Some of your most hard-fought victories! Accomplished together!
50 states and 50 wins!
Alabama Custodians Win Higher Pay: "Treat Us LIke We're Essential."
“Grown people need grown-people pay,” says Tavares Ward, head custodian at Charles A. Brown Elementary School in Birmingham, where custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers got a 12 percent pay raise in October, thanks to fierce pressure by the Alabama Education Association. “If it were not for them, we wouldn’t have got what we got,” says Ward. “It was a slugfest! It’s not like (school officials) wanted to give it to us.” Even with the raise, Birmingham’s custodians start out around $13 an hour, or $18,000 a year. “Young people just aren’t going to do this. They can flip burgers for $15 an hour,” says Ward. Meanwhile, the work of custodians and other education support professionals has gotten more difficult and more dangerous during the pandemic. “They say we’re essential workers. Well, treat us like we’re essential,” he says. “Treat us like you need us.”
From ESP to Teacher: Supporting Educator Development
Glenn Charlie is an elementary teacher’s aide at William N. Miller School in Napakiak. In a few years, he will be a teacher himself, thanks to the T.E.A.C.H. program (Training Educators for Achieving Certificated Hire). This Grow Your Own program assists candidates from Napakiak who are fluent or literate in Yugtun, the language spoken by Central Alaskan Natives, in becoming certified teachers in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskowkim campus. For years, Alaska has struggled with retaining teachers, especially those who move to Alaska from other states but only stay a year or two. As someone with deep roots in the community, Charlie can offer something rare to Alaska students, especially students in rural communities. That is a commitment to stay and a shared understanding of life in a village. Through the T.E.A.C.H. program, Charlie takes classes in subjects like writing and math to improve his capacity to teach those core subjects, but he already has experience in teaching some uniquely Alaskan skills like wilderness survival and setting fish traps. He’s also excited about bringing Elders into the classroom to teach students about their culture. No matter the lesson, his message for students is universal: “Get an education. Succeed. And live the best you can.”
Safety Wins in Arizona Classrooms
Arizona educators and students breathed in relief this September, when a judge ruled in favor of the Arizona Education Association (AEA) in its lawsuit against a state law banning mask and vaccine mandates in schools. “We know the majority of parents and educators support our school leaders doing everything they can to keep our students and staff safe,” said AEA President Joe Thomas. “Today’s ruling ensures [school districts] won’t have to break the law to implement common-sense protections for our students.” The law banning mask and vaccine mandates, as well as a law prohibiting teachers from exploring “controversial” subjects in the classroom, had been embedded by legislators in Arizona’s 200-page annual K12 education budget and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. In its ruling, the judge agreed with AEA and its coalition of education organizations that the new laws were unconstitutional and violated the single subject and title requirements set forth in the Arizona Constitution.
Defending Health Benefits in Arkansas
In spring 2020, Arkansas educators learned the state’s insurance plan was facing a $70 million shortfall and that the State Board of Finance proposed to fill the gap through massive hikes on the premiums paid by public-school employees. These new costs would have nearly doubled monthly premiums for some teachers and undone the progress made with teacher pay this year. Led by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA), educators participated in in-person and virtual town halls with state officials, calling on the Arkansas Legislative Council to better fund the insurance plan. “The broken funding mechanism in our health insurance plan means the state hasn’t held up its end of the bargain,” said AEA Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson. “Who’s left holding the bag? Without help from our lawmakers, it will be our friends and family who work with our children.” In June, the legislative council offered $35 million—not enough. By July, with pressure mounting, it agreed to fully fund the health insurance plan so that active and retired educators would see no increases to their premiums.
Saying No to Harmful Budgets in California
A harmful budget proposal that would have stripped millions of dollars from some Los Angeles public schools—deepening racial and economic inequalities—was withdrawn from school board consideration in September, after educators and parents called, emailed, and protested outside schools. It was “a powerful win for public education,” said United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “The damage that [‘student-centered funding’ or SCF] would do to our schools was put front and center, and school board members noticed.” The way SCF works is, instead of funding schools according to their specific community needs, district administrators divide the district’s money into per-student portions. Then, that slice of the pie follows a student to whatever public school they attend. If this sounds familiar, it’s because former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—and other proponents of school vouchers—have promoted it as a gateway to vouchers. In places like Chicago, Denver, and New Orleans where SCF has been put in place, it has led to cuts in arts and music programs, cuts to school librarians, nurses, and mental health counselors, and the closure of dozens of neighborhood schools, especially in low-income communities.
Better Pay—and Power!—for Jeffco ESPs
Not one education support professional of any kind in JeffCo Public Schools—school bus driver, food-service worker, maintenance worker, paraprofessional, etc.—will earn less than $15 an hour this year, thanks to the new Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) contract. Indeed, it’s been a powerful year for JESPA. In addition to the pay raises, JESPA welcomed and provided union protections for the district’s pre-K workers. And that’s not all! JESPA also won an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint that it filed on behalf of a JESPA member who had been fired by the district. Through conciliation, Jeffco was ordered to hire back Ron Patterson, a structural technician, and pay him $126,448.08 in lost pay and benefits. “From good faith bargaining, to safety, to putting students over profits, the district continues to do the opposite of right and we’re not going to let that fly,” promised JESPA President Lara Center, a library paraprofessional.
