NEA's 2014 Back to School Tour
It's the start of the new school year and the National Education Association (NEA) is on the road for its 2014 Back to School tour!
Lily Eskelsen García, the newly elected NEA President who takes office on September 1, and other NEA leaders are traveling across the country to meet with members, students and community partners to raise awareness on issues affecting the nation’s public schools.
NEA's 2014 Back to School Tour kicked off in California with President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García, beginning with a call for schools all children deserve, joining the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the California Teachers Association in meetings with members, ethnic communities, and the press.
The tour continued in Los Angeles with a meeting with higher education faculty, students and Association members at California State University (CSU) Northridge, followed by a news conference on Degrees Not Debt.
Read the story on neatoday.org: NEA Back to School Tour Spotlights College Affordability Crisis
Then it was off to Oakland where Eskelsen García spent the afternoon with leaders and members of the Oakland Education Association. She was joined by Oakland Education Association President Trish Gorham, California Teachers Association (CTA) President Dean Vogel, andState Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson to officially launch CTA's Degrees Not Debt campaign.
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The day ended with a packed house for the Oakland Education Association's Rep. Council where CTA President Dean Vogel, Supt. Torlakson, and Eskelsen García addressed the members on topics including college affordability and toxic testing.
The tour wrapped up in the Bay Area with a visit to Paul Revere PreK - 8 School in San Francisco where Eskelsen García and CTA leaders met with United Educators of San Francisco leaders to tour the school, visit with members and read to kindergartners followed by a news conference with the Alameda Education Association at the Alameda Community Learning Center where CTA is organizing educators at the charter school for their first contract.
With her daughters—Samantha, 4, and Brette, 3 weeks old—in tow, Bernadette Blackburn, a U.S. history teacher at Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, Va. was busy preparing for her students to return to school when she received a special visit from Joey Mathews, president of the Loudoun Education Association (LEA), and Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer-elect of the National Education Association (NEA).
As part of NEA’s Back-to-School tour, the two education leaders spent the day going from classroom to classroom to greet and encourage educators to make it there best year yet.
While Rosemary Etuk, an English teacher, says she’s looking forward to "an exciting year," Anne Tulloch, a first year English teacher, says she’s excited about sharing some of her favorite authors, like G.K. Chesterton, with her incoming students.
Most educators were upbeat during the classroom visits. However, some expressed concern over the issue of underfunding. In the past three years, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has underfunded the school system by over $70 million, which has resulted in the elimination of summer school and after school bus activity; delays in full-day kindergarten expansion; larger class sizes; and delayed technology upgrades.
At Tuscarora, an outdated technology infrastructure means that when students take the Standards of Learning test, the Commonwealth’s computerized standardized test, the school must shut down all Internet services to avoid bandwidth overload.
Moss says, "Don’t ask us to do something without providing the right support."
Mathews explains that many of the local school district leaders "don’t believe education is an investment; they think it’s a public burden," which is why the local association has set out to inform and engage the public to get involved in county school budget processes.
Loudoun is the second richest county in the nation, boasting an annual median household income of $118,650. With this kind of economic status comes growth, and the county has become one of the fastest growing school districts in the country. Tuscarora, for example, was built five years ago with the capacity to hold 1800 students. Today, the school holds about 2200 students.
With the amount of wealth flowing in Loudoun, "we should not be talking about underfunding our public schools," says Mathews. "But that’s where we’re at."
However, that’s not where he plans to stay. Instead, Mathews is out organizing, creating awareness, and collecting voices from members and the community to share with the school board members and board of supervisors.
Last year, the LEA presented to dozens of local organizations to inform community members on how the school budget is structured, as well as garner their support to fully fund public schools. More than 2200 signatures were collected and nearly 100 testimonials were submitted from parents, taxpayers, and educators on the affects of underfunding public education.
Mathews believes the effort was successful, as cuts to last year’s budget didn’t run as deep as previous years. Another win for LEA included reducing class sizes by at the elementary school level, step increases, and making the pay scale more competitive to prevent educators from going to neighboring counties where the salary is higher.
With schools starting after Labor Day, Mathews says this is just the beginning of LEA’s organizing efforts, saying that "we have to organize" to change things in a dynamic way.
"Today was a great beginning," says Moss. "We got some new members in the organization and I’m excited about the possibilities in tying these recruitment and engagement efforts to a community organizing effort."
By Brenda Alvarez
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