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Education Issues 101



By Cynthia McCabe and Mary Ellen Flannery


 

They Want To Do What?!?!

Are you up on the education policy issues that could affect educators this year? Take our quiz to find out (we’ll let you peek at the answers).

Get ready for the first pop quiz of the year. This time it’s personal because it’s about policy and politics—specifically, how NEA is fighting to improve your working conditions, pay, benefits, and quality of life. Veteran special education teacher K.C. Walsh of San Jose, California, says that in her 30 years in the classroom, she’s learned “that all these seemingly ‘external’ issues impact our work.” For example, “the escalating cost of health care has tremendous impact on our bargaining agreements. And the economy affects our ability to obtain raises and also impacts our students and their ability to come to school ready to learn,” says Walsh. We think she’d score high marks on our quiz. How about you?

The No Child Left Behind Law

A Logic (or lack thereof) Question — If all 50 states now face sanctions seven years after NCLB went into effect for not meeting standards they submitted to the federal government to show they’re making progress, how many states still do not have final approval from the feds for those standards?

Short answer: 18. Yep, nearly two-fifths of the states face penalties from the feds if they fail to meet standards that the feds haven’t even approved yet.

Teacher’s manual answer: NCLB (official name: Elementary and Secondary Education Act), is now up for reauthorization by Congress, and NEA lobbyists are preparing to present lawmakers with the opinions of the nation’s public school educators. Ask those educators what the current incarnation of NCLB has wrought, and they’ll tell you: unintended consequences like narrowed curriculum, children very much left behind, and plummeting morale. Ask that same group what they want from an accountability system (yes, educators support accountability!) and they say: control over students’ day-to-day classroom experiences and flexibility to use the best measurement for student learning and school performance. In short, they want a child to be more than a test score.

Health Care

True or False — President Obama’s health care plan would reduce costs in this country by putting everyone on one federal plan.

Short answer: False! President Obama believes people should be able to keep the coverage they currently have. NEA is working hard for members to secure health care reform that ensures quality, affordable coverage for all, guarantees they can keep their current plans, and creates a federally sponsored public health insurance plan option.

Teacher’s manual answer: There shouldn’t be 47 million uninsured Americans. And educators know that access to quality health care affects students’ ability to learn. (Try figuring out phonics after chronic, untreated ear infections.) The NEA wants a health care system available to all that doesn’t sacrifice quality to control costs; that emphasizes prevention of health problems; and that relies on solid funding. We want to guarantee a choice of health care plans and providers through a private health insurance plan, including one that an employee may currently have through their employer, and a public health insurance plan. We support government setting rules that ensure coverage will be there when needed; providing assistance with purchasing coverage based upon a family’s ability to pay; and supporting small businesses to help them insure their workers.

Social Security Fairness Act

A Math Question — What percentage of America’s education workforce doesn’t get back from Social Security the fair share they or their family members earned?

Short answer: At least one-third, thanks to two legal provisions called the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision, or GPO/WEP.

Teacher’s manual answer: Tens of thousands of retired teachers, firefighters, police, and social workers whose spouses paid into the Social Security system can’t get their money back because of the GPO. And the WEP unfairly penalizes educators who have worked at some point in the private sector by drastically reducing their hard-earned Social Security benefits. NEA staff and member activists are pushing for immediate repeal of GPO/WEP.

Pensions

True or False — A defined-benefit pension, not a defined-contribution plan, is the most secure plan to have waiting for you when you retire.

Short answer: True!

Teacher’s manual answer: Educators earn their pension during a career of public service, and they count on it when they retire. The most secure pension is a defined-benefit plan, which provides a lifetime retirement income based on things like years of service and final salary. Yet, these plans are under attack from groups with financial or political interests who often want to replace them with 401(k)-type defined-contribution plans, which are not guaranteed. NEA is at the forefront of protecting retirement security through its own research, advocacy, and member education.

The Economy

A Multiple-Choice Analogy — State education budget cuts : An educator in that state

  1. Another state’s budget cuts : Nobody but those in that state
  2. Another state’s budget cuts : Boooring!
  3. Another state’s budget cuts : Me

Short answer: c

Teacher’s manual answer: When it comes to budget cuts and other faltering economy fallout, one state’s mess is relevant for educators across the country. Being aware of how Georgia educators rallied against proposed cuts to school nurses can be invaluable when a similar budget proposal springs up in Montana. In state legislatures, on Capitol Hill, and through publications like NEA Today and neatoday.org, NEA fights for increases in funding for effective education programs to ensure that all students, educators, and schools have the resources necessary to succeed. Also, Association lobbyists are advocating with state and federal policy makers on behalf of those struggling to make ends meet during these tough economic times, pushing for extended unemployment benefits and expanded nutrition assistance.

Learn more about these issues and take action by writing to your legislators with easy-to-send e-postcards. Visit http://www.nea.org/lac.

Send comments on this story to cmccabe@nea.org and mflannery@nea.org.

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23-Aug-09


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