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NEA News

Educator advocacy earns wins for students in many states

The gains educators helped secure in the most recent state legislative sessions show the importance of winning elections and making educator voices heard.
happy student in classroom
Published: June 28, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. Educators in a number of states achieved striking legislative victories on critical issues ranging from education funding to student-to-educator ratios and child nutrition.
  2. Members' hard work in elections and advocacy during legislative sessions were key to success.
  3. Students and educators will soon see the results of these legislative wins in their schools and communities.

Educators in a number of states achieved striking legislative victories on a wide range of issues critical for students and their ability to do important work in the nation’s schools. 

Activist educators focused on protecting the best features of public education and supporting new legislation involving student-to-staff ratios, child hunger, LGBTQ+ rights, gun safety, teacher shortages, and other key issues.  

No state could top the progress made in Minnesota for students, educators, and working families. 

SPOTLIGHT: Educators help pull off the “Minnesota Miracle” 

Educators played a key role in what Education Minnesota called a potentially “life-changing package of funding and policy for the working conditions of educators and the learning environments of students.” 

Among other things, educators gained the right to include student-to-staff ratios as part of collective bargaining talks. 

“It means that our families and our students will have written promises about one of the most important learning conditions in their schools,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers. “Parents will know whether their kindergartner will be in a class of 18 students or 28, and whether their 8th grader be trying to learn algebra next to 25 students or 42.”  

Eckhoff believes that the legislation will improve teacher retention. 

The ratio provisions were part of a budget package that also increases state support for preK-12 education by 11 percent for two years and 15 percent in the two-year budget after that, followed by an increase of at least 2 percent annually starting in 2026. At the same time, the budget also invests an additional $650 million in higher education and creates a new program that will cover the cost of tuition and fees at Minnesota public colleges for families earning less than $80,000 a year.

The union-backed education budget provides new, ongoing support for special education and community schools and $64 million to reduce shortages of counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. It allows grants to community mental health providers to offer services in schools. It also provides money for hourly workers—including many education support professionals—to access unemployment insurance in the summer. 

The progress made in Minnesota would not have been possible without a successful election cycle in 2022. Not only did educators enthusiastically support Gov. Walz’s re-election, they helped a slate of pro-public education and pro-labor candidates win a majority in the state legislature. 

Here is a look at more of this year’s affiliate wins, and how they came to be. 


Educators in several states were thrilled when their advocacy efforts resulted in major funding increases for schools. Legislators in Michigan, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, Illinois, and Maryland raised education funding to record levels. 

SPOTLIGHT: “Fierce advocacy” boosts funding for Colorado schools 

Educators in Colorado celebrated a number of victories this legislative session thanks to “fierce advocacy” by educators, says Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association (CAE). 

Most noteworthy is the boost in education funding, which increases the per-pupil investment by more than 10 percent. It dedicates an additional $30 million for rural schools and an additional $40 million for special education. 

The School Finance Act also includes a $180 million buydown of the Budget Stabilization Factor, a mechanism instituted during the recession to automatically adjust allocations to districts depending on budget needs. 

Windsor-Severance Education Association President Stephanie Hausmann, a Windsor High School teacher, reported that members attended a special CEA Lobby Day to meet with key state legislators. 

“We are pleased with the unprecedented increase to per pupil revenue … in addition to the $180 million-dollar buydown of the budget stabilization factor,” Hausmann said. She called it a “significant step toward getting back to a fully funded classroom for Colorado students, something that last year’s graduating class had never experienced in their entire K-12 years.” 

Colorado legislators also enacted “the largest advances in public worker rights in a decade,” according to CEA, and addressed teacher shortages with four separate bills plus additional support for mental health professionals. 


Educators and parents know that students cannot focus during class if they are hungry. When students participate in school meal programs, their attendance, behavior, and comprehension improve.  

Thanks in large part to educator advocacy, more states are funding school meals for all students to ensure that no child goes hungry at school. Vermont, Minnesota, and New Mexico are the latest states to pass universal school meal legislation, and Washington expanded its program. 

SPOTLIGHT: Vermont educators win universal meals for students 

The work by Vermont-NEA to help pass legislation reinstating universal school meals in the state included a convincing pitch to one state legislator. 

Teachers met with Sen. Nader Hashim, D-Windham, who said he had thought free meals were simply “a nice thing.” 

“I sat with a group of students and staff to hear about the program, and when I heard the stories from the kids, and the world of difference that the teachers and staff noticed, I walked away recognizing that universal school meals was going to be one of my top priorities in the legislature.” 

Under the legislation, sponsored by Erin Brady, an NEA member and social studies teacher in Colchester, public schools will offer students free meals and have incentives to use local food sources. 

The state budget also continues funding Vermont’s Local Food Incentive Grant Program, which was launched in the 2021-22 school year, and increased funding for the Farm to School and Early Childhood Program to $500,000 annually. 

