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Gwinnett County, Georgia, joins the list of early school reopening COVID-19 messes

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Gwinnett County, Georgia, didn’t even make it to the beginning of the school year before it had serious coronavirus problems amid Gov. Brian Kemp’s push to reopen schools in person. Teachers started in-person planning for the school year on Wednesday. By Thursday, 260 school district employees were out because of positive coronavirus tests or contact with a case.

The school district’s position is that hey, it’s all community spread, not exposure in the schools themselves. But that’s not a great sign, either, and “In-person training and meetings are taking place without areas being wiped down or disinfected in between and masks aren’t being worn at all times, said several teachers who didn’t disclose their names when contacting the AJC. Others added that their school still hadn’t received any hand sanitizer,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. In other words, the conditions are there for in-school spread. It just hasn’t had time to fully develop. Yet.

Gwinnett County isn’t the only place to encounter problems immediately upon reopening or moving toward reopening. “We knew it was a when, not if,” one Indiana superintendent said after a student tested positive on the first day of school. That positive test began the process of tracing which other students that student had come into contact with and quarantining them.

The same story played out in Mississippi, where 12 to 14 students were in quarantine after coming into contact with an infected classmate.

And a Georgia summer camp had 260 infections. Not just people in quarantine after possible exposure, but 260 infections. Out of 600 campers and counselors.

Teachers and parents have warned against turning the schools into a giant COVID-19 experiment by forcing in-person reopening. The thing is, the experiment has already happened and we can see the results here. In-person school requires a massive reduction in community spread of the virus—which means closing bars and gyms and more—and a massive investment in schools, not just in longtime priorities like class size but in things we now know are important to slow the spread of the coronavirus like improvements in ventilation and air quality. And at this point, those things are not even on the horizon, so we have our answer on schools: It’s not safe to reopen in person. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Major teachers union will back ‘safety strikes’ to block unsafe school reopening

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The American Federation of Teachers will support its members if they decide to strike over the rush to reopen schools without regard for safety, the union announced Tuesday. The union has been pushing for increased federal funding to help schools reopen safely, but with Mitch McConnell’s Senate taking its sweet time and Donald Trump demanding in-person schooling regardless of safety, teachers can’t just sit and wait.

“Nothing is off the table when it comes to the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve,” the resolution from the 1.7 million-member union’s executive council reads, “including supporting local and/or state affiliate safety strikes on a case-by-case basis as a last resort.”

The AFT’s guidelines for safe reopening in person include the ability of schools to implement social distancing, ventilation and other upgrades to schools, adequate hand-washing facilities, and mask-wearing. But additionally, the union calls for communities to meet safety standards and not reopen schools until “The average daily community infection rate among those tested for COVID-19 is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent,” as well as having in place contact tracing and “a statewide, city- and/or community-level authority empowered to trigger closure in the event of a spike in infection or when public health standards aren’t being met.” 

The current Senate Republican proposal includes just $70 billion of the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding experts say are needed to make schools safe, and Republicans are requiring in-person classes for access to much of that already inadequate funding. So schools that aren’t safe to open because they require additional funding to make them safe would be entirely screwed. As is the Republican way.

“Why would anyone trust President Trump with reopening schools, when he has mishandled everything else about the coronavirus?” AFT President Randi Weingarten asked in a speech to the union’s convention, being held online. “Why would anyone trust Betsy DeVos, who has zero credibility about how public schools actually work? Why would anyone try to reopen schools through force and threats, without a plan and without resources, creating chaos? Unless all they wanted was for it to fail?”

”Before the virus’ resurgence, and before Trump’s and DeVos’ reckless ‘open or else’ threats, 76 percent of AFT members said they were comfortable returning to school buildings if the proper safeguards were in place,” Weingarten noted. But recent events have changed that—and it’s beyond clear that the proper safeguards will not be in place if Trump has anything to do with it.

