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Report

2020 NEA Policy Playbook for Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration

Priorities for the significant work ahead.
The Capitol and the White House
Published: 11/12/2020

We must come together across political affiliations, ideologies, ZIP codes, and races, to do what’s best for our students.  

With a Biden-Harris administration, we have new opportunities to implement policies at the federal level that will benefit the lives of our students and educators locally. New relief funding will help our schools overcome the immense hurdles created by COVID-19. Fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will get educators the debt relief they were promised and ease the teacher shortage. Racial inequities caused by decades of unjust funding, white supremacy, and anti-immigration policies, will begin to be corrected. 

And that's just the start. Smaller class sizes, professional pay, social and emotional learning, child nutrition—it’s all on the table. 

NEA’s Policy Playbook provides specific solutions in 27 different issue areas for the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to address. 

“We need the federal government to return to its role of ensuring equal access to opportunity, protecting the most vulnerable, and investing in the future of society.” -- Becky Pringle, NEA President 

Introduction

The National Education Association (NEA) works to ensure the continued vitality of public education as the cornerstone of our democracy, where education professionals have a respected and valued voice in preparing all students to succeed in a just, diverse, and interdependent world. The NEA believes public education is the gateway to opportunity.

With more than 3 million members, the NEA is the largest labor union in the United States and the world’s largest professional association of educators. In fact, 1 in 100 Americans is an NEA member, and 1 in 39 voters reside in an NEA household. Advocating on behalf of our students is a responsibility that we take seriously, and we believe in working closely with our elected leaders to ensure that every student’s well-being, needs, and rights are a priority. 

At the NEA, we use the term “educator” to ensure that all of our members are seen and heard. This term encompasses teachers, aspiring educators, retired educators, education support professionals, specialized instructional support personnel, librarians, and higher education faculty and staff. Because we believe in raising the voices of all of our members, regardless of their role, we also encourage all members to use their voice to enact change. Educators are the most trusted professionals in their field; they are the people who know students’ names and who help students excel. Their input is vital to ensuring that public schools and institutions of higher education meet the needs of every student. It is our hope that in reading each of the following policy briefs, you will consider the whole spectrum of educators and how their voices can be embedded in the development and implementation of various policies. 

Educators have the potential to be the change the education system needs. To ensure that all public schools and higher education institutions have the resources to succeed, we look forward to an active partnership with the Biden–Harris administration and other pro-public education allies. 

Assessment Systems

The NEA believes that these are unprecedented times in public education. As the country faces multiple health and economic crises, we advocate that the federal government devote its substantial resources to support students and schools impacted by this pandemic. As trusted professionals, educators are equipped to assess their students using multiple measures to understand student progress and guide classroom instruction. We would call on the federal government to partner with educators to support these efforts and determine how and when to resume federal testing requirements. 

In principle, however, the NEA believes that standardized tests and/or assessments should be used only to improve the quality of education and instruction for students. Standardized tests—whether norm-, criterion-, or standards-referenced—can validly assess only a limited range of student learning. Therefore, they only should be an adjunct or supplement to information obtained through school- and classroom-based assessment conducted by teachers for purposes of supporting and strengthening instruction as well as for summarizing and evaluating student learning. Standardized tests are most useful when designed by the education professionals closest to the classroom and integrated with assessment information specific to local programs.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Affirm that students deserve the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways, including the ability to apply that knowledge as part of a project or performance assessment. 
  • Commit to working with educators and other stakeholders to reexamine public school accountability systems throughout the state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment that does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools—such as parts of the system used by the New York Performance Standards Consortium. 
  • Acknowledge that the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in district, state, and federal accountability systems is undermining education quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy. 
  • Recognize that the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage—including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning and instructional time, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate—in too many schools. 
  • Admit that high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects on students from all backgrounds, especially those from under-resourced communities, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities. 
  • Suspend federal testing requirements until after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. 
  • Oppose the use of standardized tests for federally mandated determination of a student’s future or an educator’s evaluation or as an indicator of school success. 

Charter Schools

Public education should be our first priority. Any program that diverts resources from the traditional public schools that 90 percent of American students attend by definition undermines the promise of public education. The NEA is dedicated to addressing the inequalities our students and communities face, and most charter schools do not contribute to the systemic framework that ensures all students have access to a more equitable, safe, and dynamic learning environment.

Where they operate, charter schools should be authorized and held accountable by the same agency that monitors and evaluates other schools in a public school district. They should be held to the same open meetings and public records requirements; federal, state, and local civil rights laws and regulations; and health and safety codes as traditional public schools. 

Additionally, the staff should be held to the same licensure and qualifications requirements. A single authorizer, elected by the local community, ensures integrated oversight as well as effective dissemination of effective practices. The NEA supports local charter school authorization and renewal decisions that are contingent on independent analyses, developed with community input, regarding the potential impact on other public schools and students in the district as a whole—and the attendance zone in particular—as well as whether other strategies might better serve students’ needs. Public accountability ensures that schools are developed, monitored, and evaluated based on the needs of the community.

About 4 in 10 charter schools nationally are managed under contract by for-profit or nonprofit charter “chains” that may or may not be headquartered in the communities where their schools are located. For-profit management companies should not operate charter schools. The NEA opposes charter schools that operate entirely online. The NEA also opposes for-profit management of public schools, which creates a conflict of interest and undermines the transparency required to maintain public accountability regarding school finances.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Oppose all charter school expansion that undermines traditional public schools.  
  • Bar federal funding to charter schools, charter school authorizers, and charter school management companies not authorized or operated by local school districts.
  • Require charter schools, charter school authorizers, and charter school management companies to abide by the same laws and regulations applicable to traditional public schools.

Child Nutrition 

Food insecurity is a major threat to the health and well-being of approximately 40 million people—or 12.5 percent of our population—and disproportionately impacts Native People and People of Color. It can lead to less educational attainment in children and negatively affect social, emotional, and cognitive development. SNAP, free and reduced-price school meals, and participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) can help to reduce food insecurity.

The NEA believes that all children should have access to healthy and nutritious meals daily regardless of their parent’s ability to pay. We know that when students go hungry, they cannot focus on learning and are deprived of the opportunity to realize their full potential.

The NEA urges national leaders to commit to strengthen and improve the federal programs that serve millions of children and families across the United States. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Restore broad-based categorical eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure that children and families regain the much-needed food assistance lost in the 2019 revision of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations regarding categorical eligibility.
  • Maintain healthy nutrition guidelines for school meals.
  • Strengthen and expand the reach of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for elementary students from predominantly economically disadvantaged families to support a reduction in chronic disease through improved dietary quality.
  • Provide funding and support to expand the Farm to School Grant Program, including continued expansion to early care and education settings, summer, afterschool, and tribal communities.
  • Support efforts to increase access to additional reimbursable meals and snacks for children in full-day child care.
  • Increase funding and support for the School Breakfast Program. 
  • Train and support school food service professionals. 
  • Expand access to high-quality, healthy foods by promoting and funding scratch cooking, which includes providing adequate funding for purchasing, staff training, and kitchen equipment.
  • Lower the area eligibility threshold and increase the per meal reimbursement rate for summer meals. 
  • Support unencumbered access to nutrition by enacting universal school meals.  

Class Size

The NEA believes that excellence in the classroom can best be attained by small class size. Research clearly demonstrates these positive impacts.

Tennessee’s longitudinal class-size study—the Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project—found that students enrolled in small classes as children were more likely to complete advanced math and English courses, finish high school, graduate on time, and graduate with honors than their peers who did not benefit from reduced class sizes. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that class size benefits were especially pronounced for students of color, increasing their likelihood of earning a college degree and enrolling in higher-earning fields, such as STEM, business, and economics.

Class size maximums must be based on the type of students, grade level, subject area content, and physical facilities. The NEA believes in optimal class sizes in regular programs and a proportionately lower number in programs for students with exceptional needs. Weighted class size formulas should be implemented to reflect the inclusion of exceptional students. The NEA further believes in establishing workload maximums for all curricular areas, not to exceed the recommendations of their respective national organizations.

