By Emily Bricker / Photo: Bryan Woolston/AP
Public education fared much better during the 2019 legislative session in statehouses across the country.
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.
Here are three more:
Kentucky’s 2019 legislative session ended with a win after educators helped defeat several bills that would negatively affect public schools.
Most important, they held off the proposed tax-credit voucher program that the Kentucky Education Association called, “Nothing but a back door voucher system to undermine public education.” This program would have reduced funding available to public schools by offering tax credits to those who donate money for students’ private school tuition.
KEA successfully mobilized educators and other public school supporters around their belief that Kentucky should generate more revenue for public schools instead of providing tax credits to rich Kentuckians who send their children to private schools.
Additionally, the legislature did not move on charter school funding. Lawmakers in Kentucky legalized charter schools 2017, but so far, the law has gone unfunded.
Educators have been outspoken against launching charters in Kentucky, because they drain much-needed funding from public schools.
“Thanks to your calls, emails and letters to your local legislators, this session can be counted as a good one for public education,” the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) told its members as the 2019 legislative session adjourned.
Several pieces of legislation are especially noteworthy, starting with the education funding increase. The state will add $167 million to the 2019 education budget. “This addition to next year’s budget eliminates the austerity cuts that have plagued public education for 16 years,” GAE said. “The cumulative austerity cut since 2003 is $9.2 billion.”
Additionally, the CONNECT Act (Creating Opportunities Needed Now to Expand Credentialed Training) was passed with the goal of increasing the number of students who are career-ready upon graduation. Students are now able to earn certain industry credentials. These credentials will create job opportunities for graduates.
On June 1, educators helped to pass a bill that will effectively increase the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 by 2025.
Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, explains that, “In our recently released State of Education in Illinois survey, we asked Illinoisans what words they most associated with teachers. The two most common words were underpaid and undervalued.”
“They can see that salary is one of the main factors that prevents people from going into the profession,” Griffin said. “This will help districts across the state attract and retain the best and brightest and that’s what is best for students.”
Additionally, educators pushed lawmakers to abolish the Illinois State Charter School Commission by 2020. This means that communities are given the ultimate decision in whether they allow charter schools to operate in their districts.
The education budget was notably increased to include an additional $375 million for K-12, and $50 million for early childhood education funding.
A win for Illinois workers will boost some school employees’ pay: The minimum wage will increase from $8.25 to $15.00 per hour by 2025, which will mean better pay for many education support professionals, including food service employees and custodial staff.