Why Educators Need to Vote in 2020

Teachers need the vote in order to have more schools and better schools…”

Teachers need the vote in order to protect the children of their district from the vicious interests that constantly exploit them.”

Any of this sound familiar? Nearly 100 years after these words were printed, teachers are still fighting to have their voices heard.

Back then, educators’ voices were instrumental in the push for women’s suffrage*, called to action by arguments like the one in this 1915 flyer:

Source: VCU Libraries

So many of the issues educators faced then are still challenging the education profession today, but educators, then and now, deeply care about the political issues that affect their students. They know that if they don’t have their rights protected, neither will their students.

The 99-year anniversary of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (thought the right didn’t extend to women of color until decades later) reminds us that there is a lot at stake for the education world during the 2020 election, and we’ve come up with our own list of reasons why educators need to use the vote they worked so hard to gain.

  1. Betsy DeVos – Do we even need to continue this list after mentioning her? Her lack of experience in public education, strong support for vouchers and online schooling, and attacks on our students’ rights and education funding make DeVos public enemy number one for educators. Our students deserve a Secretary of Education who wants to invest in their future not line her pockets.
  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness – If educators and other public servants make 10 years’ worth of qualified monthly payments on their federal student loans, they can receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. But that’s not what is happening, because the program is broken. Fewer than 1 percent of eligible public servants who apply actually receive the loan forgiveness they were promised. Educators deserve a government that fulfills their promises to public servants everywhere.
  3. Gun Violence Prevention – NEA members believe schools should be safe places for learning. They reject the idea of arming teachers and other educators and oppose using federal funds for that purpose. NEA members want a government that will expand mental health care in schools and research gun violence as a public health issue.
  4. Education Funding – All our students deserve access to a high-quality education, but funding for public education keeps decreasing. Public schools received $3.7 billion, or 19 percent, less for Title I students during the 2017-18 school year than they did in 2010. The federal share of IDEA funding is now less than 14 percent, far short of the 40 percent Congress promised to provide. Educators need a Congress that is willing to put students, and their right to a quality education regardless of zip code, first.
  5. Retirement Security – The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of people who work in jobs regardless of whether they are covered by Social Security—for example, educators who take part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most of the people hurt by the GPO and WEP are public servants (read: educators), who should be rewarded with retirement security, after all their years of public service.
  6. Workers’ Rights – All public education employees deserve the right to negotiate a fair contract. Bargaining ensures that career education employees have a respected voice in the workplace and are involved in both identifying and solving school and classroom issues, which in turn promotes student learning. After the blow the Janus Supreme Court case dealt unions last year, we need a government that respects educators’ right to bargain.
  7. Voting Rights – The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory practices and extended voting protections to millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. As efforts to suppress the vote continue—for example, through measures to deter student voting or limit absentee ballots—the need for protecting the vote persists.

We need your educator voice to be heard in the 2020 election. We know you’ll make the right decisions for educators and students everywhere. Take a moment to check your voter registration.

If you’re already registered, we ask you to register three of your friends and amplify your impact in 2020. Let’s make our educator voices heard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Add Everyone Who Represents You to Your Mobile Contacts

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

Get the News that Public School Advocates Need

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

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

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

Start Spreading the Word

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

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

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

Make Your Voice Heard in the 2020 Presidential Election

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

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

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

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When Small Local Unions Make a Big Impact

While educators from big cities—like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Denver—have garnered national attention for their massive strikes, walkouts, work stoppages, and rallies over student learning conditions, wages, and benefits, educators in smaller towns have been just as successful.

Take California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association (LUTA), a mid-sized local of nearly 500 members who mobilized, held informational pickets, packed school board meetings, worked bell-to-bell, and won big.

In April, after spending 15 months negotiating and two years without a contract, LUTA educators ratified a landmark contract that improves the learning conditions for all 9,400 students. Negotiations weren’t over wages and benefits, according to the California Educator—both sides came to an agreement on those a year ago. Instead, educators bargained for more music programs for kindergarten kids and the restoration of music instruction for third graders.

The contract also includes district-paid induction costs for new teachers, which help to recruit and retain committed teachers. For new teachers, this goes a long way.

