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First & Foremost

Educators and allies fighting for public schools.

Academics Unite

Educators Look to Mobilize Against ‘Professor Watchlist’

What does it mean to ask college students to think critically? To question assumptions or debate ideas? Apparently, it means you should be on a public “watch list” of dangerous faculty.

Recently, hundreds of U.S. faculty, including NEA Higher Ed members, have been reported to Professor Watchlist—a website launched shortly after the election by the right-wing, well-funded political organization Turning Point USA.

The group says it aims to identify professors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls,” but faculty believe the more likely target is academic freedom, or the idea that faculty’s unfettered ability to teach or do research in search of the truth serves the common good.

His strategy? Report yourself, NEA educators.

“I cannot thank the faculty of Notre Dame enough for reminding all of us how important it is to remain true to our profession,” responds Darwin Pagnac, an NEA Higher Ed member from Des Moines Area Community College, who was reported to the list after asking students to research climate-change deniers. “Their sentiments are my sentiments exactly, and I welcome their inclusion and their company on ‘the list.’”

These kinds of political watch lists, or blacklists, aren’t entirely new. A little more than a decade ago, conservative author David Horowitz published a book titled “Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” which was called “an apologia for the tactics of Sen. Joe McCarthy,” the U.S. senator who used public attacks on patriotism and other tactics to damage his political opponents.

California State University Channel Islands professor Frank Barajas, an NEA Higher Ed member, found out he had been named to the list when his phone started ringing.

While many of his colleagues were calling to say, “Good job! You must have done something right!” he says, Barajas remains concerned. “What is this watch list really about, and what is its potential?”

Barajas was reported for encouraging his U.S. history students—but not mandating them—to write to California state legislators about the impact of rising student tuition on their lives. 

“Exercising the freedom to express and contact your representatives, this makes me a danger to society?” he asks. Barajas also points out that he did not tell students what they should write. “If they wanted higher tuition, so be it.”

As a tenured, full professor in his 24th year of teaching, Barajas is not concerned for himself. But for his colleagues, especially the adjunct or contingent professors who work with very little job security, and now account for more than three-quarters of all U.S. faculty, he worries that the threat of public censure may alter their approach to students.

Keeping their jobs may mean not asking hard questions, or challenging their students’ assumptions. “They may be more gun shy in terms of exercises and assignments they want to adopt,” he suggests.



Congress: Stop ignoring our special needs students

Your stories help us fight for full funding of IDEA

Rebekah Fox is a special education teacher at Totem Falls Elementary School in Snohomish, Washington. Her students have serious emotional and behavioral issues that prevent them from participating in general classroom.

“Every year, we are asked to do more to help children cope with their disabilities with fewer hours of staffing,” Fox says. “I don’t have any time before or after school with my paraeducators, which makes brainstorming, problem solving, and communication in general a serious challenge. We work well as a team, but the time limitations take their toll.”

Fox and her colleagues do everything they can to help their students gain self-control, academic learning, and social skills. Sometimes they make progress, but she says it is halting and too often reversed by the realities her students face outside the classroom: the loss of a parent, abuse, hunger and homelessness.  

“Sometimes I just want to cry because of the pain and suffering these kids have endured, the social isolation, and the apparent hopelessness of their situations,” Fox says. “I just wonder—why aren’t we making it more of a priority to strengthen the social safety net and make sure schools have all the resources they need to help our special needs children?”

One of the first things federal lawmakers can do is to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Congress committed to paying 40 percent of the average cost to educate a child with disabilities when IDEA was signed into law more than 40 years ago, but has never met even half of that commitment. Currently, the federal share of funding for special education is about 16 percent.

Fox shared her story with the hopes that lawmakers would see why they should prioritize the full funding of IDEA.

“We need more mental health support, more staff to ensure appropriate instruction at each child’s academic level, and family support systems that help parents make long term change for their lives and the lives of their children,” says Fox.

Do you have a story that will help members of Congress understand why it is critical to fully fund IDEA? Please share your story at!


Books or Bombs? 

A nation’s spending reflects its priorities. So why does only 1 percent of America’s federal budget go toward public education?

Although it is the charge of each state to educate its citizens, a primary purpose of federal education funding is to help equalize conditions between and within states so that children in every ZIP code receive an adequate and equitable education.