Recruiting and Retaining New Teachers of Color
“What the Teacher Residency Program (TRP) meant to me was an opportunity,” says Connecticut first-year teacher Aurora Hill, a former paraeducator. “I could become a teacher and become a teacher and represent who I am, as a minority. Growing up, I didn’t have that representation.” Run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) with support from the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the program aims to recruit and retain educators of color through an emphasis on hands-on training, like medical residency. For 18 months, residents take classes and work with a mentor teacher, while receiving pay and benefits. Since 2019, it has grown from 11 educators to 44 currently, and it expects to have 60-80 future educators next year. Recently, it was praised by U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year. “I wish I had someone at the beginning of my journey to hold my hand and walk me through. I became a good teacher because I was a really bad teacher.”
DSEA Wins Delaware Schools
Through the advocacy efforts of DSEA members across the state, the legislature passed House Bill 100, which creates a unit of funding for Mental Health Professionals in all elementary schools. The long-term goal is to branch out to middle and high schools when funding is available. “This important legislation allows districts to hire the appropriate mental health professionals so that teachers can concentrate on teaching and children can receive the critical services they need,” said DSEA President Stephanie Ingram. “HB 100 helps our youngest students and seeks to end the stigma around mental health.” DSEA also worked to ensure the passage of important legislation that creates funding for commonsense special education services for kindergarten through 3rd-grade students.
Standing Up for Academic Freedom in Florida
Hours after the United Faculty of Florida publicly decried the University of Florida (UF)’s recent attacks on academic freedom and free speech, university administrators reversed course. Three union members, political science professors who had been prohibited by the university from testifying in a case challenging Florida’s new voter-restriction laws, could testify, after all the UF president said. His announcement marked a clear victory for the three professors, their union, and the overarching First Amendment rights of faculty and students to free speech. But it was not the end of the battle. For years, faculty and students at campuses across Florida have watched administrators sacrifice academic freedom to appease the state’s governor and other political powers. The union has filed a lawsuit, alleging constitutional violations, and also sponsored state legislation to turn the ride. The union’s efforts have led to a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigation of UF.
Clarke's Educators Win a More Fair Evaluation
Since 2014, when Georgia districts began using the Teacher Keys Evaluation System (TKES), administrators “have been abusing their power as evaluators,” says Jesse Evans, a Clarke County teacher, “weaponizing evaluations instead of using them as the growth tools they should be.” And because districts weren’t required to provide an appeals process to teachers, most didn’t. But last year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law, requiring districts to create an appeals process—and Evans saw an opportunity. Working with knowledgeable GAE attorneys, Evans helped develop new policy language that provides for an appeals process and shared it with his fellow members in the Clarke County Association of Educators. Those educators contacted school board members, urging passage. In the end, through their collective advocacy, Clarke’s educators won an appeals process that provides teaches with an avenue to an independent evaluator, if necessary. Their experience shows the power of a unified voice!
Unsafe, Crisis Conditions in Hawaii Schools Lead to Union Action
Fed up with unsafe conditions in Hawaii schools and frustrated by the state superintendent’s refusal to bargain key health and safety provisions, the Hawaii State Teachers Association filed a complaint this fall with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. Hours later, HSTA members rallied outside the State Department of Education offices. “We see what’s happening in our schools,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr. Quarantining policies are all over the place, and teachers aren’t involved in determining who is a close contact, he said. Distance learning has been inadequate, creating inequitable learning conditions among students. And some administrators are insisting on holding in-person staff meetings in inadequately ventilated rooms. Teachers are being exposed to the virus, and substitutes are unavailable to step in. “Our teachers every day are seeing multiple classes being taken and put into cafeterias, being put into auditoriums, being put into the library and watched by maybe a security guard or some other faculty member or staff member on campus, because there is just a lack of substitutes,” Tui said. All of this is bad for Hawaii’s students and needs to be addressed. “It’s time we hold the department accountable,” he said.
Bargaining for the Teachers our Students Deserve
It took 225 days of bargaining, but it was worth the wait. In November, Idaho’s Kootenai Education Association (KEA), led by KEA President Michael Stroh and negotiations team member Shelley Bresnan, finalized its first new contract in seven years. Notably, the kinds of things ensured by the contract—such as daily prep time for teachers and additional pay for teachers with advanced degrees—will help recruit and retain educators to this North Idaho community.
Winning Better Pay for Adjunct Faculty in Chicago
Before the new contract for City Colleges of Chicago’s adjunct faculty was bargained this year, the most that Randall Miller and his colleagues could have earned was less than $25,000 a year. That’s far below a living wage for a single person, according to MIT’s popular living-wage calculator—and less than a third of what a one-adult, one-child family would need to survive in the Windy City. “About a quarter of our members have been using public benefits to make ends meet—that includes Medicaid, food stamps, and housing benefits,” says Miller, president of the part-time faculty union. Meanwhile, 60 to 65 percent of City Colleges’ classes are taught by these chronically underpaid educators. With the new contract, which was ratified this fall, every adjunct professor gets an 11 percent raise, to be followed by an additional 3 percent raises in 2022 and 2023. The contract also includes additional paid leave and professional development. “It’s not going to make anybody a millionaire, but I think people are going to feel the extra money, and that’s a good thing,” says Miller.