“Being a new teacher is hard enough without having to pay extra costs,” says Angela Quitasol, a science teacher at Sierra Middle School. “I’m so grateful to get reimbursed for the fees that I’ve already paid and that I won’t have to pay any more next year.”

Additionally, each K-8 class districtwide will receive a “classroom budget” of no less than $400. This will cover classroom supplies needed for students to be successful. Previously the amount would vary: some classrooms received only $100 while others received $400.

Wins like these don’t happen overnight. It takes time and intentional effort to engage members. LUTA President Tiffany Fuhrmeister said to the California Educator that “the victory wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of all LUTA educators to fighting side-by-side for each other, their students, and the Lincoln Unified community.”

And when Fuhrmeister says “all,” she means all.

‘Let’s Empower People’

With small local unions, it’s not uncommon for a handful of leaders to task themselves with all of the work. LUTA leaders, however, made a long-term investment and a commitment in making the local more democratic by empowering its members to run their own contract bargaining.

Two years ago, NEA’s Center for Organizing and the California Teachers Association partnered with a few northern Golden State locals to help develop campaigns around their contract negotiations. With guidance from the national and state affiliates, LUTA leaders shifted its negotiation’s structure to include more voices in their decision-making process. This included parents, education support professionals, and new teachers.

“We keep talking about this notion of collective action,” says Fuhrmeister, an elementary school teacher with nearly 20 years of experience. “There are all these people who want to get involved and have deep-rooted insight on what their students need. If we’re going to empower people, let’s empower people.”

Additionally, public forums were held, school-site visits were scheduled, and a campaign plan was built to address the concerns of parents and educators throughout the district.

“Having three or four people wasn’t enough. We expanded the bargaining team to 25 people. This allowed us to focus on school- and student-friendly platforms, as well as speak on behalf of our entire membership.”

Inclusivity and the openness to share leadership roles have gone a long way. Initially, during the first public forum in the spring of 2018, 120 LUTA members were in attendance—less than half of the overall membership. By fall of the same year, after the new bargaining format was adopted, a board action drew 350 members to the meeting.

What’s next for LUTA? With Election Day fast approaching, the local now has the experience to organize around upcoming school board elections, as well as state and federal races.

“A teachers’ union is only as strong as its members. We need to continue to know our worth, the worth of our students, and the worth of our profession,” Fuhrmeister said. “This is just the beginning of a new day at [Lincoln Unified School District].”

On the Opposite Side of the Country

With more than 950 students, the Newport School District in New Hampshire prides itself on its small-town flavor: school Halloween parades down Main Street; Homecomings at the high school and the bonfires that follow; and pancake breakfasts to salute veterans. But even small districts like these go through difficult contract negotiations.

Previously, members of the Newport Teachers Association (NTA), a local of nearly 100 members, would go one year with a contract and then without the following year.

This swaying pattern lasted ten years, until this past March, when the district, local, and the town’s voting bloc approved a three-contract. (In New Hampshire, collective-bargaining agreements require voter approval.)

The main issue was teacher pay. The yo-yo effect of the bargaining agreement created a lag in salaries. Teachers were between one and eight steps behind the salary schedule. For small locals like Newport, this is “crippling.”

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, for example, the district saw a 33 percent teacher turnover (33 of 100 teachers left). Some of them were new teachers who left a few weeks after the school year started. These turnovers left huge gaps in special education and elementary school positions.

“Teachers would turn down jobs once they found out what they were going to get paid—despite their years of experience and credentials,” says Melissa Mitchler, a 22-year veteran math teacher and co-president of the local association. “This was crippling the district’s ability to hire. It was crippling our profession because over time we were losing money to rising health-care costs, and it was crippling our students, who struggled to connect with new teachers every year.”

What Changed After a Decade?

Similar to California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association, the Newport local began to plan and organize long before leaders met with the district and voters. NTA Co-Presidents Mitchler and Lisa Ferrigno, an elementary school teacher with 14 years of experience, recruited more rank-and-file members, as well as community members, to be involved in their negotiation efforts.

NEA-New Hampshire staff offered guidance and support every step of the way, including a fact-finding brief that was hard to disprove. Additionally, a partnership with American Votes helped the local create a solid campaign plan that included targeted post cards, walking sheets for door-knocking efforts, and visibility via lawn signs. The local’s leadership attended select school board meeting, budget committee meeting, and took to the air waves to enlist public support.

