Teachers’ Union Leaders Demand Full Federal Funding for Educating Poor Kids

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The presidents of the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia of the National Education Association and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, are demanding the federal government fully fund federal programs for schools that teach the nation’s poorest kids.

And that includes making up a $580 billion shortfall in such funding, accumulated since the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Act was passed as part of the War on Poverty. That shortfall is documented in a new report released at the Congressional Black Caucus foundation’s annual conference.

Eskelsen-Garcia challenged politicians “to come see what the best public schools are – you’ve just got to live in the right neighborhood to attend one.”

“It’s institutional racism that decided who will get school funds and who will not,” she declared before issuing her challenge to the pols at a September 12 press conference.

“It’s long past time to have just the rhetoric of these policies, without the funding,” Weingarten added at the same confab. Other school advocates, including Service Employees Vice President Heather Conroy, sounded the same themes.

Confronting The Education Debt, a report issued this month by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, said the federal government pledged when ESEA passed to add 40 percent “above each state’s per-pupil spending base for each Title I eligible child.” Title I is the ESEA section that authorizes – but does not actually dole out – money for helping schools educate poor kids.

The report notes the feds have never hit that 40 percent mark. Though the report does not name her, the GOP Trump administration’s Education Secretary, Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, prefers funding private schools, charter schools and taxpayer-paid vouchers to parents of public school kids. The report calls for a moratorium on those priorities.

It also calls for fully funding that $580 billion shortfall by repealing the $1.5 trillion Trump-GOP tax cut for the rich and corporations and redirecting part of that money to the 21 million-30 million Title I kids.

“Trickle-down has never worked, and it’s particularly come at the expense of children who are poor,” Weingarten later told Press Associates Union News Service. And while neither Weingarten nor the report said so, data show most U.S. public school students are members of minority groups.

“The systematic stripping of resources serving black, brown and low-income children, the increasing presence of police officers in their schools, the encroachment and financial instability” in public school districts “caused by privatization and the relentless transfer of public dollars in the hands of the wealthy are not passive events,” the report, co-sponsored by the NEA, AFT, the Service Employees and other organizations, adds.

“They are the results of policy priorities and decisions made at the local, state and federal levels – made against the best interests of communities that have been historically disenfranchised.”

“If Title I was fully funded each year, the nation’s highest-poverty schools could provide health and mental health services, including dental and vision services, for every student, a full-time nurse in every Title I school, a full-time librarian in every Title I school, and a full-time counselor for every 250 students or a full-time teaching assistant in every classroom.”

That’s not Trump’s or DeVos’ solution, Eskelsen-Garcia said. The secretary “ignores the voices of young people. Her answer is to buy more guns” for teachers “and put in more cops” in schools.

But the funding cuts hit home for every teacher. In an interview after the press conference, Weingarten told of the shortages she faced when teaching high school civics in New York City, as an example.

“I was in a Title I high school in the 1990s and we had to scavenge for chalk,” she said. “Bill Clinton was in office, but our textbooks said JFK was president. And every day I had to photocopy my teaching materials for my kids at Kinko’s – and pay for them out of my own pocket.” Teachers routinely bought books for their students, and raised funds to charter buses to get them to competitions, Weingarten added.

“We want to provide these things for our students, but these things should be over and above” spending on necessities. “We shouldn’t be spending our own money for basic supplies, but that’s become routine.”

The difference between then and now, Weingarten noted, was that in the 1990s, New York City was still recovering from its financial crisis, while the U.S., now, has – or should have – the money for schools.

Overall, the CBC foundation’s conference and its 10,000 participants tacked a wide range of issues, from criminal justice reform – including getting not just guns but security guards out of schools – and eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline to combatting political “dog whistles” while attracting non-African-American voters.

Politics entered the discussions, too, as speakers frequently said the political lineup in Congress must change in order to counter Trump, help non-white people, or both.

“We are in a pivotal moment, not only for 2018, but for building up the lives in the future of those we represent,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the CBC foundation chair.


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