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Bernie Sanders to Chicago Teachers: Worker Militancy Is Key to Fighting the Corporate Elite

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

When Chicago teachers led a historic strike in 2012, they boasted the critical backing of the public—but high-profile political allies were hard to come by. With then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the teachers’ nemesis, national Democrats stayed far away from the fight, and even a number of so-called “progressive” city council members opposed the walkout, including the now-disgraced former 1st Ward Alderman Proco ‘Joe’ Moreno who referred to the strike as “selfish.”

On Tuesday night, a very different scene was on display inside the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—one of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020—headlined a raucous rally to support the teachers in their ongoing contract fight with new Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Sanders was flanked by union leaders, community activists and a number of the city’s newly-elected democratic socialist aldermen, all of whom pledged to back the teachers. As Sanders stated as he took the stage, “I think that the Chicago school board should be very nervous.”

The Chicago visit marked a continuation of Sanders’ unique approach to his second presidential campaign, in which he’s not just supported labor battles, but positioned them front and center—manifestations of the political revolution he aims to foment. He has utilized his vast email and phone lists to turn supporters out to picket lines, and directly targeted bosses such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in order to raise workers’ wages. He has joined rallies of striking workers—as he plans to do Wednesday in Detroit to back the UAW’s ongoing strike. And, fundamentally, he has used his campaign as a vehicle to propel the revitalization of a militant U.S. labor movement.

But these aren’t acts of beneficence. To Sanders, an invigorated movement of the working class is the only way to achieve the type of bold redistributive policies that are central to his campaign, from Medicare for All to the cancellation of all student debt.

As Sanders stated at the teachers’ rally Tuesday, “For the last 45 years there has been a war in this country by the corporate elite against the working class of our nation.” And, he continued, “the only way to win prosperity for working people is when we significantly increase membership in trade unions all across America.”

“It’s about dignity”

Tuesday marked the first day of voting among CTU members on whether to authorize a strike, which could begin as soon as October 7. The union, which claims over 25,000 members, must reach a threshold of 75% of ‘yes’ votes to ratify a walkout. If recent history is any indication, that won’t be a herculean task. Ahead of the 2012 strike, nearly 90% of all CTU members who cast a ballot voted to walk out. In 2016, the figure was even higher—close to 96%—though that action was ultimately narrowly avoided.

Contract negotiations have reached an impasse over demands by teachers for more wraparound services and classroom resources at city schools. The union claims that there remain far too few librarians, social workers, counselors, nurses and paraprofessionals to adequately staff the district’s 514 schools, and that the Lightfoot administration is refusing to address these shortages in firm contract language. Teachers are also calling for smaller class sizes, investments in special education, and support for undocumented students through a “sanctuary school” program.

“This is about way more than just pay,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey to the boisterous crowd of teachers and supporters Tuesday night. “It’s about dignity, and the fact that our schools suffer from critical staffing shortages…It’s about the schools that Chicago’s children deserve.”

The rally also featured teachers giving first-hand testimonials of why they are voting to authorize a strike. Jamie Schnall, an educator at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary on Chicago’s South Side, echoed Sharkey’s claims, saying: “Large class sizes aren’t just in my kindergarten classes, it’s the entire building. They take more time to plan, to incorporate into lessons, and more time to get individualized attention. We need class size limits.”

And Adlai E. Stevenson Elementary teacher Norma Noriega highlighted the need for strong contract language guaranteeing safety for undocumented youth. “Our students are terrified of ICE,” she said. “We’re demanding sanctuary for all of our students. We fight for sanctuary because our students deserve to feel—and be—safe in their schools.”

“Everybody is going on strike”

But CTU members aren’t the only school workers on the verge of striking. Tuesday’s rally was also organized alongside SEIU Local 73, a union representing more than 29,000 workers, over 7,000 of whom who work in education-related positions such as custodians, special education assistants and security guards.