Together, the trio launched a massive organizing effort that led to winning a three-year contract. The contract was its own item on the ballot, which included the school district budget and the collective-bargaining agreement for the Newport Support Staff Association. In March, more than 1,000 voters hit the polls. It was the largest voter turnout for a school budget vote on record, according to reports from district officials. NTA’s three-year agreement passed by 17 votes (629 to 612). The contract for support staff also passed and was a significant win.

The first-year cost of the contract, including salary and benefits is listed at $347,000. The second year is $301,000 and the last year is $140,000. At the end of the third year, all staff will be on a step that properly equates to their years of experience, instead of being one to eight steps behind.

“While this was momentous for the district, the association, and for our students,” says Ferrigno, “this is just the first step toward bringing our district pay closer in line with neighboring districts. We have more work to do to keep teachers in the profession, giving our students consistency in their education.”

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Energizing Educator Activism With Art Build

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

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

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

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

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

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

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

Ashley Whyte

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

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

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

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

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How Closing Schools Traumatizes Students and Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

closing schools and race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School

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

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How Does Only One Nurse Keep 1,750 Students Healthy and Safe?

There are about 37,000 students in Oakland, Calif., public schools.

And 22 school nurses.

“It’s challenging. It’s nerve-wracking,” says Oakland school nurse Liz Hurt. “Nurses are going to work and they’re afraid. They’re just praying to get to Friday with nothing bad happening!”

The extreme lack of school nurses to keep Oakland students safe and healthy is just one of the reasons that the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) have been on strike since February 21. Their demands at the bargaining table also include smaller class sizes, and greater student access to school psychologists, counselors, and teacher-librarians. (There are just four credentialed teacher-librarians in the district.)

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

As school nurses come and go, the average caseload per nurse in Oakland is about 1,750 students, says OEA. It’s at least 1,000 more students per nurse than the minimum recommendation, which is at least one nurse per school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or one nurse per 750 students in “healthy student populations,” says the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). In places with high rates of poverty, hunger, and environmental stresses, NASN cautions, children will have more health issues and need more nurses.

That sounds a lot like Oakland, where 75 percent of students live below the federal poverty line, an increasing number live in homeless encampments called tent cities, and environmental hazards aren’t rare. In 2017, while researching Oakland’s sky-high rate of hospitalizations among children with asthma, a San José State University student found that seven of 10 schools in Oakland Unified are located 500 feet from a major freeway. Meanwhile, Oakland also has several industrial chemical and fuel release sites that may affect public health, an Alameda County Public Health Department analysis found.

Not surprisingly, as of 2015, nearly one in five children in Oakland had asthma. More than 700 students have severe allergies, 50 have diabetes, and almost 30 have sickle cell disease.

“We’re an urban district,” explains Hurt. “The incidence rate of everything—all pathology—is much greater here… Our asthma rate is higher. Our Type 1 diabetes is very high and growing. Lots of severe allergies. And we also have families who move here for the great medical care and climate for sickle-cell disease.”

The Life of a School Nurse

Hurt’s work begins with about 1,250 children in two schools perched along the fault line in Oakland’s hills—one elementary, one middle. These include “numerous children who are medically fragile, in wheelchairs for cerebral palsy or paralysis, or traumatic injuries, some the result of violence. Some are dependent on procedures, like catheterization every three hours, some require regular insulin…” she says.

Caring for those 1,250 students already represent a job and a half, but that’s not nearly the total of her work. The district is supposed to have 30 nurses—eight positions are currently vacant —so the 22 nurses also take up the schools and students that should be covered by absent colleagues. (Even if the district filled those jobs, the staffing ratio would be a still unacceptable 1,350 students per nurse.)

Oakland school nurse Liz Hurt

The nurses are constantly running from school to school, trying to distribute medications and treatments on time, attempting to triage the most critical cases. In their absence, in case of emergency, untrained office staff or school security staff may have to step in, says Hurt. “I got a call once about a kid who was having trouble breathing. I came in and his eyes were puffy, his face is all blown up, and I said, ‘this is a severe allergic reaction!’”

