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Stand Up. Fight Back.

This isn’t a fight about money. The new war on educators and the working class.

 

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Educators are under attack.

It’s not just in Wisconsin, where an ideologue governor signed into law a devastating budget bill that silences the voices of workers. And it’s not just in Idaho, where partisan politicians scored with an unfunded pay-for-test-score scheme.

And it’s not just in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, and New Jersey — or any of the other states where right-wing activists see the chance to blame educators for a recession created by Wall Street, and an excuse to eliminate the unions who have powerfully advocated for smaller class sizes, student-centered reforms, and adequate education funding.

These poor economic times will pass. But the legacy of these current battles between partisan politicians and public employees will impact classrooms and campuses across this country for years to come. Will you have 42 students in 22 desks in 2015? Will your tax money be paying for private-school tuitions? Will you have a voice in education policy?

It all depends on who wins these critically important state legislative battles. It’ll either be that rich CEO, who freely donated millions to the campaigns of right-wing candidates and expects a little something in return… .

Or it’ll be you. It’ll be teachers, support professionals, parents, and students — who so rarely have a voice in public debate. It’ll be the middle class of America.

“This fight is about giving politicians the unchecked power to make critical decisions about ourselves and our students,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Educators are ready to share the pain of getting through this tough economy. But we refuse to surrender our right to a voice at the table."  

Who will decide the future of public education?

The battle in Wisconsin was the first to capture national attention. When Republican Gov. Scott Walker decided to dismantle collective bargaining and strip educators of their voice in discussions around class sizes, school funding, vouchers, and other policies, he claimed it was to save the state’s budget. But hundreds of thousands of educators, parents, and students saw truth to that lie.

It wasn’t about the money—because Wisconsin educators agreed to all of Walker’s demands around health benefits and pension contributions. It was about power. It was about crushing unions, the voice of the middle class. And Americans understand that.

But Wisconsin isn’t the only battleground. In Ohio, Senate Bill 5 severely restricts collective bargaining by K-12 and and other public employees and eliminates collective bargaining for many higher education faculty. The bill also abolishes salary schedules in favor of merit pay. In Michigan, an assortment of dangerous bills would gut collective bargaining; require the privatization of school transportation, food service, and custodial services in all districts; freeze salaries, and also require employees to pay 20 percent of health insurance costs.

“I’m terrified at what will happen to me and my colleagues if these bills are passed,” said Indiana teacher Nikki Roberts about bills to collective bargaining rights and eliminate dues deductions. “They prevent the people with the first-hand knowledge about what’s going on in our school buildings — our educators — from providing input about our students learning environment.”

And, in Idaho, the battle with State Superintendent Tom Luna goes beyond collective bargaining and pay-for-test-scores. It’s also about enormous class sizes, teacher layoffs, and his plan to replace actual teachers in classrooms with laptop computers and online courses.

“It is past time for Mr. Luna… to seek input from the people who spend their days in Idaho’s classrooms and their nights and weekends grading papers, and attending school events,” said Idaho Education Association president Sherri Wood. “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”

Standing up for students and workers

These are serious battles for the future of education — and the other side has a great deal of money behind it. Corporate interests are fuelling this dedication to dismantling unions and destroying pensions, and also the resurrection in many state legislatures of school voucher plans.

But public education still has one thing going for it — and that’s you.

While hundreds of thousands of public employees have shown their passion at statehouse rallies and protests, you can help without leaving your living room. Sign the national petition at www.educationvotes.org, urging politicians to stop the power struggle, and sit down with educators to work together for sensible solutions.

At the Education Votes Web site, you can sign up as an online volunteer, write directly to legislators, and find NEA’s “Speak Up for Education” Facebook campaign. Also check out your state association’s Facebook page and Web sites.

“Any state could be next, and if we are not willing to stand up for and with others across state borders, who will stand up for ‘me’ when the time comes?” said Janet Yakopatz, an Oregon high school teacher who signed the petition. “I want to make a stand now before it becomes an issue, and I want to help others like me.”

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1-May-11


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