Teacher Pay on the Way Up in Indiana!
It’s been three years since Indiana educators marched in Indianapolis in a mighty “Red for Ed” demonstration, demanding legislators invest in students and educators. Since then, the number of Indiana districts that have raised starting teacher pay to at least $40,000 has increased dramatically—from 79 to 212. The power of Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) members has been incredible to see, says ISTA President Keith Gambill. For example, in Westfield Washington schools, starting pay was boosted to $45,000, and the new contract also increases new parent leave. “Our teachers are incredible, hard-working professionals and we want to get the most possible for them,” said Westfield Classroom Teachers Association President Chris Sluder. But more still needs to be done, notes Gambill, especially as Indiana teachers cope with the pandemic. ISTA members should be able to bargain for health and safety conditions, class sizes, and prep periods—and the union is calling on legislators to give them those rights, ASAP!
Speaking Up for What Students Need
Four years ago, Iowa unions—such as the Iowa City Education Association (ICEA)—lost core collective bargaining rights. But that doesn’t mean they lost their voice. This year, Iowa City union members influenced how more than $27 million from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan would be spent in their district. Their efforts led to:
- The hiring of 28 new academic support specialists—one for every Iowa City school—and six new full-time school nurses
- The hiring of additional language arts and math teachers at every secondary school, enabling smaller core classes and targeted support for students struggling in language arts and math
- The funding of summer school in 2021 for every first-grader who was non-proficient in math or reading, plus additional non-proficient students from other grades
- The funding of a two-week summer “Boost” program at every middle and high school to offer social-emotional learning and academic skills coaching to rising 7th-10th graders
- The creation and funding of a restorative-justice coordinator.
Ensuring Employee Wellness
Educators are stressed out, burned out, and leaving the profession in droves. Indeed, an NEA survey this summer found that about one-third of educators said the pandemic has led them to leave the profession earlier than expected. Just like their students, educators need mental-health support. In Kansas, they’re getting it. In 2021, the Kansas NEA worked to ensure every educator in the state has access to an Employee Assistance Program. With help from an NEA grant, the KNEA was able to offer EAP access to employees in districts that were unable to offer it themselves, while also negotiating with those districts to take over funding of the EAP for employees on a three-year phased-in schedule, ensuring that future educators would also be able to take advantage of the important benefit. This union cares deeply about the physical and mental well-being of its members.
Kentucky Judge Rejects Voucher Law
In October, a Kentucky judge ruled the state’s new school voucher law unconstitutional, which was no surprise to Kentucky educators. “We knew from the very beginning that it was unconstitutional,” said Kentucky Education Association (KEA) President Eddie Campbell. "These plaintiffs stood up for all Kentucky students to ensure the legislature’s unconstitutional actions did not go unchecked, and the judge has affirmed their concerns.” The law would have created “educational accounts,” funded by wealthy donors who would get tax credits—worth about $125 million each year. The accounts would pay tuition at private schools and “education service providers” that aren’t required to meet any educational standards and often discriminate against students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and others. The scheme amounted to the creation of an alternative school system—and it’s unconstitutional, the judge ruled. “It felt good to see a judge say things that we educators have been saying," said Emilie McKiernan Blanton, a Jefferson County teacher, parent, and union member.
Louisiana Educators Flex Their Muscle at the Statehouse
Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) members flexed their muscles during the state legislative session this year, showing up to testify at the state Capitol and constantly contacting their legislators. As a result, educators and students won big. At the top of the list is a new law that LAE drafted with its legislative champion, Sen. Katrina Jackson, guaranteeing teachers 45 minutes of uninterrupted time every day, beginning July 1. This time is critical to creating impactful lesson plans—and means teachers will have a moment in the day to use the bathroom and eat their lunch! LAE also was able to double the governor’s proposed pay raises, so every teacher will get $800 and every support staff member $400. Other LAE-supported legislation that passed includes: a new law making kindergarten mandatory; a law creating a task force to study Louisiana’s teacher shortage; and a law, also sponsored by Jackson, providing teachers with training to help traumatized students.
Impactful Win in Maine
Lewiston Education Association was able to secure an MOA that provided stipends of $600 for certificated staff and $300 to support staff in recognition of the additional workload the pandemic caused.
A Comprehensive, Union-Led Plan for Maryland Schools
It’s been years in the making, but Maryland educators and students are finally poised to get the schools and services that they need. Called the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” this multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland public schools—led by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA)—will increase educator pay and school funding, lead to the hiring of 15,000 new educators (including behavioral health professionals and paraprofessionals) and convert nearly one-third of Maryland schools into community schools where students and families get the specific academic, nutrition, medical and dental services they need through community partnerships. It also invests in early education. MSEA members have been fighting for these investments for years. Indeed, thousands of members marched through the streets of Annapolis in 2018 to demonstrate their support. In 2020, Governor Hogan vetoed the blueprint, but in 2021 the General Assembly overrode his veto, making it law.
