Educators Win Together
Winning in Every State
Together Alabama Custodians Won Higher Pay!
“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.
NEA-Alaska Wins COVID Support for Local Affiliates
In her rural district north of the arctic circle, Emma Melkerson, an elementary teacher in Kivalina, Alaska and president of the Northwest Arctic Education Association, and her peers asserted that educators shouldn’t have to use their personal days to keep themselves and their students safe and they should be able to weigh in on decisions about their work conditions. Members met and agreed that they needed a COVID leave bank, increased staffing, and mental health services for staff.
Educators across the district overwhelmed their superintendent with emails, survey responses, and in-person testimony to successfully advocate for COVID-related leave, which is now with the Board of Education for approval.
In other boroughs in Alaska, members continued to rally around COVID-related supports for retaining educators and supporting students, including:
- In Craig, Alaska, members were able to get retroactive COVID leave if they were forced to use sick days to quarantine or to care for a family member
- ESP members in Kotzebue, Alaska and surrounding villages negotiated bonuses for working during the pandemic
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. 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.
Educator Advocacy Helps Pass Record Public School Budget
Through collective action, California educators helped pass a state budget agreement that will assist in making sure all students, regardless of their ZIP code, have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed.
The budget, finalized in June 2022, included a 13 percentage increase in funding to address pressing student needs and recruit and retain educators. It also $1.1 billion in support for community schools.
"This budget agreement continues California’s commitment toward ensuring that all our students, regardless of their race, zip codes, or backgrounds, have the resources they need to succeed." —California Teacher Association President E. Toby Boyd
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, 2021 was 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.
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, much like a medical residency program.
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.”
DSEA Wins Mental Health Support for 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
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 United Faculty Florida chapter at UF (UFF-UF) jumped to its members’ defense, providing assistance and support. UFF-UF demanded that the professors be allowed to testify freely and called for specific actions against UF until such testimony was allowed, including asking donors to withhold funds.
The demands and calls for action were presented at a press conference Nov. 5. “We’ve got to save the University of Florida,” Paul Ortiz, president of UFF-UF, told reporters. “This is really a crisis moment in our republic.”
Shortly after the UFF-UF news conference ended, UF President Kent Fuchs announced that he had asked the university’s Conflict of Interest Office to reverse its decision barring professors from providing expert testimony in legal challenges involving the state.
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!
Hawaii Educators End Use of Dangerous Weed Killer
After several years of community meetings and committee hearings, the Hawaii State Board of Education has banned the use of glyphyosate-based weed killers, like Round Up, on school campuses.
In 2015, the World Health Organization concluded that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans. And yet, the environmental advocacy group U.S. PIRG estimates that 26 million pounds of Round Up are still sprayed on schools, public parks, playgrounds and gardens every year.
In Hawaii, the final blow was dealt by a July community meeting with parents, educators, and state board members, says State Rep. Amy Perruso, a social studies teacher and former Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) officer. “The energy in the room, it just crystallized the issue. The folks there were so knowledgeable, so passionate, they really convinced the superintendent." The lesson learned? “We only win when we fight together,” says Perruso.
Idaho Educators Win Additional Pay and Daily Prep Time
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. Specifically, the new contract includes:
- A defined workday and additional compensation for non-work duties
- Daily prep time with reimbursement for lost prep time
- Advancement on the salary schedule for education credits and/or a master’s degree
- Thirty days’ notice for a mandatory teaching reassignment
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. “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.
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.
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.
Iowa Educators Win New Staff and Funding for Schools
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 new staff and funding for Iowa schools. Including:
- 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 creation and funding of a restorative-justice coordinator.
Ensuring Employee Wellness Programs for Kansas Educators
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.
Kentucky Educators Protect Public School Funding
In October, a Kentucky judge ruled the state’s new school voucher law unconstitutional, which was no surprise to Kentucky educators. The law would have created “educational accounts,” funded by wealthy donors who would get tax credits—worth about $125 million each year. “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.