Teachers continue to fight it out state by state, trying to find a way to educate kids without risking the lives of teachers and students alike. The Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has sued Gov. Ron DeSantis over his reckless push to reopen. After pressure from Massachusetts teachers unions, the state’s schools will open 10 days late to give time to prepare for whatever it is education will look like. “We had 24 hours to plan for crisis learning remotely in the spring, and not a single minute in the last 13 weeks to stop and reflect and evaluate and revise it,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said. The 10-day pause is intended to provide that time—but teachers in the state are still pushing for other key provisions to make the coming year safe. In New York City, the Movement of Rank and File Educators is threatening a sickout if the city doesn’t ensure safety. In California, teachers unions were pushing back against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pressure to reopen in person—until Newsom ordered schools in much of the state to open remotely until things are safer.

Schools are massively important not just to kids but to the economy as a whole. Yet Republicans have put everything else ahead of them, making it essentially impossible to safely open schools in much of the country. This required a giant investment months ago to make school buildings safer, and a giant effort to reduce community transmission of coronavirus so that well-ventilated schools with social distancing and mask-wearing have even a small prayer of avoiding outbreaks. It shouldn’t be on teachers to make federal and state and local lawmakers bend to what the science is already telling them.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Time to push back on the unsafe rush to reopen schools

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Reopening schools is a major workers’ issue in multiple ways. There are the workers inside schools: not just teachers but paraprofessionals, librarians, custodial workers, nurses. Their lives are at stake in the push to reopen schools without regard for safety. Then there are the parents whose ability to work rests in part on their kids not being at home, needing them every three minutes. And, of course, schools prepare children for many of the kinds of work they may do in adulthood—and send them messages how they will be valued and treated as adult workers. Right now, every one of those groups is getting the message that they don’t matter.

On August 3, a national day of resistance is planned by Demand Safe Schools, a coalition of teachers unions, education advocates, and grassroots parents’ groups. While “safe” is a moving target these days, they are emphasizing not just safety in schools but the equitable conditions that will make all students safer at home and better supported for remote learning if that’s what happens. You can check out their list of demands below.

  • No reopening until the scientific data supports it
  • Police-free schools
  • All schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers
  • Safe conditions including lower class sizes, PPE, cleaning, testing, and other key protocols
  • Equitable access to online learning
  • Support for our communities and families, including moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs
  • Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing
  • Adequate and equitable funding, through federal stimulus
  • Massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Teachers union weighs in on reopening schools safely

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Schools are a huge part of the economy—not just a place teachers and support staff and clerical workers and custodians work, but a place parents rely on to care for their kids so they can go to work. That means, as National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement, “The American economy cannot recover if schools can’t reopen.” But reopening schools has to be done right, and without sacrificing students’ education, she continued, saying “we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn and succeed.”

The NEA has offered its own guidance for reopening schools, calling for decisions rooted in science, with educators included in decision-making (they know their classrooms best, after all), access to personal protective equipment for students and school staff alike, and attention to equity in a pandemic that has hit Black and Latino communities especially hard. The union also calls for school systems to learn from the inequities exposed by the sudden move to remote learning, in which some students had computers and internet access and quiet places to learn while other students had none of those things. The NEA guidance is long, detailed, and thoughtful—and if you have many teacher friends, you may have heard that state reopening plans are … not necessarily those things. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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A Rank-and-File Teachers’ Movement Takes On Philadelphia’s Toxic Schools

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A militant caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is showing how, with rank-and-file leadership, unions can be a powerful force for fighting deep-rooted environmental injustice.

Nearly 24 years ago, students at Franklin Learning Center sounded the alarm about asbestos and lead in their school, blocking traffic and interrupting a Board of Education meeting to demand repairs and renovations that would make the building safe. That same school, Franklin Learning Center, was shut down between December 17, 2019 and January 2, 2020, in order to remediate damaged asbestos. Throughout both incidents, Jerry Jordan was helping to lead the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). After 30 years of Jordan’s leadership, as director of staff and then president, Caucus of Working Educators (WE) is running to cast off the old leadership, and end toxic schools, once and for all.

