that competitive pay required to keep them in the profession.

“This is a much-needed generational realignment of pay for educators—both teachers and ESP members,” says Kim Mead, president of WEA. “New competitive and professional salaries will help attract new people to the profession, and keep great educators on the job for our students.”

And the public agrees that educators should be paid more. Results from the new 2018 Phi Delta Kappan Delta Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public School show that two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low. It should also be noted that 78 percent of public school parents support teachers in their communities if they went on strike for more pay.

And yes, while it’s true that most educators decide to enter the profession because of a desire to work with children, it’s also true that to attract and retain a greater number of dedicated, committed professionals, educators need salaries that are attractive and allow them to support themselves and their families. Otherwise, low teacher pay comes at a very high cost.

  • Close to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession during the first five years of teaching.
  • New teachers are often unable to pay off their loans or afford houses in the communities where they teach.
  • Teachers and education support professionals often work two and three jobs to make ends meet. The stress and exhaustion can become unbearable, forcing people out of the profession to more lucrative positions.

Educators across the country have long felt the pain of statistics like these. NPR recently reported how the 2016 teacher of the year left his home state of Oklahoma for Texas where the pay was higher. While Texas now has a highly qualified teacher, Oklahoma has lost one—and this hurts everyone: students and their families, the community, and educators.

‘Educators are Frustrated and Angry’
While 6,000 WEA members are continuing to fight for funding and close out their tentative agreements, nearly 33,000 members—98 percent of membership—of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) authorized a vote to strike if an agreement can’t be reached with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

“Our members have spoken, with one big, united voice,” said Arlene Inoyue, chair of the UTLA Bargaining Team. “After 17 months of bargaining with LAUSD, educators are frustrated and angry. We want a district that partners with us—not fights us—on critical issues like lower class sizes, fair pay, and bringing more staff to work with our students.”

If negotiations continue to stall, teachers in the nation’s second largest school district are prepared to strike. Stay tuned.

The teacher exodus is a crisis in many places, including Washington, which has been reported to have a shortage of substitutes, and a need for teachers who can teach specific subjects.

A  report by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reveals that in 2016-2017 school year, 61 percent of principals indicated they had to cover a classroom because there were no substitutes available while 74 percent of human resource directors said the challenge of finding qualified certificated teachers was greater than compared to the previous school year.

The McCleary Decision helps to reverse this downward spiral. “But it’s not a done deal; those funds still have to be bargained by every local association in the state,” said Mead to a local news outlet.

And that’s where the union comes in.

Union Strong

The role of WEA and its members has been paramount, leading much of the efforts since the beginning of the McCleary trial. In early 2000, for example, WEA members agreed to increase their dues to pay for the expenses related to the lawsuit, as well as help fund the formation of a coalition that helped support a victory in the McCleary Decision.

Members were relentless in making sure public education would be funded. Many organized their own education town halls or participated in town halls held by legislators. They responded in multitude to WEA action alerts, from showing up in person to events to writing postcards, sending emails, and making phone calls.

And before the #RedforEd walk outs in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, more than 50 percent of WEA members were participating in one-day rolling walk outs in 2015.

Washington’s Chad Donohue, a teacher at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, penned for NEA Today why he walked out, naming a host of reasons that include his students and their right to creative opportunities, because of high-stakes testing, and for new teachers who start at $34,000 a year despite having a higher education degree, huge student debt, and high costs of living.

“I walked out so our legislators would wake up,” he wrote.

And now 6,000 Washington educators want to wake up superintendents and school board officials by remaining on the picket line, donning #RedforEd t-shirts, in hopes of successfully negotiating their contracts.

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Court Ruling Won’t Be Last Word on School Funding, Say AZ Educators

On Tuesday, thousands of educators across the U.S. dressed for school in red-shirted solidarity with their colleagues in Arizona, who were stunned last week when the state Supreme Court blocked a ballot initiative that would have increased school funding by $690 million.

“Our students and educators deserve better,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, in urging NEA members to participate in Tuesday’s national #RedForEd day.

This summer, Arizona educators worked day and night to gather and deliver 270,000 petition signatures to the state—far more than the 151,000 required—enabling Proposition 207, which would have guaranteed voters a say in sustainable school revenues.

“We knew the voters would support this. They want to see more funding in our schools, they want to reverse the direction that our governor and legislature has had for us,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas. “The voters have been cheated out of the opportunity to invest real dollars in education.”

The court’s ruling will not be the last word on education funding, promised Noah Karvelis, Arizona high school teacher and a leader in Arizona’s #RedForEd movement. “We know what to do. We will put one foot in front of the other, and keep fighting.”

The next step? The November election. “Our only recourse is to remember in November. That’s where we’re going to make the most impact,” said Thomas.

As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring.”

In November, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey faces challenger David Garcia, who has said that Ducey “stacked” the court against educators. “The stakes for governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably. We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future. I’m proud to stand with our educators, parents, and kids.

No state in the nation has cut education 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. Even as the state economy has rebounded from last decade’s Great Recession, lawmakers have refused to reinvest in public schools. Last year, they spent 13.6 less on students than they did in 2008.

