WASHINGTON — The following are remarks as prepared for delivery from the keynote address by NEA Executive Director Kim Anderson to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly. The RA is being held virtually out of an abundance of caution as communities across America continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thank you so much Madam President. It is a true honor to address the highest governing body of the NEA.
“So, I want to start by saying thank you.
“To Becky, Princess, Noel, the NEA Executive Committee, and Board of Directors, and you, the delegates to this 100th Representative Assembly…. thank you. As President Pringle told us yesterday, she’s never been prouder to be an educator. Well Madam President, on behalf of the NEA staff, we’ve never been prouder to support you and our 3 million members in service of the students and communities we love. Wow are we lucky to have you as our president!
“I also want to thank our amazing management team, particularly Sabrina Tines-Morris, who envisioned this incredible, first-ever virtual Representative Assembly, along with the entire NEA staff for their dedication to our union.
“Delegates, in addition to this being the 100th Representative Assembly, we also mark another important milestone.
“Fifty-five years ago, delegates helped merge the American Teachers Association and the National Education Association. And with that, a new multi-racial coalition was born.
“And that beautiful coalition got to work — on our public education system…and our democracy.
“They marched for civil rights. They fought for equity in education. They activated a massive network of educators, parents, and students that successfully fought to lower the voting age to 18. And exactly 50 years ago, the 26th Amendment passed in record time.
“We did that. You did that.
“And NEA, we know we’ve never been perfect, but we’ve always made progress. We’ve helped protect, improve, and expand our democracy and our public education system when our country needed it most.
“Becky has called us to action. This moment calls us to action.
“Over the past four decades, we’ve seen the anti-democracy agenda on steroids.
“Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of this agenda back in 1980 famously said, ‘I don’t want everybody to vote…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.’
“My friends, the structural erosion of our democracy is real. And it’s happened right before our eyes.
“It’s the Supreme Court allowing corporations to line the pockets of politicians with unlimited donations and calling it ‘free speech.’
“It’s state legislatures limiting access to the ballot, shuttering polling places in Black and brown communities, and calling it ‘election integrity.’
“It’s foreign adversaries spreading disinformation and undermining our vote without consequence.
“It’s public figures here and abroad sowing seeds of distrust across the country and around the world.
“And at a time when 30 percent of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen — an election that was certified by bipartisan election officials in every state — we know that our work is more urgent than ever before.
“Democracy depends upon an educated citizenry.
“With every fiber of my being, it is increasingly clear that you — our nation’s educators — must be the ones to save our democracy through a world class public education system.
“We’re here today because generations of NEA activists, organizers, and agitators dedicated themselves to imagining a more vibrant, more inclusive democracy and system of public education.
“They knew the two were inextricably intertwined.
“And delegates, when we listened to President Pringle’s vision, I hope you could see the road we’ll travel together…The pathways informed by our history and fueled by our desire to transform public education, our democracy, and our society.
“So, what is the challenge before us?
“The key to rescuing our democracy is twofold: First, enough citizens need to prefer democracy to the alternative. And second, they must be able to trust the institutions that form the backbone of a free society.
“To restore faith in our system, we need an electorate with the will — and the skill — to fix it. That means ensuring that students understand our full history, where we’ve fallen short, and where we’ve made progress. It means teaching people to be discerning, engaged citizens and compassionate leaders. And it means giving all students the tools they need to contribute to our society and lead full, happy, healthy lives as adults.
“Our democracy is the foundation of a society which is supposed to value equal voice, respect for all, and the dignity of spirited, but civil discourse. And where do we learn to put those values into action? In our schools and on our campuses.
“In other words, the answer to a weakened democracy is a strong, just system of public education.
“And it’s our job, as members of this union, to fight for it.
“A strong public education system serves everyone. When we remedy its inadequacies, we do it for every student. And so, as Becky said, our ambition is to give all students, all educators, and all communities the support they need to excel — without exception.
“It’s a bold, glorious vision, and President Pringle, as your partner, I’m proud to say we’re already turning it into a reality.
“First, we’re doubling down on increasing the number of community schools around the country. These schools go far beyond ‘kill-and-drill’ testing to respond to students’ individual needs — from physical and mental health care to language support, to occupational therapy. And we know they work.
“I’m proud to report that the NEA has launched a Community Schools Institute with 39 affiliates. And just two days ago, the NEA Board of Directors approved an investment of up to $10 million to help implement the historic American Rescue Plan. Now we can follow the lead of NEA-New Mexico and the Maryland State Education Association in scaling community schools statewide.
“Community schools are models of democracy — with the voices of students, parents, educators, administrators, and community members shaping them, supporting them, and improving them.
“Put simply, a community school constantly seeks a more perfect education for its students. And that means its students are more likely to seek a more perfect union.
“Second, we’re continuing to build a culture of professional excellence through union-led professional practice and career supports. I always say the best asset of any membership organization is the membership itself. And everywhere we turn, NEA members are crafting professional supports for their fellow members. We call our model ‘by members, for members.’ It’s professional learning with and for colleagues. Webinars, micro-credentials, professional practice leadership cohorts across the education professions — all this is being organized by your union and fueled by you!
“When I think of the professional excellence pillar of our union, I dream of the day when every single member proudly says, ‘my union helped me become an excellent practitioner…and I want to pay it forward to the next generation of NEA members.’
