WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed today the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), President Biden’s plan to support students, families, workers, and communities. The transformative bill would create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, provide universal PreK, tackle child poverty and hunger, lower costs for families, and help address the climate crisis by creating clean jobs. The National Education Association has advocated for the passage of this historic legislation.
“No matter what we look like or where we’re from, everyone deserves a shot at the American dream. But for too many working families, the American dream just gets farther and farther away from them,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “With President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take meaningful action on long-ignored challenges ranging from how we educate our youngest generation, ensure no child goes hungry, care for those who are ill or have fallen on hard times, or securing protections for immigrants. The failure to act for too long has limited the opportunities of millions of Americans, particularly in Black, Brown, and Indigenous, and rural communities. The time to act is now.”
The Build Back Better agenda would transform the lives of millions of students and their families. In their own words, educators share what the Build Back Better Act’s investments in early childhood education, healthy school meals, paid family leave, addressing the chronic educator shortage, and securing protections for immigrants could mean for everyday Americans:
- Universal preschool: “Preschool teachers like me are applauding elected officials for including universal PreK in the Build Back Better bill because we know just how much a difference an early start can pay down the road. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated education inequities—especially for younger students who are experiencing speech, language, and other developmental delays—and that has made the need for universal PreK and programs like Head Start even more critical.” —Bethany Jarrell, preschool teacher, Holloman Elementary School, Alamogordo, N.M.
- Healthy school meals: “Before the pandemic, we had students who couldn’t afford a lunch, so we had a cart in our cafeteria that would have little cups of pickles. And for some kids, that was the only lunch they got; they would go up and take two or three of those cups and maybe an apple. The district has now been providing free meals for every student, and the changes I have witnessed in my students are evident. Kids are participating more in class during the day, and they’re not falling asleep or dealing with a growling stomach. The Build Back Better Act could have a lasting impact on keeping my students engaged because the legislation would provide students with a healthy meal—and students and their families wouldn’t feel ashamed or hesitate to sign up for free or reduced meal service.” —Reed Bretz, music teacher, Kenowa Hills High School, Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Paid family leave: “After teaching for 16 years, I was lucky to have enough leave to cobble together to be with my baby, but I was really shocked that I would need to use my own sick leave for my maternity leave. And I ended up having to use a lot of it before the baby was born because of the need to physically isolate during the pandemic. Every mother and father should have paid leave to allow for bonding time with their baby—not to mention the time necessary to physically heal. I’m so grateful that paid family leave was included in the Build Back Better agenda.” —Annie Fisher, music teacher, Jackson County Schools, Ripley, W.V.
- Addressing the educator shortage: “We’re fighting to make it through the year, through the month, through the week—some of us, through the day. We’re in survival mode from last year. We’re burnt out. The shortage of teachers, education support professionals and substitute teachers is a systemic issue that the pandemic has exacerbated. We have some substitute teachers, but we don't have enough. And the root of the issue is recruiting and retaining educators, and that includes substitutes. Our substitutes are not paid really well. My district just increased their Friday pay by $50. But we also need to figure out, how do we increase the quality of their workday and give them the respect that they need?” —Sobia Sheikh, math teacher, Mariner High School, Everett, Wash.
- Securing protection for immigrants: “Immigration issues are a huge human rights issue that we must continue to address and Build Back Better is a huge step in the right direction! Our communities and allies in congress are centering and pushing for the humanization and dignity our families deserve. This victory is a result of the tireless work and strength of our communities. Immigration is in Build Back Better because the public, Democrats in Congress and the President of the United States recognize undocumented immigrants as an integral part of the United States of America.” —Angélica Reyes, high school history teacher, Santee Education Complex, Los Angeles.
“Every investment made in the Build Back Better Act will pave the road for success to millions of Americans,” added Pringle. “We urge Congress to meet the moment with courage and vision. The Senate needs to come together and swiftly pass this historic bill that will, quite literally, transform the lives of millions of Americans.”