On top of that, school nursing today isn’t just patient care. Every week, Hurt and the others spend days working to develop accommodations for medical 504 plans, as well as all the individualized health plans that are developed for kids with leukemia, cancer, seizures, and other chronic diseases. They’re also responsible for vision and hearing screenings of every student, and work with families to get dental care, mental-health treatment, and proper nutrition. In Oakland, this is complicated by the 50 languages spoken in students’ homes.

“Time for lunch?” Hurt laughs. “During lunch time is when you’re providing direct care for students with diabetes. Most of us don’t take lunch, and definitely not breaks!”

The job is unfair. Unrealistic. Underpaid. And, under current conditions, undesirable. Many dozens of school nurses have come and gone from Oakland schools over the past six years, says Hurt. “The new people come in, see what’s going on, and say, ‘There’s no way!’ and then they leave.”

But the job also is so, so, so important to keeping kids healthy, in school, and learning. When a school nurse is present, researchers found, school principals gain nearly an hour and teachers gain an extra 20 minutes a day to focus on education instead of asthma inhalers. School nurses also are linked to better student attendance, which, in turn, is linked to better reading skills, higher graduation rates, and more.

It can be a life-or-death matter. In 2014, two student deaths in Philadelphia were linked to insufficient school nursing levels.

In late September, months before OEA members went on strike, school nurses and teachers showed up at an Oakland school board meeting to demand more nurses and to share statements from parents and pediatricians.

“You need to take this seriously,” Oakland Education Association treasurer Deirdre Snyder told the board. “You’re going to be sued by some parent! It’s a travesty. I have seen seizures in my room, all kinds of problems, more and more as the years go on. You cannot pretend this isn’t happening. You need to act now.”

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Educators Focus Attention on Merit Pay’s Glaring Failures

Pay for performance for teachers has been an unsound idea for decades. In Denver last week, educators put another nail in its coffin.

In the streets, on rally stages, and in marches outside more than 100 Denver schools, more than 3,700 educators delivered a potent message: Enough with Denver’s unreliable, unpredictable bonus-pay system. Teachers and students deserve a fair, transparent, and professional salary schedule that delivers stability to their classrooms.

“Bonuses have not proven effective, and our students are paying the price,” warned Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) President Henry Roman.

Not anymore. When the two-day strike ended, teachers had won a clear 20-step salary schedule that includes a 7 to 11 percent increase in base pay, plus cost of living raises, and the opportunity to earn more through professional development. Their strike had essentially gutted ProComp, a Denver-specific “professional compensation” system that had made teacher pay so unpredictable from year to year that teachers said they couldn’t qualify for mortgages.

Hailed as a ground-breaking national model for merit pay, ProComp was introduced in 2005, after negotiations between the district and Denver union, as a way of getting more money into educators’ hands. But, as the system developed, educators couldn’t predict their pay from year to year, and the size of the bonuses decreased.

Meanwhile, teacher turnover is through the roof as Denver’s educators leave for higher, more predictable pay elsewhere.

“What we got given is a system of Wall Street-style bonuses that mask the erosion of our salaries,” high school math teacher Jeff Buck—the first teacher to sign up for ProComp—told Chalkbeat. “People have finally figured that out. It’s why people are angry.”

DCTA’s furious rebuttal should serve as warning to other school boards or policy makers who want to resurrect, or double down on merit pay. “There is not one school district in the country that is going to look at Denver and think, ‘Oh, I think I’ll try that.’ No. They should have stopped this and changed this years ago, and they didn’t. And this is the result,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told Chalkbeat, while standing near the picket line last week.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses a rally for striking teachers in Denver.