Reducing class size helps to close opportunity gaps and has a positive impact on student learning. Simply stated—when qualified teachers teach smaller classes in modern schools, students learn more. Teachers with small classes can spend more one-on-one time and dedicate their energy to helping each child succeed. Smaller classes also enhance safety and positive behavior in the classroom.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:  

  • Reduce class sizes in consultation with educators.
  • Base class size reductions on student needs, grade level, subject area content, and physical facilities.
  • Lower the number of students per classroom in programs for students with exceptional needs.
  • Require the collection and reporting of class size data that reflect the class size experienced by most students from state departments of education on a yearly basis.

College Access and Affordability

Nationwide student debt is mounting, now totaling almost $1.65 trillion. Every American should have access to higher education, regardless of income.The staggering amount of overall student debt warrants federal intervention, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, support for free public college, student loan refinancing options, and the untangling of for-profit institutions from federal student aid. 

Data shows that roughly one in five 15-year-olds in the United States don’t understand basic financial concepts. For students (and families), financial literacy is a must to help navigate the growing demand for postsecondary coursework. Student debt is a significant barrier to educational and economic advancement for students from under-resourced communities, who are disproportionately students of color. 

In addition, expanding and streamlining Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs should be prioritized among reforms; doing so redresses long-standing institutionalized racial inequities in the country and is a key tool for diversifying the education professions.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Make community college free and eliminate costs for the first four years at all public higher education institutions, including minority-serving institutions. Provide additional grant aid to the lowest-income students and expand Pell Grants. 
  • Expand and simplify the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs, which enable college graduates to pursue careers in education and public service. Expand and align the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program with Public Service Loan Forgiveness by broadening those who qualify to include educators teaching all subject areas in public schools and working in all job categories in public education; all faculty, including contingent, and staff in higher education; and other education job categories. The new Secretary of Education should seek to cancel the student loan debts of experienced educators using all available tools and correct the current administrative deficiencies in the PSLF program.
  • Expand access to high-quality dual enrollment courses, providing students with an accelerated opportunity to receive a postsecondary degree and reduce their student debt. Effectively address barriers to access for working and nontraditional students and ensure that students who qualify for student financial aid are not excluded from programs based on their immigration status or the status of their parents. 
  • Allow existing federal student loans to be refinanced so that students can maximize savings. Support legislation to provide individuals in bankruptcy reasonable options for discharging student loans. 

Community Schools

The NEA believes all schools should use research-backed school improvement strategies designed to support an adequately and equitably resourced and racially just education system. The Community School Model (CSM) has a strong track record of closing opportunity gaps, supporting a culturally relevant and responsive climate, and causing significant and sustained school improvement. The NEA supports the use of the CSM in public schools where the local staff and community are supportive.

Community schools are community centers—open all day, every day to everyone. They bring together academic coursework, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement under one roof, leading to better learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. They build trust by opening and maintaining lines of communication and contribute to the necessary partnership that provides all children access to a high-quality public education, no matter the zip code in which they live.

NEA’s model for community schools rests on six pillars of practice:

  • Strong and proven culturally relevant curriculum that is inspiring and engaging, is well-rounded, and prepares students for college and career; 
  • High-quality teaching and learning delivered by fully licensed knowledgeable educators who are collaborative in their approach to instruction, curriculum design, and school improvement;
  • Inclusive leadership that engages educators and administrators in planning and implementation of student-centered practices;
  • Positive behavior practices that incorporate social and cultural considerations and support students academically and emotionally;
  • Partnerships and collaboration that integrate families, local businesses, and community and civic groups into programs and services; and
  • Coordinated and integrated wraparound support programs and services that address the needs of students, families, and the community. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Increase funding for the Full-Service Community Schools Program, Magnet School Program, and other research-proven innovative school structures.
  • Support only those school improvement strategies that employ an open democratic process that meaningfully engages community stakeholders, that adhere to collectively bargained labor agreements, and that require education services to be provided by public entities and public employees. 
  • Oppose public school options that compromise free, equitable, universal, and quality public education for every student. 

Early Childhood 

The NEA is concerned about the growing number of children who enter kindergarten already behind their peers socially and academically. Evidence suggests this “school readiness” gap begins before children enter school and places children at risk of failure in school. 

The NEA believes all children deserve access to early learning opportunities that will increase their chances for success in school and in life. However, access to high-quality early childhood programs is extremely uneven in the United States, with African American and Latinx children and children from under-resourced communities less likely to have access to the kinds of early childhood programs that improve school readiness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed how tenuous early childhood education and care is without universal public preschool. The daycare sector has been leveled by this crisis, and many parents of young children may find themselves without adequate daycare options when they are otherwise able to return to their normal workplace. While it is well understood that economic recovery depends on workers having reliable child care and schools for their children to attend, the lack of funding for these necessities raises deep concerns about potential impacts on the ability of women who are also primary caregivers to continue to fully participate in the paid workforce, a particularly troubling trend given the high proportions of women who are sole, primary, or co- breadwinners for their families.

The NEA believes it is time for every child to have access to high-quality early childhood programs. The NEA urges national leaders to make high-quality early childhood education programs a priority and consider it an integral part of the public education continuum.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Increase funding for Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) to ensure all eligible children are served. In 2018–2019, only 11 percent of eligible children under age 3 had access to EHS, and 36 percent of children ages 3–5 had access to HS.
  • Provide more children with access to high-quality child care programs. Too many families do not have high-quality child care options in their immediate communities.
  • Ensure no family making under 150 percent of state median income pays more than 7 percent of their income on child care. Child care is a major household expense and can comprise as much as 20 percent of the pay for moderate income families.
  • Provide universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten (preK) programs for all 3- and 4-year-old children during the school day. Research on the publicly funded preK programs in Oklahoma, Boston, and districts in New Jersey demonstrate that high-quality preK programs can be implemented to scale across diverse communities when they have high program standards, teacher qualifications and compensation, and ongoing support for teachers. 
  • Make kindergarten attendance mandatory for every 5-year-old child and require districts to offer full-day kindergarten. Only 17 states and the District of Columbia require children to attend kindergarten, and only 14 states and the District of Columbia require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten. 
  • Improve the compensation, education, and training of the early childhood workforce to ensure that all children have access to an educator equipped to meet their needs regardless of setting. Teacher qualifications, compensation, and professional development are strong determinants of early childhood program quality.

Education Funding

Persistent and entrenched inequities in state public school systems existed prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has exposed them in a way that presents an opportunity to address the underlying causes, which, in other circumstances, would typically be ignored. A robust and sustained federal response can be the catalyst for permanent change.

The last economic crisis—now known as the Great Recession—demonstrated the painful consequences of cutting off federal aid before a recovery could take hold. When federal aid disappeared, states were forced to cut spending deeply and lay off workers to balance their budgets, which delayed an economic recovery and weakened the U.S. economy longer term. On average, states took at least six years (from 2008 to 2014) to recover the ground they lost in education funding, and at least half did not return to the funding levels they had experienced pre-recession until several years later. State spending cuts in education disproportionately harmed already under-resourced school districts that were more dependent on state aid. Moreover, multiyear state cuts to education set back student learning for years, especially for the most vulnerable students. Overall gains in student achievement stalled and graduation rates declined in districts with a higher proportion of students from under-resourced communities, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Black students.

For decades, Congress has failed to fully fund Title I, Part A grants to local educational agencies and IDEA state grants. Presidential leadership has also been lacking for most of the same period. For school year 2019–2020, the federal government provided $29 billion less than the level required to fully fund Title I, Part A—with more than half of all public school students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—and $23 billion less than the level required to fully fund IDEA state grants. The current federal share is the lowest it has been since 2000. Because services for children with disabilities are required by law, states and local school districts must absorb the costs not covered by the federal government. 

The Budget Control Act of 2011 restrained domestic spending through the enforcement of strict spending caps and the threat of sequestration. FY 2019 discretionary resources for the U.S. Department of Education are more than $7 billion below the FY 2011 level (adjusted for inflation)—a direct result of this period of misguided austerity. Non-defense domestic spending, which includes education, is not the cause of rising annual deficits; in fact, it has accounted for the smallest share of the national economy for the last 20 years.