Local 73 members are demanding higher pay, increased staffing and an end to privatization deals that purge their ranks—such as the city’s agreement with contractor Aramark that brought private custodians into public schools, and left them in horrendous conditions. The union’s membership has already voted overwhelmingly to go out on strike, which could begin as soon as next month—potentially coinciding with that of the CTU.

Already in Chicago, thousands of nurses have gone out on strike in the past week at the University of Chicago Medical Center. On Monday, teachers at Passages charter school, who are members of the CTU, voted unanimously to authorize a walkout. And Chicago Park District employees announced at Tuesday’s rally that more than 94% of their members have voted to strike.

These actions come on the heels of recent strikes by Chicago hotel workers and orchestra musicians, as well as the first charter schools strikes in the country. Taken together, these displays of collective and concerted worker action represent a new approach for the city’s labor movement, moving into offense after years of being on its heels.

Jeanette Taylor, newly-elected alderwoman of the 20th Ward, summed up the newfound state of affairs at Tuesday’s rally, saying: “Everybody is going on strike in this city, and this is the right thing to do. We’re at a time in our lives when we can’t be silent anymore…we’ve got to stand and fight for each other.”

During his speech, Sen. Sanders urged the Chicago school board to “Sign a contract that deals with the desperate shortage of school nurses, of social workers, of librarians and of other critical staff that keep our schools going.”

“When we talk about valuing work, it’s not the hedge fund managers on Wall Street that we should value,” he continued. “It’s the teachers of this country, it’s the staffing, it’s the school nurses and the librarians.”

Supporting unions from the campaign trail

This isn’t the first time Sanders has used his 2020 campaign to lend support to Chicago workers in the midst of a labor dispute. In June, the campaign used its contact lists to call on supporters to join graduate student workers at the University of Chicago on their picket line. The campaign had previously done similar outreach to support striking workers at McDonald’s, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Mercy Health-St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. This mobilization, conducted through texts and emails, stands as an apparent first in modern presidential politics.

Directly pressuring employers to raise wages has been another strategy employed by Sanders’ campaign. The senator’s “Stop BEZOS Act,” introduced last fall, aimed to rein in corporate welfare and force large companies like Amazon to pay their workers a living wage. Weeks after the legislation was released, Bezos—the richest man in the world and a longtime target of Sanders’—raised his employees’ starting wages across the board to $15 an hour.

In each of these instances, Sanders did not single-handedly advocate for workers’ rights—he followed the lead of grassroots movements that were already putting forward bold demands. Whether it was grad student union members or the Fight for $15 movement, Sanders merely lent his support and voice to the labor struggles already underway. And the victories, such as Amazon’s wage raise, were made possible by organizers and rank-and-file activists—not simply a presidential candidate. Still, this type of overt worker solidarity has become a trademark of Sanders’ 2020 run.

The appearance in Chicago came the same day Sanders rolled out his wealth tax proposal, which would hit the top 0.1% of households and raise up to $4.35 trillion over the next ten years. Sanders has said that this money could be directed toward early childhood education, his ambitious housing plan and funding a Medicare for All system. Under the proposal, Jeff Bezos would be forced to pay $9 billion a year in taxes. As Sanders told the New York Times of his plan to target the super-rich, “I don’t think billionaires should exist.”

Sanders isn’t the only major presidential candidate to voice support for the Chicago teachers. On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, “I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Chicago teachers making their voices heard to demand living wages, smaller class sizes, and all the things teachers need to do their jobs well.” The following day, former Vice President Joe Biden followed suit, tweeting, “I’m proud to support Chicago’s educators as they fight for fair wages, full staffing, and smaller class sizes.”

Seven years ago, Chicago teachers were able to emerge victorious in their strike even without help from the mainstream political class—locally or nationally. But today, following a wave of teacher strikes across the country which has shifted the political terrain decidedly in the direction of rebelling workers, and with all of the top Democratic candidates and an array of left-wing city council members in its corner, the CTU is poised to carry forward what the union initiated in 2012.

