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Federal Legislative Update December 2012

December 21, 2012
December 14, 2012
December 7, 2012

December 21, 2012

TIRED OF THE GAMES? TELL CONGRESS TO GET ITS PRIORITIES STRAIGHT

 

With a little more than a week to go before the country reaches the fiscal cliff, House GOP leadership brought forward an ill-conceived, unbalanced and partisan plan this week only to watch even it fall apart Thursday night.  The so-called “Plan B” would have caused taxes to increase on the middle class and lower income families, placing more of the burden for deficit reduction on those who can least afford it, while giving more special tax breaks (like the estate tax) to the wealthiest households.  Prior to that, House Republicans narrowly passed an NEA-opposed bill that would cut more spending for education and other essential programs and slash critical services for those most in need, including preventing as many as 280,000 low-income children from receiving school meals.  Read NEA’s letter opposing both bills and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s response to the House action

Congress has largely adjourned until after Christmas, when they will return and resume debate and negotiations on a fiscal cliff deal.  Educator voices remain as critical as ever in this debate.  You have been having a dramatic impact on negotiations already. Tell Congress we need a fair deal that rejects more cuts to education and Medicaid, protects the middle class and lower-income families, and asks the wealthy to pay their fair share.  It’s not too late to do the right thing. 

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress today.  Tell your representatives to make the right choices for America’s children and working families. 
  • Take the “Kids Not Cuts” pledge today-- to speak up for America’s kids and working families, and to make sure Congress makes the right choices.  Already took the pledge?  Share it with at least five friends and ask them to join the fight to stand up for America’s kids and working families.

NEWTOWN CONNECTICUT TRAGEDY: A NATION MOURNS AND CALLS FOR SENSIBLE ACTION

 

One week after the horrific massacre of 20 small children and six brave educators, the nation continues to mourn.  NEA expresses our deepest condolences to the families and community in Newtown, Connecticut.  NEA is working to provide assistance and support to the Sandy Hook staff and families.  Our Health Information Network has developed a “Crisis Communications Guide and Toolkit,” which provides resources designed to empower educators facing crises and help them guide their school communities toward hope, healing, and renewal.  The Toolkit also gives guidance to schools through elements such as school safety checklists, developing violence prevention plans, and encouraging community support and involvement.

NEA believes we must take immediate action to prevent any such future tragedies, focusing on three key areas:

  • Increased access to mental health services. We need to expand dramatically our focus on mental health. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet there is a huge shortage of school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in public education.  We need more school-based health centers that diagnose and treat mental health disorders.  It’s also important that access to mental health services is are a mandatory part of all healthcare coverage.
  • Renewed focus on bully prevention.  Children deserve a safe and supportive learning environment.  Bullied children deserve our support and pity, not our scorn.  We believe if we put a stop to bullying before it starts, fewer teens and young adults will become desperate and resort to violence.  NEA has established the “Bully Free: It Starts with Me” and anti-bullying program, which encourages educators to recognize bullying behavior and take action to stop it.  
  • Meaningful action on gun violence.  Our kids and communities deserve common sense laws that protect our safety—no one needs a weapon of war for hunting or self-protection. We believe assault weapons and high capacity magazines should be banned for public sale and ownership.  Also, nobody should be permitted to purchase a firearm without a waiting period and a background check, regardless of where they are purchasing the weapon.  Finally, we also support amnesty days so Americans can turn these types of weapons into our law enforcement and military—no questions asked. 

Read the NEA and AFT joint statement rejecting calls by legislators and pundits to arm educators in schools and calling for a focus on these three areas.