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. KEA President Eddie Campbell said the decision represents "a victory for our public schools, our public school students, and our Commonwealth’s constitution."
Louisiana Educators Win Raises, Protected Planning Time, and More
The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) members flexed their muscles during the 2021 state legislative session, 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.
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 Wins for Public Schools in Maine
Maine’s new Earned Paid Leave Act (26 MRS 637, or “EPL”) went into effect on January 1, 2021. For new collective bargaining agreements, this opened an entirely new category of paid leave with different rules than educators and administrators have been used to.
- MSAD 42 Central Aroostook agreed to 5 days of earned paid leave in accordance with the law while requiring only 4 days’ notice for planned leave. EPL will not be deducted from accumulated sick leave, and there is a limit of 4 members using planned EPL at a time.
- RSU 21 Transportation Employees agreed in a side letter that their 2 personal leave days would have all restrictions removed to provide EPL in accordance with the law. They also won agreement that the superintendent can grant additional personal leave days to comply with the law.
- Brewer Education Association reached agreement that their existing sick leave and personal days could be used in one-hour increments in compliance with the requirements of the new law.
- RSU 71 Education Association agreed that 2 sick days and all 3 personal days would be used to make up the 5 days of EPL, and if the 2 sick days were not used for EPL they would be returned to the member’s accumulated sick leave at the end of the year.
The pandemic brought a LOT of changes and modifications to how schools operate. Extra thought had to be given to how and where work is performed, and how to do it safely. Many MEA members worked longer hours in difficult circumstances to provide the best education possible to students.
- 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.
- Mt. Blue Regional School District Education Association was able to create a district joint health and safety committee that met regularly to review conditions and the plan for the school district operations.
- Mount Abram Teachers’ Association was able to protect its members from any alleged FERPA violations occurring during remote instruction raised by remote learners or their families in an MOA.
- Megunticook Teachers’ Association extended their MOA to run concurrently with the new contract expiring in August 2024, and it prevents teachers from having to prepare for and teach both in-person and remote instruction simultaneously.
A Comprehensive, Union-Led Plan for Maryland Schools
Called the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a 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.
MSEA members have been fighting for further investment in Maryland schools 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
In 2014, teachers in Flint, Michigan 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.
In July 2021, they began informational picketing, carrying signs at school board meetings with messages like “Begin to Make Us Whole Again.”
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 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.
Mississippi Educators Win Largest Teacher Salary Raise in State History
In Mississippi, educator advocacy helped secure the passing of House Bill 530 – The START Act – which provides substantial pay raises for Mississippi’s public school teachers and teacher assistants.
Under the measure, the average pay raise for Mississippi public school teachers will be $5,100, and teacher assistants will receive $2,000.
The final bill was stronger and better than original proposals, and that is because of the strong advocacy of Mississippi Association of Educators members, other educators, and education stakeholders throughout the state.
Oldest Missouri Local Wins Historic Victory
The Special Education Employees Association (SEEE), which represents paraprofessionals in St. Louis, won big at the bargaining table in 2021.
The new contract helped a group of 200 paras whose pay had been frozen between 2008 and 2012 were catch up with their peers. It also provides a 25 percent boost in summer-school pay and an expansion of pay on snow days.
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.
Montana Educators Secure Pay Raises and Bonuses
After a collaborative negotiation process, educators in Billings School District 2 secured a contract providing raises, a one-time essential worker bonus for educators, and an additional stipend for special education teachers!
The new 3-year labor contract with the district's teachers union, the Billings Education Association, includes a 2% raise for teachers for the 2021-2022 school year and a 1.5% raise the two following years.
This new contract recognizes both the additional challenges and work associated with the COVID019 pandemic and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining educators in the district.
Growing Equity in Nebraska Schools
“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 earned 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.
New Hampshire 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.