Educators Fight Off Layoffs at University of Massachusetts Amherst
At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the two NEA-affiliated staff unions fought against layoffs this fall, filing charges with state labor officials in September that called the administration’s planned layoffs illegal (and unnecessary). The university “is rushing to cut jobs when that is not necessary… we have offered multiple [alternative] ways in which our members are willing to sacrifice,” said Risa Silverman, co-chair of the Professional Staff Union-Amherst. After the union’s charges were filed, administrators backed off, and negotiated with the unions to implement unpaid three-week furloughs on a reduced number of employees who didn’t need to be on campus. "It was a big deal," recalls Leslie Marsland, president of the University Staff Association. “If we had been laid off, we would have lost health insurance,” she notes. The furloughs also kept “pension credits moving, protected disability coverage, and kept seniority intact.”
Better Pay for Flint Teachers, Finally
For 11 of the past 12 years, teachers in Flint, Michigan, have suffered salary and step freezes. In 2014, they agreed to a 19 percent pay cut and lost dozens of positions to help the district with its debt. Now, the debt is gone—but the district still isn’t paying enough to attract and retain teachers, notes United Teachers of Flint (UTF) President Karen Christian. In fact, the rare teachers who have stayed in Flint are earning less now than they did in 2003. “We’re tired of everything getting done on the backs of us,” she said. So, when district negotiators offered three more years of pay freezes during contract negotiations, UTF members said no way. In July, they began informational picketing, carrying signs at school board meetings with messages like “Begin to Make Us Whole Again.” Members were prepared for a job action. Instead, thanks to their perseverance, a new three-year contract includes $22,500 COVID-19 bonuses, 1.5 percent pay raise this year, and the development of a traditional salary schedule with increases and step movements.
Historic investment in Minnesota Education
In 2021, Minnesota educators fought for—and won—the largest single increase in school funding from the state in 15 years. “This would not have happened without hundreds of educators sharing their stories with legislators about what their students need to succeed,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, who added that more than 700 educators met with 100-plus lawmakers as part of Education Minnesota’s lobby day program. The budget bill increases funding to pre-K through 12th-grade by $554.9 million over the next two years. This includes $46.6 million to maintain 4,000 voluntary pre-K spots; $16.7 million to help attract and retain more teachers of color; $10 million for special education students; $4 million for English language learners; and $1.8 million for trauma-informed educator training. At the same time, Minnesota educators also convinced their legislators to kill a voucher bill that would have siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to unregulated private schools.
Jackson Educators Set a Statewide Example on Safety Issues
In September 2021, Jackson Public Schools introduced a vaccine mandate for educators that was fair and science-based—and entirely dependent on its effective partnership with the Jackson Association of Educators (JAE). From the start, union leaders understood vaccinations would be a most effective ways to keep students and families safe. At the same time, they recognized some educators had reasons, often medically appropriate, to forego vaccination. With all of this in mind, JAE led the district’s efforts toward a policy requiring educators to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests. The union also won new safety measures, including a mask mandate when schools first opened, and additional paid leave for educators who must quarantine or recover from infection. For JAE President George Stewart, the fight to keep everybody safe was personal: "I myself have lost two loved ones to (COVID-19), and I know I'm not alone," he told the Clarion-Ledger. "We've endured far too much loss in our communities."
Oldest Missouri Local Wins Historic Victory
The short story is the Special Education Employees Association (SEEE), which represents paraprofessionals in St. Louis, won big at the bargaining table in 2021. For starters, a group of 200 paras whose pay had been frozen between 2008 and 2012 were caught up with their peers. For another, the new contract also provides a 25 percent boost in summer-school pay, an expansion of pay on snow days, and release time for its president, making it the only support staff union in Missouri with a release-time president. The long story is about the efforts of SEEE— Missouri NEA’s oldest local union—to lay the groundwork for these victories. The bargaining team prepared for many months and SEEE President Vickie Haynes met with members at more than 270 worksites. “It’s great to see a team of local stepping up to truly improve the working conditions of our members—benefiting staff, schools, and most importantly, our students,” said UniServ Director Madelaine Colas.
Public educators in Billings secured a three-year contract, which includes pay raises and a one-time essential worker bonus.
Within days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s outbreak, 280 University of Montana students reached out to the university’s FAST Fund for help. By fall 2020, the fund had dispersed $44,840, mostly in grants of $100 to $300 to prevent homelessness and hunger among students. Who do they have to thank for this assistance? The answer is members of the Montana Federation of Public Employees at the University of Montana who raised money and created the fund to help students with food and housing instability issues. “There are so many issues that affect how a student can perform in school that have nothing to do with academics or working hard, but are about struggling with very real-world issues,” says Daisy Rooks, a University of Montana professor who first brought the idea for a FAST Fund to her union colleagues. FAST stands for “Faculty and Students Together.”