YOUR VALUES IN ACTION: VICTORIES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION IN THE 112TH CONGRESS

 

From Capitol Hill to the classroom, your voice AND your membership matter! During the 112th Congress, NEA activists were responsible for a number of victories for public education.  Together, we:

  • Stopped devastating cuts to education and secured small increases to critical programs A proposal that would have slashed education funding by $17.7 billion this year and by $250 billion over 10 years was defeated. The proposed cuts would have meant ballooning class sizes, devastating cuts in services for the most vulnerable students, and elimination of core programs that help ensure student success.  Despite the push for cuts, NEA secured small increases for key programs, including Title I, IDEA special education, and Head Start. 
  • Stopped interest rates on student loans from doubling.  With just days to go before the final deadline in July, Members of Congress reached a deal to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling.  The rates had been set to double on July 1, further overburdening millions of students who already incur massive debt to pay for college. 
  • Extended funding for rural schools.  Congress extended the critical Secure Rural Schools program, providing $300 million nationwide for one year.  Funds are used by federally-impacted counties that are unable to tax federal land use. The program helps fund schools in over 660 counties across the country.  The extension allows Congress additional time to continue working on a long-term sustainable solution without sacrificing students’ education, sustaining additional teacher layoffs, or reducing public services like libraries and public safety.
  • Blocked budget gimmicks that would decimate education funding and jeopardize economic recovery Congress defeated proposed spending caps and balanced-budget constitutional amendments that would have resulted in the largest federal spending cuts in modern history. The proposed levels of spending could only be achieved with massive cuts in education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial needs.
  • Saved healthcare for millions of low-income children — Efforts to slash deeply or block grant Medicaid, which serves one-third of our nation’s children under age 19, failed in Congress. Children who lack access to healthcare services are less likely to come to school ready to learn and succeed academically.
  • Protected expanded access to healthcare — Efforts to repeal the landmark Affordable Care Act failed. The historic law helps 32 million Americans obtain coverage, enables children to stay on a parent’s plan until age 26, and ends abuses like lifetime limits, not covering pre-existing conditions, and dropping people when they get sick.
  • Staved off multiple attacks on workers’ rights Bills that would weaken the ability of the National Labor Relations Board to protect workers were blocked. Several attempts to undermine wage protections were stopped by bipartisan votes.
  • Saved schools serving dependents of military families A proposal to eliminate the highly successful schools serving the children of our nation’s military families was blocked.
  • Preserved Social Security benefits — Proposals to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits were blocked in Congress. Teachers and education support professionals, like the majority of middle class Americans, count on Social Security for a secure retirement.
  • Blocked passage of private school vouchers for military dependents U.S. Department of Defense schools are among the best in the American public education system. Fortunately, an attempt to create unnecessary private school vouchers for children of our military personnel failed.
  • Protected retirement security — Efforts to undermine public employee pensions were blocked.

These victories would not have been possible without our Education Superstars, activists who took time out of their busy schedules to contact Members of Congress and make their voices heard.  See below for special thank yous for our top activists of 2012.

EDUCATION SUPERSTARS:  THANK YOU, TOP NEA ACTIVISTS OF 2012!

 

Education activism took many forms this year, from cyber-lobbyists who e-mailed Congress, to Education Votes activists, to Educators for Obama who volunteered their time to help re-elect a pro-public education president.  Together, you sent over 335,000 emails to Congress, made thousands of visits to Members of Congress, made over 38,000 phone calls, and did over 5,000 canvas shifts to re-elect President Obama.

Your e-mails and phone calls to Congress help amplify our voice and make sure that the concerns of educators are part of policy debates in Washington, DC. Sharing educators’ first-hand experiences is the most effective way to influence education policy and ensure that Congress crafts laws that will work for real students in real classrooms. We hope all NEA cyber-lobbyists will continue to share your expertise with your elected representatives and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Together, we are strong force that cannot be ignored.

Special thanks to our top activists 2012. We thank you for standing up for your beliefs and taking time out of your busy schedules to make sure policy makers heard your voice:

Top NEA Cyberlobbyists of 2012
Top NEA Education Votes Action Center Phone Bankers of 2012
Top NEA Educator for Obama Phone Bankers of 2012
Top NEA Educator for Obama Voter Registration Workers of 2012
Top NEA Educator for Obama Canvassers of 2012

REMINDER TAKE OUR CYBER-LOBBYIST SURVEY AND TELL US WHAT ISSUES MATTER MOST TO YOU

 

If you haven’t already done so, please take just a few moments to fill out our very brief survey.  As the 112th Congress winds down and we prepare to take on the challenges of a new Congress, your voice will be more critical than ever.  Education activists like you are the key to our success in advancing pro-public education policies.  Please help us make sure we are providing you with the information you want on the issues that matter most to you, your family, your students, and your community.  Please complete our very brief survey to help us tailor information to meet your interests.   