Today, most state school finance systems are not fair, adequate, or well-designed, with outmoded, arbitrary funding formulas that lazily adhere to distributing funding based on prior year spending and political, not educational, considerations. Federal incentive grants can be an effective lever in moving states off the status quo and encouraging greater fiscal effort. A large body of evidence from rigorous empirical research says money matters. Sustained improvements in the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Reach an agreement with Congress on at least $175 billion in additional federal emergency aid to stabilize public education funding for students in communities and schools and on campuses. The funding should be distributed to states and local districts based on need and may be allocated in phases, with a significant amount allocated initially, followed by gradually lesser amounts to mitigate against a fiscal cliff. The agreement should also include $12 billion for the E-rate program, which helps schools ensure Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for K–12 students who do not have Internet access and connected devices at home; and ample fiscal relief for state and local governments like that provided in the House-passed HEROES Act to avoid laying off public service workers—in health care, public safety, education, and other areas—who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Propose a down payment on a historic investment in public education—to be known as U.S. Public Education is a Priority, or U.S. PEP—as part of the first budget plan that would increase the federal investment in public education from about 2 percent currently to 5 percent over a specified number of years. This bold commitment would help ensure every student has access to a great public education and is crucial in preparing students to become active civic participants in a vibrant democracy and to compete in a 21st-century global economy. U.S. PEP would include a multiyear effort to quadruple the federal investment in Title I; fully fund IDEA; and, at a minimum, restore funding, adjusted for both inflation and enrollment growth, for all other major federal education programs—such as Title II, Part A and Title III for English learners—to authorized levels or those that existed prior to the enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
  • Establish federal financial incentive grants for states to increase equity, sufficiency, and fiscal effort in state education finance systems.

Federal COVID-19 Relief

Since March 2020, our society and our economy have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite more than 200,000 fatalities, millions of positive cases, thousands of shuttered local businesses, and tens of millions of people out of work, the Trump administration has refused to lead the country out of the pandemic. Their actions have intensified the effects of the pandemic and further divided our society. Among their more egregious acts, the Trump administration attempted to divert over $1 billion in CARES Act funds from public schools to push for vouchers and threatened to withhold federal resources from schools that did not open in-person regardless of local COVID cases. 

The consequences of the pandemic have affected Native People and People of Color particularly hard in terms of access to education, job losses, pay cuts, and cases and death rates.

  • About 16 million students are not able to participate in digital learning because they don’t have the broadband Internet and/or technology they need.
  • After layoffs and furloughs, it has been most difficult for mothers of school-age children, Black men, Black women, Hispanic men, Asian Americans, younger Americans (ages 25–34), and people without college degrees to return to the workforce.  
  • Nearly half (45.9 percent) of all COVID-19 cases in ages 5–17 were among Hispanic/Latinx children, with a similar percent in children ages 0–4 (45.2 percent). Only about a quarter of all U.S. children are Hispanic/Latinx. Hispanic/Latinx individuals also make up a plurality of diagnosed cases within the key age groups for parents: 34.9 percent of those 18–29, 38 percent of those 30–39, and 38.6 percent of those 40–49. 
  • In contrast, white children make up about half of the under-17 population; yet, they represented only about a quarter of COVID-19 cases. Black and Native American children made up a slightly greater percentage of COVID-19 cases than they do the white child population but were not overrepresented nearly to the degree of Hispanic/Latinx children. 
  • Similarly, a study of children tested for COVID-19 in Washington, DC, showed the highest positive rates for Hispanic/Latinx children (46.4 percent), followed by Black children (30 percent), and then non-Hispanic white children (7.3 percent). Children from historically marginalized communities were also more likely to test positive, with those in the lowest median family income quartile far more likely to test positive than those in the highest quartile (37.7 percent vs. 8.7 percent).

Federal recovery efforts must explicitly address these inequities. We need our national leaders to prioritize public education in this country, strengthen students’ access to postsecondary options, and put in place the protections and significant resources needed to support digital learning and the safe and just return to in-person instruction in schools and on campuses.It also must secure a real economic stimulus package that addresses workers’ needs through critical unemployment supports so that Americans can continue to survive beyond the pandemic and into the post-COVID economy. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Provide comprehensive and critical COVID-19 relief (HEROES Act or another stimulus).
  • Implement a nationwide mask mandate and condition COVID-19 relief funding on implementation of effective mitigation strategies, including, but not limited to, the use of masks and social distancing as well as notice to and quarantine of close contacts of individuals infected with COVID-19 in schools and institutions of higher education.
  • Create robust, universal, and well-funded testing and contact tracing systems.
  • Extend unemployment benefits, including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and Pandemic Unemployment Compensation under the CARES Act; expand PUA to individuals who are advised by a medical professional to leave their employment to protect a high-risk household family member; and provide funding to and oversight of state unemployment systems to ensure those benefits are paid out to workers.  
  • Ensure that additional federal funding is not offset by diversions or cuts in local or state public school or institution of higher education funding. 
  • Ensure that recovery efforts are designed to advance equity by conditioning funds on effective state initiatives to bridge the digital divide and support students who are not able to fully access educational services during the pandemic. 

Health Care

In addition to our advocacy for broad health system change, the NEA advocates for incremental reforms to improve the health and health care of children, students, communities, and active and retired educators, whether or not they receive employment-based insurance.

The NEA is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the employment-based health care system upon which much of the ACA rests. We will continue to work to defend the ACA, including its consumer protections and employer-penalty provisions and the tax exclusion for employment-based health coverage. At the same time, we will maintain our efforts to improve the law through the complete elimination of the excise tax on high-cost health plans, a component of the ACA that will have a disproportionately negative impact on women, older workers, and those individuals who happen to live in areas of the country that have higher health care costs.

The NEA also supports single-payer health care, with the understanding that employment-based health benefits may still have an important supplemental role to play, medically and financially, in a single-payer system.

We will continue to advocate for single-payer initiatives that ensure that school-based health services and health coverage for children and others are cost-effective and appropriately broad and tailored. The NEA will continue to defend the tax exclusion for employment-based insurance in this context.

Students face complex health threats in and outside of schools that require comprehensive policies tailored to their needs. In today’s health care system, protection of and adequate funding for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare are essential. The NEA opposes efforts to undermine these programs whether by block-granting Medicaid, establishing Medicare vouchers, or shifting the cost of these programs to beneficiaries and their families. Similarly, the NEA supports health care initiatives designed to lower costs, improve quality, and protect children and other health care consumers, including plans to lower prescription drug costs, protect health care consumers from surprise medical bills, expand school-based mental health services, and ensure that school-based health centers are funded into the future. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Declare that affordable, comprehensive health care is a right.
  • Ensure that national health care policy mandates universal coverage with the highest quality health care at the lowest possible cost.

Immigration

Our nation’s public schools form the center of our communities, and as educators, we believe that all students deserve the support, tools, and opportunity to learn and thrive with safety and dignity. Public schools unite students and communities, and education is central to reaching and striving for greater opportunity and cultural understanding. 

Educators interact with diverse students every day in our classrooms, schools, and communities. They play a unique role in supporting immigrant students and creating inclusive school communities. 

Real immigration reform will strengthen our communities and make us all safer. The NEA believes that to accomplish this, we must: 

  • Fund alternatives to detention and invest in the necessary mental health supports for children and families who have been subjected to the horrors of forced separation. Families belong together, but, even together, they do not belong in jail or detention. 
  • Provide a path to permanent legal status for those immigrants who are full and contributing members of U.S. communities, raising families, paying taxes, and enriching society in myriad ways. 
  • Affirm the right to every child, regardless of immigration status, to access a free public K–12 education. All students should have the opportunity to learn without fear and distress from harsh and unfair immigration enforcement. 

As we move forward, our laws should reflect our core values as a nation that welcomes immigrants, respects due process, and gives everyone fair treatment under the law. They should reflect equality, fairness, accountability, and opportunity. We have to continue to connect to these core values and protect them against those seeking to exclude and divide. 

We make gains together as a country when we welcome immigrants, ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and embrace the diversity, strength, and new perspectives immigrants bring to our communities. We are all better when we welcome immigrants into our communities. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:  

  • Implement comprehensive immigration reform that ensures the humane treatment of all immigrants and a reasonable, fair, and orderly immigration process for all aspiring citizens while permanently ending policies that separate families, divide communities, and encourage racial profiling. 
  • Immediately end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families, including an end to ICE raids, which inflict chaos, fear, and instability on entire communities.  
  • Support legislation and take executive action to put immigrant youth, including past and present Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and long-time beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure on a path to citizenship. 
  • Support Safe Zones in schools through legislation or executive action so that students do not fear immigration enforcement actions will take place at their school or on their school routes.