Unfortunately, only about 1 percent of all federal spending currently goes toward elementary and secondary public education. We clearly need a greater federal investment: Year after year, Congress continues to underfund key programs, including those that counteract poverty, help states educate children with special needs, and ensure educational opportunity in rural communities.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent a staggering $8.36 million per hour on war since 2001, according to the National Priorities Project. An additional $528.5 billion in taxpayer money goes to the Department of Defense for non-war costs each year.

Imagine if we could put just 1 percent ($5.28 billion) of the money that goes to non-war costs toward education instead. (See chart at right.)

Of course, the federal government could also use the $5.28 billion to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title I, and the Secure Rural Schools Act. That alone would take an immense strain off of states, which scramble to fulfill federal mandates without the accompanying funds.

Find out more at


What $5.28 billion could buy 

65,389 elementary school teachers for a year…


593,098 additional Head Start slots for a year…


159,113 university scholarships (covering all four years)…


Pell Grants of $5,815 for 227,209 students for four years…


health-care coverage for 2.23 million low-income children


Delivering Goodwill and Cheer

NEA members across the nation open their hearts and pocketbooks for children, senior citizens, and others in need.

Since 2005, members of Michigan’s Traverse City Transportation Association (TCTA) have raised more than $40,000 through a Transportation Humanitarian Fund. The effort has helped families purchase gas and grocery cards from retailers, avoid home foreclosures, and pay for car repairs, electric, and heating bills.

“The fund also helped us build a ramp for a disabled student and pay plane fare for a daughter to visit her dying mother,” says TCTA member Marti Alvarez. “All we ask of recipients is to pay it forward by helping others through volunteering.”

Throughout the year, spreading goodwill is all in a day’s work for members of the National Education Association (NEA). Members write checks to charities, volunteer at food banks, and reach into their own pockets to buy clothing, school supplies, and toys for children in need.

Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) members organized a school supply drive for specific items that will serve students this summer. Everything from sunscreen, jump ropes, and Badminton sets, to water colors, puzzles, and books were requested of members attending the PSEA Education Support Professionals Conference in April in Gettsyburg.

“We used the theme of serving the whole student to provide members with donation ideas,” says Nathan Greenawalt, director of special field programs. Greenawalt explained that serving the whole student centers on keeping students healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

In Maine, Charles Wilson, president of Gardiner Bus Drivers Association (GBDA), says, “We’re more than bus drivers. “We converse with students every day, encouraging them to study hard and follow their dreams.”

Last year, the local’s members raised $250 to buy Thanksgiving Day turkeys for less fortunate families. When members learned that a local supermarket chose to donate the turkeys in partnership, GBDA members used the funds to purchase gifts for students.

In Illinois, members of the Greenville Education Association (GEA) sponsored the service of the Central Illinois Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry, a large truck equipped with refrigerated bins and extensive shelving. After receiving an Illinois Education Association (IEA) grant, GEA arranged for the mobile pantry to visit Greenville Elementary School. Over the course of one evening in November, a small army of educators, students, and other volunteers assembled in the school gym and served almost 550 people from 170 households, including 215 children and 110 senior citizens.

“Educators give back to their communities year-round in many ways,” says Kristy Schaefer, a teacher at the school who wrote the grant.

Members of Greenville ESP Association (GESPA) also received an IEA grant to purchase gifts for area foster children. In collaboration with Foster Hope of Bond County, members wrapped and donated gifts to more than 100 children from 40 foster families. Both Illinois locals participate in the school district’s Weekend Backpack Program, which provides students from low-income families with backpacks filled with food items to help them stay fed on days they are not in school.

This year, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) honored two members whose immediate families experienced a severe personal hardship. In collaboration with Galleria Furniture, the selected members received a living room set and other gifts. This partnership began after a store manager contacted David Williams, OEA associate executive director, offered members a 10 percent discount at several stores, and expressed a desire to help two OEA families in extreme need.

“In general, Oklahoma teachers have not had a meaningful pay raise since 2007 – 2008,” Williams says. Oklahoma ranks 48th in average teacher salaries, according to a recent NEA study.

In Maine’s Gardiner school district, Wilson says members value helping students above all else: “Hopefully, when they get older they will help someone.”

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