Take Action Today:  Fill out our brief cyber-lobbyist survey to let us know what issues matter most to you.  

CALLING ALL MASTER TEACHERS--EXCITING OPPORTUNITY

 

Are you a master of your teaching craft and an author of outstanding lessons? Are you ready to hone and share your expertise with a huge community of thoughtful educators? Better Lesson – a group founded by teachers from Atlanta and Boston public schools to help educators create, organize, and share their curricula – is soliciting applications for their Master Teacher Project.  Selected teachers will design and share full Math Common Core aligned courses in collaboration with Common Core coaches and fellow Master Teachers.   Master Teachers will receive a $30,000 stipend for this two-year endeavor. 

The application deadline is January 8, 2013Apply online today.  

CHEERS AND JEERS

 

Cheers to:

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NEA activists across the country, who took time out their busy schedules throughout the year to e-mail, call, and meet with policymakers and who, collectively, won numerous victories for children and public education. 

Jeers to:

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House Speaker Boehner (R-OH), who wasted a week in the negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff and inexplicably put forward a fiscal cliff plan that would have provided more tax breaks for the wealthy while cutting funding for education and other critical programs and raising taxes on the middle class. 



12/14/12 

KEEP UP THE PRESSURE: TELL CONGRESS WE WANT A FAIR DEAL FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS


Negotiations continue between President Obama and congressional leaders on how to avoid the fiscal cliff, but no deal has been announced. This week, the President and House Speaker Boehner exchanged new offers, but little progress has been made. The latest reports indicate that Congress could come back into session the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to work on a deal. NEA will be monitoring the situation closely and will provide updates and calls to action when agreement details are available.

In the meantime, millions of middle class families wait to hear if their taxes will go up in a few weeks. If Congress does not act, the average middle class family of four will see a tax increase of over $2,000. But, your voices are being heard! In the past two weeks, NEA activists sent over 23,000 e-mail messages to Congress calling for an extension of the middle class tax cuts and a deal that ensures the wealthiest pay their fair share. We can’t stop now – keep up the drumbeat and tell your Members of Congress to extend the middle class tax cuts.

In addition to extending tax cuts for the middle class, Congress must also act quickly to stop the impending across-the-board cuts scheduled to go into effect on January 2. Learn more.

Congress must also protect Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security benefits. Medicaid serves the health care needs of some 60 million low-income Americans, including one-third of our nation’s children. This week, the Obama administration publicly reversed its support for a policy that would cut billions in Medicaid funding, signaling that, for the White House, Medicaid is largely off the table in deficit reduction negotiations. But, pressure to cut benefits remains and we need to ensure our voices are heard. In addition, at a December 11 press event a number of Democratic Senators and Representatives joined representatives from NEA, SEIU, AFSCME, and health care groups in opposing any cuts to the benefits provided by these critical programs.

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress and tell them to act immediately to extend tax cuts for the middle class. If your Representative has not signed the discharge petition to move middle class tax cuts to the House floor for a vote, urge him or her to do so immediately.
  • Take the “Kids Not Cuts” pledge today-- to speak up for America’s kids and working families, and to make sure Congress makes the right choices. Already took the pledge? Share it with at least five friends and ask them to join the fight to stand up for America’s kids and working families.
  • Watch the latest ads produced by NEA, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) urging Congress to protect Medicaid, Medicare, and education.

CYBER-LOBBYIST SURVEY


Thank you to all who completed our cyber-lobbyist survey. We apologize for any difficulties you may have encountered in completing it. We have corrected the problem and the survey should now work.