Seeding and Tending to Educators of Color
“Equity should start in education,” says Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) Jenni Benson says. “Teachers of color should be supported, and students should feel like they belong. It is important to see people who look like you in important positions.” But the current reality in Nebraska is this: 30 percent of students are People of Color; 96 percent of teachers are White. With the help of a $335,120 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools fund, NSEA is working to correct this disparity. Since 2018, the number of high school students in its Educators Rising programs has increased from 40 to 600-plus, and nearly 40 percent are from communities of color. NSEA also has prioritized its Aspiring Educators program and its Next Generation program for early-career educators, providing professional development, mentors, and classroom resources. Meanwhile, the union also is providing more support with the Praxis, a specific concern for educators of color due to cultural bias.
Winning Much-Needed Funds for ESPs
This year, through the efforts of their union, Nevada’s education support professionals (ESPs) won access to much-needed unemployment funds. Consider this: a new instructional assistant in Clark County earns just $11.12. Working only nine months, they would earn about $17,000 a year—nowhere near enough to live in this metropolitan area. (A single parent with just one child would need $62,400 to make ends meet, according to the MIT living-wage calculator.) These educators are providing essential services to Nevada’s children, and their work has only gotten more important during the pandemic. That’s why the Nevada State Education Association worked hard this year to support legislation enabling state officials to extend pandemic-related unemployment benefits to ESPs during the summer, especially as summer job opportunities have been severely limited by the pandemic. While these short-term benefits don’t provide a permanent solution, this emergency regulation will be a tremendous help to Nevada’s essential educators.
NH ESPs Fight for Increased FMLA Access
When Melissa Alexander’s husband sat in the chemotherapy chair, she wanted to sit next to him, holding his hand. Often, she went to work instead. Alexander, who at the time was a paraprofessional in her New Hampshire elementary school, didn’t work enough hours to qualify for unpaid, job-protected leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Because FMLA requires employees to work at least 1,250 hours for a single employer during the 12 months preceding a leave, it is nearly impossible for any paraprofessional to qualify—or school bus driver, or food service worker. After attending an NEA Representative Assembly and listening to ESPs across the U.S. with similar concerns, Alexander decided to act. She and her ESP colleagues testified at state committee hearings, spoke with lawmakers, and worked with NEA-New Hampshire staff and leaders. In 2019, thanks to their efforts, the state legislature lowered the qualifying bar for FMLA to 900 hours. “It’s so huge,” said Alexander.
All She Does is Win! ESP of the Year Takes School Board Seat
What a year for New Jersey’s Kimberly Scott-Hayden. In March 2021, Scott-Hayden was named NEA’s 2021 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. She is “brave, heroic, unselfish, and, like many of her fellow educators in the midst of this pandemic, has continued to do everything for our students, our communities, and our nation,” said NEA President Becky Pringle at that time. Indeed, during the height of the pandemic, Scott-Hayden, helped transform school buildings into meal-distribution sites. “I’m a person who believes that there’s always a solution, we just need to work together to figure it out,” Scott-Hayden says. Then, just eight months after winning the national award, Scott-Hayden, an inventory control clerk who also is president of the East Orange Maintenance Association, won a seat on the Union (N.J.) Board of Education. “I want you to know your child matters,” Scott-Hayden told Union voters.
Fighting for Affordable Housing for Santa Fe Teachers
The median home price in Santa Fe is $560,000. Meanwhile, the average Santa Fe teacher is paid $46,328. Just how is that supposed to work? The answer: it doesn’t. Indeed, a recent union survey found that roughly half of Santa Fe teachers are worried about their ability to stay in Santa Fe because of rising housing costs, NEA-Santa Fe President Grace Mayer told school board members. Dozens told the union that they were facing homelessness. “I want to serve Santa Fe Public School students, and yet I fear there is no longer any space for me in this city,” said Zoe Gierman, a Santa Fe second-grade teacher who has helped lead NEA-Santa Fe’s efforts to advocate for affordable teacher housing. And it’s not just Gierman: The total lack of affordable housing means Santa Fe can’t get new teachers to come or experienced teachers to stay. For years, the union has been urging school board members to act. Finally, in November, at Mayer’s urging, Santa Fe’s school board passed a crisis resolution, calling for higher teacher pay statewide (at least a 10 percent hike) and for the state to provide the district with $6.9 million to develop teacher housing in vacant Santa Fe school buildings. It’s a huge step forward, union leaders said.
A Blow Against High-Stakes Testing in New York
Enough is enough, said the North Babylon Teachers’ Organization. The lengths that New York’s wealthy families were going to give their children an edge on the Regents Exams has gone too far. In North Babylon, the community is diverse: some parents could hire tutors or offer their own help, others couldn’t. Testing accommodations didn’t remedy these inequities, union members said. So, the union embarked on a campaign. First, they found out that local college admissions officers didn’t value Regents scores nearly as much as they did a student’s grades. Next, they met with parents and crafted a contract proposal that addressed parents’ concerns around the emphasis on Regents Exams in their district. When district officials refused to listen, teachers, parents and students held several rallies and picketing. In the end, the district agreed to contract language that de-emphasizes the importance of Regents scores in relation to grades.
