The message of NEA’s “We Rise Together” campaign, a national call to demand Congress pass the HEROES Act to help stabilize education funding, couldn’t be any clearer:
“If we don’t do something, it’s going to get worse,” cautioned NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, during a national tele-town hall with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), and award-winning actor Bradley Whitford, as well as thousands of education activists. The group underscored throughout the hour-long call that the “something” is to take collective action to urge Congress to pass a new coronavirus relief bill.
“Schools depend on tax revenues: income tax, sales tax, property tax,” said Eskelsen García. “With so many people out of work, not going shopping, businesses closed, tax revenue is falling off a cliff—and that means school funding won’t be there when [school districts] need it in the fall.”
She added, “There is something we can do about it, if we rise together and act to get schools what they need—and we can do it right now.”
On the Table
Helping to keep local and state budgets afloat, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the HEROES Act, legislation that provides money directly to school districts, colleges, and universities, as well as state and local governments that are struggling to fill budget gaps from the fallout of the coronavirus. The bill includes $100 billion specifically for K-12 and higher education; plus, $915 billion in state and local aid that could be used to help public schools and college campuses as tax revenues fall.
History shows that recessions bring to the education community massive layoffs, class size hikes, reductions in state education spending, and more. The Great Recession of 2008 proved this, and it took years for states to recover. In some places, they never recuperated.
But you don’t have to look too far into the past to predict the future. Right now, Hawaii is suffering a devastating blow to its economy. With tourism down, the state has the highest unemployment rate in the country and the ripple effect is felt in schools across the state.
Schools receive no money from the counties and no property taxes, explained Corey Rosenlee, a high school teacher and now president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “Whenever there’s an economic downturn, the first place the state goes to cut is our schools.”
When the coronavirus hit, state officials looked to cut school funding to make up for budget shortfalls, including a 20 percent cut to the salaries of teachers and government workers. The Hawaii affiliate mobilized its members and flooded its board of education with testimony on how these cuts would worsen student learning. This, in part, compelled the Gov. David Ige to announce that there is no “immediate need” to consider pay cuts or furloughs,” shared Rosenlee.
The key word is “immediate,” and it is why collective action is needed to pass the HEROES Act.
Support from All Walks of Life
Supporting NEA’s We Rise Together campaign, the HEROES Act, and educators around the country is Sen. Kamala Harris of California, saying that “[We] value the long-standing roll that you play on lifting up our country through the work you do every day as educators, and the bottom line: NEA, you know how to win. You have a partner in me in the senate.”
While the country and public schools face serious financial challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis, the impact to students will be devastating.
U.S Rep. Jahana Hayes (Connecticut), the 2016 national teacher of the year, emphasized her concern over the “millions of kids who are returning from probably the most traumatic experience in their life into school buildings that are already going to be stretched and under resourced.”
“Now is one of those times that we really have to pull together and unite, and make sure our voices are heard because everyone is talking about how much they love teachers, how teachers are doing a wonderful job, teachers are our heroes,” said Hayes. “I don’t want people to say it. I want people to show it.”
Actor and political activist Bradley Whitford, known for his roles in "The West Wing" and "The Handmaid's Tale," was also on the call to share his support to public school educators and their students. "I've seen what it costs to be a dedicated, passionate educator, and now we have to take the fight to Congress."
Here is What You Can Do
Over the course of the coming weeks, NEA will be organizing virtual #RedForEd rallies across the country and engaging educators and parents in tens of thousands of phone calls and emails to Congress, telling lawmakers to put politics aside and provide emergency funding for students now. Contact your state affiliate to learn more.
You can also write to Congress, and recruit your friends to join you in your efforts to get elected leaders to prioritize the funding needed to support public school students, educators, and their communities in the next coronavirus relief package.
Help build collective action by becoming an NEA community ally and pledge your support to public education by signing up to take future actions—and all this can be done at nea.org/covidaction.