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Federal Legislative Update August 2011

August 5,  2011


Actor and philanthropist Matt Damon joined educators and concerned citizens from across the country in Washington, DC on June 30 to urge national leaders to focus on education reform that provides a high-quality education for every student. Mr. Damon gave an inspiring speech to the crowd and later defended teachers to an aggressive reporter, and gave an interview in which he expressed dissatisfaction about current education policy. Later, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell highlighted Matt Damon’s words in offering his own impassioned defense of educators. NEA members bused, drove, flew, or took trains from every part of the country to show solidarity with fellow educators and declare their dedication to a fully-funded, world-class education system for all students in the United States. Read more about the March.


In the final hours before the August 2 debt ceiling deadline, Congress passed a budget deal. See how your Representative and Senators voted. Read statements by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel during negotiations and on the final deal.

The deal was necessary to avoid default on the nation’s debt and the resulting economic catastrophe. And, while the deal is highly flawed, your help was instrumental in securing several key victories:

  • No cuts at this point to Social Security, Medicaid, or Food Stamps — a big win given that negotiations started with proposals to slash these core programs.
  • Funding for two years of Pell Grants — good for students and makes it easier to fight for other types of education funding (such as Title I and IDEA).
  • No taxation of healthcare benefits. Such taxation was a very real threat and its omission from the deal is a big victory.

These victories would not have been possible without the almost 80,000 e-mails you sent to Members of Congress and President Obama.

Now, we need your help again. Soon, congressional leaders will appoint Democrats and Republicans to a new “super-committee” charged with coming up with over $1 trillion in additional deficit reduction. We need to act immediately to influence this committee. We will have to fight hard against additional cuts to education; for protection of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and for contributions to deficit reduction from those most able to pay their fair share. The next few weeks are critical in making our voices heard.

Take Action: Tell Congress that the super-committee must protect those with the greatest needs and ensure that those most able to do so pay their fair share.


This fall, additional work is expected on ESEA reauthorization around teacher quality. NEA believes that students and teachers deserve high quality evaluation systems that provide the tools teachers need to continuously tailor instruction, enhance practice, and advance student learning.  But, the responsibility for crafting teacher evaluation and accountability systems should lie at the state and local level, not with the federal government.

As Congress recesses for the month of August, it is a perfect opportunity for activists concerned about public education to reach out to Members of Congress and share your views and expertise in advance of ESEA reauthorization.

Take Action this Month:

  • Check your Members of Congress’ websites to see when they are holding town hall meetings. Go to the meetings and make your views heard.
  • Call the Members’ local offices and set up a meeting for you and some of your fellow educators. A face-to-face meeting is a great way to make sure Members hear your concerns and is also a great way to build an ongoing relationship with congressional Representatives. This visit should be set the state for future meetings and conversations with your Representatives -- critical steps to ensuring your voice is heard. NEA members — log your scheduled August back-home visits on NEA’s Education Votes website. This site also includes materials you can use to help you prepare for your meetings.

Keep e-mailing Congress. Tell Congress how teacher quality issues should and should not be addressed in an ESEA Reauthorization bill.


Cheers to:


Actor Matt Damon, who spoke eloquently in defense of educators at the July 30 SOS March, saying in part, “So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything.… Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you, and we will always have your back.”


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who in her House floor remarks on the debt ceiling deal stood up for those who seemed forgotten in the recent political posturing, stating in part, “But I am not concerned about the boardroom table. I am more concerned about the kitchen table. Because this delay and uncertainty has a tremendous impact on America’s families as they sit around the table and talk about how they’re going to make ends meet, how they’re going to pay their bills. Is Social Security going to be intact for them? Will their checks arrive this week or next week, whenever they’re due? Is Medicare and Medicaid something that they can count on?”


Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who made a courageous and emotional return to the House of Representatives this week, just 7 months after being brutally shot while meeting with constituents in her district.

Jeers to:


The shameful and escalating displays of political brinksmanship in Washington, DC that brought us to the edge of economic catastrophe and left the American people wondering if their representatives remember who they were elected to represent.