Judicial Reform

For decades, conservatives have waged an aggressive campaign to take over the courts, including the nation’s highest court, and have used that power to entrench their political, economic, and social power. The past few years have seen that long and deliberate campaign come to fruition. Republicans not only blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, but they also refused to consider it. And Republicans did so even though many had specifically called on President Obama to nominate Garland in the past, citing his legal brilliance and impartiality. At the same time, Republicans blocked well over 100 lower court judges, leaving them open for President Trump to fill. Because of these unprecedented actions, the Republicans appointed two young ideologues to the Supreme Court and many more to the lower courts, who will likely serve for decades. And with staggering hypocrisy, Republican senators acted with unprecedented haste to hold hearings and, ultimately, confirm a third idealogue to the Court only weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

The lower federal court judges are young, extreme ideologues, who do not reflect the modern United States. Of the 218 federal judges confirmed under the Trump administration, 76 percent are men and 84 percent are white. We need to build a bench with judges who understand the interests of ordinary Americans. 

Meanwhile, our courts are overwhelmed because, while their dockets continue to swell, no judgeships have been added since the 1990s. The overwhelmed lower courts have led judges to create procedural hurdles and substantive law that keeps civil rights plaintiffs—and particularly plaintiffs bringing employment disputes—out of federal court. Adding judgeships to the lower courts would not only relieve unmanageable caseloads and overworked judges, but it would also present an opportunity to improve judicial diversity.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Add additional judgeships to the federal district and circuit courts, increasing the number of judgeships for each circuit and district according to population growth. This is particularly important for the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits. The overwhelmed dockets of the federal courts have led courts to limit access to justice, and ordinary Americans seeking relief from civil wrongs have been the most affected by the closing of the federal courthouse doors. 
  • Nominate lawyers who represent both the diversity of the nation and the professional diversity of attorneys. Nominate People of Color, women, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities, immigrants, and those from various religious backgrounds. Prioritize nominating lawyers for judgeships who have represented labor unions, workers, consumers, immigrants, or civil rights plaintiffs.
  • Consider steps to rebalance the Court by adding associate justice seats and nominating individuals to those seats who reflect the diversity of the modern United States. The unprecedented power grab by the Republican Senate during the last year of the Obama administration and the last year of the Trump administration has left the U.S. Supreme Court tilted far to the right, both out of step with most Americans’ views and unrepresentative of most Americans’ experiences.

LGBTQ Rights 

All students and educators deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Safe and affirming schools are a core element of student success. 

Seventy-seven percent of K–12 students who were out as (or perceived to be) transgender experienced at least one significant form of discrimination, such as being verbally harassed by peers, disciplined more harshly than cis-gender (not transgender) peers, or physically or sexually assaulted because others believed they were transgender. Harassment can force LGBTQ students to avoid classes or extracurriculars, stay home from school, or even leave school entirely. All schools should be safe and welcoming environments for all students. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Ensure the protection of transgender students. The administration should clarify and reinstate Obama-Biden guidance, which outlined anti-transgender bias that was covered by laws against gender bias and, thus, led the way for investigations into such discrimination. Prior to that guidance, some cases involving transgender students were investigated as gender discrimination but advocates for transgender students said some of their cases needed to be defined as anti-transgender bias. 
  • Support developmentally appropriate gender identity and LGBTQ equity education programs.
  • Rescind any efforts made by the Trump administration to weaken the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), including the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal to further amend the definition of harassment and bullying based on sex in the 2019–2020 CRDC; the definition in its current form eliminates specific reference to gender identity, gender expression, and nonconforming gender stereotypes.
  • Pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2019 (H.R. 2653/S.2548), which prohibits bullying and harassment on sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Enforce and strengthen the protections granted under the Supreme Court ruling in the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia case (2020), which announced that LGBTQ employees—including all LGBTQ educators—are protected under federal law from discrimination at work based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Postsecondary Faculty, Staff, and Institutions

Our institutions of higher education need renewed and significant financial commitments from state and federal governments. The ability to provide students with the education they need and desire to be competitive and contribute to our society hangs in the balance as resources continue to decline. Our students need safe and technologically current learning environments, where they are supported by faculty and staff who are respected.

Data confirms a steady and growing income gap between college graduates and those without a bachelor’s degree. Without sufficient financial resources and human capital, postsecondary institutions will struggle to meet the pressing challenges of “controlling costs amid increased fiscal pressures, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, adapting to changing technology, and responding to the country’s changing demographics.”

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Accelerate postsecondary investments. Provide incentive programs to spur state reinvestment in institutional capacity for instructional and student support services. Increase funding for institutional aid programs and capital financing that provide support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Asian-Pacific-Islander-Serving Institutions.  
  • Promote parity across the board. Ensure equal treatment of two- and four-year institutions. Require students to be exposed to both in-person and technological education modules. Provide fair and equitable treatment for contingent employees in higher education. We need to prevent the overuse and exploitation of contingent faculty to improve student learning.  
  • Give voice to higher education faculty and staff. Promote articulation agreements between secondary and postsecondary institutions. Resume funding for the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty and include data collection on both tenure-line and contingent faculty. Support efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty and staff.  
  • Ensure campus safety and inclusion. Provide federal funding for programs that assist postsecondary institutions develop emergency response plans. Ensure that campuses and law enforcement have the resources to enforce laws that protect against sexual assaults and harassment. Ensure all campus employees have access to resources that help support today’s increasingly diverse campuses. 

Private School Vouchers

The NEA believes that our nation’s continued success as a participatory democracy and as a world leader depends on our commitment to excellence in public education. This commitment carries with it the need for a reliable source of adequate funding that is equitably distributed. The NEA further believes that voucher plans, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and related funding mechanisms undermine support for public education, facilitate racial and socio-economic segregation, and weaken the wall of separation between church and state. 

Vouchers divert scarce resources from public schools, while offering no countervailing benefits. Multiple studies analyzing assessment data confirm that voucher students do not perform better than their public school peers. Furthermore, accountability in these programs has been notoriously lax, resulting in the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars. Private schools can and do discriminate by denying admission on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity,  citizenship status, English language proficiency, and disability. Using federal tax dollars to subsidize such discrimination is unconscionable.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Oppose the enactment of any new voucher program, including education savings accounts and tuition tax credit schemes, or the expansion of existing programs.
  • Repeal the expansion of Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code that permits the use of distributions from education savings plans for qualified elementary and secondary education expenses.
  • Limit use of Coverdell Education Savings Accounts to qualified higher education expenses.
  • Discontinue funding of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act. This voucher program authorizes the diversion of $20 million annually to private schools in the District of Columbia; it also offers taxpayers no accountability for the use of the funds and has consistently failed to demonstrate academic effectiveness.
  • Prohibit the disbursement of federal funds to organizations or providers that discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, national origin, or immigration status.

Professional Pay

Professional pay is a critical tool to recruit and retain highly qualified school staff, though educators continue to face a significant wage gap compared to other college-educated professionals in comparable fields. This is present for all who work in education, but most commonly described and evidenced in teachers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this gap in pay (often referred to as the “teaching penalty”) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s; in 2019, it was 19.2 percent. Teachers in every state are paid less than their professional counterparts who have similar degrees and skill sets. Now, the total compensation gap is 10.2 percent, and salaries alone are 19 percent behind other college-educated workers.

Pay erosion and the marginalization of the education profession have created a growing shortage of educators—including teachers, paraeducators, nurses, social workers, etc.—in the United States. At the same time, for-profit entities have secured contracts with and profited off of public school systems.

Cuts in education funding over the years have resulted in minimal salary increases, and those who have received increases have seen them wiped out by inflation and increases in insurance premiums. After adjusting for inflation alone, the national average teacher salary has decreased by 1.7 percent over the last decade. Starting teacher pay has decreased by 2.6 percent over the same period, with 59 percent of public school districts still offering teachers a starting salary that is below $40,000. For most ESPs, average salaries are often well below the cost of living; for example, the average salary of transportation workers is $30,794, of food service workers is $22,203, and of paraeducators $27,100.