WE, a reform caucus of the PFT, was founded in 2014 in order to engage rank-and-file members and to vy for leadership of the union (Disclosure: This writer is a supporter of the caucus in a strictly volunteer and unpaid capacity). WE ran in 2016 and lost with about 30% of the vote, but is running again this year with a “pledge to engage ALL of our members, teachers and other professionals, and to fight for the issues that matter most to all of us.” The caucus notes that “PFT membership has shrunk by 40%, from 21,000 to 13,000, our buildings are giving us cancer and other chronic illnesses, class sizes are too big, special education services are chronically understaffed, 30 schools have been closed, and paraprofessionals and support staff are criminally underpaid.” Ballots are mailed to teachers homes on February 6, and votes are counted on February 26.

The caucus has been using its campaign to highlight its toxic schools campaign, which began in May 2018, after a damning report in the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed the depth of the asbestos, lead and mold crises in Philadelphia’s public school buildings. Rank-and-file members of the WE caucus sprang into action, launching a petition demanding safe learning conditions, specifically by demanding an end to the 10-year tax abatement, and for big universities and other mega nonprofits to provide payments in lieu of taxes.

This effort caught fire. In the fall of 2018, more than 3,000 people signed the petition (a majority of them teachers), and WE brought it to both the School Board and City Council in spring 2019. WE also worked on a media campaign to show how developers and the wealthy get rich as schools suffer, noting Philadelphia’s Dickens-esque tale of two cities: one for public school students, mostly children of color living in poverty, and another for developers and the University of Pennsylvania, who benefit from the 10-year tax abatement and their non-profit status, respectively.

The stakes of this struggle are high, and at times, WE has been at loggerheads with the existing leadership of the union. The Building Committee at McClure Elementary began pushing the District in September to investigate asbestos at the school, and the District finally listened, inspected and found asbestos. Although they were closed for clean-up on December 19, the Philadelphia School District scheduled to reopen the school during the first week of January.

Understandably, parents and educators were outraged that the school was reopening in spite of the continued presence of elevated levels of asbestos. In response to these concerns, WE joined with parents and held a rally on the morning of the re-opening, and called in press and local politicians to support the demands for a full and thorough clean-up before the building was reopened. Despite attempts by PFT leadership to intervene and cancel the rally, teachers stood strong, and won: The District closed the school two days later to finish cleaning the asbestos from the building. And at Lewis Elkin Elementary School, disturbed asbestos was found near the cafeteria, gym and school yard. Although the district assured teachers and students that they were safe, teachers refused to go into work. This choice was not sanctioned by the union, but decided by the rank and file at Elkin.

By zeroing in on toxic schools, the WE caucus picked an issue to fight, lead and win on. In late 2019, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a veteran teacher had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos, which is also linked to lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancers, along with other diseases. And as the wealthy skirt paying property taxes, the breadth of the anger around toxic schools grows: It’s been a problem for decades, almost nothing has changed, and no one seems to be on the hook for it. Cleaning up school buildings is a non-ideological issue that can unite teachers across gender, race, and political lines. After all, everyone deserves safe working conditions. And there’s a solution: Tax the rich and end the tax abatement to pay for the building renovations Philadelphia schools so desperately need. WE has been very clear about both the problem and the solution, and it’s organized from the bottom up to turn this crisis for students and teachers into a crisis for the School Board, the city, the state and—frankly—PFT leaders, who are scrambling to keep up with WE’s work.

Instead of leading on this issue and organizing their members to take action, the current leaders of the PFT have been following in WE’s footsteps. They launched the Fund our Facilities Coalition in March 2019, more than six months after WE’s petition was moving throughout the schools. The Coalition is comprised mostly of union leaders and elected officials, whereas WE’s focus is on organizing their base: teachers who work in toxic schools day in and day out. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, union leader announced that they would be filing a lawsuit against the district, for failure to protect public school students and staff. Pennsylvania’s state constitution says that “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” Philadelphia’s toxic buildings are a moral—and possibly legal—failing, and of course the union should take legal action against the district. But this should have been done a long time ago, and there is much more that needs to be done in order to make schools safe for students and teachers—and the Caucus of Working Educators is the body doing it.

