The Future is Now
NEA members can influence the fall election and, ultimately, the winners.
Who will win the 2008 presidential election? Whose Administration will NEA work with over the next four years?
In the coming weeks leading up to Election Day, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says NEA members have the opportunity to affect the political outcome of this election and the future of public schools by doing what educators do best: educate. Specifically, educate political candidates and their staffs about education issues.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel shown here with former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Warner.
"Whether it's about specific policies that could come up in the next U.S. Congress or the reauthorization of ESEA [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act], it's a fantastic opportunity to influence outcomes," he says. "At all levels, [policymakers] are our greatest champions for what our members need."
Van Roekel says members should build relationships with politicians at the national, state, and local levels as a means for not only getting them to understand us, but the other way around as well.
"We sometimes have unreal expectations of politicians," he says, "that they're supposed to know every issue that crosses their desks. That's just an unfair expectation."
Van Roekel is asking NEA members to make an effort to meet policymakers at all levels, including school board members, and establish a spirit of collaboration that looks past the rhetoric, haze, and clutter of politics.
"I see my role as a lobbyist for education as more of a teaching role," he says. "Our members are so good at talking to these folks, telling them, 'If you pass this law in this form, here's how it impacts me in my classroom.' A policymaker needs to know how that law affects the educator."
As for the presidential candidates, they've been introduced to members through their voting records, campaign communications, debates, and biographies. From intense media coverage and scrutiny, educators have learned their positions on the most pressing domestic and foreign issues. From the speeches and interviews during the national party conventions, members got to know the families and personal lives of the candidates, which Van Roekel says is vital to analyzing their views about education.
"It's important that we get to know [the candidates] as people—where they came from, the challenges they faced, and what brought them to this point," he says.
As we have gotten to know the candidates, it is now up to members to help them and their staffs know us, he says. It will be worth it not only to the nation's 44th President, but also to students, schools, and NEA's 3.2 million members.
"There's a whole renewed energy and passion about this election," Van Roekel says. "We have the power to force the change we desire for our schools and our students long after the votes have been counted in November."
"At all levels, [policymakers] are our greatest champions for what our members need." —Dennis Van roekel
Gaining Momentum Toward Fair Pay
Last legislative session, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) won significant funding boosts for K–12 schools, area education agencies, and community colleges. ISEA was successful in getting the following language included in the Iowa Code: "It is the goal of this state that every employee of a public school corporation be provided with a competitive living wage." Following the code change, education support professionals (ESPs) of the Des Moines Education Association formed a living wage steering committee.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association is collaborating with the Pocono Mountain ESP Association, a 519-member local in the northeast part of the state, on a "pilot" living wage campaign in preparation for their upcoming bargaining session. Ninety percent of ESPs in the Pocono Mountain district earn less than a living wage. To garner support, ESPs are sending letters to the editor and gathering signatures on community-wide petitions, which they plan to present to school board members.
In 2006, 400 ESP members of the Memphis Education Association (MEA), without legal bargaining rights, negotiated Tennessee's first-ever ESP contract. The contract established a $10-per-hour minimum wage for educational assistants among other advances. The agreement also provided for salary reopeners in 2007 and 2008. Among MEA's goals this year: a living wage with a cost-of-living provision; wage equity with ESPs in nearby Shelby County; paid ESP training during the hours teachers get in-service professional development; and pay equity among several similar ESP titles.
Campaigning Against Eduaction Budget Cuts
A school bus emblazoned with the words "Cuts Hurt" went on a six-week tour throughout California last spring. Teachers, parents, and students met the bus at rallies along the way. It was a show-of-strength tour sponsored by the California Teachers Association (CTA), 340,000 strong, to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts to education. The tour featured a band called the "Tired Angry Teachers" at some stops. At the time, Schwarzenegger's budget proposal for this fiscal year included cuts of $4.8 billion from public education. In response, CTA sponsored an advertising campaign and news conferences focusing on the 14,000 pink slips or layoff notices sent to teachers. The number of actual layoffs was not known at press time. Currently, 52 percent of California's budget is spent on education.
Meanwhile, NEA-New Hampshire (NEA-NH) helped defeat a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to renege on its constitution's promise to fund an adequate education for every child. The proposal was kept off a fall ballot by a vote in the House of Representatives of 97-238. The legislative contact campaign allowed members to sign a petition electronically and forward a voice message from NEA-NH President Rhonda Wesolowski to their legislators.
Children and Public Education
NEA Members instrumental in election outcome
Through unprecedented grassroots organizing, members of the North Carolina Association of Educators helped to nominate Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue as the Democratic candidate for governor in November. More than 200,000 individual direct mail pieces were sent to separate targeted membership groups. Targeted phone calls, emails, text messages and blogging were also employed. Perdue, a former public school teacher with a doctorate in education administration, was instrumental in improving teacher pay.