These low salaries force many educators to work second and third jobs. Increasingly, ESPs are working solely for health and retirement benefits, and their second and third jobs are often the source of take-home pay. This low pay prevents educators from being able to afford to live where they work, which also factors into the high turnover rate. And with increasingly difficult working conditions, teaching is becoming a less appealing profession. 

Raising educator salaries to be commensurate with competing fields will help school districts recruit and retain a high-quality workforce. In the absence of this, the effects of low pay are apparent: Most states are experiencing teacher, paraeducator, and bus driver shortages, among others. Just as professional compensation is vital to recruiting and retaining high-quality educators over time, a high-quality workforce is vital to providing student services and creating the conditions under which student learning can thrive. The two cannot—and should not—be separated. 

We know that salary and education funding were major motivators in many of the “Red for Ed” walkouts; we must ensure that educator pay be sustainable through improved and consistent education funding. Programs such as temporary stipends or test-score-based bonuses, which can disappear by funding cutbacks or policy changes, are not the answer.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Eliminate the (pay) penalty of working in education by advocating for fair, equitable, and professional wages for all educators, including teachers, education support professionals (ESPs), and specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) in PreK–12 schools and faculty and staff in institutions of higher education (IHEs). 
  • Commit that all public dollars will only be used in ways that respect the dignity of living and work by requiring that wages in PreK–12 school systems and IHEs sufficiently provide for the regional cost of living and enable educators to hold only one job. 
  • Ensure that all working in PreK–12 and IHEs have the opportunity for professional growth and salary advancement.

Retirement Security

The NEA believes that retirement security for education employees can be assured only by participation in a defined benefit retirement plan from a state or local retirement system. 

Keeping experienced educators in the classroom improves instruction and creates stable environments for students. Research demonstrates that the best educators develop their skills through years of experience. That is why it is so important for states to not only attract the best teaching talent but also retain those educators. Strong, well-run defined benefit (DB) pension plans are key to attracting and retaining high-quality educator talent. They are more cost effective and provide greater retirement security than the alternatives. This, in turn, encourages younger educators to make teaching their career instead of a short-term stopping-off point.

This is especially timely as more states and school districts face growing shortages of qualified teachers. Some states have taken shortsighted and damaging actions to undercut traditional defined benefit plans. Educators see those actions as an attack on their profession and public education, driving more of them out of teaching. Since the recession, teacher retirement systems have been under constant attack, causing the number of students enrolled in teacher education programs to plummet, which has horrible consequences for our classrooms. In states with long-running, highly public fights over teacher retirement programs—like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Michigan—the teacher pipeline is down about 60 percent (versus the national average of 40 percent).

In states where educators have a choice between a pension and a savings plan like a 401k, they overwhelmingly choose a pension after learning the details. Pension plans are comprehensive, providing disability benefits, death benefits, and often cost-of living adjustments; and the short-timers who leave their profession before reaching vesting still get their contributions back with interest, just like in a 401k. Unfortunately, nearly every teacher retirement system has undergone changes that require educators to sacrifice in order to make their retirement system sustainable. They have also paid the price with a decade of wage stagnation to help generate funds for fixing their pension systems. These so-called reforms worsen the growing retirement security anxiety that millions of Americans feel.

The NEA also believes that Social Security is a social contract between the U.S. government and its citizens that must never be breached. Social Security benefits should be guaranteed for all participants regardless of age, gender, or marital status. To better ensure retirement security, Social Security benefits should not be integrated with other retirement benefits. Social Security is a critical social insurance program, and therefore, initiatives should be undertaken that ensure its long-term solvency. These measures should guarantee at least the current level of promised benefits that provide inflation-adjusted retirement benefits for retirees, family survivors of deceased workers, and disabled workers and their families.

The Association supports the availability of voluntary Social Security coverage to eligible school employee groups—when initiated by those groups—in states and localities in which public employees are not covered by Social Security. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Provide adequate funding for the state’s general education fund, which would support the retirement system’s annual recommended contribution.
  • Fully repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO)/Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
  • Strengthen Social Security by eliminating the cap on maximum taxable earnings. By eliminating the cap, the Social Security trust fund is strengthened, funding problems are reduced, benefits remain steady, and every American worker pays their fair share.
  • Ensure that all public workers, whether public or private sector, are offered retirement plan options. 

In addition, the NEA opposes: 

  • Any proposal to privatize Social Security; 
  • Provisions and regulations that deprive public employees of Social Security benefits;
  • Mandatory coverage of public employees under Social Security for employee groups that have declined coverage; and
  • The present practice of taking back earned benefits from Social Security permitted through the Government Pension Offset (GPO)/Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) even if benefits are already being paid.

Safe and Just Schools and Campuses

No one wants to be back in classrooms more than educators; however, the health and safety of our students, families, and educators must be the primary driver to determine when it is safe to reopen and return to school buildings and campuses. Extended school and college closures have upended families and student learning. It has been most drastically felt in Native communities and communities of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our public schools are the cornerstones of our communities, and it has become clear that we cannot fully reopen the economy and our communities until we reopen public schools; and we cannot reopen schools until resources and assistance are available to support students’ ability to learn and succeed in a safe environment. 

Many educators struggle with these same demands in their own families and also face demands to return to work under conditions that are unsafe. Teachers have had to convert months’ worth of in-person lesson plans to distance learning contexts, support both in-person and distance learning at the same time, and work with ever-changing and large cohorts of students. Food service workers have consistently prepared nutritious meals for students during the pandemic, and school counselors, social workers, and paraeducators have supported students and families in this time. All of these demands have led to unprecedented retirements and resignations from our public schools.  

As part of a comprehensive COVID-19 response and recovery plan, it is imperative that the federal government provide at least $175 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund to distribute to states, allocated by formula, for public preK through post-secondary education to fill budget gaps caused by declining state revenues. School districts and college campuses need this to adapt facilities for social distancing; provide necessary equipment for students and educators, including PPE when appropriate; adjust staffing and schedule patterns; and take other steps crucial to the safe and just return to in-person instruction. 

In addition, at least $12 billion is needed for the E-Rate program to help schools ensure Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices are available for K-12 students who do not have Internet access and connected devices at home. COVID-19 has brought home the stark realities of a digital divide that impacts up to 16 million students. The most negatively impacted are those living in poverty and in rural areas. In addition, deep disparities exist based on race regardless of socio-economic status or community type. 

The NEA believes that it is unjust for any students to be at risk of falling behind their peers because they do not have Internet access at home or adequate hardware. Through no fault of their own, they are, in effect, being denied the opportunities to learn that are afforded to their well-resourced peers.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has a crucial role to play in establishing education- and mitigation-related guidelines, promoting science-based responses to the crisis, and providing the funding necessary to facilitate safe and equitable in-person instruction in schools and institutions of higher education. The federal government must prioritize providing schools and campuses with the support and guidance needed to safely and equitably resume in-person instruction and, when that is not possible, support educator-led distance learning that is both effective and accessible to all. 