Meanwhile, WE has given every indication that it plans to continue demanding safe environments, not just for teachers, but students, parents and every community member who has a stake in healthy schools. As two leaders in WE, Janene Hasan and Kathleen Melville, put it in an op-ed published last April, “These conditions would never be allowed to continue in suburban or majority­-white school districts. As teachers, we refuse to remain silent while our students are trapped in toxic buildings.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on February 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

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What Other Unions Can Learn from the Historic Gains We Won in the Chicago Teachers Strike

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Image result for Jackson Potter"As a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student from first grade through high school, and in my 17 years of teaching in the system, none of my schools ever had a full-time social worker or nurse every day of the week.

In the first contract the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) secured in the era of legalized public sector bargaining, in 1967, the language states: “a plan shall be devised to make available to teacher nurses a list of vacancies to which they may indicate their desire to transfer.” That language, providing no firm guarantee of staffing ratios, remained virtually unchanged for half a century. All subsequent contracts until 2019 include no references to bilingual education, dedicated staff and resources for our homeless students, case manager positions for our diverse learner population, sanctuary language to protect undocumented students from ICE, living wages for our lowest-paid paraprofessional members, or a dedicated article on early childhood education. Now, that’s all changed.

After 52 years of struggle, and an 11-day citywide strike, we were finally able to secure these critical demands—and more. We won 180 case-manager positions, 20 English language program teachers, full-time staff for homeless students, up to $35 million to lower excessive class size and even nap time for our little ones. This dedicated effort to win seminal staffing supports and educational justice for CPS students did not happen overnight—it’s been a long and protracted fight for the schools they deserve.

During the lead up to the 2019 strike, the editorial pages of the two major newspapers in town, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, took turns slamming us for intransigence, greed and idealism, often in the same sentence. The Sun-Times ran an editorial in the days before the strike that demanded we “Take the deal” and stated we “should accept the latest contract offer from the Board of Education, a sweet deal that most Chicagoans would just love to get.” Prior to the strike, Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered a 16% raise over a 5-year agreement, a salary offer that the CTU eventually accepted. However, none of the central issues raised from when the strike began to when it ended had anything to do with that initial salary offer.

In the last months of 2018, the CTU collected hundreds of proposals from our 27,000 members. Of the hundreds of submissions, many described how to fix a broken and anxiety-ridden teacher evaluation system, how to ramp up preparation and collaboration time, adequate pay and benefits, and more. There were also a number of ideas that went well beyond a traditional collective bargaining agreement. One proposal demanded the school district provide housing for all 18,000 homeless students in the district by creating affordable housing through a real estate transfer tax, corporate head tax and utilizing the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. Despite Mayor Lightfoot’s claims to support a progressive agenda that reflected the CTU’s vision for schools, reality proved more complicated.

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to prevent a strike by addressing our key concerns and demands. Yet, during negotiations, her team refused time and again to meet them.

Once CTU went out on strike on October 17, Lightfoot claimed the contract was not the “appropriate place” to address the needs of homeless students. While she promised to add more social workers and nurses to the school budget, she refused to put it in writing and make those commitments explicit within the collective bargaining agreement. By the end of the strike, we made sure that both supports for homeless students and guarantees for more social workers and nurses were indeed put in writing. At the inception of the strike, Mayor Lightfoot was adamant that there was no more money for our contract. But by the end, we won tens of millions more dollars in the new contract.

This contract fight wasn’t the first time the CTU raised “common good” proposals to elevate broader demands not typically associated with a union contract.

In 2010, we suggested that the Chicago Board of Education tap into the TIF program—a system where decades worth of property taxes are frequently diverted from schools, parks and libraries to support developments in the wealthiest parts of the city. At the time, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief negotiator for the teachers’ contract, Jim Franczeck, told us that “TIF is too complicated” and that the funds were unavailable to schools due to a firewall between the city and school budgets.

By 2016, we cracked the purported TIF firewall and forced then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to unleash a record $87.5 million to stave off a strike. This year, Mayor Lightfoot, followed suit and released another record TIF surplus of $163 million to the public schools.

