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Two Americas, One Bridge

Public school teachers and ESPs: the bridge for America’s future

Your Byline:

NEA President Reg Weaver

Occasionally, the media will focus attention on the countless disparities in our great nation—health, education, wealth, and housing.  There is no shortage of gaps between the haves and have-nots.

But if you believe the hype, and the stories in the media, almost everyone in America is healthy, wealthy, and wise. Absent a heinous crime, a natural disaster, or a slow news day, we don’t hear very much about the disparities that exist between the two Americas. Media stories focus on Washington scandals, corporate greed, and the war in Iraq and rarely on the real-life stories of middle income and working poor families and their daily struggles. The problems faced by these families are tough to address and easy to ignore.

But as public school teachers and education support professionals, we confront these issues every day in classrooms and schools across the nation—in urban and rural settings. We know there are two Americas—one prosperous, one struggling. One with affordable housing, adequate health insurance, and safe schools—another with none of these.

“If public schools are given adequate and equitable funding, we can provide all the children who sit in our classrooms with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to succeed in life.”

—Reg Weaver

We work with children who come to school unprepared because no one had time—or took time—to help them with their homework. We see children who are too often sick. We know children who are dealing with the ravages of alcohol and drug addiction. And, we see children who come from homes where parents work hard to give them things they themselves didn’t have, while missing out on opportunities to give them the things they really need to succeed in life.

Despite all that we know and see, we do our best to ensure that all children attend public schools with environments that are conducive to good teaching and learning. Unfortunately, there are times when our best isn’t enough and our students fall in the gaps. Even still, we never give up. To us, these children are much more than a statistic. They are a name, a smile, and often a tug on our hearts. Our joy as educators is to see their eyes light up with excitement and enthusiasm when they learn something new or master a skill set. We are committed to doing all we can to help children realize their dreams and become productive and contributing members of society.  

But ours is no easy job, especially when instead of providing more resources for education, Congress and the President drastically cut education funding. Recently, the President signed a federal budget that leaves millions of children behind. The 2006 budget exacerbates the gap for 4 million children who are eligible for Title I of the No Child Left Behind law by cutting funding for the law below the originally established levels. And the budget signed by President Bush leaves 3.2 million children out of Head Start, a program that prepares children for success in school.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know from personal experience that public education works. It is the engine of opportunity in this country, and a quality education can help narrow the gap. And if public schools are given adequate and equitable funding, we can provide all the children who sit in our classrooms with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to succeed in life.

What’s more, I know that labor unions also make people’s lives better. The right of every working man and woman to form a union and bargain collectively is a fundamental human right. Back when unions represented a larger share of the private sector workforce in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in America was closing, not widening as it is today.

NEA is committed to doing all that we can to ensure the right of all children to attend quality public schools. We will continue to insist that America lives up to its promise to the children of both Americas. We will continue to be the bridge. And we will continue to fight for the rights of all workers so that the parents of all children can earn a living wage. They deserve no less. Thank you, Team NEA, for working to make Great Public Schools for Every Child.

Photo: Matt ferguson

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