As Sanders said Tuesday night of the newfound labor insurgency, “What we are seeing is teachers standing up and fighting for justice.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin

Chicago Teachers Are Threatening To Strike Against New Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Here’s Why.

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

kari-lydersen

In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took to the streets with thousands of supporters in a seven-day strike that was ultimately seen as a victory against “Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel.

A lot has changed since then. The recent wave of teachers strikes and walkouts across the country—from West Virginia to California—has won significant gains, not only in compensation for teachers but also in student resources and overall respect for public education. Back in Chicago, Emanuel and his hand-picked corporate school board have been replaced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a black lesbian whose campaign platform on education largely mirrored the CTU’s agenda, and a school board comprised largely of educators and community leaders.

Still, after months of negotiations with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the powerful teachers’ union may again go on strike in the fall, with the union demanding Lightfoot make good on her promises. Union leaders say that contract talks have changed little since Emanuel’s departure, with the Lightfoot administration continuing a “unilateral” approach, in CTU President Jesse Sharkey’s words, even when taking positive steps like announcing the hiring of hundreds of more nurses and social workers.

More nurses, counselors, social workers, librarians and paraprofessional staff such as clerks and teachers’ aides are among the key demands of the union, which wants those changes quantified and enshrined in the contract. In a system with over 500 schools, the union notes that there are only 128 librarians, down from 454 in 2013, and schools with a full-time librarian are concentrated on the wealthier, whiter North Side.

There are only 108 school nurses, and most schools have a nurse present only one day per week, according to a fact-finding document produced by the union as part of the contract negotiations. The National Association of School Nurses recommends one nurse for every 750 students, according to the document, while CPS has one nurse per 2,859 students. School social workers similarly handle five times as many students as recommended by the National Association of Social Workers. The union says the recently-announced hiring will only make a small dent in the school system’s need, and that the move needs to be negotiated and codified with the union.

“As a candidate, Lori Lightfoot put out a bold vision for transforming public education in Chicago, one that was largely cutting and pasting from the work we’ve been doing over the last decade,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates. “The mayor though has not set up the infrastructure to make that happen. Her team at the negotiating table is the same team that Rahm Emanuel had at the negotiating table. I think it’s pretty impossible to have a transformative lens but employ some of the same people who have been responsible for closing 50 schools and dismantling special education services.”

Most of the union’s key demands are aimed at bolstering the quality of public schools and students’ experience, including by increasing the budget for school sports and trades programs as well as improving special education. The union is also demanding CPS take a stand on larger issues that affect students, parents and educators, by curbing charter school expansion, supporting campaigns for affordable housing policies and officially designating the school system a “sanctuary” for undocumented people. The CTU gained sanctuary school provisions in contracts this year at a number of charter schools the union represents, after striking at three different charter networks.

The Lightfoot administration, which did not return requests for comment, has so far largely ignored such issues in its offers and its write-up to an independent fact-finder meant to inform the negotiations. That fact-finder is expected to release its official report on Aug. 26.

The administration has emphasized what it frames as generous raises for teachers. However, the union says the proposed raise of just under 3 percent per year is unimpressive, noting that the administration’s proposal would also force union members to pay more for health benefits, partially negating the impact of the raise. Thanks to a state law that changes funding formulas and other sources, CPS has about a billion more dollars available annually than in recent years, according to the union, which cites a study by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and a July 2018 school board financial outlook presentation. Yet students and teachers have not seen benefits from the additional funds.

CPS teacher compensation has lagged behind all other comparable large districts in the nation, according to data in the union’s report for the independent fact-finder. The report cites a 2012 study by the University of Illinois showing that CPS teachers work on average 58 hours a week, including prep time in the evenings and on weekends. The median salary for CPS teachers stands at $75,180.

The union argues that the paraprofessionals it represents are particularly underpaid. Nearly a quarter of paraprofessionals make less than $31,980 a year and around two-thirds make less than $45,510 per year, the federal qualifier for free and reduced-price school lunches, respectively, for a family of four. And CPS has overseen massive layoffs of paraprofessionals in recent years, leaving teachers and the remaining paraprofessionals with heavier workloads.