On top of winning new funding streams, our broader social justice demands built upon victories in the recent Los Angeles teacher strike, as well as Boston’s teacher contract campaign that won language on class size restrictions. In no small way, the 2019 CTU strike was connected to a rising movement of teachers nationally that has fundamentally altered the political and labor landscape in the United States.

When we struck in 2012, the action was largely defensive in nature and came on the heels of Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. This year’s strike represented a move into offense—beyond efforts to stop school closings, vouchers, bankruptcies, pension liquidation or state take-overs. Instead, we’ve added about 750 new positions into our schools, staffing that will dramatically increase investments into our classrooms for the first time in decades. We’ve also added new language that establishes “sanctuary schools,” requiring CPS to prohibit the entry of ICE agents into our buildings unless they have a warrant. The new agreement also provides critical immigration and legal services to our students and their families.

The labor movement will look back on the 2019 strikes in Chicago and LA as the time when #RedForEd began to supplant austerity and corporate reform with educational equity and investments into our Black and Latinx school communities. While we have a way to go before public schools in Chicago match the school funding received by wealthy suburban districts, this agreement gets us closer.

One of the keys to our victory was labor solidarity. Chicago teachers struck alongside the 7,000 school employees in SEIU Local 73, which did not occur in 2012. These school workers also won large-scale victories in their contract, and by standing with us on the picket lines, they showed the power of true collective action.

The victories in our strike built upon years-long efforts to bring Chicago charter school teachers into the CTU, aligning 11 charter school contracts. This strategic choice led to the first charter school strikes in the nation’s history, and won provisions on class-size and sanctuary schools that set the stage to win them throughout the district.

To win more, we teachers should consider partnering with private sector union struggles. Imagine if we had been able to join forces with the United Auto Workers in their labor struggle with GM, or coordinated with warehouse workers to shut down the region’s supply chains? Such an approach could help build the social power necessary to advance a set of regional worker demands to significantly alter the political and economic landscape for all workers.

When I was a first-grader in CPS in 1984, there weren’t social workers or nurses in every school, no case managers, no coordinators for homeless students, and limited adherence to legal limits on special education, bilingual and early childhood state laws. On November 16, over 81% of CTU members ratified a contract that possesses all of those components. While there are many demands we were unable to win, we made massive strides toward equity in the classroom.

Throughout history, social movement struggles have always been protracted. It’s taken three contract cycles for the CTU to turn back nearly 40 years of attacks on our public schools. It’s a shift made possible through strike action coupled with a burgeoning national teachers movement—and taking risks to lift up working-class demands that go far beyond traditional collective bargaining.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackson Potter is a Chicago Teachers Union trustee, member of the Big Bargaining Team and a teacher at Back of The Yards College Prep.

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Why 15,000 Indiana Teachers Just Walked Off the Job

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After making waves in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and beyond, the Red for Ed movement has now spread to Indiana. Fed up with disinvestment in public schools and disrespect for their profession, teachers from across the Hoosier State are converging in Indianapolis today to hold lawmakers accountable and demand change.

More than 15,000 teachers and supporters are expected to rally at the Republican-controlled statehouse for today’s Red for Ed Day of Action, organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association and AFT Indiana. While the protest is not officially a strike, nearly half of the state’s school districts have been forced to cancel classes because so many educators have taken the day off to participate.

The rally coincides with the state legislature’s “Organization Day,” where lawmakers discuss their priorities for the next legislative session which begins in January.

Teachers are demanding raises to their salaries, which average around $50,000—well below the national average of $60,000—but can be as low as $30,000 for new hires. After years of state budget surpluses, Indiana now has $2.3 billion in reserves. At the same time, Indiana teachers have seen the smallest salary increases in the nation, receiving an overall increase of only $6,900 between 2002 and 2017.

Rather than simply tapping into the state’s massive reserves to pay for teacher raises, Republican lawmakers say that any salary increases would have to be paired with cuts to other school expenses such as administration and transportation.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb agreed to a one-time allocation of $150 million to pay down schools’ pension liability, freeing up $70 million per year in the school districts’ budgets. While Holcomb framed the move as a roundabout way to provide teachers raises, schools were not required to use the savings for salary increases—and apparently haven’t done so.