The results of their neglect are stunning. Teachers have up to 50 students in their classrooms. An elementary school counselor last year reported 1,540 students in her care. In photographic evidence, Arizona educators have shared the evidence of legislative abandon: mold growing on their classroom ceilings, decades-old textbooks taped together, homemade “air conditioners” that educators construct with Styrofoam coolers, electric fans and bags of ice. Teachers describe earning so little money that their own children qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

This spring, in the largest educator walkout in history, tens of thousands of Arizona teachers participated in a statewide, six-day #RedForEd walkout that ended with significant teacher pay raises but no commitment for additional state funding. Arizona educators weren’t satisfied. Their #RedForEd efforts never were about salary only. Almost immediately after educators returned to school, they began working on #InvestInEd, which would have taxed Arizona’s wealthiest to increase funds for public schools.

The ballot initative was challenged by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, which alleged that the petitions were misleading because they referred to the tax-rate increase as a “percent” increase rather than a “percentage point” increase.

“We’re in…shock that they’d stoop so low to take this away from voters,” said Thomas. “Our students absolutely have been cheated.”

But the fight is not over, Thomas and Karvelis promised. As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring.

“We don’t mourn. We organize,” Thomas promised.

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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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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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Students Use Graduation Day Speeches to Promote Inclusion and Social Action

The 2018 high school graduation season featured many of the reliable and enduring traditions we expect to see and hear each year: yearbook signings, decorating of caps, counting honor cords, and reminiscences from teachers, staff, parents, and students. This year, however, also saw more students using their graduation speeches to speak their minds instead of platitudes.

Considering the prominent role young people played in social justice and anti-violence campaigns across the nation in 2018, this was no surprise. From the #MeToo movement to gun violence, students have been in the trenches, doing a lot of the hard work to create national change.

While national media focused on celebrity stories, high school students made waves in the #MeToo movement, creating sexual education programs at their schools that emphasized consent, sharing stories on social media, and organizing documentary screenings to educate classmates about sexual violence.

Student activists helped organize a National School Walkout on March 17 to honor the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the March for Our Lives protests to demand action on preventing  gun violence, 

Earlier this month, two of these student leaders, David Hogg and Emma Gonzales, graduated from Stoneman Douglas. At the graduation ceremony, the community mourned the loss of their classmates and the lack of progress by politicians to address gun violence. Many of the graduation caps were decorated with pointed political statements.

“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change.” – Lulabel Seitz, valedictorian at Petaluma High School  

Senior class president Julia Cordover used her speech to encourage the audience to vote, and Sabrina Fernandez, student government president, delivered a challenge to her classmates.

“Let’s be the generation that sees a problem and fixes it,” she said. “Our country is rooting for us … our country is depending on us.”

Lulabel Seitz, valedictorian at Petaluma High School in northern California, started to deliver the tried-and-true, classic graduation speech she had submitted to the school, but strayed from her script four minutes in.

“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again,” she told the graduating class, “that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change, which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same people –”

The school then turned off Seitz’s microphone, but Seitz continued her speech:

“… in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims.” Seitz was referring to the school, who in her opinion did not take action when she reported her sexual assault.

While people in the audience yelled, “Let her speak!” the school never turned her microphone back on.

Commencement 2018: Advice, Inspiration, and Humor!
Commencement speeches are full of advice and encouragement, and this year’s speakers are certainly doing their best to inspire graduating classes across the land. Here are excerpts from a few speeches, because let’s face it: Whether we graduated 30 years ago or yesterday, we can all use a little boost every now and then!

Seitz released her full uncensored speech on Youtube, which has more than 400,000 views. “The school continually censors students. It wasn’t an easy thing to do to go up there and say what I said or tried to say,” she told KPIX-TV.

The school’s principal defended the decision to cut her microphone, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “We were trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful.”

Seitz was not the only student to be censored from delivering a “controversial” message. Cait Christenson, valedictorian at Tomahawk High School in Wisconsin, planned to give a speech discouraging slurs, negative stereotypes, and disrespect toward others. Her speech mentioned “hot button” issues such as discrimination, school shootings, and gender inequality.

Christenson was obviously not the first student to speak out about gun violence, but school officials decided that the issue was too divisive for a graduation speech and that her speech would have to be edited before she could take the stage.

Rather than agreeing to these rules, she withdrew from her speaking role. In an interview with the Wassau Daily Herald, Christenson explained her decision:

“I felt like if I were to rewrite my speech, the message would be washed out. If I could not talk about those three things specifically, change against social injustice would be less likely in the future. The reasons I was not allowed to speak opposed exactly what I was trying to get across in my speech: being able to open a conversation civilly, and critically think about and accept others’ opinions and values.”

Christenson’s speech was published in the Tomahawk Leader weekly newspaper, the Wassau Daily Herald, and many other outlets. On June 20, the school principal apologized for censoring her speech.

Cait Christenson, valedictorian at Tomahawk High School in Wisconsin, withdrew from her speaking role at graduation after the school asked her to edit her speech.

More valedictorians broke tradition to ensure every single person could understand them. In Nebraska, Hannah Leeper and Mandy Montante Gonzalez of Fremont High School delivered their speech in English and Spanish, despite facing potential backlash in in their hometown. In 2010, Fremont garnered national attention when voters approved a local ordinance prohibiting hiring and renting to undocumented residents.

Representing a school with a large hispanic population, the two teens said they wanted to make the graduation enjoyable for all family members.

“I think it was a good step forward for the community,” Leeper told the Omaha World-Herald.