New Jersey Educators are Heard on Standardized Testing
The New Jersey Education Association believes that the best measure of a student’s readiness to graduate is their performance in their high school classes as assessed by their teachers.
However, high school students in New Jersey have had to pass an 11th grade exit exam, called the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA) to graduate. With the interrupted learning students have had during the pandemic, this high-stakes test caused unnecessary stress and strain for students, as well as for the staff that teaches them.
“Right now the most important thing we can do for students is not stress them with a high-stakes test,” said Francine Pfeffer, an associate director of government relations for the NJEA.
In addition to the stress of the pandemic, in February 2022, the board set the passing score at 750, instead of the Education Department’s recommendation of 725. Educators across the state were worried that these challenges would would increase inequities as well as put an undue burden on students and educators.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2022, Governor Murphy listened to educators and signed a bill that makes this year's administration of the NJGPA a field test, allowing the Department of Education to assess the assessment and determine its effectiveness. This also means that the test will be waived as a graduation requirement for the class of 2023.
New Mexico Teachers Win $10K Pay Boost
In January, educators and supporters marched on the state house in NEA-New Mexico’s “Rally for the Three R’s: Respect, Recruit and Retain Our Educators.” Were they heard? Were they ever!
In February, state lawmakers agreed to boost the minimum teacher pay from $40,000 to $50,000 for new teachers and from $60,000 to $70,000 for the most experienced teachers.
They also guaranteed at least a 7 percent raise for all school employees. “I could feel the power of our members and supporters—and clearly New Mexico lawmakers could too!” said NEA President Becky Pringle, who attended the rally.
A Blow Against High-Stakes Testing in New York
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.
North Carolina Educators 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
South Carolina Educators Win Pay Raises, Combat Voucher Expansion, and More!
Educators in South Carolina scored major victories through their state legislature, successfully lobbying in support of a pay raise for teachers while also defeating a major school voucher expansion. The South Carolina Education Association (The SCEA) has long fought for educators to receive a pay raise, and the recently passed $14 billion state budget does just that by raising teachers’ minimum salaries by $4,000.
The SCEA also helped keep up the pressure on major voucher expansion legislation that would have used public school funding to send students to private schools. Although both legislative chambers in South Carolina passed separate versions of the legislation, educators and allies continued to voice their opposition to the legislation, which effectively died after a conference committee failed to reach agreement on the bill.
Together educators have a stronger voice to speak for students, schools, and educators. Other recent wins in the South Carolina legislature include:
- Unanimous passage of 30 minutes duty-free break for elementary & special education educators through—the first state-guaranteed unencumbered time of any kind passed in decades!
- Members of The SCEA and ProTruthSC coalition partners across the state united to fight for truth and honesty in education. After many battles, we ensured this anti-truth censorship legislation didn’t pass into law in any form.
- Won a 3% raise for Bus Drivers.
- Advocated for and passed a bill that ended lunch-shaming and the practice of sending students and families to collections over school lunch debt.
South Dakota Educators Win Pay Boost
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.
Pay Increase for Utah Educators
In 2022, legislators passed a record Utah public education funding increase for the second straight year.
Educators will now be paid for a portion of their work performed outside contract hours. Attempts to widely expand private school vouchers and to make educators publicly post all curricula failed.
Some are calling it ‘the year of the educator,’ not only because of what was accomplished to support public education, but also because of the influence educators had on outcomes.
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 Education Association Wins the Right to Collective Bargaining
In December, the efforts of the Richmond Education Association paid off: 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.
Lewis County Wins COVID Leave
In September 2021, Lewis County Education Association (LCEA) President Kim Bonnett met with Superintendent Dr. Robin Lewis to ask for some relief for staff.
“Members were working even harder due to the lack of subs, educational gaps created because of COVID, extra cleaning still required due to COVID, and creating dual (virtual and in-person) lesson plans because of so many students being quarantined,” said Bonnett. She continued, “We asked for a day off every other week to accommodate extra planning, cleaning, and to catch our breath. We also asked for the county to reinstate the COVID leave policy.”