Why Merit Pay for Teachers Should Be Avoided

Research—and common sense—has turned up a myriad of reasons why merit pay doesn’t work in education. Here are just a few:

  • Merit pay systems assume educators aren’t working as hard or smart as possible, and they need a little extra motivation to get the job done. This is hilarious. If teachers were motivated by pay, they wouldn’t be teachers. Writes retired teacher Peter Greene: “A merit pay system…imagines a world full of teachers who sit at their desk thinking, ‘I have the perfect lesson for teaching pronouns right over there in my filing cabinet—but I’m not going to get it out until someone offers me a bonus.”
  • When it comes to measuring success in schools, policy makers often look at student test scores. (These standardized tests are imperfect measures of student learning, and an even worse measure of teacher performance.) Among other issues, this focus on test scores has led to a narrowing of the curriculum—if it’s not tested, it’s not taught—and a handful of cheating scandals. Also, it overlooks all the things that teachers do for students that never show up on state standardized tests, like teaching art or music or physical education, not to mention mentoring their dreams or sustaining their creativity.
  • Teaching is a profession dependent on a network of teaching professionals, in which an individual student’s learning and academic achievement is gained over time through contact with many different teachers and other educators.
  • “Merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork. It corrupts the culture of a school,” writes education historian Diane Ravitch in the Washington Post. Teachers work best when they work together—say, planning lessons as a grade or department or strategizing as a team over a particular student’s challenges. But merit pay creates a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques. This is especially true because, with the exception of the wealthiest districts, there is always a limited pool of money for merit pay. Thus, the number-one way teachers learn their craft—learning from their colleagues—is shut down. If you think we have turnover problems in teaching now, wait until new teachers have no one to turn to.

What Works When it Comes to Educator Pay?

It’s not a mystery what works when it comes to educator pay. Teachers must be paid a professional base salary, similar to other professionals. A well-constructed, single salary schedule that provides professional pay at its base, uniform and understandable steps, and as few steps as possible, has many benefits.

For one thing, it promotes equity. It ensures that pay will be based on objective criteria, like experience, rather than, say, gender. It promotes collaboration, instead of competition, among teaching colleagues. And, unlike Denver’s confusing labyrinth system, it’s transparent and predictable. You won’t have to guess in September what your pay will be in June.

For local unions that want to explore alternatives, NEA also supports the NEA Professional Growth Salary Framework (PGSF), which can provide a career ladder for teachers who seek new skills and responsibilities without leaving behind their students. Under this framework, educators can receive pay raises for taking on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring their colleagues, or improving their skills, say, through National Board Certification. To be effective, these career ladder systems must be adequately funded.

PGSF works. A single salary schedule works. And yet, despite the evidence, some policymakers still talk about merit pay and onetime bonuses as if they work, too. This fall, a Florida Education Association (FEA) review of teacher job vacancies found 4,063 job vacancies in the state. Even now, Florida still needs to hire 2,200 teachers. Earlier this month, Florida’s new governor proposed using bonuses to solve the shortage.

It’s not a promising idea. Nearly 40 percent of new teachers in Florida leave their jobs within five years, according to state records—a rate 15 to 20 percent higher than the national average. They need mentors, professional supports, and livable, professional pay.

With an average teacher salary of about $47,000 in 2017, Florida ranks 45th in the U.S. for teacher pay, according to NEA’s 2018 Rankings and Estimates. “A bonus package does nothing to impact teachers being paid 45th in the nation and we know that and the Governor knows that,” said Florida Education Association President Fredrick Ingram.

Teacher Pay Gap Reaches a Record High
teacher payThe overdue national attention on the erosion of teacher salaries across the nation couldn’t come at a more urgent time. According to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the teacher pay penalty – the percent by which public school educators are paid less than comparable workers – has reached an all-time high.

Educators Push Teacher Pay Into National Spotlight

The widening pay inequities endured by educators for too long are finally front and center. So are the reckless tax cuts that helped create the crisis. “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 economist. 

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At the Border, Teachers Protest Detention, Separation of Children

(photo: Rebeca Logan)

On a makeshift stage in El Paso, Texas, former Texas Teacher of the Year Leslie Anaya delivered a message to the roughly 15,000 immigrant children who are held captive in federal detention centers, where they are denied an education and separated from their mothers, fathers, and anybody else who loves them.

“Don’t cry,” she said. “Sing. Sing because you have so many people fighting for you, so many teachers who won’t stop fighting to make sure you’re treated humanely and that your families will be together.”

Hundreds of NEA members, including dozens of state Teachers of the Year, were in El Paso on Saturday, Feb. 17, for the “Teach-In for Freedom,” an all-day event organized by Teachers Against Child Detention (TACD) and led by National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning to protest the inhumane detention of children and the criminalization of immigrant families.