While some may argue that graduation speeches are not the appropriate venue for expressing opinions on sensitive topics, the students respond that their intent is not to divide, but to inspire. By taking a stand, Leeper and Gonzales, along with their counterparts across the country, found a way to deliver an important message, in the process perhaps redefining how a graduation ceremony can celebrate students and how a graduation speech can inspire them.

As Julia Cordover said at the Stoneman Douglas High School graduation, “Our struggle is part of our story. It doesn’t define us. Let it motivate us.”

Students Demand Right to Wear Native Regalia at Graduation
Many school districts enforce a strict dress code that prevent students from wearing anything other than school colors and graduation symbols that the districts provide. Across the country, however, Native American students are standing up for cultural pride and heritage at high school graduation ceremonies.


‘It’s Time To Take Action’: Students Lead Protest to Change Gun Laws
school shooting protestsThere’s a new face on the age-old gun debate: our students – and they are putting lawmakers on notice: They will not stand by and allow elected officials to fail them any longer. “We are going to be the last mass shooting,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez said. “We are going to change the laws.”

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West Virginia Educators Take Their Power to the Polls

(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

As state election officials counted votes in West Virginia’s primary races last week and the results were broadcast on local TV stations, West Virginia’s teachers felt something unfamiliar but wonderful.

It was an electric surge of their own power.

“It was a great feeling watching the returns come in!” said Jonas Knotts, a high school teacher and president of the Webster County Education Association, an affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA). “People and educators are really starting to see the power that they possess. We have a voting bloc that, if we turn out to the polls, can outvote anybody. Teachers are realizing this. It’s something that fills us with a very empowering feeling.”

Early this spring, WVEA members kicked off what NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has called an “education spring” with a statewide, nine-day strike that brought red-shirted educators from every one of the state’s 55 counties to the state Capitol.

Their massive show of solidarity, which ended with significant pay raises for all public workers, including teachers and education support professionals, and the establishment of a state task force to address public-worker health insurance, inspired educators across the nation and has been followed by statewide educator walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky, and huge Capitol demonstrations in Colorado and North Carolina.

Now, WVEA members are modeling what happens next: They’re taking their energy and passion for public education to the ballot box. In this May’s primary races, WVEA endorsed 115 pro-public school candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and the state’s House of Delegates and Senate. Of those, 99 candidates—or nearly 90 percent—won. One state lawmaker who had called union members “free riders” was shown the door.

This is exactly what public-school educators across the nation have promised to do in the mid-term elections this November. With this latest show of union strength, WVEA members have shown how it can be done—and how good it feels.

“This election was a huge vindication for the power of the movement because, of course, the opposition was saying ‘they’re going to forget, they’re going to stay home,’” said Knotts. “But we know it’s only one victory in a long war. We have to keep up those conversations, we have to keep people engaged, we have to show them how we’re working to improve everybody’s status—from teachers to support personnel to students to communities.”

Taking Power to the Polls

The West Virginia educators’ strike was the result of decades of neglect by state lawmakers. With school budgets cut to the bone and great teachers leaving the state in droves, dedicated educators just couldn’t take it anymore. “People were starting to ask themselves, what is my future here? What is the future for my students, my children? And they realized that unless action was taken, there isn’t going to be a future,” said Knotts.

Educators walked out because they couldn’t stay silent any longer, and they stayed out with the support of their students, families and community members until state lawmakers finally agreed to do something about the problem.

It was a bold lesson in the power of solidarity and civic engagement—and nobody learned it better than the striking teachers.

“The strike really opened up people’s eyes,” said Knotts. “In years past, people and educators felt like there wasn’t anything their vote could do. They felt like whatever happened in Charleston wasn’t connected to their lives. They couldn’t see the end game, how elections truly matter, and how they directly affect their work environment and their students.”

In the weeks leading up to the May primaries, WVEA members made their preferences known. “Word of mouth was the biggest thing,” said Heather White, president of the WVEA-affiliated Grant County Education Association. “We made sure to utilize Facebook. All of us who are on it have friends who are not educators, and they’d follow the articles we’d post and send.” Educators also helped register new voters, drove elderly people to the polls, and stood on street corners with posters for their preferred candidates.

WVEA members—and their friends and family members—remembered which legislators stood with them during the strike and supported the health-insurance task force, and which lawmakers talked about the need to keep great teachers in West Virginia.

They also remembered who didn’t.

“Going to the Capitol, sitting in committee meetings, listening to the debates and following [the legislators] on social media—it makes you think, ‘oh my, this is the person representing our interests?’” said Knotts.

Bye-Bye, Senator

That person—the one representing the interests and welfare of public-school educators and students—is not Robert Karnes.

Karnes, the incumbent senator in West Virginia’s 11th District, is known in the state as “maybe THE biggest teacher-hater, public-employee hater out there,” said Knotts. “This is a person who goes out of his way to antagonize and harass and destroy public education. He has no qualms about saying that because he homeschools his eight kids he should not have to pay taxes to support public schools.”

He got elected, suggested Knotts, because too many educators stayed home during the 2014 election.

In his challenger, state Delegate Bill Hamilton, a nine-term moderate Republican who supports public education and has opposed anti-union legislation, educators across the enormous, six-county 11th District found somebody that they could support with enthusiasm. Dozens went so far as to switch their party registration from Democrat to no-party affiliation so they could cast a ballot for Hamilton, said White.

“The thing about Karnes is that he just didn’t support public education,” said White. “Our local schools have the bare minimum of what they need. There’s just no way we could survive with any less, and still do what we need to do for our kids.”