We need our national leaders to meet this staffing crisis head-on by being an outspoken advocate for public education, higher education, and educators; by ensuring that no educator need ever choose between protecting their own and their family’s health and their job; and by providing educators and students with the resources they need to teach and learn effectively until it is safe to return to consistent in-person instruction in schools and on campuses.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Acknowledge that COVID-19 has shone a bright light on vast racial inequities in society, and champion efforts to fix the vast systemic injustices in the education system. Black and Brown students, LGBTQ students, and differently abled students face disproportionately high discipline rates; 47 states and the District of Columbia do not meet the recommended student-to-counselor ratio; and 14 million students are in schools with police officers but no counselors, school health professionals, school psychologists, or school social workers.
  • Prioritize racial, social, and economic justice in developing guidance and providing fiscal support for states, local public school districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) as they implement or update plans for our students and educators to return to in-person instruction that ensure the health, safety, and wellness of all while also ensuring the quality education opportunities every student deserves.
  • Provide sufficient resources so that educators receive training in proven strategies, such as restorative justice practices and trauma-informed practices, and so that there is a market increase in counseling and school health staff to effectively and empathetically support student learning and growth through the pandemic and beyond.
  • Establish a federal floor for health and safety protections in schools and IHEs that specifies when in-person instruction may safely resume based on scientifically valid measures of community transmission and requires that effective mitigation measures—including the use of masks and social distancing—be in place before such instruction resumes.  
  • Provide increased funding for school-based health and mental health services, including school nurses and counselors, to ensure access to mental health supports for pandemic-related trauma and stress for students and staff.
  • Establish a federal database where all positive cases in a school can be reported and publicly available.
  • Incentivize school cooperation with public health officials for contact tracing and provide guidance on how best to keep staff and students out of school if they test positive or are identified as a close contact and need to quarantine.
  • Ensure local access to robust, universal, and well-funded testing.
  • Bridge the digital divide where in-person instruction cannot safely resume to ensure families can access distance learning on behalf of their children and support educators with resources to ensure effective distance learning.
  • Provide federal guidance and resources to support effective plans for distance learning and related professional development.  
  • Require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to systematically gather and make publicly available data on COVID-19 mitigation strategies and COVID-19 cases—including case data disaggregated by demographic characteristics—in schools and IHEs.

School Discipline

Our nation’s public schools form the center of our communities, and as educators, we believe that all students deserve the support, tools, and opportunity to learn and thrive with safety and dignity. Even though incidents of school violence have decreased overall, too many schools are still struggling to create positive, supportive environments. 

Each year, significant numbers of students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions—even for minor infractions of school rules—and students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. The school-to-prison pipeline is the result of myriad policies and practices fed by institutional racism that disproportionately place students of color—including those who identify as LGBTQ, have disabilities, and/or are English language learners—into the criminal justice system for minor school infractions and disciplinary matters, subjecting them to harsher punishments than their white peers for the same behaviors. The policies and practices include harsh school discipline that overuses suspension and expulsion; zero tolerance that criminalizes minor infractions of school rules; increased policing and surveillance in schools, creating prison-like environments; and over-reliance on exclusionary disciplinary referrals to law enforcement and juvenile justice authorities. The school-to-prison pipeline diminishes students’ educational opportunities and life trajectories.

Schools can improve safety by making sure that climates are welcoming and that responses to misbehavior are fair, nondiscriminatory, and effective. Public schools unite students and communities; they are central to reaching and striving for greater opportunity and cultural understanding. The federal government can provide resources to states and school districts that will assist in creating nurturing and supportive teaching and learning school environments and positive school climates that are essential for boosting student academic success. 

To that end, we must keep the following in mind: 

  • We must allocate resources to create positive, culturally relevant, and culturally responsive school climates and build the capacity of schools to promote positive alternatives to out-of-school suspensions.
  • The Civil Rights Data Collection must continue to monitor school districts’ progress and ensure that school discipline policies and practices are not adversely impacting certain groups of students.  
  • Funds must be allocated to hire school mental health professionals, such as school social workers, psychologists, counselors, therapists, etc. 
  • We must support the development of effective school disciplinary procedures that support high expectations for quality instruction and learning, treat students respectfully, and provide all students with a supportive and nurturing school environment. This includes ensuring that routine school discipline matters are handled by educators not SROs. 
  • It is the right of every child to be treated fairly regardless of gender identity and expression, race, sexual orientation, and ability status to access nurturing and supportive learning in public K–12 education. All students should have the opportunity to learn without fear and distress from harsh and unfair discipline practices and policies. 

As educators, the NEA is in the best position to develop model discipline policies that encourage the use of fair and effective discipline practices and discourage the use of school-based arrests and referrals to law enforcement before educators attempt corrective action.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Invest in comprehensive transformative and restorative justice practices that ensure the humane treatment of all students.
  • Reinstate the U.S. Department of Education/U.S. Department of Justice School Discipline Guidance to assist states, districts, and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate and ensure policies and practices comply with federal law. 
  • Fully implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows states the option to select school climate as an indicator of school quality; all states must describe in their plan how they will support districts to reduce the overuse of practices that push students out of the classroom.
  • Maintain the U.S. Department of Education’s current level of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) by preserving the existing questions and disaggregation of data by student subgroups, requiring all schools and districts to collect and report the data annually and continuing to make the CRDC accessible to the public.
  • Ensure that the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division vigorously enforces the civil rights laws by reinstating a focus on systemic investigations into disparate treatment of students based on race, disability, or other factors.
  • Provide funding for school mental health professionals and school counselors who provide necessary support for students and staff that is critical to maintaining safe and supportive schools. Providing more mental health professionals and counselors in schools would help reduce the issues that later spiral into discipline concerns.
  • Issue guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the role of school resource officers (SROs) that is aimed at reducing the overreliance on SROs in schools and spurring investment in programs that assist schools in eliminating or reducing the role of SROs.

School Modernization

Our nation’s public schools are, on average, 50 years old. Every weekday, 56 million children and adults walk through a public school’s doors: 1 in 6 of all Americans. Half of these schools need repairs, especially in urban and rural areas that lack the economic base to raise adequate funding. Yet, the federal government provides no support for this vital part of the country’s infrastructure—the second largest construction spending sector behind only transportation. 

School districts have spent $1 trillion (in 2014 dollars) over the last 20 years for school construction, but they can’t keep up with the need. Local school districts paid for 82 percent of the building construction costs over the last two decades and have nearly $450 billion in long-term debt (at the end of 2016)—an average of about $9,000 per student. There is a $38 billion annual gap between what districts and states spend and what is necessary to modernize school facilities. Even where states are doing their share, districts fall short.

Under tax credit bonds, municipalities issue taxable debt but receive a subsidy from the federal government. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, in the two years qualified school construction and Build America Bonds lasted, more than $200 billion worth of bonds were issued, financing thousands of projects from public school and community college construction to road maintenance across all 50 states. Projects are selected by the municipality, which can use the bonds for routine maintenance and other projects that lack a revenue stream. Bonds similar to Build America Bonds are attractive to investors who do not pay U.S. taxes— such as pension funds, endowments, and international investors—increasing demand and lowering borrowing costs.

Like education, access to technology can be a great equalizer. Its absence creates a digital divide. The federal government can help bridge the digital divide by bringing new technologies and the power of the Internet to urban, rural, and under-resourced schools and communities nationwide. For example, the E-Rate program helps close the school connectivity gap by providing $3.9 billion in discounts annually to ensure that all public libraries and K–12 public schools gain access to broadband connectivity and robust internal Wi-Fi.

More than half of public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features in their schools, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent national survey of school districts. For example, an estimated 41 percent of districts need to update or replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in at least half of their schools, representing about 36,000 schools nationwide that need HVAC updates. In about half of the schools GAO visited in six states, officials described HVAC-related problems, such as older systems that leaked and damaged flooring or ceiling tiles. If not addressed, such problems can lead to indoor air quality problems and mold and, in some cases, cause schools to adjust schedules temporarily. In its guidance to school districts, the CDC advises that ensuring “ventilation systems operate properly” is a key consideration for schools seeking to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Authorize federal assistance for school construction, maintenance, renovation, and repair, such as the Rebuild America’s School Act (H.R. 865).
  • Reauthorize tax credit bonds similar to Build America Bonds and qualified school construction bonds.
  • Direct federal assistance to educational institutions for technology, equipment, accompanying peripherals, and software, including maintenance, service, and training of users of the technology as well as for broadband Internet access for students and employees. 
  • Improve and expand the federal E-rate program to support technology access in public schools.
  • Provide federal funding on an emergency basis to aid in safely reopening public schools in line with CDC public health guidelines in regard to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

School Safety (Gun Violence Prevention)

Research shows that every year, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. In fact, children and teens who died by suicides in which a gun was used has increased by 65 percent over the last decade. Forty-five percent of U.S. children have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), according to recent Child Trends data. ACEs are potentially traumatic experiences that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being later in life. One mechanism responsible for these effects—these toxic levels of stress—can be substantially buffered by a stable and supportive relationship with an educator/caregiver.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Increase funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); these grants should not be used to arm educators. 
  • Promote adequate staffing ratio of students to specialized instructional support personnel (SISP), including school social workers, psychologists, school counselors, nurses, speech-language pathologists, and others.
  • Expand and increase professional development funding for educators in bullying, mental and behavioral health, trauma-informed practices, cultural competence, restorative practices, positive behavior intervention strategies, and classroom management. 
  • Provide funding for research; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authority to research gun violence as a public health issue. 