Superintendent Lewis would not budge, so LCEA members started speaking to the Board members. This is when the Board decided to set up the committee and later approved the COVID leave and other proposals. The result of this hard work was a policy that provided for COVID-related leave that would not be counted against the affected member’s annual personal leave.
Making Schools Safer in Racine through Union Power
Racine United Educators (RUE) work hard to keep students safe. 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.”
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. 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.
Section with embed
Together we're stronger. Together we're heard.
As part of the largest labor union in the country, with almost three million members, we work together to ensure that educators like you have a stronger voice. Will you join us?
Our Members Deliver Real Change
St. Paul Educators Win for Schools, Students, and Communities
Together we won a huge pay increase for education support professionals, mental health supports for every school, class size caps, and more for Twin City students, educators, and their families.
In February, after months of negotiations, our unions in St. Paul and Minneapolis filed their intent to strike for the resources their students needed. Hours before a scheduled strike, St. Paul educators struck a deal with the district that went a long way toward providing the schools that students deserve—through class-size caps, increases in wages, and more mental health professionals in schools.
In Minneapolis, it was a much different story.
For three weeks, a coalition of Minneapolis families, students, and our brave educators held the line in solidarity to ensure their demands were met.
They organized, marched, and rallied for the safe and stable schools their students deserved—and they won. Educators in Minneapolis will now have a counselor in every school, increased wages, and education support professionals will now have a much higher starting salary.
"I am so proud of Minneapolis’s educators for banding together and winning for their students at the bargaining table. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is an example for educators across the country of what happens when we use our collective voice to achieve a better future and real, lasting change for our students."
Mississippi Educators Win Largest Teacher Salary Raise in State History
In Mississippi, educator advocacy helped secure the passing of House Bill 530 – The START Act – which provides substantial pay raises for Mississippi’s public school teachers and teacher assistants.
Under the measure, the average pay raise for Mississippi public school teachers will be $5,100, and teacher assistants will receive $2,000. These salaries will help us recruit and retain enthusiastic, highly qualified educators who can help our students reach their highest life potential. We know that by improving the salaries of Mississippi’s public school teachers, the entire state’s quality of life will improve.
The final bill was stronger and better than original proposals, and that is because of the strong advocacy of Mississippi Association of Educators members, other educators, and education stakeholders throughout the state. Mississippi educators visited the state capital to ask for more investment in public education. Leadership and committee members agreed to listen to educators and crafted the best possible outcome for teachers and their assistants.
More Wins for Schools and Students
Florida Faculty Stand Up For Academic Freedom
The Richmond Education Association Wins Collective Bargaining for Educators
Bus Drivers Join Union, Advocate for Services
Local Advocacy Creates National Wins
Funds to the Rescue
One year ago, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan, the largest federal investment in public education in history, which has helped reopen schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed them to start addressing some of the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, and is getting our students the support they need to thrive moving forward.
This could only have happened with the help of NEA members and activists who 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.
“For many years, I was the first Black Latina teacher many students had. With ARP funds we are working on how we diversify our teaching staff, so some students do not have to go ten grades without seeing representation.”
Educators Win Student Debt Reform
After more than 168,000 educators raised their voices, the Department of Education finally announced a major overhaul to the failing PSLF program.
This is the beginning of change, not the end. Implementing these reforms will take time, and we are committed to working with the Department of Education to make them work. We are also steadfastly determined to make sure every educator receives the student debt relief they were promised.
10 years of public service equals no student debt. Congress made that promise to educators in 2007. And we will not stop until that promise is kept to everyone.
If 2020 was the year like no other, 2021 was the year we showed how resilient we are when we come together. While there is still work that needs to be done we should take a moment to celebrate these 2021 inspiring wins.