The union is also calling for better pay and protections for substitute teachers, to help address a chronic shortage—especially in the most troubled schools, where difficult working conditions make substitutes reluctant to take assignments. A “use-it-or-lose-it” policy for teachers’ time off also exacerbates the need for substitutes, since teachers can’t be compensated for days off they don’t take.

And the union wants reform of evaluation procedures that tend to penalize teachers of color and teachers in the most economically challenged neighborhoods.

Dick Simpson, a former alderman and political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who endorsed Lightfoot, sees the administration’s hardball approach as a “negotiating tactic” that “stems mostly from the Rahm Emanuel period.” He hopes things will change once Lightfoot herself switches gears from the ethics reform work she has prioritized so far and gets more involved in the negotiations.

“There just isn’t enough money to do things that you might have agreed to,” Simpson added. “The issue is going to be: Can they find a compromise position that recognizes the financial limits but at the same time makes the teachers feel valued and that they’re getting some financial help from the system?”

When the administration makes a final offer, the union will bring it to their members and potentially take a strike vote, with Sept. 25 the earliest date they could legally strike, according to Sharkey. The school year is set to begin Sept. 3.

Sharkey said that the administration is currently “on a collision course” with the union. Whether through a strike or not, he’s hopeful that Chicago will see the kinds of victories that teachers recently gained in other states, including in Los Angeles where aweek-long strike in January led to commitments to hire nurses and librarians, cap class sizes and raise salaries by 6 percent.

Davis-Gates added that the union’s current fight in Chicago is part of an ongoing national trend “because racism is a national trend.”

“Students are told to grin and bear it because we do not find value in their communities,” said Davis-Gates. “Teachers—because it is a profession dominated by women—are told to grin and bear it, because never in the history of our society have we respected the work women do. So I think yes, we will continue to see teacher rebellions across this country because sexism is still what it is, racism is still what it is. It’s my hope teachers everywhere continue to see their voice as an asset, and their ability to withhold their labor as their power.”

This blog originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on August 7, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist and instructor who currently works at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99 Percent. She is also the co-author of Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gunand the author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.Look for an updated reissue of Revolt on Goose Island in 2014. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work.

 

New Haven teachers strike drags on for a 14th day this week in the war on workers

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Teachers in California’s New Haven Unified School District have been on strike for 14 days as of Friday. They were considering the school district’s “last, best, and final offer,” which falls short of the pay increases teachers are calling for. The school district entered negotiations offering zero raise, meaning teachers would be falling behind as the cost of living rises.

A group of frustrated parents is attempting a recall of three school board members, saying, “We have witnessed a total and complete lack of willingness and ability of this board to lead us through these difficult times,” and, “Teachers in this school district deserve more from this board of education and administration. The students deserve more from all of us.”

The New Haven strike follows teachers strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Denver, Colorado; and West Virginia—all in 2019. Teachers in South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Massachusetts have also held significant protests this year.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

West Virginia Senate passes sweeping education bill to ban teacher strikes

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

The bill would allow schools to fire workers for striking and withhold pay on strike days.

The West Virginia State Senate on Monday passed a sweeping education overhaul bill that would deem teacher strikes unlawful.

The chamber voted 18-15 to advance the measure — after Senate Republicans inserted an amendment during a special session Sunday that would ban public worker strikes, amid protests from teachers and workers in the chamber, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. The legislation also allows for an unlimited number of charter schools in the state.

Democrats, as well as the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the ban on strikes as retaliation for the teacher walkouts that took place earlier this year and last year. The bill would allow schools to fire workers for striking and withhold pay on strike days, as well as forbid county superintendents from closing schools due to strikes.

The legislation, known as the Student Success Act, now moves to the House of Delegates, which is scheduled to reconvene on June 17. It is unclear whether Gov. Jim Justice (R) will sign the measure into law should it reach his desk. On Sunday, he told the Metro News, “We’re at a very, very difficult impasse.”