Meanwhile, there are efforts in some 20 states to pass universal school meal legislation and work on the issues on a national level with NEA’s support  



In higher education, blocking bad bills was key 

Nearly half of state legislatures considered bills to ban public colleges and universities from having diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices or offering diversity training. Notably, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed such a law, which additionally forbids faculty from teaching “identity politics,” over the strong objections of United Faculty of Florida members who said students have the right to hear a full range of ideas.      

But, in some states, where NEA members have worked hard to elect lawmakers, these bans were rejected. In Kansas, for example, Gov. Laura Kelly used her line-item veto to reject a provision that would have prevented state universities from using equity principles in faculty hiring.   

While some state legislatures interfered, others invested. Meaningful increases in higher education funding occurred across the country, thanks to energetic advocacy by faculty and students. In Illinois, the 2024 state budget provides a 7 percent boost to base funding for community colleges and universities and a $100 million increase in state grants for low-income college students. 



In addition to respect and reasonable workloads, educator pay and benefits are an important way to recruit and retain educators. One of the areas where states made notable progress was in paid leave, thanks to educator advocacy on the issue: 

  • The South Carolina Education Association won 6 weeks of paid parental leave for school employees.  

  • Education Minnesota won Paid Family Medical Leave for all workers, including teachers and ESPs, who can receive up to 12 weeks of medical leave, parental leave, safety leave, caregiving leave, and deployment-related leave. Also, hourly school workers are now eligible for unemployment benefits, ending an unfair exclusion and giving our ESPs financial stability. 

  • Delaware State Education Association won an increase in paid sick days from 3 to 5. 

SPOTLIGHT: Maryland educators win support to tackle teacher shortage 

Jainlyn Bridgeforth is one of several aspiring educator members of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) who lobbied and testified before state legislators to win their support for the Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act, which includes provisions to support future educators. 

“Four years ago, when I started my matriculation, there were 32 students in the elementary education track. Nine of us will cross the stage,” said Bridgeforth, who was a student teacher at Glenmount Elementary/Middle School in northeast Baltimore and senior at Morgan State University. “It’s not for a lack of love of education, but for a lack of survivability in this major,” she added, noting that she was forced to start a GoFundMe page to help pay for her college expenses. 

According to MSEA, the legislation, which passed in May, is a multi-pronged approach to making “the teaching profession more diverse, accessible, and appealing to those considering a career in education in Maryland.”  

The new law works to reduce excessive workload to curb educator burnout. It also includes a $20,000 stipend for student teachers over a 10-month period, which makes earning a teaching degree more feasible for students from lower-income backgrounds. 

The legislation includes a Teacher Development and Retention Program that allows first- or second-year students to receive a small stipend for pursuing a teaching career. If they commit to teach in a high-needs school or content area for at least two years, they receive the $20,000 during their fourth year of college. 

The state must also set specific recruitment and retention goals for teacher preparation programs. 

The act also calls for the state education department to develop an Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity Dashboard that will feature data reported by county boards on the race, ethnicity, gender, school, length of service, certification status, and position on the career ladder of educators in the county, as well as county-level data on hiring and attrition rates.  

The legislation also increased support for a loan assistance program for educators to $5 million and broadened eligibility and accessibility for a Teaching Fellows for Maryland scholarship, giving priority to students employed in public schools and publicizing the program more fully among historically black colleges and universities and among disadvantaged groups.  



Educators, parents shut down Georgia voucher bill 

Members of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) lobbied state legislators to get a stunning rejection of an onerous school voucher bill, with 16 Republicans and all but one Democratic legislator voting against the bill. 

Joe Fleming, director of government affairs for GAE said the effort to halt the legislation garnered the biggest response he’s seen from GAE members, who worked closely with parents and the state Parent Teacher Association. 

“This voucher bill had the backing of the legislative leadership and governor and that made the work our members did on this issue all the more noteworthy,” Fleming said. “They stepped up and worked with parents who understood what a bad deal this was for our students and families, especially those in our poorest districts.” 

Heather Scalzitti, the parent of a high school student in Atlanta, said during two days at the capitol, parents and teachers worked together to persuade legislators that the bill would dramatically shortchange public schools, particularly in under-resourced rural and urban districts. 

“We all are after the same thing — trying to preserve and improve our public schools and this legislation would have done the opposite. There are things we can do to make things better such as decreasing class size or providing more individualized education or wrap-around services, but this bill was the wrong direction.” 

The voucher legislation would have offered public school families a state subsidy of about $6,000 a year to help cover private school tuition.  

Fleming noted that for every dollar flowing into a district through the scholarships, about two dollars would leave through decreased state support. It would also give a subsidy to districts and families with greater resources. 

GAE and the PTA gathered and analyzed data showing there were few private schools outside the metro areas. 

“Those rural areas of our state value public education more than political affiliation, because there is no other option,” Martin said. “Fifteen rural House members realized that precious education funds were going to be siphoned away from their farmland communities and sent to private schools their constituent families could not afford.” 

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.