Last Tuesday, on Election Day, WVEA members said no to less. They flexed their muscles. When the returns were counted, Karnes had been trounced, barely taking a third of the votes cast. “It had been our goal for four years to take him down. We succeeded. Not just mildly. He was destroyed in every county in his district,” said Knotts.

On Wednesday, the day after the election, in a show of celebration and solidarity, many WVEA members wore their red “55 Strong” t-shirts that they had worn to the Capitol a few months earlier. “It was like everybody knew the power!” said White.

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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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Why #RedforEd Has Caught Fire in North Carolina

There are more than 1.5 million reasons behind Wednesday’s “March for Students and Rally for Respect” in North Carolina, where more than 20,000 educators from 40 or more school districts  traveled to Raleigh to demand the attention of state lawmakers. Those reasons include the 1.5 million public school students who often are learning in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks and technology.

Here are a few more reasons:

  • State education funding! Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported that state funding for North Carolina students had dropped 12 percent since 2008. That means bigger class sizes, cuts to academic programs, and outdated classroom resources. “We have to make sure our schools in North Carolina are fully funded,” says Ronda Mays, president of North Carolina’s Forsyth County Education Association. “The per-pupil spending has to be at least—at least—to the national average.
  • Educators want to send a message to lawmakers: Choose students over corporations. Since 2013, the GOP-controlled North Carolina state legislature has cut the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 3 percent. The revenues lost to these tax cuts—about a half a billion dollars a year—make it impossible to adequately fund public education. And it’s only going to get worse! Corporate and person taxes are scheduled to drop again next year. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) wants the legislature to cancel these cuts until school funding is improved.
  • They’re sick of seeing their colleagues forced out of the classroom because they can’t afford to stay. Nearly one in 10 North Carolina teachers left the profession last year, and the rates are even higher for new teachers. Months into the school year, some school districts had teacher vacancy rates of more than 10 percent. At least part of the reason is pay: Since 2009, N.C. teacher pay has declined 9.4 percent, when you adjust for inflation. The average salary is $9,600 below the national average. “And they’re still paying out of their pocket to make sure students have what they need,” Mays notes.
  • School support personnel are suffering, which means students are suffering. Nearly 7,500 teachers’ aides in North Carolina have lost their jobs because of budget cuts. Caseloads for counselors have increased. “There are people in our schools who are not classroom teachers, but who are just as vital to students,” says Mays, a school social worker. “It’s important that we have these people to work with students, and it’s important that they be fairly compensated, too.”
  • They just can’t take it anymore. North Carolina’s #RedforEd movement isn’t an overnight sensation. Educators have been watching the situation in their schools get worse for more than a decade. The movement, says NCAE President Mark Jewell, is “the culmination of years of starving our public school system.”

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As States Debate Anti-LGBTQ Bills, Educators Focus on Supporting All Students

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

This year’s legislative session saw a wave of anti-transgender state bills all across the country. Ten states introduced 21 anti-transgender bills, many of which have been defeated or are pending final votes. In November’s general election, Massachusetts voters will have the power to strike down an anti-transgender ballot initiative. Overall, these bills and ballot measures limit people from accessing health care and updating identity documents, as well as create special exemptions that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Despite these efforts, the fight for equality remains strong.

In Alaska, voters in Anchorage defeated a ballot measure that would have allowed strangers to demand to check a person’s “sex at birth” before allowing access to certain restrooms and public facilities. On the opposite side of the county, the Maine House of Representatives passed legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from the discredited practice of “conversion therapy.”

While voters and legislatures nationwide continue to push for more LGBTQ-friendly policies, many educators are taking action in different ways.

Lindsay Buck, a special education department chair and teacher for Lawrence High School in Kansas, sponsors the Total Equality Alliance, the school’s version of Gay Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs. At Lawrence, educators are creating affirming/welcoming schools by, for example, normalizing gender pronouns. Educators are making it common place to ask and share gender pronouns and to never assume pronouns, explains Buck.

“Just because society says there’s ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ pronouns, doesn’t mean they should be used or assumed. Some folks use pronouns other than she/her and he/him, and feel more comfortable in the they/them area,” she says.

Supporting students’ gender pronouns goes along way. “This lets non-binary and transgender students know you’re an ally.”

As a sponsor of Lawrence’s Total Equality Alliance, Buck meets weekly with LGBTQ students and allies. Her goal is to ensure students have access to student resources and support.

This support comes at a critical time for the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released on Tue., May 15 the findings of their 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, a new survey conducted in partnership with the University of Connecticut of 12,000 LGBTQ teens. The survey explored the experiences, health and wellbeing of LGBTQ teens across the country and underscored high levels of anxiety, fear, and rejection LGBTQ teens face in places that should be safe areas: home, school, social settings, and their communities.

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community myself,” says the educators of 11 years, “and I know from experience what it’s like to not have a support system in place. I want my students to know that they can be their authentic selves, and that they can be successful and have careers and families.”

Affirming and Welcoming Schools

The effort toward being an affirming/welcoming school has been well received by many at Lawrence. In fact, the school district, after hearing from their own LGBTQ+ advisory committee, took a stance to add gender expression to their non-discriminatory policies, after previously adding sexual orientation and gender identity.

