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Federal Legislative Update November 2011

November 18, 2011
November 11, 2011
November 4, 2011

11/18/11

WE ARE THE 99 PERCENT--IS CONGRESS LISTENING?


If the choice about our nation's future comes down to choosing between continuing corporate tax breaks versus funding public education, what will your Members of Congress choose? There are just days left before the “Super Committee’s” Thanksgiving deadline. If the Committee does not reach a deal, automatic across- the-board cuts will be triggered – but will not go into effect until January 1, 2013. Democrats and Republicans on the Committee have been trading offers, but, as of November 18, no final deal had been announced. At issue is how much deficit reduction will come from spending cuts to critical programs versus revenue raisers that ensure those most able to contribute pay their fair share.

According to a new report from Citizens for Tax Justice, 280 corporations that made a profit over the last three year have avoided approximately $200 billion in taxes. This is wasted money that could have gone to protect education and Medicaid, create jobs, and cut the deficit. For education, it would have meant an additional $9.8 billion to the states over the three years; and another $67.2 billion from 2008-10 that could have relieved pressure on state education budgets. See NEA’s analysis of how much this lost revenue has cost education.

We must act now to make sure that education, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are protected. We cannot allow policymakers to balance the nation’s budget on the backs of retirees, middle class families, and children at a time when Wall Street continues to profit and Main Street struggles!

Our message to the Super Committee:

  • Focus on creating jobs
  • Invest in school modernization
  • Oppose additional cuts to education and other critical programs
  • Protect those most in need and those who rely on core safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • Ensure a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes revenues, by making sure those most able to do so pay their fair share.

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress and tell them that the Super Committee must help create jobs, protect those with the greatest needs, and ensure that those most able to do so pay their fair share.
  • Call your Members of Congress as part of the Social Security Works Coalition ongoing call-in event and urge them to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Dial 1-800-998-0180 to hear the latest update and connect to your Members of Congress.

COLLEGE EDUCATION AT RISK FOR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS:  TELL CONGRESS TO REJECT PELL GRANT CUTS 


The Pell Grant helps make the college dreams of millions of students come true.  But, this critical program is at great risk.  Proposals in Congress threaten to cut funding for Pell Grants, leaving hundreds of thousands of students unable to afford higher education.  A proposal in the House of Representatives would remove over 500,000 students from the Pell Grant program and lower the grant for those who remain.  In addition, it would remove from the program students in school less than half time – a large number of students who work while also attending school.

College is the best investment in America’s future.  It is fundamental to our economic growth.  The strength of our nation depends on the strength of our people.  The increase in the number of Pell Grant recipients over the last few years demonstrates that the federal investment in student aid pays off—workers know they can retool their skills to get better jobs with the help of federal student aid.

Take Action TodayTell Congress to reject cuts to the Pell Grant program.

FIGHT FOR THE SCHOOL FACILITIES OUR STUDENTS DESERVE: VOTE ON SCHOOL MODERNIZATION EXPECTED AFTER THANKSGIVING


Pennsylvania -- When it rains, water pours out of the ceiling into Christopher Meyer’s classroom. He places buckets around the room, pushes student desks out of the way, and puts a tarp over his own desk. Then he has to scramble to find a dry, safe room where he can continue his lessons.
“At one point I had a waterfall cascading into a light fixture in the ceiling,” Meyer says. “Kids were sitting in puddles in metal chairs as water hit exposed wires. They were like individual lightening rods. You can’t get any more dangerous than that.” Read the full story about this school and NEA’s fight for school modernization.

Far too many students are learning in dangerous conditions and in schools with leaky roofs and peeling paint in overcrowded classrooms with out-of-date or no technology. Senator Brown (D-OH) and Representative DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced the Fix America’s Schools Today Act (S. 1597/H.R. 2948), which would provide needed funds to ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success. A Senate vote on school modernization funding is expected between the Thanksgiving recess and congressional adjournment at the end of the year.

Education Support Professionals are on the front lines in the fight for school modernization. Many times they are the first or only school staff to recognize health and safety issues that can dramatically affect students and their ability to learn. ESPs fight tirelessly for school modernization and the well being of their students and fellow staff. Some of these workplace heroes recently took the time to tell us of much needed improvements at their worksites. View their video testimonies.