We also call on them to support the following legislative measures:

  • The Keep Americans Safe Act (H.R. 1186) makes importing, selling, manufacturing, transferring, or possessing high-capacity magazines illegal and prohibits their future manufacture for civilian use.
  • The Background Check Expansion Act (S.42) prohibits transfer of a gun between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The law also applies to sellers wherever they operate: online, at gun shows, or out of their own homes.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) bills (H.R. 1236 and H.R. 3076) empower family members and law enforcement to intervene when a person sends warning signals that pose a danger to themselves or others and create a national system for ensuring that emergency action can be taken in every state to intervene before tragedy strikes.

Social and Emotional Learning

To develop the competencies that are critical to student success in college and in careers, the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development makes the following recommendations:

  • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child;
  • Transform learning settings so that they are safe and supportive for all young people;
  • Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills and embed these skills in academics and in school-wide practices;
  • Build adult expertise in child development;
  • Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child; and
  • Forge closer connections between research and practice by shifting the paradigm for how research gets done.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, establish and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

There is a growing recognition nationwide that we must support the whole learner through social, emotional, and academic development, and it is time to gather this momentum of parents, educators, community leaders, policymakers, and elected officials to ensure success for every student. SEL is imperative to implementing school-wide restorative practices, trauma-informed practices, and multi-tiered systems of supports.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:  

  • Advocate for effective social and emotional learning (SEL) programming for preK–12. 
  • Support SEL programming based on the understanding that best learning emerges through supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful. 
  • Support the six recommendations from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development report, "From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope," as well as the action agenda.
  • Implement these recommendations and the action agenda in our schools and communities, which urges and prioritizes social, emotional, and academic development in every state and district school improvement plan to ensure student success.

Tax Fairness

After analyzing the fiscal and economic impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) confirmed what the NEA already knew—the massive tax cuts have largely favored the wealthy and corporations, have failed to significantly raise wages, have had little effect on business investment, and have come nowhere close to “paying for themselves.” CRS’s careful analysis shows that the $1.5 trillion tax cuts (which will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit due to interest costs) have failed to produce the economic growth and other benefits promised by its proponents.

State and local tax deductions help state and local governments fund public services that provide widely shared benefits. With this deduction in place, higher-income households are more willing to support state and local taxes. Capping the deduction will make it harder for states and localities to raise sufficient revenues in the coming years to fund preK–12 and higher education, health care, and other services.

While the benefits of the deductions accrue the most to those with higher incomes, the revenues from capping the dollar amount of the deductions were used to cut marginal tax rates that disproportionately benefit higher-income individuals at the expense of lower- and middle-income families.

The estate tax has a long and effective history in its ability to raise significant revenue and modulate the excesses of wealth inequality. Today, high exemption levels and loopholes limit its effectiveness, while, at the same time, inequality has risen to historic levels with the richest one-tenth of the 1 percent owning as much as the bottom 90 percent. Further weakening or eliminating the estate tax would do nothing to help 99.8 percent of families; it would only lead to greater economic inequality. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Repeal or amend certain tax breaks in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) for the wealthy and corporations, and replace them with a progressive tax system based on individual and corporate ability to pay in order to yield sufficient revenues to address national needs.
  • Repeal TCJA’s dollar cap on state and local tax deductions.
  • Strengthen the estate tax for the purpose of funding public education.
  • Enable full miscellaneous deductions for educational materials purchased by all educators for classroom use.

In addition, the NEA opposes:

  • Arbitrary maximum limits on any state or local government’s ability to spend or tax, particularly since such limits have a negative impact on the full funding of schools;
  • The use of federal tax dollars to subsidize preK–12 private school education;
  • Tax loopholes or giveaways that reduce revenues and shelter corporations and high-income individuals from paying taxes; and
  • Tax loopholes and incentives to offshore profits and outsource jobs.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

The teacher shortage in the United States is a multifaceted issue that stems from multiple sources. In particular, contributors to the shortage include inadequate compensation, increased demand for educators, declining enrollments in schools and colleges of education, working conditions, and lack of comprehensive induction and mentoring programs that provide professional support to beginning teachers. 

Teacher Recruitment and Diversity: Teacher shortage and attrition can be addressed by creating a strong pipeline into teaching. One strategy is to identify students—particularly students of color—as early as high school who are interested in teaching and provide those students with the necessary support for college entry. 

Grow Your Own (GYO) programs are helpful as a mechanism and strategy to recruit educators of color. GYO programs recognize the cultural capital in recruiting, preparing, placing, and retaining culturally knowledgeable and community-grounded teachers of color. Potential candidates from GYO programs (e.g.,  paraeducators) often live in diverse communities and are familiar with the backgrounds and cultures of their students. Teacher diversity benefits all students, and it is important to provide all communities with a diverse educator workforce

College Affordability and Preparation: Promising potential teachers often are recruited into shortcut preparation programs that lack crucial clinical practice in the classroom or under the guidance of a fully licensed teacher. Such shortcut strategies often are implemented either to fill teacher vacancies more quickly and/or decrease the cost of preparing new educators. But these strategies result in novices leaving the profession before ever becoming skillful practitioners, creating more vacancies to be filled and leaving students with the greatest need for support perpetually in a classroom of teachers with limited skills and experience. Shortcuts to teaching for fiscal reasons are unwise strategies; they create significantly greater expense to schools and districts that have to recruit and provide induction for large numbers of beginners. Instead, we must work to make high-quality preparation programs accessible and affordable to potential teachers.

Eliminating federal loan debt for educators enables them to live and thrive in the communities in which they work and serve. The elimination of this debt could positively impact the recruitment and retention of teachers of color, who often carry a greater financial student loan debt than their white counterparts.  Educators are inadequately paid and often must work additional jobs to meet basic housing and medical needs. They also spend their own money on classroom supplies. Therefore, releasing educators from the burden of debt will improve the likelihood they will remain in the classroom.

Comprehensive Induction and Teacher Mentoring: Comprehensive induction programs that integrate an array of complementary components have proven to produce teachers who deliver high-quality instruction and remain in the profession. While mentoring as a practice has merit, it has not proven to be as successful as a stand-alone practice in supporting beginning teachers. Numerous studies demonstrate that the implementation of comprehensive induction cuts new teacher turnover rates in half. Comprehensive induction is a sound investment to address teacher recruitment and retention. 

Comprehensive induction programs include the following key components:

  • New Educator Orientation Week at the beginning of the school year; 
  • Mentoring by a qualified and trained mentor for those who are in their first two years of teaching;
  • Support teams (for example, grade-level and department colleagues, staff development teachers, and consulting teachers);
  • Courses and workshops for beginning teachers offered by school district central offices on relevant topics;
  • Courses and workshops for mentors throughout their mentoring career;
  • Courses and workshops for principals on how to support early educators and mentors; and
  • Evaluation process that focuses on developing teaching skills and professional knowledge.

Many school districts implement pieces of the comprehensive induction program; however, few districts provide all components.

A Cost-Effective Alternative: The investment in quality induction support not only retains teachers in the profession, but it also has a long-term impact on student achievement. School districts spend large amounts of money replacing teachers each year. On average, urban districts spend more than $20,000 per new teacher hired through recruitment, hiring, and training costs. Districts with high teacher turnover rates spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to recruit and hire new teachers. Further, districts in communities with high poverty rates are often the most impacted by high teacher turnover. These district investments don’t yield their full potential dividend when teachers leave within the first or second year after having been hired.