Additionally, the district directed schools to move away from gendering activities, such as designating a “Queen” and “King” at homecoming events. Now, 12 students are selected to court. Of the 12, two are selected “Royalty,” regardless of identity.

“It could be two people who identify as male or it could be a female student and a non-binary student, for example,” says Buck. “Before, non-binary and transgender students felt they weren’t a part of homecoming or that it wasn’t even an option to be on court. Now everyone has an opportunity to participate without the fear of being discriminated against based on identify or expression.”

Thousands of NEA members, like Buck, serve as GSA advisors in their schools.

At Hale-Dale Middle School and High School in Farmingdale, Maine, school counselor Tara Kierstead helped students set up a GSA in 2013 and says, “[S]tudents find it a comfortable space to meet and talk. They do not seem ready yet to become highly visible advocates for LGBT rights, but when they’re ready, I will be right there to support them.”

If students are interested in creating a GSA, Kierstead suggests using the GLSEN start-up kit.

Kansas’s Lindsay Buck says that even if you’re an educator in a conservative area or are grappling with wanting to have a safe and inclusive school, educators can still show support by wearing a button with your gender pronouns or a rainbow flag. Small gestures of support “communicate that you’re a safe person who students can talk to.”

While some teachers feel out of their comfort zone or are not quite there in their understanding of the LGBTQ community, Buck suggests to challenge your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about the world.

“Research and interact with others who don’t necessarily share your beliefs or your way of thinking,” Buck says. “You can also seek resources, like GLSEN or NEA Ed Justice, to learn how you can be an affirming and inclusive teacher.”

Educators are uniquely positioned to address these issues and work towards creating a safe, supportive and affirming school environment for LGBTQ students.

Educators can start by taking The Pledge to support LGBTQ equality. There’s also Gender Spectrum’s The Gender Inclusive School guide, which looks to expand the approaches educators can take to help all students feel safe within their schools or classrooms.

Additional Resources: Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, Schools in transition Guide, What Do You Say?, Legal guidance on transgender students’ rights, GLSEN’s Model Laws and School Policies, and How to Support LGBTQ by starting a GSA.


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Colorado Educators Show Up in Force to Rally for K12 Funding

The math in Colorado is easy to understand.

Public schools are currently underfunded by $822 million, and per-student funding is $2,700 below the national average. What this adds up to is: larger class sizes, four-day school weeks, cuts to critical academic programs, thousands of unfilled teaching and support jobs, and a deficit of learning opportunities for students.

That’s why nearly 10,000 red-shirted Colorado Education Association (CEA) members from nearly 30 school districts across the states, joined by NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, are rallying at the state Capitol in Denver on Friday. Several thousand also rallied Thursday.

“For years, the Colorado Legislature has refused to do what’s right for our students…As educators, we see the real result of their chronic underfunding of public education—from ballooning class sizes to outdated and battered textbooks held together by duct tape,” said CEA President Kerri Dallman. “Members of the Colorado Education Association are at the state Capitol to ask the legislature to step up and fulfill their responsibility because students need and deserve better.”

In 1982, Colorado spent $232 per student above the national average. Today, even as it boasts of the top-ranked economy in the nation, it spends $2,162 below the national average, according to CEA analysis. Meanwhile its neighbors, Nebraska and Wyoming, spent $4,000 and $8,000 more per student, respectively.

As a result of these decades of neglect, half of Colorado school districts have switched to a four-day school week so that they can save money on transportation, and many have eliminated art, music, or high school classes like psychology or journalism.

Jessica Crawford, a second grade teacher at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, moved to Colorado from Orlando last year. She said she believed her new school would be well stocked since Colorado’s economy was one of the best in the country.

“I thought I was going to walk into a classroom with the things I needed to teach my kids,” said Crawford. “It was a big shock to have no construction paper, no Sharpies, no magnets for my magnetic board. I spent over thousand dollars on my kids since they needed so much.”

She’s not alone—Colorado teachers, on average, spend $656 of their own money to make up the difference. But they also don’t make much money. According to a 2018 NPR study, which factors in the cost of living in each state, teacher pay in Colorado ranks 45th in the nation, and is a key factor in the more than 3,000 Colorado teaching jobs that still aren’t filled this year.

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle joins Colorado educators at the state Capitol in Denver on April 27.

“My mother is a teacher, and I know how much she struggles with funding and I believe education is important to make America better in the future,” said 14-year-old Ella Wonder, a student at Aurora’s Range View High School who was rallying at the Colorado statehouse with her mother, to the Denver Post.

CEA members want state lawmakers to commit to reducing or freezing corporate tax breaks until the state’s per-student funding is restored to the national average. They point out that the cumulative shortfall in funding adds up to a whopping $6.6 billion since 2009. That’s money that should have gone directly into Colorado public schools to pay for smaller class sizes and counselor caseloads, new books and technology, and teacher pay that might be adequate to entice Coloradans to fill those thousands of vacant teaching jobs.

“Educators in Colorado and all across the nation are rising up and saying enough! Enough!” Pringle told the growing crowd on Friday. “When politicians continue to fail our students, it’s time to send them a message: we will remember in November.”

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A Look Inside Arizona Classrooms -NEA Today

An estimated 75,000 Arizona educators rallied at the state Capitol this week, demanding state lawmakers invest in public schools. Class sizes are increasing, classrooms are stocked with obsolete resources, and school conditions have deteriorated. Photographs shared by educators on social media provide the evidence of legislative neglect—the ancient textbooks, the rodent-infested classrooms, the broken-down technology, and more. (For more on the Arizona walkout, read this NEA Today story.)

