Candidates’ forum explores equity and opportunity

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.”

Democrats slam Betsy DeVos, ‘denier in chief,’ on student debt forgiveness

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.

Rochester educators brace for layoffs, students walk out in protest

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.”

Historic school funding bill signed into law in Massachusetts

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.

U.S. student scores rise in international assessment

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.