Take Action Today:

  • Tell your Members of Congress to put Americans back to work and ensure our children the education they deserve by supporting school and campus modernization. Tell Congress to support the the Fix America’s Schools Today Act (S. 1597/H.R.2948), which would provide needed funds to ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success.
  • Share your story -- Keep the stories coming. We are using your stories to help put pressure on Members of Congress to do the right thing and focus on creating a great public school for every student.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor commending Ohio voters for protecting workers’ rights, stating in part, “who are these privileged elite that have been attacked by conservative politicians? They're the people that clear snow off our streets. They're the people that run into burning buildings to save people and property. They're people that teach our children. So let's be clear. It was recklessness on Wall Street that caused the financial crisis, not teachers, not librarians, not mental health counselors, not sanitation workers, not cafeteria workers.”

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Republican House members Dave Schweikert (AZ), Bill Posey (FL), Tim Johnson (IL), Alan Nunnelee (MS), Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Steve LaTourette (OH), James Lankford (OK), Frank Lucas (OK), Tim Murphy (PA), and Ron Paul (TX), who joined many Democratic House members in signing a letter by co-signing a letter by Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Tom Cole (R-OK) urging Super Committee members to reject any taxation of health insurance benefits.

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Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who sent a letter to fellow Democrats urging a vote against the Balanced Budget Amendment proposal.

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Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Dale Kildee (D-MI), who introduce resolutions in the Senate and House commemorating American Education Week.

Jeers to:

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House Republican leaders, who this week scheduled votes that continue the assault on workers’ rights and threaten children, working families, and seniors. The House agenda this week included a vote on a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment that could have resulted in the largest cuts in modern history to education and other critical priorities and a vote on the anti-worker Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, which would undermine longstanding protections provided by the National Labor Relations Board.


11/11/11

ELECTION 2011: HISTORIC VICTORY FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS!


In a decisive victory for workers and the middle class, voters in Ohio overwhelmingly approved a referendum to repeal Senate Bill 5, a controversial bill signed into law by Governor John Kasich. The bill was designed to silence the voices and strip away the collective bargaining rights of public workers. Ohioans reacted to the politically motivated attack by taking matters into their own hands. They collected more than a million signatures to trigger a citizen veto process to put a referendum of the unpopular law on the November 8th ballot. Read NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s statement on the victory and learn more about the successful campaign to repeal SB 5.

But now it’s up to the rest of us. Attacks like SB 5 in Ohio are happening and will continue to happen in communities across the country, unless you speak up and take action. We must unite against those who want to take away the rights of working families and balance budgets on the backs of the middle class. Sign up to learn what battles are coming to a state legislature near you.

Election 2011 also saw victories for the middle class and public education across the nation:

  • Kentucky Governor Beshear – a strong advocate for public education and winner of NEA’s 2011 Education Governor award – won reelection by a wide margin.
  • Voters in Michigan recalled state Senator Paul Scott, Chair of the Michigan House Education Committee. The recall was triggered by anger over cuts to education funding and attacks on educators’ pensions and health care.
  • In Wake County North Carolina, pro –public education Democrats took the school board out of the hands of the Tea Party with decisive wins in all five contested seats.
  • Voters in Maine repealed a law requiring voters to enroll at least two days before an election, restoring a four-decade policy of allowing registrations as late as Election Day.
  • Iowa Democrats maintained control of the Iowa Senate with the victory of Liz Mathis over Republican Cindy Golding by a 55 to 43 percent margin.

Learn more about election night victories for public education.

AMERICAN EDUCATION WEEK NOVEMBER 13-19 – SHINE A LIGHT ON SHAMEFUL SCHOOL AND CAMPUS CONDITIONS


Oregon
-- My district is in a prosperous suburb. We have lots of parent support and they raise a lot of money for our school. But even that is not enough to save us from years of cutbacks. We have nine elementary schools—one closed last spring and mine will close in June of 2012 due to cuts in funding. We have no librarian. Our PE teacher is half time and our learning disability teacher is half time. The talented and gifted teacher covers three buildings. The water supply is rusty and nearly undrinkable at times. Our heating system breaks down so often that I keep an extra coat at school. Our district used to hire additional teachers when class size went over 30 but now we don’t. But hey, keep those test scores up!