The low salaries compared to neighboring states has resulted in a statewide teacher shortage.  “Class sizes have ballooned because we don’t have the staff—we can’t fill the positions that are open and we can’t find the money to hire staff,” explained Daniel Brugioni, president of the Lake Ridge Federation of Teachers. “When you’re looking at almost 100% of districts in the state can’t fill their openings, you realize something has to be done.”

A second demand of the teachers revolves around Indiana’s new standardized test, the Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN). The exam is computer adaptive, meaning the difficulty of questions changes based on students’ responses. It was just rolled out this year, and fewer than half of the state’s students passed it. The result has not only angered parents, but also raised concerns for teachers—whose compensation is tied to their students’ ILEARN scores.

Teachers are calling on lawmakers to pass a “hold-harmless” provision to prevent this year’s ILEARN scores from being used by the state to punish them, their students and their schools. At the same time, teachers are also questioning the state’s emphasis on standardized testing.

“Are the students we’re educating better off than they were 10 to 15 years ago? We’ve had an incredible amount of testing,” said Tonya Pfaff, a schoolteacher in Vigo County as well as a Democratic state legislator. “Students are full of anxiety, they don’t like school, they are learning how to do multiple choice tests… but life is not multiple choice. It’s about working on projects, collaborating and problem-solving.”

Educators are also demanding legislators repeal a new law that went into effect this summer, which requires they complete a 15-hour “externship” with a local business in order to renew their state teaching license. The required “externship” was billed by Republican lawmakers as a way to advance teachers’ professional development and help them connect students to job opportunities.

The new requirement outraged many teachers, who already attend conferences and workshops, as well as pursue continuing education, as part of their professional development. Fort Wayne Education Association president Julie Hyndman called it a “complete insult” this May. “It’s another opportunity to demoralize public school teachers that the Indiana legislatures have continued to do, this year and most years prior,” she said.

The Indiana day of action comes less than one week after teachers in Little Rock, Arkansas went on a one-day strike in defense of their collective bargaining rights, and one month after 25,000 educators with the Chicago Teachers Union held an 11-day strike for improved school services and smaller class sizes. In recent weeks, teachers have also gone on strike in Dedham, Massachusetts and Berkeley, California, among other places, proving that the Red for Ed movement is continuing to gain momentum.

While Indiana laws prohibit teachers from going on strike, similar laws have not deterred educators in other states from holding work stoppages. “This is a warning shot,” explained Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a labor and employment law professor at Indiana University. “If [state lawmakers] want to keep heading on the track that they are heading on, we very well could have an illegal teachers strike, and they will be in the same position as other states.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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Thousands of Indiana teachers rally at state Capitol for school funding

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Indiana teachers are the latest to join the uprising that keeps rolling like waves through the United States. Thousands of teachers and supporters joined a Red for Ed protest at the state Capitol, seeking increased education funding and better pay, and they made their impact felt with 147 school districts canceling classes. Many Indianapolis schools offered free lunches so students wouldn’t go without.

“It’d be nice to be able to afford textbooks and technology to supplement a whole classroom,” high school government teacher Randy Harrison told ABC News. “Protect the arts, music, P.E., a library.” Chalkbeat offered a series of similar stories from teachers:

  • ”There are teachers in my school that are still using 1960s technology and supplies to make their classes go. Our HVAC system is on life support. We do not have enough aides and counselors to help the students that need it most. Our special education department has to also teach the general education students because we cannot afford to have a dedicated [special education] teacher. We cannot afford to bring on more janitors and maintenance personnel so we have unfixed bathrooms and facilities (no doors on stalls, urinals that don’t function).”
  • “I cannot make ends meet on my pay despite 15 years experience and a master’s.  I am tired of watching the schools in the poorest communities having their funding cut yearly. I am tired of the insane school grade system and the endless testing. And I will leave teaching before I submit to giving 15 hours of unpaid time to a business to renew my license.”
  • “As a teacher, I am tired of my school not having funding. As a parent, I am enraged with the amount of money spent on testing and the amount of time it takes away from my children’s education.”