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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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Educators Continue Fight for K-12 Funding

By now it’s a familiar scene: tens of thousands of red-shirted teachers and education support professionals, rallying outside their state Capitol, demanding that legislators provide the money they need to educate their state’s public school children.

On Friday, the location was the Capitol steps in Frankfort, Ky., where Kentucky Education Association (KEA) members from the state’s 120 counties arrived by the busload to deliver a pointed message: Legislators must override Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of the budget and tax bills, which would combine to modestly fuel an increase in K12 investment. By early evening, lawmakers proved they were listening. The Kentucky Legislature had overrode Bevin’s veto of the tax bill, and the House had sent its override of the budget bill to the Senate.

“We’ll remember! Come November!” educators chanted. “Fund our future!”

Meanwhile, in Arizona, on Thursday an anxious governor offered teachers a 20 percent pay raise over the next two years to forestall further walkouts, and in Oklahoma, where educators, students, and parents packed the Capitol for nine days, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Alicia Priest enumerated the wins they achieved.

“The presence and persistence of Oklahoma educators and supporters have brought the largest pay raise in state history to teachers, a line-item pay raise for support professionals, and $70 million in recurring revenue for Oklahoma classrooms,” said Priest. “Each and every one who has marched at the Capitol, written, made calls, and worked in so many ways in their own communities should be overwhelmed with pride.”

“This is an absolute movement. It’s a moment in time for educators and it’s not just one state,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who has called the movement an “education spring.”

In the background of these state battles is the Supreme Court’s impending decision this spring or summer in the Janus vs AFSCME case, which aims to weaken the rights of public-employee unions and make it more difficult for educators to raise their voices in unison. But educators are making it clear—from Phoenix to Frankfort—that they will not be silenced.

As a result of their advocacy, Oklahoma teachers will see annual pay raises ranging from $5,000 to $8,395, with an average $6,100, while support professionals see $1,250 raises. Additionally, through the first tax increases approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in more than a decade, public schools will get $70 million in new, recurring state funding, plus an additional $22 million next year.

Is it enough? It’s not, but Senate Republicans will not budge an inch on additional funding, said Priest. “They say Oklahoma students don’t need any more funding, and they’re wrong,” said Priest. But, as teachers return to their classrooms today, OEA members also will turn their attention to the elections ahead. “The state didn’t find itself in a school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office. No more,” Priest promised.

Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma lawmakers cut per-student funding by 15.6 percent, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 20 percent of school districts, Oklahoma schools are only open four days a week because local boards can’t afford the fifth day. Textbooks are decades old, classroom desks and chairs are broken, and teacher pay ranks 47th in the nation. Teachers work two, three jobs, driving Uber and selling their blood—or they move to Texas or Arkansas, where they can earn $10,000 to $15,000 more a year.

But Oklahoma isn’t the only state where lawmakers have cut taxes for corporations, rather than spend money on their schoolchildren. Arizona has seen the worst school-funding cuts—36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015. As a result, Arizona’s average teacher pay was last in the nation, according to the 2016 NEA Rankings and Estimates report.

For the past month, Arizona educators have been protesting at the state Capitol. On Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed to boost teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020. The pay proposal didn’t include education support professionals, even though Arizona Education Association (AEA) leaders have made it clear that support pay is a critical part of their legislative demands. Not did Ducey address AEA’s key requirement that school funding be restored to pre-recession levels.

“My heart sank because he (Ducey) made no mention of support professionals,” said Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the AEA-affiliated Phoenix union of support professionals. “It’s clearly an attempt to divide us, and we won’t be divided.”

Joe Thomas, AEA president, said the governor’s proposal reminded him of his days in a social studies classroom with the occasional student who wanted to do just enough work to get by. It’s not enough. Ducey has rebuffed efforts to meet with Thomas and leaders of the allied Arizona Educators United group. He needs to realize, said Thomas, that “the educator voice—both ESP and certified—has never been stronger in the state of Arizona.”

Many of these state’s educators have been inspired by West Virginia’s example, where teachers and education support professionals went on strike for two weeks in March and won significant new investments in public education. Since then, the rebellion against low pay and funding cuts has spread across the nation.

Back in Kentucky, KEA members know that the legislature’s tax and budget bills aren’t going to provide everything that their students need. “The recent budget adopted by the General Assembly is far from perfect,” acknowledged David Wade, a special paraeducator in Paducah, Ky. But Wade, as well as countless other KEA members, know that the governor’s veto likely would lead to a worse budget for their schools.

As is, the budget does provide for a base increase in K12 funding to the unprecedented levels of $4,000 per student. “My kids can’t wait! They can’t wait any longer!” said Jennifer Hawkins, a preschool teacher in Bowling Green.

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Despite Rising Fear and Anxiety, DACA Activists Keep Up the Pressure

Washington State University students and community members rally in support of the DREAM Act on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for 800,000 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, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA, sparking fear and uncertainty among Dreamers, including 600,000 who are high school or college students, and nearly 9,000 who are educators.

Five months later, Trump vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. “We are gonna deal with DACA with heart,” he said.

But just this month, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“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. But that’s not the case, she explains.

“I had so many people call and text me as they heard about the tweet, asking what it meant and if we were back to square one. But they don’t realize all the work that we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. Those of us in the movement know we’re not back to the beginning—we’re just on a detour.”