Nevada -- My 1st grade class is busting out of the seams; 3rd grade is no better. Gone are the days of class size reduction. Our rooms were not built to hold this many kids. Desks are literally on top of each other. Kindergarten was at 36 kids and 1 teacher until, after much complaining, they finally got an aide. My middle schooler has classes with over 36 kids and had no books—in class or to take home—in the 3rd week of school.

Read more stories and submit your own.

American Education Week will be celebrated across the nation the week of November 13. As we highlight the importance of public education, we must also take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the deplorable school and campus conditions faced by far too many students and educators. On average, the buildings that house our public schools are more than 40 years old. Our schools need an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades. We are shortchanging an entire generation of students by sending them to school in old, crumbling, overcrowded, and often unsafe buildings. They deserve better.

Investment in school and campus infrastructure provides a win-win scenario – it improves teaching and learning environments, helps maximize student achievement, and creates jobs that help stimulate local economies while putting more money into the hands of working families. We can’t afford to wait any longer!

Take Action Today:

  • Tell your Members of Congress to put Americans back to work and ensure our children the education they deserve by supporting school and campus modernization. Tell Congress to support the the Fix America’s Schools Today Act (S. 1597/H.R.2948), which would provide needed funds to ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success.
  • Share your story -- Keep the stories coming. We are using your stories to help put pressure on Members of Congress to do the right thing and focus on creating a great public school for every student.

Other Ways You Can Help Celebrate American Education Week:

  • Take the Priority Schools Pledge.  How do we expose and close the education gaps that deny our students the basics and keep opportunity always a zip code or two away? By showing that our communities will no longer sit quietly at the back of the line for quality teachers and adequate resources. Students succeed if adults intercede, working together and standing for nothing less than excellence. Take the Priority Schools Pledge and NEA will show you a way you can be involved.

EDUCATION FUNDING AT RISK AGAIN: BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT VOTE IMMINENT


The House is set to vote the week of November 14 on a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would require a balanced budget. Overall, a balanced budget amendment would result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history.  It simply will not be possible to achieve the spending levels required under any balanced budget amendment without massive cuts in education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs. 

Educators understand that Congress must work to ensure America’s long-term economic prosperity and that we must address the nation’s serious fiscal challenges.  However, cutting education funding and slashing programs that serve children, seniors, and working families is not the answer.  Claims that families and states balance their budgets are erroneous.  Most families have mortgages and car loans, and take on other debt to provide for their children’s futures.  In addition, while many states must balance their operating budgets, they take on debt for capital costs and job-creating projects such as building roads, bridges, and schools.

Take Action Today: As educators, NEA members have a unique perspective on the importance of investing in education and protecting the most vulnerable in our nation. The stories you can share with policymakers about the impact of spending cuts on your students, colleagues, and communities can be very powerful. Tell Congress to oppose a balanced budget amendment.

ESEA REAUTHORIZATION: NEA MEMBER TELLS SENATE COMMITTEE WHAT HER STUDENTS NEED


The Senate education committee held a hearing this week on its ESEA reauthorization bill. Read NEA’s letter to the committee prior to the hearing. NEA/KEA member Pam Geisselhardt of Columbia, Kentucky, testified at the hearing, focusing on the needs of real students and the way in which current law has failed them. She emphasized the negative impacts of the over reliance on testing and particularly stressed the need for more appropriate assessment of students with disabilities. Ms. Geisselhardt also spoke eloquently about how teachers want to be evaluated because they want to improve, but cautioned against creating systems to find blame and foster competition between teachers. She reminded Senators that all school personnel need to work together for the education of the whole child.

As Congress moves forward, we must make sure policy makers hear and understand the experiences of educators like Pam, who work with students every day. Add your voice to Pam’s! Speak up for what your students need to succeed.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to craft an ESEA reauthorization bill that will work for students, educators, and schools.

SUPER COMMITTEE – HEALTH CARE, RETIREMENT, AND OUR NATION’S FUTURE AT STAKE!


With just weeks left before the “Super Committee’s” Thanksgiving deadline, we must act now to make sure that Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are protected. We cannot allow policymakers to balance the nation’s budget on the backs of retirees, middle class families, and children at a time when Wall Street continues to profit and Main Street struggles!