According to the National Education Association, Indiana teacher pay is 36th in the nation, and per-student spending is 47th. But Indiana was also ranked last in pay raises for teachers over 15 years, according to one study.

The teachers point out that Indiana had an unexpected budget surplus, which is going to things like a swine barn at the state fairgrounds.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

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Teachers tell how far they’ll go for classroom supplies, this week in the war on workers

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It’s old news by now that teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, but a new Washington Post report finds that the problem is even bigger than we knew. (And we knew it was big.) The Post asked teachers to tell what classroom supplies they buy and how much they spend, and got 1,200 responses.

“I am a scavenger,” said one Michigan teacher. “My friend who works in the Michigan [Department of Natural Resources] office gives me their used binders, and my husband brings me furniture and supplies that the hospital he works at is throwing away.”

According to an Ohio teacher, “We are literally collecting pop tabs to recycle so we can buy more stuff.” A California teacher takes “discarded things off the side of the road.”

Teachers are making up for what cities and towns should be providing their schools to begin with—basic necessities at the level people in just about every other job can take for granted. “I’m often bowled over by the fact that financiers and software engineers can show up to work expecting to have every supply they could possibly need,” said a New York teacher.

And it must be the government that pays for needed supplies. Education is a public good that should be handled in a public way, not reliant on individuals. Another teacher told The Post that she hates coverage of donors fulfilling teachers’ wishlists for supplies, because “It normalizes this begging practice. If we properly funded schools and trusted teachers, we could stop seeing teachers beg online and restore their dignity.” And take the luck out of it, where some classrooms get everything they need and others are left wanting.

This is a sign of so many things wrong with U.S. society and politics. It shows the low, low value placed not just on teachers but on kids and on the very concept of education. Teachers have been fighting and still are fighting to fix it, but it can’t just be on them.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

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Matt Bevin becomes the latest red state Republican to find out you don’t mess with teachers

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One of the big fights that contributed to the downfall of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin was with teachers in his state. He insulted them, he went after their pensions, he blamed their activism for the death of a child, and, as he was losing on election night, a tweet saying “Hey @MattBevin, we finally found something you can accurately blame the teachers for” went semi-viral.

Kentucky was one of several states where teachers organized against Republican attacks and inadequate education funding. But have other Republicans (and other opponents of public education) been punished for their attacks on teachers and education? Not in every case—but often enough you’d think they’d start paying attention.

Also Tuesday night, in Denver, Colorado, where teachers went on strike earlier in 2019, teacher-backed candidates took a majority on the city school board, which had been dominated by supporters of corporate education policy.

In Oklahoma in 2018, 16 educators were elected to the state legislature. It’s Oklahoma, and nine of them were Republicans, but they were educators who ran as such. And the Republicans who opposed increased a tiny tax increase on fracking to raise teacher pay? They were overwhelmingly primaried out.

In fact, The New York Times reports that, more broadly, “The teachers’ movement has energized Democrats in red states, with record numbers of educators running for office. But it may have had an even greater impact on Republican politics. In primaries, it has picked off Republican legislators who opposed funding for teachers and schools. And it has convinced conservative leaders that voters, particularly suburban parents, are looking for full-throated support, and open pocketbooks, for public education.” That happened in West Virginia, where one of the most vocal Republican opponents of the teachers strikes there lost his 2018 primary to a more moderate Republican.

Arizona Republicans saw this coming and raced to co-opt education as an issue. To a significant extent they succeeded. Just one of six educators to run for state legislature in the state won her race, and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was reelected. But educator Kathy Hoffman became the first Democrat elected state schools superintendent in more than 20 years.

Education funding was a significant part of the fall of former Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, and while 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach had a lot of baggage of his own, Brownback’s unpopularity and the prominence of education issues also helped boost now-Gov. Laura Kelly’s run.

Teachers may not have created a full Red for Ed wave at the polls since their uprising began, but they’ve made a mark. Tuesday night, Matt Bevin and Denver felt that.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

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