By Amanda Menas
The conversation about public education is changing in statehouses across the country. The assumption that schools must operate in austerity—that educators must “do more with less”—no longer prevails.
After more than a decade of deep education cuts and lagging teacher salaries, a renewed commitment to public schools is emerging. What’s changed? Some states elected more pro-public education legislators in 2018. The #RedForEd movement, and a series of polls showing public support for increased investment in public schools and teacher pay, made new and veteran legislators alike take notice.
But these state legislative wins also required the ongoing work of dedicated NEA leaders and members asking state lawmakers to stand up for public education and do more to support the struggling communities in which many students live.
Last week we looked at victories in New Mexico, Maryland, and Arkansas. Here are three more:
In an effort to support the whole student and protect public education from the control of national for-profit companies, Governor Jared Polis signed legislation making community schools an option for all school districts.
The concept of community schools is to allow local communities to support the diverse needs of their students from increasing social-emotional support, to offering food pantries and clothing donations, to providing professional development opportunities for parents.
Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, praised the move. “Community schools are a phenomenal opportunity for all stakeholders to engage and find local solutions that will support students, families and educators,” she said.
In March, Republican Gov. Brad Little signed into law a pay increase that lifts the minimum salary of educators to $40,000 by the end of the 2021-22 school year. Little identified education as his top priority in his state of the state address.
Idaho Education Association president Kari Overall embraced the pay increase, and said teacher retention is a main reason the change was needed. “We know that we’re losing early career educators every year and we know one of those reasons is pay,” said Overall.
Additionally, educators helped secure $7.2 million for the first year of the Master Educator Premium program, which will provide $4,000 in funding for eligible teacher-members for three years. The budget also includes an additional $18 million for dual credit offerings in high schools, and an increase in funding for early literacy programs and intervention.
Gov. Little is also convening a new K-12 task force that includes members of the Idaho Education Association to develop future education proposals.
On January 28, more than 4,000 Virginia educators and allies gathered for the “Fund Our Future” rally to advocate for pay increases and public school funding. The state legislature went on to pass the 5 percent teacher salary raise proposed by Gov. Northam.
Although Virginia has a strong economy, it ranks 32nd in teacher pay. Virginia teachers earn 31.3 percent less in average weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, than other college graduates in Virginia.
Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston called the pay increase both a “step in the right direction” and a “down payment.”
“Our members are energized, they are dedicated—and they are sick and tired of being told they’ll get the support their students need…some time later,” Livingston said.
The budget also included $25 million in additional funding for the “At-Risk Add-On” program that assists school districts serving larger populations of in-need students.