In a significant win for public education, the House of Representatives voted to strike down Betsy DeVos’ rule restricting student debt cancellation. DeVos’ rewrite of the “borrower defense” rule—a rule originally designed to help students who attended scam colleges and were left with mountains of debt—would make it almost impossible for defrauded students to get relief. “The House made it clear that we care more about defending defrauded students than enriching predatory schools,” says Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.).
As educators continue to agitate for increased public school funding at strikes and rallies across the nation, the need for more social workers, school psychologists, school nurses and other crucial staff has become a common theme. The AFT is on it: On Jan. 13 and 14, we held a small conference of these professionals, along with speech pathologists, community school facilitators, paraprofessionals and others to understand better how we can support them—whether it’s through the fight for funding, professional development support or building community within their professions. “We’ve got to make these jobs as much a part of teaching and learning as anything else,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “If math and English are part of what kids really need on an ongoing basis, so is well-being.”
The AFT’s Fund Our Future movement is gaining momentum, with educators turning out by the thousands to win public school funding in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and West Virginia. Now, it’s Florida’s turn: On Jan. 13, the Florida Education Association led 15,000 public school supporters at a powerful and historic rally on the state Capitol, demanding more funds for public schools and amplifying the needs of their students. “This is a ‘which side are you on?’ moment,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “It’s time to make public schools the schools our children deserve—and the schools where our educators have the tools and respect they need for our kids to soar.”
Public education was front and center on Saturday, Dec. 14, during a forum on the 2020 presidential election. The nation heard from candidates Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren at “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Opportunity for All” in Pittsburgh. “What’s happening today flips the script,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “It is a paradigm shift because the candidates have a chance to listen to what we’ve witnessed from the lens of our lived experience. Teachers bear a huge responsibility for the nation, but they don’t have the respect or the resources they need.”
Paula Cooper worked as a chemist in the oil industry before she became a teacher at 34. She had worked in the Houston public schools as a science teacher for nearly eight years when she learned that the Social Security benefits she earned as a chemist might be reduced because she would also receive a public pension someday from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Texas is one of more than a dozen states affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, which reduce the Social Security benefits of public employees. This fall, the AFT announced its support for the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, federal legislation to address the offset of Social Security benefits for public employees receiving pensions, like the retired teachers in Texas.
Members of Congress grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Dec. 12, and things got heated as they called her to task for leaving so many students out in the cold, refusing to relieve their student debt even when the “colleges” they attended failed them. “When you’re the secretary of education, you should be doing everything to help [students],” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. Instead, DeVos has denied borrowers the promise of an affordable higher education. “That’s why we call her the denier in chief,” says Weingarten.
More than 200 Rochester, N.Y., teachers and school staff got midyear layoff notices Dec. 6 despite passionate arguments to “cut from the top” and leave classroom personnel alone—at least until the end of the school year. Students were so upset that hundreds walked out of school to protest. “Cut your salary, not our teachers,” their picket signs read, targeting district administrators, and “My biggest concern should be grades, not losing my teachers.”
After years of campaigning by educators, students, parents and other public school advocates, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has passed a historic school funding bill that will deliver billions of dollars in additional state aid to local schools over the next decade. Signed into law Nov. 26, the landmark Student Opportunity Act commits the state to achieving equitably funded public schools over a seven-year span, promising $1.5 billion in additional annual state aid and directing the lion’s share of resources to communities with the highest concentrations of low-income students.
Students in the United States have improved slightly in math, science and reading, according to a recent international assessment comparing student achievement across 79 countries. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, measures 15-year-olds’ ability to apply knowledge “to meet real-life challenges.” Though scores show little change in the long term, the recent uptick is a change AFT President Randi Weingarten attributes to a turn away from high-stakes testing and toward students’ real needs.