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President’s Viewpoint: Why Politics

To hold elected leaders accountable for great public schools.

As public education advocates, we have a responsibility to make our voices heard on the issues that impact our students, our schools, and our communities. Great public schools for every child is a vision worth fighting for, and achieving this vision requires the highest level of commitment.

We must be prepared to put ourselves on the frontlines and commit to political involvement to ensure a quality education for our students. We are in a powerful position to make great public schools a reality for all children and students, but only to the extent that we elect candidates who support public education and the work that we do.

Some of our colleagues think it is unprofessional of us to climb into the political arena and would rather focus attention solely on their students and schools. While I respect the devotion behind this sentiment, I only wish it were that simple. We choose to ignore politics at our own peril. Education decisions—from those made by local school boards to those made in state capitols and on Capitol Hill—rest in the hands of politicians. We  have a professional duty to support our friends who stand up for children and public education, and retire those who stand in the way of continued progress.

Team NEA, this is what membership is all about! We speak up together for our profession and our students. We bargain together so that we don’t have to stand alone. And we work together to elect the candidates who will invest in our schools, colleges, and universities.
Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or independents, public education is being challenged from every direction. We are battling the worst cuts to federal education funding in a decade, and we have lived with the negative consequences of the so-called No Child Left Behind law for almost five years. From school vouchers to privatization to TABOR and the “65 Percent” plan, our state affiliates are fighting to defend public education from hostile forces.

But friends, now is the time to act. The midterm elections are right around the corner. We have the best chance we’ve had in years to organize, mobilize, and rally behind the issues that unite us.

Protecting the basic right of every child to a great public school means stepping up as never before and electing leaders who will work with us to close the gaps in student achievement; sustain and expand upon our relationships with ethnic minority communities; improve upon the salary and wages of teachers, education support professionals, and college faculty; realize school funding that is adequate and equitable; and effect meaningful changes during the upcoming reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Your leadership and advocacy begin in your schools and classrooms, but they don’t end there. Educate your community about the connection between public education and politics. Convince your colleagues that elections do have consequences. And make sure your family and friends are not only registered to vote but actually go to the polls on election day.

If we stand on the sidelines, we will allow the opponents of public education free reign to undermine our work and dictate our future and the future of our nation.  With 3.2 million members, NEA is the largest professional employee organization in the history of this nation! We have a tremendous ability to positively influence public education and a responsibility to make a difference.

In this election, we need for you to actually become involved.  We need for you to give it your all by working tirelessly to elect pro-public education candidates. Team NEA, we can make a difference for students and public education.  Your help in doing so is critical and will be very much appreciated!

—Reg Weaver

Photo: Rick Runion/NEA

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