Teachers protested at the state capitol all weekend. On Saturday, hundreds of teachers chanted, “Charter schools, no! Public schools, yes!” Protesters also singled out Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R), who has been a staunch defender of the bill and has framed it as the key to fixing West Virginia’s education system.

“We have been accused of not listening,” said GOP State Sen. Patricia Rucker during Monday’s floor debate, likely referring to teacher protests. “I have to apologize if I sometimes slip into teacher mode. But listening is not the same … as agreeing. We can listen and we can agree or disagree … I’m here to represent more than just the unions in West Virginia.”

Protesters also called the measure just another iteration of a bill the legislature killed in February.

In February, West Virginia teachers took to the streets in protest of a similar omnibus bill that would allow a few charter schools to operate in the state and allocate money toward private school vouchers. Teachers argued that charter schools could drain money from struggling traditional public schools, which are already largely underfunded. The two-day strike was successful, with the Republican-controlled House tabling the measure.

Last year’s strike lasted almost two weeks, focusing on higher salaries and better benefits, as well as concerns over staff vacancies and the state’s insurance provider. An agreement was ultimately reached to provide teachers and state employees with a 5% pay raise, a fivefold increase from the original proposed raise. That proposal, however, died with the February omnibus bill. Monday’s bill includes the 5% raise. West Virginia teachers are among the country’s most poorly paid, with teacher salaries ranked at 48th in the nation, according to the National Education Association.

“I get sick of hearing how bad West Virginia schools are,” said Sen. Randy Smith (R) during floor debate Monday. “This is a start … I feel we have to start someplace … We need to stop sitting on our hands … Starting over again isn’t the right thing to do.”

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on June 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

West Virginia teachers strike (yes, again) to protest attack on public education

Monday, February 18th, 2019

This is not a blast from the recent past: West Virginia teachers are on strike again, just a year after they kicked off a wave of teacher uprisings that is still reverberating around the nation. The teachers won a badly needed pay raise last year, but now they’re protesting as their state legislature considers a bill that would undermine public education across the state.

Schools were open in only one of West Virginia’s 55 counties on Tuesday, ABC News reported, but “school parking lots were nearly empty anyway” in Putnam County. Teachers again flooded the state capitol. Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said “We are left with no other choice.”

The teachers are protesting an education bill that would chip away at the state’s already fragile and underfunded public education system by creating charter schools and allowing education savings accounts to pay for private schools. “It’s really disheartening to see the process play out and to see that people are using public education as a form of retaliation,” Mingo County high school English teacher Katie Endicott told USA Today. “But, at the same time, we’re really resolved in the fight and we’re not going to back down. We’re not going to quit because we know that the future of public education is at stake.”

One way to gauge the continuing rage among teachers and their willingness to keep up the fight is that, when the Denver teachers strike ended on Feb. 14, with the Los Angeles teachers strike having ended on Jan. 23, it seemed remarkable that Oakland teachers were on the brink of striking. The Oakland strike is planned to start on Thursday, Feb. 21—a week after Denver teachers got a deal. That seemed soon! But somehow West Virginia teachers have slid into that one-week gap to remind us all of their place in this movement, and of the severity of the attack on public education in the U.S.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on February 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Denver teachers go on strike for the first time in 25 years

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Thousands of teachers from Denver Public Schools gathered at the state Capitol Monday to kick off their first strike in 25 years, demanding pay increases and a long-term solution to the state’s ongoing problem of underfunding schools.

The strike, which is led by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), will affect more than 200 schools in the district. Administrators plan to keep schools open by hiring substitute teachers, though pre-school classes have been cancelled. Depending on how long the strike goes on, school officials have acknowledged that they may have to close some schools if they are unable to hire enough substitutes.

Educators voted to strike last month after disagreements with school administrators over pay. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the major dispute is over a merit-based compensation system called “ProComp,” which began in 2005. It gives teachers one-time incentives beyond their base salaries as a reward for working in hard-to-staff positions or to teach in schools where students perform well on state tests.