Student access to a quality education is a civil right. Comprehensive induction for novice teachers is critically important to fulfilling this right and ensuring an equitable education for all students. Fortunately, decades of research on the factors that contribute to attracting and retaining teachers in the classroom can guide district strategies to meet this challenge. Districts should leverage federal dollars for comprehensive induction programs in addition to traditional professional learning for teachers. But they can’t leverage federal dollars if they do not exist. Sufficient investment cannot be made without full federal funding.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to: 

  • Allocate funding for states and public school districts to implement programs, such as Grow Your Own, that recruit high school students to enter the teaching profession.
  • Provide aspiring and certificated educators with specific and sufficient financial support to reduce the high cost of degree programs. 
  • Increase funding for colleges of education in minority-serving institutions to promote recruitment of teachers of color.
  • Eliminate student loan debt for educators. 
  • Allocate specific and ample funding for public school districts to implement comprehensive induction programs in Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Voting Rights

The ability to exercise one’s civic duty is at the core of what it means to be an American. The NEA recognizes the right to vote as a constitutional right guaranteed to all eligible citizens. Efforts to encourage voter disenfranchisement must be stopped, and maintenance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the nonpartisan drawing of district lines must continue to ensure fair and competitive elections are upheld. 

All voters have a right to know and access all information pertaining to an election. Voters also should have full access to a variety of voting options, such as mail-in voting and early voting. The federal government should incentivize voter education programs and uniform registration requirements that do not include restrictive residency provisions or restrictive identification requirements. As a country, we should be doing more to enable and encourage citizens to fully participate in their democracy. 

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Support efforts to expand voting rights, create independent redistricting commissions, strengthen ethics rules, create a small-donor public financing system, and limit the influence of corporations and wealthy special interests in campaigns.
  • Make Election Day a national holiday.
  • Provide federal resources to protect every vote, including resources for election security and cyber security, and support for legislation that curbs voter suppression.
  • Support all students’ access to civics education by restoring and strengthening civics education in public education.
  • Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated citizens who have served their sentences.

Women’s Rights

The NEA believes that all persons, regardless of gender, must have equal opportunity for education, employment, promotion, compensation (including equal pay for comparable work), and leadership in all activities. All workers should be paid on the basis of requirements, skills, and worth of their job; factors such as gender or race should never play a role in determining salary. Providing equal opportunity for women requires addressing the role that many women play as the primary caretaker for their young children by ensuring that families have paid parental leave available to meet those child care needs and that all families may take paid time off to participate in their K–12 children’s school activities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to elevate the importance of these issues. Of the many things the pandemic laid bare is the tremendous value of women’s labor in our economy. This is true both in terms of paid labor, with so many of the hardest hit industry workforces and frontline workers being predominantly female, as well as women’s unpaid labor in the home. Women—particularly women of color—are disproportionately impacted by this crisis, in terms of the industries that have been hardest hit and the stress and trauma associated with being primary caregivers to relatives who are ill and children whose schools and daycares have been closed to in-person instruction. In addition, domestic violence is of particular concern in times when women and children may be trapped in homes with abusive partners or parents.

The NEA is also particularly concerned that this all comes on top of existing issues of fair pay, given that women comprise nearly 70 percent of our members and almost 80 percent of the teaching profession. Fair pay is critical to women’s economic security, particularly in the current economic crisis. Today, women working full-time earn just 82 percent of what men earn—a pay gap of 18 percent. Gender-based pay discrimination can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars over a woman’s lifetime. The pay gap affects everything from the ability to repay student loans to the ability to retire. The pay gap is even more pronounced for Latina women and African American women, whose earnings are only 54 percent and 62 percent, respectively, of white men’s earnings. 

The NEA further believes that robust enforcement of Title IX’s guarantee of equal access to education regardless of gender is important to achieving equal opportunities more broadly. In particular, female students are disproportionately impacted by sexual harassment and assault, and they often suffer lasting consequences in terms of academic success, behavior, and health. Nonetheless, sexual harassment and assault are estimated to be greatly underreported both at the K–12 level and on college campuses. The NEA believes that K–12 classrooms and all school communities should encourage equality, respect, and healthy and safe relationships and that schools should have the flexibility to implement policies to prevent and address sexual violence to reflect these values. 

Moreover, issues related to pay equity, equal access to education, and access to the leave that workers need to care for themselves and their families go well beyond a matter of gender equity. The NEA supports these policies because they are crucial to the health of our communities and schools, they help to address systemic racial inequality, and they respond to challenges our society faces.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Support the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would make the fair treatment of women by federal, state, and local governments a constitutional guarantee. 
  • Eliminate discriminatory practices against women in employment, including in promotions and compensation. Personnel policies must include family and medical leave; leave for pregnancy-related medical needs and childbirth; gender-neutral bonding leave; leave for adoption of a child or for surrogacy; child care leave; and professional leave that enables women to advance in their careers by pursuing professional growth opportunities. 
  • Support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act or comparable legislation, which would at a minimum provide 12 weeks of paid leave at a portion of workers’ salaries when they take time off for their own serious health conditions, including pregnancy and recovery from childbirth; the serious health condition of a family member; and/or the birth or adoption of a child. Any such legislation should take into account the progress that various states have made with respect to wage replacement levels, definitions of family, and job protections—all of which increase access to paid leave, particularly for lower wage workers. 
  • Provide parents with a minimum of two days every year to participate in school events for their K–12 aged children. 
  • Support legislation that would extend Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage to part-year paraprofessionals. 
  • Fully support Title IX’s protections against gender discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, including rescinding regulatory changes and other guidance that discourage reporting of sexual harassment and assault, reduce obligations on schools and higher education institutions to investigate and address sexual harassment and assault, and create burdensome, complex procedures for resolving complaints.
  • Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Workers’ Rights

The NEA believes that the fundamental foundation for quality public schools and an economy that works for all are protections for collective bargaining that improve working and learning conditions. No one is more committed to our nation’s students than the educators who work second and third jobs to stay in the profession and pay out of pocket to make sure students have the supplies and support they need. Educators and all workers deserve a legally protected voice at work through collective bargaining and minimum workplace protections.

As we look forward, our rigged economy will only be fixed if effective collective bargaining rights are reinstated for private-sector employees and extended to all public-sector employees. Currently, only 34 states have bargaining laws for teachers and only 31 states have bargaining laws for education support professionals. We also know that since Wisconsin’s Act 10 in 2011, several states—including Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri—have severely reduced public-sector bargaining rights.  

In the education sector, strong and effective labor management relations has been proven again and again to be a cornerstone of quality education. If given the opportunity to negotiate, educators and their employers can collaborate on student-centered issues, such as setting limits on class size, specifying time for teachers and paraeducators to share effective classroom practices, and enhancing professional learning opportunities—all of which help students thrive.

Strong and effective public-sector bargaining also lifts state and local economies. The beginning salary of teachers in states with a bargaining law for educators is $2,566 more than states without a bargaining law. Top pay for teachers is $13,120 higher in states with a bargaining law.

Educational innovations developed without educator voice and expertise often fail and set our schools back. Placing educator voice at the center of educational improvements ensures their success.

The National Education Association (NEA) calls on national leaders to:

  • Condition federal education funding on state and local laws or policies permitting collective bargaining by education employees over terms and conditions of employment and key student learning conditions such as class size and appropriate school staffing.
  • Condition federal education funding of any school improvement or professional development initiatives on educators being provided effective input and voice. 
  • Support federal legislation extending to public-sector employees the same rights to organize and bargain collectively that private-sector employees have long enjoyed. The new minimum federal requirements would serve only as a floor on which states could build upon. The new requirements would not preempt or weaken current state or local bargaining laws.   
  • Support federal legislation to provide parents with paid leave time to care for their children for the 12 weeks for which they may now take Family and Medical Leave Act unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child or due to a child’s health needs. In addition to such protected paid leave time, add at least two days a year of paid leave for parents to attend school events for their children.      
  • Support federal labor law reform for the private sector to allow private-sector employees to engage in industry-wide bargaining, use wage boards where needed, strengthen penalties for anti-union retaliation, hold joint employers accountable, and prevent the mischaracterization of employees as independent contractors.  
  • Rescind the regulatory provision that exempts teachers from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would provide teachers with the same wage and hour protections as every other profession (except doctors and lawyers) including the protections of the FLSA’s Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207.*

* Given that teaching remains not just a historically underpaid field, but also one in which the wage penalty for entering the profession has grown significantly in the last two decade, and that it is a field predominantly staffed by women of childbearing age (approximately 77 percent of teachers are women, and the average age is 43), rescinding the teacher exemption is a critical step in addressing the deficits in pay and protections.

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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.