- The U.S. House of Representatives has passed President Joe Biden's historic investment in American families and public education.
- Key provisions include universal pre-K, the child tax credit; educator recruitment and retention; paid family leave; and healthy school meals.
- Make your voice heard—ask the Senate to finish the job and pass this critical legislation now.
You’re expecting a new addition to your family and just learned that although you’ve been teaching in your school district for years, you get absolutely no paid family leave to bond with your baby.
None. Zero. Zilch.
Maybe you’ve already had a child and are crunching the numbers on how much your son or daughter’s daycare is going to cost — and you realize it’s more than your mortgage. You wonder whether your family can afford the extra expense for the next five years until your child will be eligible for kindergarten.
“Congress needs to understand that investments in universal pre-K, free school meals, and expanding the child tax credit aren’t partisan ideas.
They’re necessary responses to urgent crises facing our nation, and they’re long overdue.” —Tabatha Rosproy, 2020 National Teacher of the Year
Or perhaps it’s December and your school district is still hiring classroom teachers, school bus drivers, custodians, and teachers’ aides. It’s still looking for substitute teachers, too, and because they can’t find anyone, you’ll need to give up your planning period and work through lunch to cover for a sick colleague. You’re feeling firsthand the negative ripple effect of the staffing shortages, and they’re reverberating throughout the school community.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The good news is President Biden’s Build Back Better Act addresses these issues, and potential relief is in sight.
The Build Back Better Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month, is the largest investment in families and workers in more than a generation—and it’s all paid for by making the uber-rich and corporations pay their fair share.
The bill is now up for a vote in the Senate.
Here are just six of the ways the Build Back Better plan supports students, educators, and families, as told by educators themselves.
#1: UNIVERSAL PRE-K
Tabatha Rosproy, a preschool teacher and 2020 National Teacher of the Year, knows firsthand how universal pre-K will help kids and their families.
“With universal pre-K, all children—no matter where they’re from, where they live or what they look like—would have access to a quality education that lays the foundation for lifelong learning and long-term success,” she says. “And it’s not just kids who will benefit. On the job, I’ve witnessed how an extra boost (through the Head Start program) changes the lives of students and their entire families, eventually reducing intergenerational poverty.
If passed, the Build Back Better Act would be the largest expansion of guaranteed schooling in a century. Every 3- and 4-year-old child will be able to attend public school.
The effort will give the kids the foundation they need. At the same time, it will alleviate two years of childcare costs for families.
#2: Direct payments to families
With the expansion of the Child Tax Credit from the American Rescue Plan, most households currently receive automatic monthly payments of $250 or $300 per child. However, that benefit is set to expire on December 31, 2021.
Families use this money for groceries, school supplies, and childcare.
"The Child Tax Credit has afforded my family the ability to maintain our residence during a time of increased rental price,” says Margaret Powell, a data manager at West Cary Middle School in Cary, N.C.
“As a mother of two teenage boys it has been difficult in balancing our family budget when living in an area where rent has increased 22% and salaries have been frozen. The Child Tax Credit has prevented us from having to make hard choices between necessary life essentials,” she continued.
The Build Back Better Act would extend these payments through 2022, and it would permanently make the full credit available to children in families with low or no earnings in a year.
The impact of the Child Tax Credit expansion cannot be understated. It is the largest anti-poverty program in decades, cutting child poverty in half and lifting an estimated 10 million children out of poverty.
For educators, who are paid 20 percent less than other professionals with similar credentials, these payments have been a much-needed lifeline for themselves and their students.
#3: PAID FAMILY LEAVE
Currently, only nine states and the District of Columbia require employers to provide paid family leave, which leaves many educators scrambling when they need to quarantine after COVID exposure or positive test result, get sick, or need to care for a family member—like a new baby.
“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,” said Annie Fisher, a music teacher in Ripley, W.V. “I ended up having to use a lot of [leave] before the baby was born because of the need to physically isolate during the pandemic.”
For educators like Michigan teacher Teneshia Moore, paid family leave would have been a huge help when she struggled to care for family members infected with COVID-19.
“The reality is that paid family leave is something that affects all of us. I had to take care of my mother. She had COVID twice during the initial phase of the pandemic. I lost an aunt to COVID. I lost a stepfather to COVID,” she says. “I had to take care of all those people, and I literally dwindled my sick days down to little or nothing,”
“It was one thing after the other, and I just did the best I could,” she continued.
If the Build Back Better Act is passed without changes, all these concerns will be history. The version passed by the House includes one month of paid leave for all workers.
“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,” added Annie.
#4: EDUCATOR RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
The teacher shortage has been building across the U.S. for years, but this fall—as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage and educator pay continues to lag—districts are opening schools with numerous teaching vacancies.
“Teachers are human beings. And you can take only so much before you think, hey, maybe I could do something else,” says Cara Lougheed, a high school English teacher in Rochester, Mich., and the 2019 Michigan Teacher of the Year.
One of her teacher friends is selling real estate now. Another, a former math teacher, is an actuary. Some have gone into direct-to-consumer sales, plus at least one into mental-health counseling.
The Build Back Better Act will begin to address the educator shortage by investing in educator recruitment and retention to address shortages and diversifying the profession, including Grow Your Own programs and teacher residencies
It will also expand access to education beyond high school by raising the maximum Pell grant and providing first time funding to the Hawkins Centers for Excellence Program —critical support for creating an educator workforce that reflects the diversity of students.
The version of the Build Back Better Act passed by House Democrats reforms immigration to be more fair, just, and humane.
The bill includes long-term work permits and protections for seven million hardworking immigrant essential workers
“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!” says Angélica Reyes, a high school history teacher in Los Angeles. “Our communities and allies in Congress are centering and pushing for the humanization and dignity our families deserve.”
#6: HEALTHY SCHOOL MEALS
Throughout the pandemic, students, families, and educators have worked together in their school communities to ensure our children receive the education they deserve. The Build Back Better plan recognizes that students’ basic needs must be met before they can achieve academically.
“Some of my students come into my classroom almost like zombies—hungry and tired. They can barely function if they haven’t eaten,” said Kellie Crawford, a primary specialist teacher from Spokane, Wash. “A silver lining from the COVID pandemic was that our school was able to get U.S.D.A. waivers for all students—regardless of whether they qualify under the old criteria—to receive healthy school meals.”
She says the program has made a significant difference in academics while avoiding the stigma of singling out students whose families couldn’t afford breakfast or lunch at school.
The Build Back Better Act would:
allow more schools to offer free, healthy meals to all their students through the Community Eligibility Provision;
extend summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program nationwide to all students receiving free or reduced-price school meals; and
make investments in school kitchen equipment and healthy school meals.
“No student deserves to go hungry, and the foundational block of inspiring young minds is ensuring their bellies are full,” said Crawford.
What you can do
As Tabatha says, “Congress needs to understand that investments in universal pre-K, free school meals, rebuilding and modernizing our crumbling schools, and expanding the child tax credit aren’t partisan ideas. They’re necessary responses to urgent crises facing our nation, and they’re long overdue.”
So please join Tabatha and other NEA members by lifting up your voice. Tell the Senate how Build Back Better will affect you, your students, and your family. Tell them to vote without delay.