The union, however, has pushed for a more traditional approach to salary structure, calling for a system that allows all teachers to get raises and cost-of-living increases. During negotiations, the district was $8 million short of what the union asked for to overhaul the compensation system. Teachers, meanwhile, argued that the district could reduce administrators’ bonuses and take money out of its reserve to pay for it.

At a press conference Monday, DCTA’s lead negotiator Rob Gould said he hopes school administrators “come to the table tomorrow ready to listen so we can get back to work cause our teachers want to be in the classrooms with their kids.”

While educators were on strike, students at East High School in Denver took to the halls Monday morning in a show of support for their teachers. Video shared on Twitter showed students chanting, “Pay our teachers!”

Colorado is one of the worst offenders when it comes to public school funding. According to Education Week’s 2018 state-by-state assessment of public education, the state earned a D-plus for overall school finance. Colorado received an F for its spending on public education.

A key reason for this is that Colorado legislators can reduce school funding in order to balance the budget, using a tool called “negative factor.” Over the years, lawmakers have trimmed billions of dollars in funding to rural schools, schools serving at-risk students, and those serving populations with a high cost of living. As the Coloradoan reported in 2017, Colorado spends an average of $9,471 on each public school student, $2,685 less than the national average.

Denver is the latest city where teachers have gone on strike to demand better pay and funding for schools. Last year, weeks-long strikes in red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona led to pay increases and more money. Los Angeles teachers recently ended a weeklong strike, after achieving several of their demands, including a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing and smaller class sizes.

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on February 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Thousands of Virginia teachers march to state capitol demanding more funding, better salaries

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Thousands of Virginia teachers left their classrooms and rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand more education funding and higher salaries. Teachers gathered in front of the state capitol building, just as their fellow educators did during strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

Virginia Educators United (VEU), which organized Monday’s rally, wants schools to have adequate support staff, such as nurses and social workers, competitive wages for support staff, improved school infrastructure, and better recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. VEU encouraged teachers to take a personal day to attend the rally.

“I just think it’s one of those things where we have been waiting patiently and we always say, the [Great Recession] this, the recession that. That was 2008; we don’t have time to wait anymore so we need to fund education now,” Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association, told ThinkProgress. 

Hickerson said that in Fairfax, like many other school districts across the country, it’s common for teachers to be working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The district needs to take additional steps to ensure support personnel, such as custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

In an analysis of states’ funding formulas by the Education Law Center and Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education, Virginia received a grade of “F” on its funding distribution. Virginia’s average teacher salary is slightly less than average at $56,861, compared to $58,353, but in the Richmond area, the average teacher salary is just $51,064, state data shows. According to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 34th in the nation in average teacher pay.

Salaries aren’t the only reason teachers decided to protest; the schools themselves desperately need improvements, according to Hickerson.

“Our infrastructure needs a lot of upgrades and improvements. When you don’t take care of things now in terms of buildings, they just cost more later down the line. We need to upgrade our buildings and we need to get out of trailers,” he said. “We have close to a thousand trailers here in Fairfax County and I don’t want my daughter going into a trailer to learn and I don’t want other kids to also have that experience.”

Hickerson added that there are mold problems, heating issues, and leaks in trailers and on top of that, trailers may not be the safest place for students to learn.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and $268.7 million in new money for public schools in December. Republican leaders in the house of delegates have said they support a 5 percent pay raise. The Republican-controlled state senate has said it wants more flexibility for how local governments spend increased education funding.

When asked why Virginia teachers aren’t ready for a statewide strike like other states, Hickerson said that in addition to legal issues teachers may encounter due to public employee strikes being prohibited, the upcoming state elections present an opportunity to make change.

“I think we have a golden opportunity this election season with both our chambers up for bid in the house and the senate. I think we have a great opportunity to get public education-friendly candidates into those seats,” he said. “I think there is a good chance we can flip the house and the senate and bring public education to the forefront where we don’t necessarily need those strikes and collective action that makes us remove ourselves from our job. That doesn’t mean we stop lobbying or the momentum we started but at the same time that’s where we need to be putting our time and effort right now.”

