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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Rallies for Union Organizer/Teacher

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council recently organized a rally in support of Jared Hutchins (CTA), a teacher and union organizer who was fired by High Tech High.

In late April, some 400 educators at the High Tech High charter school network filed for union recognition with the California Public Employment Relations Board as High Tech Education Collective (HTEC), becoming the newest members of the California Teachers Association family.

With 16 schools on four campuses and more than 6,000 K–12 students, High Tech High is the largest operator of charter schools in San Diego County.

A virtual rally on Zoom garnered nearly 50 supporters for Jared Hutchins. Hutchins said, “I fought and was fighting for teachers to have an equal voice at the table. It was because I was unapologetic about my purpose of bringing anti-racist practices into our schools.”

The California Teachers Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against the High Tech High charter school network for firing Hutchins, who has been helping to organize a union throughout the network.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnel is a senior writer at AFL-CIO.


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How Chicago Teachers Are Resisting the City’s Dangerous School Reopenings

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This week, the first wave of children, teachers and clinicians in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system were required to appear at their schools for the first time in nearly a year. While Covid-19 cases and deaths have only increased (and increased dramatically) across the country since last spring, CPS officials and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot insist on reopening schools. What’s worse, teachers who fear for their safety and the safety of their students and coworkers are being locked out of their employee accounts and having their pay docked if they refuse to return from teaching remotely. In this urgent mini-cast, we talk to Paula Ladin and Mariana Ruiz, two CPS special-ed educators, about the city’s dangerous, reckless and unnecessary reopening plan and the impact it is already having on students, teachers, their families and their communities.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


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What Does a “Safe Return” to School Look Like? Ask Teacher Unions.

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Powerful elites are willing to sacrifice the lives and futures of millions to feed their own profits. Teachers are fighting back.

Demands for stu­dents and edu­ca­tors to return to in-per­son school­ing dur­ing the pan­dem­ic are com­ing from Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans, both claim­ing the return is nec­es­sary not just to pro­vide high-qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, but to save the econ­o­my and get par­ents back to work. The nar­ra­tive con­scious­ly exploits the needs of par­ents who may not have health­care and who rely on pub­lic schools to care for and edu­cate their chil­dren while they work. It pits par­ents, stu­dents, teach­ers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers against one anoth­er, using (or ignor­ing) sci­en­tif­ic data to suit the polit­i­cal pur­pose of mon­eyed inter­ests?—?the bipar­ti­san project of destroy­ing pub­lic schools. 

When Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Bet­sy DeVos tweets that par­ents ?“need real options for edu­ca­tion this fall” and #School­ChoiceNow?—?with­out pro­vid­ing the equip­ment, con­di­tions or funds need­ed to make schools safe?—?the real mes­sage is clear. The Right is using the push to reopen as a way to inten­si­fy the pri­va­ti­za­tion and mar­ke­ti­za­tion of edu­ca­tion, boost prof­its in the edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy sec­tor and erode trust in pub­lic schools. 

In response, teach­ers’ labor activism?—?wide­spread and robust in recent years?—?con­tin­ues to emerge. Teach­ers orga­niz­ing on social media have cam­paigned for var­i­ous sci­en­tif­ic stan­dards to trig­ger reopen­ing; #14DaysNoNewCases, for exam­ple, demands that cam­pus­es only reopen after going two weeks with­out Covid-19 infec­tions. The Demand Safe Schools Coali­tion wants class sizes lim­it­ed to 10 to 15 stu­dents, ven­ti­la­tion that meets guide­lines from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, clean and social­ly dis­tant school trans­porta­tion, sup­plies of per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment and ample Covid-19 test­ing. Activists in dozens of cities ral­lied August 3 for these and oth­er demands, resist­ing hasty, under­fund­ed and unsafe reopen­ings that impose harm, espe­cial­ly on low-income stu­dents of col­or. The cam­paign #Only­When­ItsSafe advo­cates reopen­ing only if it is ?“equi­table and healthy for every­one,” in the words of Boston Teach­ers Union Pres­i­dent Jes­si­ca Tang. 

For many teach­ers union activists advo­cat­ing for social jus­tice, an ?“equi­table” school is one that can address the full range of human needs required to edu­cate all chil­dren well. Chil­dren who are hun­gry and on the verge of evic­tion?—?or liv­ing in tem­po­rary shel­ters?—?can­not be expect­ed to suc­ceed aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, whether remote­ly or in per­son. An equi­table school, for exam­ple, would sup­port the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment in its call to replace police with coun­selors, nurs­es, social work­ers and restora­tive jus­tice per­son­nel. It would also sup­port the can­cel­la­tion of rents and mort­gages, a mora­to­ri­um on evic­tions and fore­clo­sures, and direct cash assis­tance for the unem­ployed and those unable to work. The nation’s sec­ond and third largest teach­ers unions, in Chica­go and Los Ange­les, helped orga­nize protests against finan­cial tar­gets like the Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Fed­er­al Reserve, the Board of Trade and big banks, call­ing for inter­est-free loans and high­er tax­es on the rich to fund safe school reopenings. 

The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT) and the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NEA) have ver­bal­ly sup­port­ed some of the movement’s demands. For exam­ple, AFT has endorsed a union local’s right to strike when nec­es­sary to pre­vent reopen­ings that endan­ger lives. But both unions have also embraced the push from Wall Street and Sil­i­con Val­ley for edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy to con­trol learn­ing and prof­it from stu­dent data. The pan­dem­ic CARES Act, endorsed by both unions, encour­ages fun­nel­ing lim­it­ed pub­lic edu­ca­tion fund­ing into soft­ware for dis­tance learn­ing, con­trolled by cor­po­ra­tions. Ed tech cor­po­ra­tions and lib­er­al think tanks are now push­ing soft­ware for ?“per­son­al­ized learn­ing” and ?“social and emo­tion­al devel­op­ment” that col­lects data that can be used for prof­it and sur­veil­lance— while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dis­tort­ing and appro­pri­at­ing ideals about mak­ing learn­ing indi­vid­ual and car­ing for children’s needs. Though some teach­ers are start­ing to use their local and state unions, like the Mass­a­chu­setts Teach­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, to push back against the NEA and AFT posi­tions, the dan­gers of ed tech in reopen­ing plans and edu­ca­tion remain most­ly unrecognized. 

Pow­er­ful elites are will­ing to sac­ri­fice the lives and futures of mil­lions of peo­ple to feed their own prof­its. Even beyond the life-and-death risk to their per­son­al health, teach­ers’ strug­gles mark resis­tance to the per­pet­u­a­tion of this unequal, unjust society.

For a response to this piece, see ?“All the Options for School­ing Are Bad?—?But We Have to Choose Safe­ty” by Chan­dra Thomas Whitfield.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on September 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University who is on the editorial board of New Politics. Her newest book is The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice.

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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Teachers have public support for COVID-19 safety strikes, this week in the war on workers

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Teachers in some areas have said they might go on strike rather than going back to in-person teaching if they felt it would be unsafe—and a majority of Americans would support them, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll found. A third of people said they would strongly support teachers, and another 22% said they would somewhat support teachers.

Just 21% of people said schools should completely reopen in person, with another 26% saying schools should partially reopen in person, and 38% saying schools should be closed or online-only. A 47% plurality said that the risks of reopening schools are greater than the consequences of keeping them closed, and 45% said teachers should not be required to teach in person. Regardless of what teachers or the public think, schools have already reopened in many places and teachers are dying.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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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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