“All children deserve to be in school,” Manning said. “All children have endless potential and deserve to reach that potential. All children deserve to be free.”

Educators and others have been outraged by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant and refugee children as young as 18 months old from their parents. Detained in more than 100 government detention centers across 17 states, these children have been denied access to public education, and likely will suffer irreparable, lifelong psychological damage, educators said. The practice also violates their fundamental right to seek asylum.

“The NEA family believes children belong with their families—not in cages,” said NEA Executive Committee member Robert Rodriguez, a California middle school special educator, to the crowd who gathered in El Paso’s San Jacinto Square. “We demand that the U.S. government never separate children from their families. Not at the border. Not ever!”

Since the Trump administration began its practice of separating children from their parents, NEA has made four specific humanitarian demands:

  • The U.S. government never separate children from their parents—not at border crossing, not in detention proceedings, not ever.
  • Immigrant children be provided with at least six hours of language-appropriate classroom instruction every day.
  • Child detention centers be open to visits from doctors, teachers, social workers, clergy, and other children’s advocates.
  • The U.S. government comply with the guidelines for basic standards of care for children, as set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We have a moral responsibility to protect these children, especially these innocent immigrant children who are fleeing violence and war,” said Illinois teacher Gladys Marquez, chair of the NEA Hispanic Caucus. “Our actions matter. Our leadership matters. There must not be any doubt about where we stand.”

A Teach-In for Freedom

Across nine hours, as the sun made its way from one side to the other of the El Paso square, more than a dozen teachers from across the U.S. provided lessons on the history of immigration in the U.S., how asylum works, detention centers today, and more. They shared art, poetry, songs and letters written by their students, making sure their voices also were heard.

Although the data is hard to track, and the U.S. government has admitted to “losing track” of at least a thousand children, an estimated 15,000 children are being held today, found New Jersey Teacher of the Year Amy Andersen.

Ovidia Molina

The trauma of being forcibly separated from their mothers and fathers will be a lifelong burden, said Texas State Teachers Association vice president Ovidia Molina. She knows this because she was separated from her mother for four years when her mother first came to the U.S. to seek a better life. “It is still traumatic for me to have been separated from my mother, and I was with family that loved me and supported me. Imagine the trauma that the children today are going through!”

Carrying a photo of herself as a child, Molina told the crowd, “This is the face of an immigrant… This is not the face of a criminal. This is not the face of a person who needs to be in a cage.”

Kelly Holstein, Minnesota Teacher of the Year, also explained the proven psychological and educational consequences of traumatic experiences in childhood. “I have met hundreds of students who struggle because of trauma and it breaks my heart,” she said. “Please help us make this country better for our kids—all our kids, whether they’re documented or not—because all our kids are all our kids.”

The hundreds of educators and allies who attended the teach-in are committed to making a difference for all children, they said. Their fight didn’t end at sunset. “We’re not here for the free t-shirts or the selfies,” said Utah’s Chelsie Acosta, a 2017 NEA Social Justice Activist of the Year nominee. “Don’t just post and go home and be comfortable. Don’t ever get comfortable. Because the 200 to 300 families dropped off every day at one of these centers? They’re not going to be comfortable ever.”

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Denver Teachers Strike for Fair, Livable Pay

Teachers carry placards as they walk a picket line outside South High School early Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Denver. The strike on Monday is the first for teachers in Colorado in 25 years after failed negotiations with the school district over base pay. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

After 15 fruitless, frustrating months at the bargaining table, Denver teachers and education support professionals went on strike Monday, in an all-out effort for a fair, transparent, and professional salary plan that pays all teachers a living wage at the base level.

“For 15 months, we have shouted this injustice from the rooftops, but the district has chosen to ignore us… We have been saying for a year, ‘Our students deserve teachers who can afford to stay in Denver. Our teachers and SSPs [specialized service providers] deserve predictable, livable salaries,’” said Denver teacher Rachel Sandoval.

“You chose to ignore us for 15 months—but can you hear us now?”

By mid-afternoon Monday, after morning rallies and marches across the city, thousands of Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) members, parents, students, and other supporters had gathered on the west steps of the state Capitol where DCTA’s “#Red4Ed Rally Band” rallied the crowd and speakers included NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and Colorado Education Association (CEA) President Amie Baca-Oehlert.

