This week, students at Ellsworth Community High School were lining up to ask Shelly Moore what classes they should take and what she’d be teaching next semester.
Moore had to look her students in the eye and tell them she wouldn’t be teaching anything. As of June, this 13-year veteran teacher won’t have a job.
On Friday, Moore, serving as representative from the NEA, joined lawmakers at a Capitol Hill press conference to speak out against proposed budget cuts that would slash educating funding by 30 percent.
“What costs more?” Moore, surrounded by fellow NEA board members, asked attendees. “Paying to educate our children, or not paying to?”
Her words were echoed by Representatives Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who each spoke about the urgent need to keep support for education strong in this year’s impending budget.
As Moore and the other 24 staff members laid off in her Wisconsin district can attest, “budget cuts” are two small words with very big implications. Facing 1 million dollars in cuts, her rural district has let a sixth of its teachers go and slashed programs, including its agriculture program, beloved by students.
Moore, bright-eyed and energetic, is National Board Certified and the only AP teacher in her school, which is left with three English teachers for all 520 high school students.
Moore came to Capitol Hill to speak up for education, and she wasn’t alone – NEA Board members from across the country, including Melondia Corpus (Fla.), Mike Baranek (Iowa) and Kathy Griffin (Ill.), joined her in solidarity. They represented a variety of education jobs. Mike Musser (Calif.) and Jameel Williams (N.C.) are both ESPs at Large. Tommie Leaders, an aspiring middle school teacher, is president of the NEA-Student Program. Joe Cerar is a social studies teacher from Minnesota. They stood with Moore as she spoke in the marble hall of the Capitol, and Richard Bioteau (Penn.) teared up, as her words resonated.
“We have a duty to educate these kids,” Moore said. “In June, when I close my classroom door for the last time, I will leave so many missed opportunities.”
Missed chances, the lawmakers agreed, will become the norm for students if this House Appropriations Committee budget is approved. Representatives Andrews, Bishop and Hirono agreed that though responsible budget cuts are necessary, carving away education dollars hurts students and the American economy.
“If we cut education spending by 30 percent, it’s inevitable that funding for K-12 will decrease. It’s inevitable that Pell Grant limits will be cut,” said Rep. Bishop, a former college administrator. “It does not bode well for our future.”
Rep. Andrews called for divided legislators to declare a truce and try to negotiate cuts that are responsible.
Cuts have impacted not only Moore, whose future is uncertain, but also her students – ones that she tutored after school, ones that she helped prepare for college and ones that she personally kept from dropping out.
“People don’t realize sometimes – it’s hurting the kids, too,” said Bioteau.
He, Moore and other NEA advocates will keep reminding them.Photo: Patrick G. Ryan/NEA