Our message to the Super Committee:

  • Focus on creating jobs
  • Invest in school modernization
  • Oppose additional cuts to education and other critical programs
  • Protect those most in need and those who rely on core safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • Ensure a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes revenues, by making sure those most able to do so pay their fair share.

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress and tell them that the Super Committee must help create jobs, protect those with the greatest needs, and ensure that those most able to do so pay their fair share.
  • Call your Members of Congress as part of the Social Security Works Coalition ongoing call-in event and urge them to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Dial 1-800-998-0180  to hear the latest update and connect to your Members of Congress.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Voters across the nation, who overwhelmingly stood up for workers’ rights, the middle class, and public education. Voters sent a strong message to those who seek to silence educators and other public employees that we will not give up our rights without a fight!

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President Obama, who announced this week historic reforms to the Head Start program to ensure that all children in Head Start are attending top notch programs that will help them reach their full potential. The proposed reforms, which will direct taxpayer funds toward the highest quality Head Start programs, are part of the President’s larger focus on ensuring high-quality early childhood to children in every community across the nation.

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Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who has continued to raise the important issue of appropriate testing for students with disabilities, including offering an NEA-supported amendment at the recent ESEA mark-up and highlighting the issue at this week’s hearing.

Jeers to:

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Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, who at this week’s Republican debate, stated that, as President, he would abolish the U.S. Department of Education.

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The Michigan State Senate, which passed an anti-bullying bill with an “exception” that condones bullying if religiously-motivated. This shameful loophole effectively renders toothless an important bill named for Matt Epling, a 14-year-old Michigan student who committed suicide after sustained bullying from fellow students.

11/04/11

SUPER COMMITTEE DANGER– YOUR RETIREMENT AND CHILDREN’S HEALTHCARE AT STAKE!


As the “ Super Committee’s ” Thanksgiving deadline approaches, we continue to hear disturbing reports that cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are being put on the table by BOTH Democrats and Republicans.  We must act now! We must tell the Super Committee in no uncertain terms that is unconscionable to balance the nation’s deficit on the backs of retirees, middle class families, and children at a time when Wall Street continues to profit and Main Street struggles!

A newly released study by the Washington-based Brookings Institution shows that the number of Americans living in neighborhoods beset by extreme poverty surged in the last decade. At least 2.2 million more Americans, a 33 percent jump since 2000, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher. We cannot allow policy makers to devastate whole segments of the population while catering to those least in need of attention and support.

Our message to the Super Committee:

  • Focus on creating jobs
  • Invest in school modernization
  • Oppose additional cuts to education and other critical programs
  • Protect those most in need and those who rely on core safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • Ensure a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes revenues, by making sure those most able to do so pay their fair share.

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress and tell them that the Super Committee must help create jobs, protect those with the greatest needs, and ensure that those most able to do so pay their fair share.
  • Call your Members of Congress as part of the Social Security Works Coalition ongoing call-in event and urge them to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Dial 1-800-998-0180 to hear the latest update and connect to your Members of Congress.

SHAME ACROSS AMERICA -- STUDENTS FACING DEPLORABLE SCHOOL CONDITIONS!


Oregon
-- I have 46 science students in a classroom that was designed for 24. One teacher has an Algebra II class with 51. There is no air conditioning, and it was nearly 100 degrees outside this week, with the classrooms reaching 90 degrees in some cases. How are we to do an effective job in under these circumstances?

Washington -- I teach in a building that was built the same year I was born, 1961. I had to purchase a HEPA filter out of my own pocket because the dust from the decaying building was triggering my asthma; my doctors have had to double the steroids in my inhaler. I worry about how the dust in my classroom will affect the health of my students. I drink bottled water, but the kids drink from the water fountain in my classroom. The pipes are so encrusted with rust and debris that the water comes out red for the first few minutes. Last year, a sink in the girl’s restroom fell completely off the wall.

Read more stories and submit your own.

This week, a delegation of NEA members as well as education activists and stakeholders from across the country took their concerns about the condition of our nation’s schools directly to President Obama. The policy discussion focused on the American Jobs Act (AJA) —which will modernize public schools nationwide, prevent hundreds of thousands of educator layoffs, and keep students out of overcrowded classrooms. Read more about this meeting.

