Fighting for the World’s Students and Educators
A great public school for every child is far out of reach when you look at the schoolhouse from an international perspective. Some 155 million children worldwide have no access to an education, according to the Barometer of Human and Trade Union Rights, an extensive research report released by Education International (EI).
The Barometer provides country-by-country statistics on early childhood education, enrollment rates, and degree of privatization, along with analyses of academic freedom, gender equality, the status of refugee and minority children, and child labor.
“Just as we believe that every student should have access to a great public school, so do our colleagues around the world,” says NEA President Reg Weaver, who began a second term as EI vice president at the organization’s World Congress in Berlin this past July.
“But more than that,” Weaver notes, “we all believe that this access is a basic right.”
Advancing the rights of both students and educators is the monumental task faced by EI, which is made up of 390 organizations representing more than 30 million educators in 170 countries.
EI has taken on many cases of injustice worldwide, including one in Colombia, where teacher activists Raquel Castro and Samuel Morales were jailed in 2004 after witnessing the assassination of three union colleagues. Morales was released earlier this summer; Castro remained jailed in the political wing of the Bogotá Women’s Prison until August. Neither was allowed to leave the country to attend the World Congress as recipients of the Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Trade Union Rights Award.
Peru, Ethiopia, Mexico, Albania—EI is engaged in campaigns there, as well. In some cases, educators have been arrested, tortured, or even murdered.
In his opening address to the World Congress, EI President Thulas Nxesi, of the South Africa Democratic Teachers’ Union, issued a call for unity and activism. “We are all educators, we are all workers—regardless of any difference in color or creed—and we face common challenges. Where teacher unions do not exist, EI must offer assistance in establishing them. Where unions are weak, we must work cooperatively to strengthen them. Where unions are under attack from governments or vested interests, we must be willing to provide concrete solidarity and support.”
NEA is a founding member of EI and presented the largest delegation, totaling 50, at the World Congress. In addition to being involved in EI initiatives, NEA has development cooperation projects focused on human rights, women’s leadership, and capacity building for education unions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
NEA’s work with EI ensures that “a good education is not just a question of luck,” as German President Horst Köhler noted in his speech to the World Congress. “It’s a human right.”
New Accounting Standards Threaten Bargaining
New accounting standards for retiree health benefits developed by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) threaten to change bargaining dynamics and employee-employer relationships. Under the new standards, government agencies and school districts will be asked to report the value of retiree health care benefits promised to active and retired workers. “When the reports are issued, expect sticker shock and knee-jerk attempts to slash benefits or change current workers’ and retirees’ economic packages,” cautions a report from NEA Collective Bargaining and Member Advocacy (NEA CB/MA). For example, some districts might suggest the new standards will force them to divert money from education budgets to pre-fund benefits.
Locals in Alabama, California, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Utah are already grappling with the new standards, which are being phased in. Courtney White, director of research bargaining and legislative services with the Utah Education Association, says Associations can help school officials understand that the standards don’t require pre-funding. “You don’t have to come up with all the money up front,” says White. While GASB—a nonprofit that sets accounting standards for state and local governments, school districts, and other public entities—does not have legal authority, some states mandate compliance, and the accounting profession views the standards as the baseline for proper accounting. NEA CB/MA has produced materials to help Association leaders manage the changes. Visit www.nea.org/ref?GASB for details.
Nevada Plan Prompts Decisions
In Nevada, teachers with the Clark County School District who now pay for health insurance through the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) may choose to retire early, within the next 13 months, to qualify for a state plan, which could exacerbate the state’s educator shortage. Active duty teachers also face a choice, as they must sign with the state plan by November 2008 or forever forfeit their eligibility for the subsidized plan.
For instance, retired teachers who now pay $435 a month for individual HMO coverage through CCEA’s plan would pay about $50 a month for PPO coverage under the state’s program, albeit with large deductibles for service. The state requires non-state public employers, including school districts, to subsidize the cost of retirees who sign up with the state’s plan—but no other comparable plan, like CCEA’s. The Clark County district would pay about $500 a month toward each retiree’s premium.
“Those who are not near retirement are pleased with our [union] plan and don’t appreciate being pressured to sign with the state,” says CCEA President Mary Ella Holloway. “If the state and the district have to kick in more money for retirement benefits, that could cut back on future pay raises for teachers.”
Custodial Jobs Saved in North Carolina
Members of the Sampson County Association of Educators (SCAE) helped defeat a school board proposal to privatize custodial services in their district through grassroots organizing, lobbying, and team work, says Eddie Davis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “Teachers stood up for ESPs, and ESPs stood up for teachers,” says Davis of the 250-member SCAE, a wall-to-wall unit. Teachers, state, and local Association staff, and more than 30 custodians, filled a late summer school board meeting where board members were to vote on privatizing the district’s 40 school custodial jobs. After hearing testimonials from custodians, a motion to reject the privatization of services unanimously passed.