Union Educators Fight (and Win) Pandemic Pay
The message to Asheville school board members from Asheville City Association of Educators members was clear: “We are serving, but we're not being paid to serve,” Asheville instructional assistant Keena Proctor told them. “I am pleading with our board of education to please use the ESSER funds for a bonus for all staff.” A staff shortage, plus the stress of the COVID-1 pandemic, has made for an incredibly difficult year. “Sometimes it's a struggle to even find someone to watch our class so we can use the restroom,” third-grade teacher Sandy Abernethy told the Citizen-Times. “We deserve more. Our kids deserve more. We are exhausted and our kids see it and they feel it.” School board members got the message. In November, using pandemic-relief funds, they approved a $3,000 supplement for full-time teachers and $3,500 for classified stuff—school bus drivers, custodians, and instructional assistants. Part-time teachers and classified staff will get $1,500 and $1,750 respectively.
Educators in North Dakota Win School Safety During COVID-19
In April 2020, just weeks after schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials were hearing that some parents wanted to re-open schools. However, they had no idea what educators thought. Union leaders from North Dakota United (NDU) saw the void in the data being provided to the governor. Immediately, NDU polled its teachers and education support professions (ESPs) and asked, “Would you feel safe if your school reopened?” In a matter of hours—and with a hefty 40-percent reply rate—nearly 90 percent said no. Educators worried schools couldn’t meet social distancing guidelines that no plans existed to protect teachers and ESPs with underlying health concerns. That same week, the governor announced school buildings would remain closed and distance learning would continue. As reported by the Dickinson Press, “Teacher input played a significant role in the governor’s decision.” “If we are able to make our voices known collectively, it brings a lot of weight to bear on the decision-makers,” says Archuleta, adding that by “raising up our members’ voices … we really turned the tide.”
What Happens When Educators Get a Say in Spending?
More than 100 new school counselors and literacy specialists will be hired in Columbus, Ohio, thanks to two new agreements between the Columbus Education Association (CEA) and Columbus City Schools. The money to hire the 33 counselors and 88 literacy specialists comes from the Biden administration’s pandemic-relief efforts, which are expected to direct about $450 million to Columbus schools. “Thanks to the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts, our district has significant short-term resources to work towards the schools Columbus students deserve,” said John Coneglio, CEA president. “[These agreements] represent a milestone in our ongoing fight to ensure that frontline classroom educators are leading the discussion on how best to meet the urgent needs of our students.” In addition to the new jobs, the agreements provide for an educator-driven grant program and the establishment of a committee to consider additional spending on student technology, building ventilation, teacher home visits, and more.
New Support for Military Families in Oklahoma
A few years ago, first-grade teacher Sophia Carter’s son joined the military, and he asked his mother to be part of his deployment and post-deployment ceremonies at Camp Pendleton in California. Of course, she went—but she was docked two days’ pay by the district and also had $500 taken out of her paycheck to cover the substitute in her classroom. “I felt that after all that a military family sacrifices, this was unfair,” said Carter, who has taught 24 years in Muskogee. She approached her union, the Muskogee Education Association (MEA), and its bargaining committee members went to work. Thanks to their efforts, the new negotiated agreement between MEA and the Muskogee Board of Education now includes permanent language that provides up to three days of “Military Family Leave,” available twice a school year. Now, educators like Carter can leave to attend military graduations, deployments, returns to stateside and other important milestones for spouses, children, parents, grandchildren and other family members.
A New Topic at the Bargaining Table: Class Sizes!
In 2021, Oregon became the fifth state to make class sizes a “mandatory subject” of collective bargaining. (The others? California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Minnesota.) Previously, local unions could only approach the topic of class sizes through negotiations on workload, which could enable extra pay for teachers with too-big classes. But that still left teachers with too-big classes. “We want caseloads and class sizes that allow us to meaningfully engage our students,” wrote Portland Association of Teachers President Elizabeth Thiel. After hearing from educators like North Clackamas’ Brad Cole, who told state legislators he feels like a doctor with three hours to perform a 6-hour surgery every time he steps into the classroom, legislators agreed. Now, the bargaining begins! “We now have a new tool to make the change we need,” wrote Thiel. “When we start bargaining our next contract with the district, we can finally talk about class size directly.”
PSEA Members Are Powerful!
In the face of legislation that would have devastated Pennsylvania’s public schools, members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) contacted their state senators more than 18,000 times over a two-week period this spring. Their strong, unified voice convinced enough state senators to oppose the bill and protect public schools and students from disastrous cuts in funding. The Republican-sponsored bill would take hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools every year—adding up to $10 billion in 10 years—and use it to increase tax credits for businesses that contribute to private and religious schools. It would be “the largest transfer of taxpayer dollars out of public schools in Pennsylvania’s history,” says PSEA President Rich Askey. Thanks to PSEA members speaking up, it didn’t happen. “PSEA members are powerful,” says Askey. “When enough of us speak up, the people we elect to represent us listen.”
Making Mental Health a Priority in R.I.