“Let me tell you..the union is your power,” Eskelsen García told DCTA members. “The power of this union is to love somebody else’s child, to care about the future of Denver public schools. You should be so proud of yourselves! You are going to win!

This is the first teachers’ strike in Denver in 25 years, and it follows #RedforEd strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Washington, Alabama, and elsewhere, and a six-day strike last month by the United Teachers of Los Angeles that led to class-size reductions, limits on testing, and increased access to school nurses, counselors and librarians.

“I’ve been to West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles. You are a little bit unique here in Denver. Here you’re saying, ‘Can I just know what I’m going to be paid?’” said Eskelsen García. “But let me tell you what you have in common. You’re part of a powerful national movement, and what I’ve seen across the country, from the poorest rural communities in West Virginia to the inner-city of Los Angeles, I have seen people who have worked, in good faith, and been ignored… and they’re taking their voice to the people.”

In Denver, much of the problem stems from its commitment to a complicated, unique-to-Denver pay plan called Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp. Started in 1999, ProComp aims to use salary bonuses to reward teachers for performance. But the bonuses have proven to be unpredictable and confusing, and overall pay remains low—even as Denver becomes one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.

As a result, too many Denver teachers are leaving their students and classrooms to go to higher-paid districts nearby, or leave the profession altogether. This kind of teacher turnover is harmful to their students, union leaders point out.

“Bonuses have not proven effective, and our students are paying the price,” said DCTA President Henry Roman. And yet, said Roman and DCTA lead negotiator Rob Gould, DPS has refused to accept the union’s proposals at the bargaining table, which would fix ProComp.

Consider DCTA member Katie McOwen, a sixth-grade math teacher who also nannies during the summer, who told CNN this week that she’s moving into a friend’s basement at the end of this month to save money. She drives a nearly 20-year-old Honda with 310,000 miles, and says, “I know if something really happens, I will be in big, big trouble.”

On Tuesday, the union’s bargaining team and a DPS team return to the negotiating table. “Bring us a proposal tomorrow that has a fair, transparent, and competitive salary schedule, that prioritizes base salary over bonuses that disrupt our students’ education!” said Baca-Oehlert. “Settle this contract now, so that we can go back to doing what we love, to our students who we love!”


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Black Lives Matter at School Spotlights Racial Justice in Education

(photo: Kristopher Radder-Brattleboro Reformer)

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and a member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)/Washington Education Association (WEA). As co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, he helped organize Black Lives Matter at School (BLM at School), a national coalition of educators organizing for racial justice in education. Coalition leaders have encouraged educators, students, parents, union members, community leaders and others to join their annual “week of action,” this year set for February 4-8.

Hagopian explains the beginnings, objectives, and ever-widening scope of BLM at School.

Tell us how Black Lives Matter at School started as a grassroots movement.

JH: October 19, 2016, marked our formal beginning when thousands of educators arrived at John Muir Elementary School here in Seattle wearing shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the state of violence and assault against women in the U.S.

What role did educators play during the movement’s early stages?

JH:  Teachers, education support professionals (ESP), and community members came together in solidarity. It was educators at the school, along with a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative, who expressed an interest in organizing an event to celebrate black students early that school year. An art teacher, Julie Trout, designed a beautiful shirt that said “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together.” When white nationalists found out about these activities, they sent hate mail to the school. One hateful person made a bomb threat on the school.

How did you and SEA respond to the October 19 event?

JH:  Way before our day of action, several members of SEA’s social justice caucus, which we call social equity educators, met with educators at John Muir about the event. At SEA, we passed a resolution in support of this day of action, but we weren’t sure if people would really follow through and take action on October 19. Then the T-shirt orders started coming in, first by the hundreds and then the thousands. We ended up with somewhere around 3,000 educators in Seattle out of 5,000 who went to their schools wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Many educators taught lessons about institutional racism that day. What’s incredible is that educators in Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia saw what we had done and organized their own BLM at School actions independent of us. Philly educators were the first to expand the day of action to a whole week of action.

That must have made you very proud.