Approximately 22,000 DACA recipients have lost their status—including educators—since September. This means, they lose their work permits and the ability to teach and support themselves or their families.

“Lives are on the line,” says Andrew Kim, an immigration-rights activist who in 2015, as a student at Emory University in Atlanta, organized a successful campaign to provide need-based financial aid to undocumented students. Since then, the university has expanded their policies to include all undocumented students, not just DACA recipients.

What’s happening today, however, is more than just going to college, says Kim. “It’s about their existence because DACA affects people’s lives in every way.”

Reyes, for example, worries about having a job next school year, paying rent, and her car note. “There’s so much uncertainty,” she says.

Dreamer activists attend a press conference on Capitol Hill in September 2017 calling for passage of the Dream Act.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

‘The Environment is Very Tense’

 While fear and anxiety is mounting, especially in places like Texas and Arizona, which forces local governments and law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal immigration officers by asking residents to show proof of citizenship and where in-state tuition was dropped for Dreamers, respectively, immigration activists are busy organizing their communities.

Hugo Arreola is 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.

 We have a lot of students on hold,” says Arreola. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared—the environment is very tense.”

Arreola, however, isn’t idle. Through his union, the Arizona Education Association’s Classified Employees Association and other local organizations, he’s involved with various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights.

 “They don’t realize all the work that we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. Those of us in the movement know we’re not back to the beginning—we’re just on a detour.” – Karen Reyes, teacher

“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, adding that educators and community members can lobby their schools’ governing board to get friendly immigration policies passed, such as creating safe zones and protecting the rights and privacy of undocumented students.

Elizabeth Jiménez, for example, is an elementary school teacher in Westmont, Ill., and a school board member for Berwyn South 100, a district just west of Chicago with large populations of Latino, ELL, and immigrant students.

Jiménez was once undocumented herself. “I understand how it feels, however, I cannot imagine how it feels to be threatened, to be in danger of being forced to leave the only place that you know as your home … attacking our students, our neighbors, our friends and our family is un-American and immoral,” which is why she helped pass a school board resolution to create safe zones within the Berwyn school district.

The resolution passed, but more still needs to be done. “I need professional development for teachers,” says Jiménez, explaining that some teachers who don’t share the same experiences as their students don’t know what to do when parents of students get detained or deported.

Grassroots Organizing Continues

“Our fight is going to continue,” says Karen Reyes of Texas. “We still have to lobby for the Dream Act and lobby for a permanent solution because DACA was a band aid.”

Since September, Reyes has met with state and federal lawmakers. “Our biggest tool is sharing our story because once we humanize it we become more than just an acronym. I’ve met so many people who’ve said, ‘I had no idea you were undocumented.’’’ Reyes shares that many of the people who once spread anti-immigrant messages are now fighting for a permanent solution alongside her.

Additionally, the pre-kindergarten teacher has been involved with citizen drives sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. “As educators we have this great niche where people trust teachers, and we can hold these trainings and reach a vast majority.”

Recently, Reyes helped organize a citizenship drive and assisted 112 permanent residents with their citizenship paperwork. “I now know there’s going to be 112 new citizens who will vote and that’s amazing,” she says.

Voting will be a critical aspect in realizing change. “We are watching,” says Elizabeth Jiménez. “Next election cycle, if you don’t support us, we’re going to campaign against you.”

Andrew Kim, originally from Georgia and currently a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University in Illinois, says the type of work Reyes, Arreola, and Jiménez do is critical and needs to be increased and sustained.

“We’re in a dire state,” he says, and suggests volunteering or donating money to legal aid clinics, advocacy groups, or non-profit organizations that provide direct services for undocumented immigrants. Kim underscores that the efforts of everyday people need to be more than just a “one-off.”

“A drastic shift needs to happen, from a one- or two-day volunteer trip to sustained active resistance and continued solidarity with organizations that are already on the ground providing direct resources,” he says, adding that “DACA isn’t dead, but we need to support these organizations.”

Karen Reyes agrees and says, “It’s all these little steps: building up the community, building up the people power, and showing people that they do have power—just because we’re undocumented doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice. We do have a voice and it matters just as much as anyone else’s voice.”

On the national stage, NEA filed amicus briefs in two lawsuits (University of California vs. U.S. Department of Homeland Security and New York vs. Trump/Batalla Vidal v. Nielson) urging the courts to strike down the actions of the Trump Administration to end DACA.

NEA’s amicus briefs contain the voices of dozens of educators from across the country who provided a view of why DACA is important and of the impact the threat of revocation of DACA has had from the frontlines of education.

  • Cindi Marten, the Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, noted anxiety among students transcends immigration status, “Kids are worried about what’s going to happen to them. People think this is just . . . an immigration issue. That’s not what we’re seeing. Teachers and principals are saying that kids are scared for their friends. They’re also affected.”
  • Angelica Reyes, a DACA recipient and an A.P. History teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District where she was once a student says, that thanks to DACA “I could finally serve my community. And I could be an educator. DACA gave me a clear path to obtain the career I had been working towards.”
  • Kateri Simpson, a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, has seen first-hand how DACA has motivated students to fully engage in school and work toward graduation because postgraduate opportunities like college were now within reach. Simpson says, “The basic sense of human dignity to be able to work for what you want—I don’t think can be underestimated.”