As the 112th Congress winds down and we prepare to take on the challenges of a new Congress, your voice will be more critical than ever. Education activists like you are the key to our success in advancing pro-public education policies. Please help us make sure we are providing you with the information you want on the issues that matter most to you, your family, your students, and your community. We ask that you take a few moments to complete a very brief survey that will help us tailor information to meet your interests.

Take Action Today: Fill out our brief cyber-lobbyist survey to let us know what issues matter most to you.

MICHIGAN POLICYMAKERS ATTACK WORKERS AND FAMILIES


This week, Michigan’s Governor and legislature attacked working families with passage of a so-called “Right to Work” law that forces hardworking Michiganders and their families down a path to fewer jobs, lower wages, crumbling communities, and a weaker economy. The bill, which was pushed by leaders in the GOP-controlled state legislature and corporate CEOs, was enacted without a single hearing or public debate, while tens of thousands of Michiganders protested outside in opposition.

The bill is designed to give corporate CEOs such as David and Charles Koch — two of the bills primary backers — even more power to maximize profits at the expense of those who teach our children, protect our streets, keep us healthy, and build our roads and vehicles. Studies show right to work laws drive down wages for all workers — union and non-union — by an average of $1,500 per year. These reduced wages can lead to reduced spending on local businesses and fewer jobs, which can harm middle-class families and the communities where they reside. In contrast, strong unions can bolster the economy with good jobs and grow the middle class. Learn more about the Michigan law and read NEA’s response.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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President Obama, who spoke out forcefully against the Michigan anti-worker law, saying “These so-called ‘right to work’ laws, they don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

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Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who this week spoke out in favor of extending tax cuts for the middle class, saying “I do think that Rep. Tom Cole’s idea of taking off the table the 98 percent of Americans that everybody agrees on both sides should have continued tax relief also makes a great deal of sense.”

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Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who made comments that raising the tax rate on some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals should be a part of the solution to the national debt problem saying, “I have been suggesting for a period of time now that I think it is worth a discussion, consideration, to look at the highest earners.’

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Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Al Franken (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Henry Waxman (D-CA), who spoke at a press event this week opposing any cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

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Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who circulated a “dear colleague” sign-on letter urging congressional leaders negotiating a fiscal cliff deal to avoid cuts to the safety net programs and vital services that benefit our children saying, “Low-income families have already shouldered a disproportionate share of the nation’s economic pain in recent years and it is imperative that we prevent any additional cuts to the programs that seek to assist these populations, including Head Start, Medicaid, child care, child abuse prevention programs, and a wide range of health, education, and child safety programs.”

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Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), who circulated a “dear colleague” sign-on letter urging congressional leaders negotiating a fiscal cliff deal to reject a Social Security proposal known as “chained CPI” that would reduce the purchasing power of Social Security benefits and put millions of seniors at risk.

Jeers to:

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who signed an anti-worker, anti-family “Right to Work” bill into law, after previously stating such legislation was not on his agenda and he would not pursue it.

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who continue to demand cuts in “entitlement” programs like Medicaid and Medicare as part of any fiscal cliff deal.

12/7/12

TELL CONGRESS IT’S TIME TO ACT: PASS MIDDLE CLASS TAX CUTS NOW AND ENSURE WEALTHIEST PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE


With less than a month before middle class tax cuts expire, Congress has yet to act, as House Republicans hold the extension hostage while fighting for tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent. This week, Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced a “discharge petition” that would force House leaders to bring a middle class tax cut bill to the House floor for an up or down vote. The petition, which needs 218 signatures, has been signed by most Democrats, but needs Republican signatures to reach the total needed and move forward. See if your Representative has signed the petition.

If Congress fails to act before the end of the year, a typical middle-class family of four will see its taxes rise by $2,200 starting in 2013. Extending middle class tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year would protect 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses.