JH:  Yes. We began coordinating with them in 2017 to have a national Black Lives Matter at School Week. Word got around. Last year, thousands of teachers in 20 cities across the country participated in the week of action.

How do leaders and activists in different states coordinate events related to BLM at Schools?

JH:  We communicate and organize around monthly national conference calls that anyone who supports the mission and goals of the movement can join. Through elections, we identified a steering committee that helps organize various activities and agendas for other various committees that have been formed. We have a curriculum committee, and a student creative challenge committee that helps kids create art that can inspire people to join this movement. We have a media committee, an outreach committee. It’s being organized predominantly by educators and some parents around the country who are doing this for free and with no budget.

How is NEA involved?

JH:  We got NEA to vote to support BLM at School week, for example. Many different union locals are also passing resolutions and debating these issues out city by city. There’s a tremendous amount of power in bringing together social issues and anti-racist movements with the power of labor. We’re beginning to see the red state teachers’ revolt move into blue states. I think the union’s ability to bring in issues of over-policing of black and brown kids into the message about fighting for funding and teacher pay will help them be successful in winning that strike and transforming public education.

black lives matter at school

Jesse Hagopian (courtesy of Jesse Hagopian)

What’s behind the new item this year that appears on some of your materials:  Fund Counselors Not Cops?

JH:  In 2018, various groups coalesced as a national movement. We identified three demands: End zero-tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; hire more black teachers and offer black history and ethnic studies in the schools. In addition, we broke down the guiding principles of the BLM Global Network into teaching points for each day of the week. This year, we added a fourth demand, which is “fund counselors not cops.”

The demand is a response to the growing movement in this country introduced by a group called, Dignity in Schools. There are numerous examples over the last couple of years of brutality that some police bring into our schools. Recently, the ACLU won a settlement for third graders in Kentucky who were handcuffed by police officers … not around the wrists because their wrists were too small but instead around the biceps. These were special needs kids, Latino and black, who were having some trouble. Instead of getting help, they were further traumatized. We are now in a situation in America where there are 1.6 million children who go to a school that doesn’t have a counselor but that does have a police officer.

NEA: What are you hoping to accomplish regarding this year’s week of action?

JH:  We hope to engage tens of thousands of students across the country in lessons that illuminate the 13 principles of the BLM movement. In addition, we hope to help transform unions so they see how much more powerful our movements can be if we challenge anti-black racism head on, and bring in black struggle and incorporate it into the union struggle. With that in mind, one of the new features this year is that we’re calling on educators, students, parents and community members to hold rallies in their cities on Wednesday, or a day that makes sense for their local, at their school board building or city hall. We are asking for support of our four demands. We hope that this direct action and rally will pressure school districts to make the reforms that are so desperately needed.

National Demands for BLM in School Week of Action

End Zero Tolerance. Focus our Schools on Restorative Justice
The over-policing, out of control suspensions, and expulsions must be brought to an immediate end. To rebuild our structures, we will focus our resources on restorative justice-the organic appointment of community leaders; mediation and processing; and equitable perspectives on rehabilitation. Ending zero tolerance and focusing our schools around restorative justice will honor an autonomous voice and vision for students, staff and faculty.

Hire More Black Teachers in our Schools
Nine U.S. cities demonstrate a rapid decline in the number of Black Teachers: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. We must increase teacher retention and opportunities for teachers of color.

Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12
A classroom is incomplete if there is only one history taught to its students. The exclusion of Black History and Ethnic studies curriculum must end. Our students of color deserve to feel empowered in the classroom, by seeing themselves in the curriculum and reading materials. Black History and Ethnic Studies must be included in K-12 classrooms.

Fund Counselors Not Cops

This demand is simple: children need counselors not cops. Schools today spend an enormous amount of their financial resources hiring school resource officers and local police officers. These same schools often lack enough counselors for students to receive the support they need. The reality is our schools need counselors for children. The amount of racial trauma and adverse childhood experiences Black students experience continues to increase. We demand that schools provide counselors who have manageable caseloads that allow them to provide quality service to all students.

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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 atwww.neaalaska.org/earthquake.

“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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#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 AL.com. 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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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

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

NEA Resources

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

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

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)




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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 myschoolmyvoice.nea.org 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 blackeducationmatters.org 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 SeeEducatorsRun.org.

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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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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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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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