“By members, for members. From our affiliates in New Jersey, Illinois, Alaska to Delaware, Nebraska, and Florida, this union is leveraging the brilliance of our own members, so that we can deliver our best for every student.
“Third, we’re leaning into racial and social justice with an acumen and intensity that this moment calls for.
“We’re cultivating leaders who put equity at the center of their practice and their advocacy for their students. That means developing racial and social justice professional development for educators. It means creating toolkits for action. And it means funding grants that help our members and community partners demand better for all students.
“We’re standing up for the rights and dignity of every student and every educator, whether they are white, Black, Latinx, Asian, Native or newcomer, multi-racial, LGBTQ+, rural, urban, or differently able.
“Delegates, I’m the proud mother of a college student and a recent high school graduate, and I’ve seen what you see every day. America’s students expect us to be honest with them.
“They can smell a con job a mile away. And they’re supremely offended when adults tell them what they can and cannot handle.
“If our public schools are the first laboratory of democracy in students’ lives, then we absolutely owe them complete, accurate lessons about our nation’s past and present.
“Facts, critical thinking, respectful discussion. There’s nothing divisive about that. That’s the free marketplace of ideas. That’s the pathway to understanding. That’s democracy in our schools and lecture halls.
“Which brings me to you. The people with the heart, power and imagination to change the world.
“The sheer outpouring of selfless love over the last 18 months, from teachers and education support professionals and other dedicated public employees — with car parades, and TikTok videos, virtual story times, and grab-and-go meal sites — has been breathtaking.
“When you are this essential, you deserve not just gratitude, but protection and security. A good paycheck with good benefits, so you enter your professions, and you stay!
“This union is also here to fight for exactly that!
“And this union is here to amplify your voices and your solutions! That’s why I’m so proud of the $3 million we’re investing in a partnership with the New Jersey Education Association to spread labor-management collaboration systems across the country.
“When educators have a voice, when their solutions are heard, educator turnover goes down, student learning goes up, community engagement goes up. Everybody wins!
“In Arizona, AEA won a historic victory by passing Proposition 208 — Invest in Ed. AEA’s leadership secured a $1 billion increase in public education funding.
“Education Minnesota fought to win a 2 percent increase in per-pupil funding and new funding to hire counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses — along with a dedicated effort to diversify the state’s teacher workforce.
“In Illinois, the IEA won an expansion of Family and Medical Leave coverage for education support professionals, so our colleagues don’t have to choose between their health and their jobs.
“In Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Montana, our affiliates fought off serious attacks on labor rights, and in Kansas and North Dakota, we defeated voucher bill after voucher bill.
“And in my own beloved Virginia, VEA worked to overturn a longtime ban against collective bargaining for educators. Come September, those authorization cards are going to start rolling in. And come November, VEA’s going to keep the General Assembly in good hands and elect Terry McAuliffe, Hala Ayala, and Mark Herring to the top jobs in the Commonwealth.
“So, let’s give it up for NEA members in all of these states!
“Your union is proud of you!
“But it’s not just our voice and our solutions that matter. It’s our votes and our organizing that make change happen.
“Over 233,000 NEA members volunteered during the 2020 elections. Together, we made 275,000 phone calls and sent nearly 2 million text messages. NEA, 93 percent of our membership turned out to vote. And we turned out thousands more friends, family, and neighbors.
“We absolutely helped carry President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to victory. We elected pro-labor, pro-public education lawmakers across the country.
“Now, the next step is not only to cast a ballot — but to be on the ballot. If we want to transform public education, we need to put education professionals in office.
“Like Natha Anderson, lifelong educator and organizer, who was elected to the Nevada State Assembly and is using her experience and her position to fight for Native American students. Like Muriel Hall in New Hampshire who was just elected to the House, beating back a pro-voucher, anti-democracy candidate.
“As I said last year, we want to See Educators Run! See Educators Win! See Students Succeed!
“Time and again, we’ve shown that when our students need us, when our fellow members need us, when our democracy needs us — we answer the call.
“In 1970, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, the first Black president of the NEA, said ‘The world is awaiting an awakening in the American soul. [The] world is watching to see if the noble words in the Bill of Rights will become reality for all.’
“Fifteen years later, NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell challenged us again — to innovate, to evolve, and to settle for nothing short of excellence in our professions and for our students.
“Today, our own President Becky Pringle carries forth their legacy with a new challenge: to use our imaginations to transform public education once and for all, to be world class and to be just.
“NEA, I would submit to you that when we do that, our democracy will be more inclusive and just as well.
“The appetite for change in our country has never been greater. Americans are looking to heal…heal from a devastating pandemic…from divisive rhetoric.
“They’re looking to fight for the America we see in our dreams. They’re looking for unifying, multi-racial, multi-generational coalitions to lead us out of the darkness. Coalitions that we’ve built time and time again in our union’s history.
“NEA let’s transform public education for our students and for our country!
“Let’s lift our voices!
“Let’s offer our solutions!
“Let’s run our members as candidates!
“Let’s vote and bring every friend with us!
“Let’s demonstrate the power of a union that believes in democracy and believes in public education!
“Let’s go, NEA! Let’s go!”
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.