In addition to extending tax cuts for the middle class, Congress must also act quickly to stop the impending across-the-board cuts scheduled to go into effect on January 2. If these cuts go into effect, more than nine million students will lose critical education services, and nearly 80,000 education jobs could be lost. Learn more.

Take Action Today:

  • E-mail Congress and tell them to act immediately to extend tax cuts for the middle class. If your Representative has not signed the discharge petition, urge him or her to do so immediately.
  • Keep calling Congress. Our national Kids Not Cuts call Congress day was such a huge success that we've decided to extend our hotline through December 13th. If you missed out on December 5, you can call 1-866-293-7278 through next Thursday to tell your elected officials to stand up for Kids Not Cuts!
  • Take the “Kids Not Cuts” pledge today-- to speak up for America’s kids and working families, and to make sure Congress makes the right choices. Already took the pledge? Share it with at least five friends and ask them to join the fight to stand up for America’s kids and working families.
  • Watch the latest ads produced by NEA, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) urging Congress to protect Medicaid, Medicare, and education.

WHAT ISSUES ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU? TAKE OUR CYBER-LOBBYIST SURVEY


As the 112th Congress winds down and we prepare to take on the challenges of a new Congress, your voice will be more critical than ever. Education activists like you are the key to our success in advancing pro-public education policies. Please help us make sure we are providing you with the information you want on the issues that matter most to you, your family, your students, and your community. We ask that you take a few moments to complete a very brief survey that will help us tailor information to meet your interests.

Take Action Today: Fill out our brief cyber-lobbyist survey to let us know what issues matter most to you.

ZERO TOLERANCE POLICIES: TELL US YOUR EXPERIENCES


On December 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” which will focus on the troubling increase in the number of young people sent to the juvenile delinquency system as a result of relatively minor school discipline issues. Statistics that show that minority youth, boys in particular, are subjected to more zealous “zero tolerance” punishments that result in bad outcomes in school and, ultimately for too many, a path to prison.

NEA will submit a statement to the Committee for the hearing focusing on our belief that schools and students should have the supports and services necessary to ensure success. We will urge Congress to address the needs of the whole child and to implement policies to reduce achievement gaps and help those most at risk.

Take Action

  • Help us educate Congress on this important issue. Please tell us your experience as educators with “zero tolerance” policies. How have these policies impacted your students? What services and resources are needed to help your students succeed and to help negate the school to prison pipeline? Send your stories to edinsider@nea.org.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), who introduced the “discharge petition” to move an extension of middle class tax cuts to the House floor for an up or down vote.

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Representative Steve LaTourette (R-NJ), who said regarding extending tax cuts for the middle class, “I and some others are advocating giving the president what he wants…Quite frankly, some people in this 2 percent who call me, they’re more worried about the fiscal cliff than about the rates going up a couple points. That has bigger risk for them.”

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Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who this week suggested that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, saying that Americans “should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people” and that Congress could take that off the table “while you’re grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy.”

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President Obama, who made a strong statement against a so-called “right to work" law being pushed in Michigan. The President’s spokesperson said, "President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now….The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan – and its workers' role in the revival of the US automobile industry – is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy."

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Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), a longtime champion of public education and strong supporter of America’s working families. Representative Lowey was elected by the House Democratic Caucus to serve as the top ranking Democrat, or Ranking Member, on the Appropriations Committee when the 113th Congress convenes in January. This will be the first time in American history that a woman has been selected for this influential position.

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Louisiana state judge, Tim Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, who ruled that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional, finding that the program unconstitutionally diverts public money to send some public school students to private and parochial schools. Read more.

Jeers to:

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The Michigan state legislature, which passed so-called “right to work” anti-union bills just hours after they were introduced. The Michigan House and Senate approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. The Senate quickly followed by voting to impose the same requirement on most public unions. Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment will not take place until Tuesday at the earliest. Republican Governor Rick Snyder has said he will sign the measures. Learn more.

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The thirty-eight members of the United States Senate who voted this week against ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Lawmakers voted 61-38 in favor of the Convention, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification. The Convention, which would require no change in U.S. law, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Learn more.