The group had a simple message for the President and lawmakers – we can’t afford to wait any longer. Our students deserve much better than schools with leaky roofs and peeling paint, overcrowded classrooms, and out-of-date technology. Right now, too many students are getting the message that they just don’t matter. They need to know that they are a priority!

Take Action Today:

  • Tell your Members of Congress to put Americans back to work and ensure our children the education they deserve by supporting school modernization. Tell Congress to support the the Fix America’s Schools Today Act (S. 1597/H.R.2948), which would provide needed funds to ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success.
  • Share your story -- Keep the stories coming. We are using your stories to help put pressure on Members of Congress to do the right thing and focus on creating a great public school for every student.  

ESEA REAUTHORIZATION: MAKE SURE CONGRESS KNOWS WHAT WILL WORK FOR YOUR STUDENTS!


As ESEA reauthorization continues to move forward, we must make sure policy makers hear and understand the experiences of educators working with students every day. Make your voice heard! Speak up for the students who are suffering under too much testing and not enough individual attention. Speak up for the schools that are doing their best every day to meet the needs of students who come to school hungry, who have no books at home, and who have no safe place to study after school. Don’t let Congress ignore us!

There is still time to weigh in! The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, November 8 on the ESEA reauthorization bill passed out of Committee last month. The hearing will feature testimony by an NEA/Kentucky Education Association member, who will share her expertise as a Gifted and Talented Coordinator and will raise concerns about the current law’s impact on students with special needs and the narrowing of curriculum. She will also urge the Committee to ensure that educator voices are represented in the reauthorization process.

The Senate bill includes a number of hard-fought victories, including leaving teacher evaluation to the state and local level, giving states flexibility to help turnaround struggling schools, and ensuring that districts won’t force teachers to transfer to different schools. But, much more work needs to be done, particularly to reduce the focus on standardized testing. The bill could move to the Senate floor in the weeks following the hearing.

In the House, the Education and the Workforce has approved three ESEA pieces -- a bill to eliminate over 40 education programs, a bill reauthorizing the charter school program, and a bill to allow transfer of funds among programs. The full House has passed the charter school bill. NEA opposed the program elimination and fund transferability bills and remained neutral on the charter schools legislation. The Committee continues to work on two additional bills addressing teachers and leaders and accountability. These bills will comprise the bulk of a House reauthorization proposal and will address issues of great concern to educators. We expect action on them before the end of the year.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to craft an ESEA reauthorization bill that will work for students, educators, and schools.

ELECTION DAY – NOVEMBER 8th – CRITICAL BATTLES IN OHIO AND VIRGINIA


Next Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in Ohio to determine the fate of an anti-worker bill that attacks educators, police, firefighters, and many other public employees. To find out more about the fight to repeal this unjust law and how you can stand strong with Ohio workers, visit Education Votes.

Also at stake on Tuesday is control of the Virginia State Senate. Election Day is Tuesday! For more information about what’s at stake, visit the Virginia Education Association website.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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House Democratic Whip, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and 182 Democratic Members of the House, who signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calling for removal of controversial policy riders from funding bills. These riders – including calls to block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, roll back important clean air and clean water protections, and place new restrictions on women’s access to a full range of medical and health services – serve simply to stop action on critical funding bills at a time when policy makers should be focused on creating jobs and growing the economy.

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Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who spoke at this week’s Super Committee hearing about the growing wealth gap in our nation and the need to avoid further harming the most vulnerable populations.

thumbsup Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), Robert Brady (D-PA), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), and Judy Chu (D-CA) for standing up for voting rights. Senator Nelson wrote to the United States Justice Department requesting an investigation into whether new voting laws passed by Florida and more than a dozen other states this year are the result of a coordinated effort to suppress voter turnout among millions of seniors, young people, and minorities in next year’s presidential election. Representatives Hoyer, Lewis, Brady, Gonzalez, Cleaver, and Chu held a press conference and released a letter to all Secretaries of State urging them to oppose new state measures adopted over the last year that would make it harder for more than five million eligible voters to register or vote.

Jeers to:

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who this week said with regard to the Super Committee work, “Without real reform on the entitlement side, I'm not even going to put any new revenue on the table.” Entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

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Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, who this week warned against including tax or revenue increases in any Super Committee plan.