In 2018, NEA-Rhode Island began hosting mental-health summits, involving hundreds of its educators in critical conversations about students’ needs. “The people who educate and nurture Rhode Island's students want resources to help their kids. Let's…work together to make it happen,” said NEA-RI President Larry Purtill that year. For the past four years, the union has been connecting community partners with families and educators to find solutions to students’ mental-health issues. “Mental health issues don’t just affect wealthy communities where they can afford therapy,” said Purtill during a recent NEA webinar. “It’s happening where students face injustice, trauma, and poverty.” At the annual NEA-RI summits, educators learn how to integrate social-emotional learning in classrooms, how to authentically engage with families, how to take care of their own mental health, and more. As a result, in 2020, when the pandemic began and the nation’s reckoning over racism got serious, NEA-RI was uniquely prepared for the new traumas that students were experiencing.
Winner, Winner! NEA Surprises S.C. Teacher!
“We are so excited!” says Catherine Holub-Ward, a first-grade teacher who entered the first NEA Read Across America sweepstakes—and won 500 books for her school, Monaview Elementary in Greenville. “Monaview is such a special place, and we’re thrilled our classrooms will have these books representing multiple identities and cultures.” More than 70 percent of Monaview students are Hispanic, with 30 percent of their families new to the U.S., says Shannon Land, Monaview’s Title 1 facilitator. “I get input over and over again from parents who want more bilingual books for their children,” Land says. Holub-Ward, whose submission was randomly selected from 27,000 entries, looks forward to lesson planning with her winnings. “I can’t wait to sit down with the books and my sticky notes and say, this book will be in my next science lesson,” she says. “These books are definitely going to move across curriculum and across our day.”
Speak Up for Better Pay: It Works!
The U.S. labor shortage may have a silver lining for education support professionals (ESPs), suggests South Dakota Education Association President Loren Paul. With Walmart and fast-food restaurants offering $15 an hour to attract workers, ESPs can demand the same, he says. Recently, the Sioux Falls Education Assistants’ Association (SFEAA) gathered information comparing their pay to local fast-food workers. “Then we created a budget with very conservative costs of living,” says SFEAA President Kim Parke. “No car payment…no clothing, entertainment.” Even on bare bones, SFEAA members couldn’t cover basic bills. After sharing this info with school board members, they won $2 an hour raises, boosting their pay to $15 an hour. The key is to speak up, says Paul. “Those negotiating for support staff should go to the table with the same kind of information the SFEAA presented to its district,” he says. “You have to talk about it and you have to ask for it.”
Nashville Teachers Get Additional Sick Leave
After listening to the concerns of teachers, Metro Nashville Public Schools agreed to provide additional sick leave to employees unable to work because of COVID-19. “The numbers of quarantines has grown so rapidly over the last couple of weeks, that the potential of an educator burning through their own sick leave seemed all but inevitable," Metro Nashville Education Association Organizing Director Sara Duran told the Tennessean in August. "This [victory] would not have been possible without teachers, parents, and community members making their voices heard." Nashville teachers typically have 10 days of sick leave per year, but they could use up that time in quarantine because of close contact to an infected student. The additional leave, which is available only to vaccinated educators, covers two additional 10-day periods during the current school year. The cost will be covered by money made available to Nashville schools through the Biden administration’s pandemic-relief funds.
Texas ESPs Win Pay Bump, Fight for Living Wage Continues
After a year of speaking up, attending school board meetings, circulating petitions and gathering hundreds of signatures, the paraeducators and other education support professional (ESP) members of the Pflugerville Educators Association (PfEA) notched their first victory. Across-the-board, 5 percent pay increases for Pflugerville ESPs—equivalent to roughly $1 an hour—were approved by school board members in late 2019. At the same time, ESPs also won base-pay minimums for paraeducators ($13 an hour) and school bus drivers ($20 an hour, plus childcare), plus an additional raise for special-education paraeducators. Bus drivers also were rehired by the district as public employees, after their jobs previously had been privatized. “Every single one of our ESPs is critical to the success of our students and they shouldn’t have to worry about paying for groceries or making rent,” PfEA President Cindy Maroquio has said. “Everybody matters, every job matters, and they all deserve to have a living wage income.”
Pay Increase for Educators
After coming together and advocating for their needs, Utah educators will receive a nearly 6 percent pay increase, plus bonuses for all school employees. It’s one of the highest levels of funding they have received in years.
With additional investments in students, the state is expected to ditch its last place in per student spending in the United States.
Bus Drivers Join Union, Advocate for Services
Nearly all of South Burlington's 24 school bus drivers voted on Nov. 15 to unionize, amidst what they describe as the "hardest working conditions in years." Across the nation, school bus drivers are struggling with low wages and increased risk to their own safety. With this vote, as the newest members of the South Burlington Educators Association, an affiliate of NEA and Vermont-NEA, the bus drivers and monitors will have a new, powerful voice to collectively bargain their pay and benefits, and the kinds of working conditions that will students and families safer. “We are proud to be a key part of our students’ day, as we know how important our role in making the schools operate really is,” said school bus driver James Kirkpatrick. “Being part of the union gives us the power to advocate for the transportation services our schools, our city, and our students rely upon and deserve.”