As Dreamers, educators, and families anxiously await a court decision, grassroots organizing continues around the country to pressure Congress to act.

Activism Cheat Sheet

  • Contact your elected leaders to renew DACA and demand comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship;
  • Call your local union and ask about partnering with organizations to hold Know Your Rights workshops. Download the Know Your Rights training to get started today;
  • Lobby your school board to pass immigrant-friendly policies. Start with NEA’s resolution on school safe zones;
  • Volunteer time and money to organizations that provide direct support to undocumented students;
  • If you can vote, vote for pro-immigrant candidates.

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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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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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Wasn’t Black History Month Last Month?

The shortest month of the year has come and gone, as has the celebration of Black History Month when we mark the many contributions African Americans have made to our history, culture, and society. But we’re almost two decades into the 21st Century and it’s long past time to incorporate and highlight the achievements of African Americans into year-round curriculum. Black history is American history.

NEA Today sat down to talk about Black History Month with Deborah Menkart, executive director, and Allyson Criner Brown, associate director, of Teaching For Change, a social justice education organization that encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable and multicultural society, and become active global citizens.

Why do you feel it is important to show students that Black history should not only be taught, celebrated, and acknowledged in February but year-round?

ACB: Concentrating Black history into a month perpetuates traditional narratives of whiteness as the norm in the United States, with the contributions of people of color on the side. Focusing on Black history only in February also inherently limits what students will learn since Black history spans more than 400 years, from the colonies to today.

Do you think that students are more receptive and engaged in lessons that involve their own ancestry as well as relevant issues that many face today such as excessive use of force by police and deportation? 

DM: Students are more engaged and successful when the lessons connect with — and help them explore — their own lived experiences, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, and geographic area. This is supported by a Stanford University study released in 2015 that shows the benefits of ethnic studies in middle and high school. Also, by examining the social and political issues that affect them, students can learn about the historical context and consider collective solutions.

What can educators do to show students that Black history is actually American History and shouldn’t be separated but combined?

ACB: Educators can start by teaching Black history all year long as U.S. history. We have to interweave timelines, events, people, and perspectives – and not just those of Black Americans. If you are teaching an accurate narrative of U.S. history, then African American, Native American, Latino, Asian American, and European American history should be front and center throughout.

How has the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement impacted students?

DM: In many classrooms, the D.C. Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools opened a dialogue that led to deeper understanding of the Movement for Black Lives and the 13 principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Going beyond the all too typical “I have a dream” lessons on the Civil Rights Movement, students learned about Bayard Rustin, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Power, Dr. Martin Luther King’s stand on the war and labor, and much more. A second grader remarked, “Black Lives Matter is like the Civil Rights Movement.”

Do you believe this movement is political? 

ACB: Yes, everything in education is political. To not teach accurate history, to leave out Black history and other people of color, to use a ‘neutral’ approach to teaching history, are also political acts. At Teaching for Change, we believe that education should provide opportunities to collectively envision just and fair schools, communities, and the larger society; and that education should inspire and empower us to do the necessary work to make those visions come true. As Lerone Bennett Jr. said, “An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.” 

How can we challenge traditional history lessons and show students the significant impact people of color have always had on the shaping of our nation?

DM: Students will learn that the traditional narrative of U.S. history, which places people of color in the margins or refers to diversity as a new phenomenon, is wrong. An honest examination of U.S. history demonstrates the central role that Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians have played since throughout U.S. history. This is true for the labor and ingenuity that has built this country, in addition to our democratic traditions. For example, public schooling for white and Black students in the South resulted from legislation by African American elected leaders during the Reconstruction era. (Tragically, when Reconstruction was violently ended by white supremacists, African Americans were then denied equal access to public schooling. White students of all economic classes continued to benefit from the policies that African Americans had fought for.)

There are countless examples of the role of people of color being erased from history. For example, the traditional narrative often credits President Abraham Lincoln for “freeing the slaves.” Missing is the central role of the enslaved in securing their own freedom. Also missing is the role that African American labor, skills, and knowledge played in building the entire economy of the United States during slavery and beyond. This stolen labor has yet to be compensated and has a direct impact on racial inequities today. If students learned the full scope of this theft, there would be greater understanding of the demand for reparations today. The invisibility continues today.

Why do you think teachers focus so heavily on the household names of leaders from Civil Rights movements and slavery when there are many more luminaries that students should know about other than renowned figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman?

ACB: Test-driven instruction, textbooks, and tradition are among the factors explaining why teachers focus so heavily on the household names of leaders from the Civil Rights movement and slavery. Teachers often also have a lack of knowledge themselves about Black history and are repeating many of the names they learned about in textbooks. It’s also worth noting that this country has a tradition of creating and elevating heroes. Now, many of the people we celebrate – Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to name the key figures – should be lauded for their life’s work. However, hero celebration – in Black history – takes away from our understanding and appreciation of the role everyday people played in creating change in this country. How will students see their role in our democracy if we teach them that the occasional ‘heroes’ we learn about in U.S. history are the only people who affect change in this country?

Where is a good place to start for educators who wish to broaden their curriculum? 

DM: This year we are focusing on two periods of history. We encourage teachers to check out our Zinn Education Project (with Rethinking Schools­) campaign to Teach Reconstruction and our online resources for our publication, Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.

NEA Resources:

NEA EdJustice Black Lives Matter at School

The “Correct(ed)” Series 

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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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