Text by Cindy Long, Photos by Patrick Ryan
The #RedforEd movement took its message to Capitol Hill at a briefing hosted by the Progressive Congressional Caucus where four educators from around the country shared victories and how Congress can help them with the continued fight to fund public education.
“#RedforEd is not a teacher’s movement, “said Katherine Mullen, an American government teacher at Dundalk High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. “It’s a people’s movement.”
Mullen was part of the #RedForEd rally in Annapolis—the largest in the state’s history—where more than 8,000 stakeholders from schools, families and the community marched on the capitol demanding the the state funds that were promised to public schools from casino revenue be delivered.
“Schools were underfunded by 2.9 billion a year, but we pushed and we marched,” she said. “We won the bipartisan passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future—which adds $1 billion to our schools over the next three years.”
Oklahoma Gives Teachers a Raise
The #RedforEd tide swept across Oklahoma last year when more than 30,000 educators from around the state swarmed the Capitol to demand more investment in public education.
Fed up with low salaries, packed classrooms, and an overall lack of respect, teachers were leaving in droves, said Amber Spradlin, a 6th grade English teacher. When all else failed, they walked out and rallied together.
Lawmakers listened. The state is no longer No. 1 in making the deepest cuts to public education (that honor now goes to Texas).Oklahoma passed its first tax increase in 28 years, giving teachers a raise of about $6,000, depending on experience, while members of schools’ support staff salaries increased by of $1,250. But the fight continues for more funding and Oklahoma educators still wear #RedforEd.
“Our mission is to help kids,” she said.
Friendly Governor in New Mexico
After educators in the state worked to oust a governor who focused only on private schools, charters and even home schooling over public schools, New Mexico now has a governor who gets it, said Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.
This year Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation the biggest salary increase in history for New Mexico teachers. She will also strengthen community schools; fund career ladders to remedy the state’s teacher shortage and enhance teacher diversity; and bolster job security for school support staff and give them a raise of 6 percent.
LA Educators Walked the Line and Won
After its historic walkout in early January, the #RedforEd movement in Los Angeles won big, including a six percent pay raise with no contingencies; a nurse in every school five days a week; lower class sizes, investment in community schools, counselor-student ratios of 1:500; a pathway to cap charter schools; and hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing as well as a reduction in testing overall.
“It rained in Los Angeles during our walkout like I don’t remember when, but we stuck it out and we did it with the support of our community,” said Georgia Flowers Lee, an elementary special education teacher in Los Angeles.
She said they won the community’s support for a lot of reasons, not least of which was looking out for their children. One of the demands of the educators was to end random searches of students in schools and they won a pilot program to start to do exactly that.
“Students were being taken at random out of classrooms and searched,” Flowers said. But after putting students through that indignity, rather than weapons or drugs, what was found in the students’ pockets was “a lot of sharpies, inhalers, and hand sanitizers.”
But there’s more to be done, she said. There has always been a lack of funding that requires educators to step in and do more, like buy their own supplies, send students home with food in their backpacks, or even clean the bathrooms in their classrooms because the district doesn’t have enough custodial staff.
“I didn’t sign up to clean bathrooms,” Lee said. “Yet I do it, and we all do what needs to be done, but the longer we do it the more people will just expect that it’s part of our jobs.” She said educators shouldn’t be expected to pick up all the slack of the budget cuts and clean bathrooms when they should be educating students.
What Can Washington Do?
Each educator shared one priority they’d like the federal government to address.
California’s Georgia Flowers Lee: Fully fund special education mandates.
New Mexico’s Stephanie Ly: Listen to educators, find out what works well, and increase the funding.
Maryland’s Katherine Mullen: Fully fund Title I and Title II programs.
Oklahoma’s Amber Spradlin: Stop voucher programs that divert much-needed funds away from our public schools.
Learn more about #RedForEd at neatoday.org/redfored.