First in the Commonwealth, Richmond Educators Get the Right to Collective Bargaining
In December, Richmond teachers became the first in the state of Virginia to secure the right to negotiate a contract through collective bargaining. “[This] will allow the educators of Richmond to have a seat at the table when it comes to issues that are important to them,” said Virginia Education Association (VEA) President James Fedderman. Through a school board resolution, which passed 8-1, Richmond educators now have a unified, powerful voice in their salaries, benefits, and working conditions. “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions,” a Richmond teacher told school board members. “Collective bargaining will help.” The board’s resolution was enabled by a 2020 state law, enabling localities to collectively bargain. Richmond is the first, but it will not be the last. “We made history,” said Richmond teacher Keri Treadway. “But we have all of our brothers and sisters around the Commonwealth who are going to be going through the same fight…We need to help them.”
How Did This WEA Member Get HIs Student Debt Erased?
High school teacher Chris Howell is free from his student loans years sooner than he expected, and he gives the credit to his union. Howell, a math and science at Harbor High School in Aberdeen, had been paying down his student loans for years, but still had more than $22,000 in unpaid principal. He knew there were loan forgiveness programs out there, and had even applied previously, but his applications were repeatedly rejected. “Then through a seminar we had at our school from the WEA, they talked about their Members Benefits program,” Howell recalls. Specifically, they talked about the Student Debt Navigator, a free service to NEA members (for one year) that helps educators figure out the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs and will even submit the paperwork. “I applied, and through working with them, I was able to get $22,000 and change forgiven!”
- Washington, D.C.
WV Educator to Study in South Africa
Lynsi Boyd, an art teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, W.V. and a person who loves to travel, recently was named a 2022 NEA Global Learning Fellow. “I want to teach my students to be good people who practice good citizenship at home and even on a global scale. I want to teach them to care about others and the places around them,” Boyd told WVEA Today. As a global learning fellow, Boyd will be involved in a year-long program, led and paid for by the NEA Foundation, that includes webinars, a two-day in-person workshop, reading and reflection, and online coursework. It will culminate in an international field study in South Africa in July 2022. “Through this fellowship, I hope to create lessons that celebrate differences in cultures and places, and to teach new place-based art practices that students otherwise might never be exposed to,” she said.
Making Schools Safer in Racine through Union Power
Here’s what Racine United Educators (RUE) did to keep students safe this year. First, they identified a safety rep for every building. Then, using an NEA safety checklist, they inspected every building. And then? The union filed 112 grievances. As a result, the district secured paper towels and handwashing soap, fixed water faucets, increased spacing between students’ desks, identified unusable spaces, and repaired broken HVAC vents. “We looked carefully at our cleaning protocols and completed more than 12,000 work orders,” said RUE President Angela Cruz. “But the greatest success that we had is we created a comprehensive team of more than 100 stakeholders who came together to develop our Smart Start 2020 building reopening plan.” It was a trust-building exercise, said Cruz, who communicated information and results back to Racine educators. “Our building safety reps will stay in place for the foreseeable future,” Cruz says. “It’s not like the pandemic is over.”
More Counselors, More Nurses in Wyoming
Students in Casper, Wyoming, are dealing with everything from homelessness to the deaths of loved ones—and they need mental-health help. “Most of these students, honestly, their families can’t typically afford outside counseling,” says Carrie Maki, a Casper middle school counselor. “If we did not have these services at school, they might not get what they need.” Now, thanks to the advocacy efforts of the Natrona County Education Association (NCEA), more students are getting what they need. That’s because all of Casper’s 28 public schools finally has a counselor (and its own nurse!) Working with school board members and administrators, NCEA helped direct money from federal pandemic-relief funds to pay for those counselors, nurses, as well as academic supports. Even more resources could be on the way, as Wyoming has yet to distribute money from the American Rescue Plan, the largest and latest federal infusion. Maki’s wish? Two counselors for every school.
If 2020 was the year like no other, 2021 was the year we showed how resilient we are when we come together.
From securing more counselors and nurses to help students in Wyoming to Virginia educators winning the right to negotiate a contract for the first time in 40 years—NEA members championed all of the things that make our schools work best for our students and educators. While there is still work that needs to be done we should take a moment to celebrate these inspiring wins.
Whether you’ve been an educator for one day or forty years, now is the time to band together and be heard in the halls of power. Now is the time to join.
"We are serving, but we're not being paid to serve, I am pleading with our board of education to please use the ESSER funds for a bonus for all staff."
National Win: Fixing Student Debt
After hearing from 168,000 NEA members about the failures of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), the Biden-Harris administration announced an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Because of the advocacy of NEA members, nearly 50,000 public service workers will be able to get the relief they were promised.
Because of you, we are one step closer to a world where everyone—no matter their wealth or background—can learn without limits.
National Win: Funds to the Rescue
NEA members and activists wrote hundreds of thousands of messages and placed thousands of calls to their senators and representatives advocating for Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan.
ARP is the single largest investment ever in education funding, providing nearly $170 billion to public schools. This is an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the future of public education and create a system that our students deserve.
“The American Rescue Plan will undoubtedly alleviate some of our nation’s immense suffering, but there is still much work ahead to fully recover from the worst crisis to hit this country in more than a century — and to build back something better."