Teachers unions haven’t dialed back their concerns about school funding after the 2018 statewide strikes. In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike for a week and won major concessions. Some of the improvements include a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing, turning 30 schools into community schools, and ensuring that schools have nurses working five days a week.

This month, Denver teachers voted to go on strike after more than a year of negotiations. Teachers there want to change their performance-based compensation system, which they say is confusing and limits opportunities for some teachers to improve their pay.

There are also ongoing discussions of work stoppages in West Virginia and Oakland, California. In West Virginia, the state senate advanced education legislation that embraces school choice, something teachers unions have opposed. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the press, “everything is on the table” when asked if another teacher walkout would happen in response to the legislation.

In Oakland, Ismael Armendariz, vice president of the Oakland Education Association, said the L.A. strike has energized teachers, who have been working without a contract since 2017 and are asking for a 12 percent pay increase over three years.

“One thing that resonated with our members is that when you fight, you win,” Armendariz said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Los Angeles Teachers Stay Strong; Win Improvements

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Less than a month into 2019, the teachers of Los Angeles have proven that last year’s wave of collective action isn’t quieting down. After taking to the streets in a strike that has captured the country’s imagination, members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are returning to classrooms today after overwhelmingly approving a paradigm-shifting contract that delivers on key demands.

For six days, more than 30,000 UTLA teachers went on strike to shine a light on the daily realities of a neglected and underfunded public school system. They demanded better, and by standing together, they won it. Here are just a few critical improvements in UTLA’s new contract:

  • A much-deserved 6% pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Hard caps on class size that will go into effect immediately in 2019–2020, with additional improvements every year after;
  • A commitment to reduce testing by 50%;
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads; and
  • A clear pathway to cap charter schools.

“For too long teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell—that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl following the vote. “Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike. Together, we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 23, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

Arizona teachers win some added education funding

Friday, May 4th, 2018

On the sixth day of their walkout, Arizona teachers have won a partial but real victory, as the state legislature pass and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill including a substantial pay raise for many teachers and an increase in education funding. The increase, though—$100 million in what Ducey calls “flexible dollars to improve our public education system”—falls far, far short of what teachers were calling for:

“The people down here, a lot of them, don’t listen to our voices,” said Noah Karvelis. He is one of the organizers of Arizona Educators United, the group that crafted the #RedForEd movement that, along with the Arizona Education Association, organized the strike that began last Thursday.

“They don’t respond,” Karvelis continued. “If they did, we’d have $1.1 billion for education in this budget.”

Legislative Republicans brushed aside Democratic efforts to include school support staff in the teacher pay raise, to require one counselor for every 250 students, to limit class size, and to pay for increased education funding by “phasing out some tax exemptions and eliminating the ability of individuals and corporations to divert some of what they owe in state income taxes to help children attend private and parochial schools.”

Many teachers expressed disappointment about what isn’t in the bill. And they should. The additional funding still leaves Arizona schools behind where they were in 2008, and lawmakers didn’t establish solid, responsible revenue sources for school funding. But it’s still a win in the sense that, without teacher activism, there would have been zero progress.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on May 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Colorado Republican bill would jail teachers for walking out

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Colorado teachers are getting ready to join the wave of teacher walkouts to fight for pay raises and increased education funding—and two Republican lawmakers want to jail the teachers for their activism.

The bill, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail, the bill language reads.

The bill also directs school districts to fire teachers on the spot without a proper hearing if they’re found in contempt of court and also bans public school teachers from getting paid “for any day which the public school teacher participates in a strike.”

Presumably state Rep. Paul Lundeen and state Sen. Bob Gardner have not read the polls showing widespread support for teacher walkouts and an even more widespread sentiment that teachers are underpaid. Or maybe they have read the polls and they just don’t care how unpopular their jail-the-teachers bill would be.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

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