Education News

Year in review: “Cheers and jeers” for elected leaders

By Amanda Menas and Barbara Moldauer / Photo by By Martin Falbisoner

Throughout 2020, educators worked tirelessly to ensure that members of Congress heard their voices. The pandemic made it difficult to hold events and rallies in the nation’s capital, so they took action virtually. Their mission: to protect schools from drastic funding cuts and advocate for equitable access to student services.

Members worked around DeVos to keep students safe

Congress refused to adopt budget proposals submitted by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. These proposals, among other things, would have slashed funding for programs serving the students most in need and eliminated public service loan forgiveness on the grounds that “incentivizing one type of job or one type of work over another isn’t called for.”

Legislators also stood with educators as they fought for fair and safe working conditions. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter urging DeVos to rescind “equitable service” guidance on COVID-19 funding that “repurpose[s] hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students.” Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter urging DeVos to target COVID-19 funding to public and nonprofit colleges, and exclude for-profit colleges.

When DeVos refused to participate in a hearing on reopening schools safely, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said, “I find it hard to understand how Secretary DeVos can expect to lead our nation’s efforts to safely educate our children during this pandemic if she refuses to speak directly to Congress or the American people.”

Rep. Marc Pocan (D-WI) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) urged their colleagues to support NEA’s top priorities for COVID-19 legislation. Heinrich also introduced the Keeping Schools Safe Act (S. 4782), which would authorize $1 billion in grants to improve indoor air quality in schools using proven technologies to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) led a letter urging Senate leadership to include robust funding for America’s schools, educators, and students in the next round of COVID-19 relief funding.

Others wrote letters and introduced bills to encourage transparency in data about COVID-19 cases in schools, make sure that funding is not contingent on in-person instruction, ensure internet access for K-12 students, maintain funding for IDEA and rural schools, and expand access to free school meals for all children during the pandemic and keep school meal programs from collapsing.

These members took steps toward racial and social justice

The Black Lives Matter movement was a catalyst for congressional action in other areas. Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) introduced the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act (H.R. 8460) to prohibit corporal punishment. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act (S. 4360/H.R. 7848) to replace law enforcement officers in schools with psychologists, social workers, and others with mental health expertise. Reps. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) led the successful effort to include in the Department of Education’s appropriations bill language requiring $1 million worth of research into active shooter drills and other school security efforts.

Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the 1619 Act (S. 4193) to increase awareness and understanding of African American history through expanded access to programming from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In contrast, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sought to discourage schools from including in their curricula the 1619 Project (named for the year the first enslaved Africans arrived in America) because it teaches students to “hate America.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) sent a letter urging Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to “monitor and address racial disparities in our nation’s response” to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McConnell stood by Trump, opposed state and local aid

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) killed a resolution condemning the use of gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights on what would come to be known as Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. He risked his colleagues’ lives by requiring the Senate to convene in person to confirm judges. Worst of all, he repeatedly blocked fiscal relief for states and localities hit hard by COVID-19. “I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile, members of the House introduced bills to support teacher residency programs, ensure educators qualify for public service loan forgiveness, create a tax credit to encourage early childhood educators to remain in the profession, and protect access for education support professionals to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

NEA also celebrated these members of Congress:

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) for praising aspiring educators in a video celebrating their virtual graduation
  • Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) for introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act (H.R. 6563), which would provide $2 billion for an emergency fund to help close the digital divide and homework gap
  • Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for introducing the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act (S. 3489/H.R. 6275), which would help schools plan for closures, ensure early childhood programs continue, and provide emergency aid for college students in need of food and housing
  • Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Greg Murphy (R-NC), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Gil Cisneros (D-CA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Jason Crow (D-CO), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Joe Courtney (D-CT), John Garamendi (D-CA), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), and George Holding (R-NC) for signing a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressing serious concerns about “turmoil within the Department of Defense Education Authority (DODEA),” which oversees 164 schools serving more than 73,000 students
  • Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for introducing the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (S. 3170) to give salaried employees in traditional office environments reasonable break times and access to private places
  • Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Todd Young (R-IN) for joining their Democratic colleagues in supporting the congressional resolution opposing the changes in the “borrower defense” rule proposed by DeVos
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for objecting to the Trump administration’s privatization agenda and noting that vouchers have a negative, statistically significant impact on educational achievement—i.e., more vouchers equal lower achievement
  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) for standing up for democracy and pushing for bipartisan action on COVID-19.

12 responses to “Year in review: “Cheers and jeers” for elected leaders

  1. I have different political views than Rep. Clyburn but I am very happy that you decided. to honor him. Mr. Clyburn is a man of complete and total integretiy I used to live in his district and he and his family are absolutely wonderful people. Before Mr. Clyburn was a politician he was a math teacher. He was an excellent math teacher and taught in difficult minority schools. His Sister and others in his family were long serving educators. Even after he became a powerful lawmaker he used to come back to encouragie our students.
    I generally support politicians of the other party but I will always support Mr. Clyburn.

  2. That was a great sum up. I think its amazing that we can just be presented the things that took place this year in such a up front way. I think education system has been working hard and a
    these people did great! There is a long way to go, but we see that, and that’s the most important first step. Thanks so much for the opportunity to read this and for standing by educators. Keep up the good work!

  3. Jeers to corrupt Biden and his crooked China and burisma money. Harris wouldn’t have gotten to where she did without Willie Brown. Already seeing terrible cabinet with Susan Rice and China spy from senate. This election wasn’t fair. Media still lies. Everything will be swept under the rug. China loves having the Big Guy in office. I’ve been an NEA member since I started in1974. I am greatly disappointed in my union. ALL lives matter. BLM is racist and Marxist group. NEA doesn’t have the guts to stand up against corruption from the snowflake democrats. There are some Republicans that also need to be chastised. What you do next will determine if I stay with NEA.

      1. Why? Because he doesn’t subscribe to your groupthink?

        With that sort of intolerance toward somebody with a different viewpoint, perhaps YOU should be the one to leave the profession. I wouldn’t want somebody so closed minded as yourself teaching my children.

    1. I worry that you are being close minded on the subjects you have mentioned. It seems really important that I remind you that as an educator you need to approach things from all angles. There are many different perspectives on all of these matters. What I see here is plain dislike or even hate. That doesn’t have a place in education. You dont have any evidence to back your claims nor do you try too. This is the same rhetoric seen over and over again. We need fresh eyes who will think for themselves and consider and think about things outside themselves. The state of this country is effecting everyone in different ways. Time to start considering what that means for minoritys, including people in poverty and black people. Majority of the time the most harmful things arnt being done to the “rest of us” its the minority who bare the brunt. Making statements about opinion like they are facts is irresponsible. I just hope you can think about it.
      With Respect

    2. You are correct, as I too believe this 2020 election wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that our postal service has been nearly dismantled by DeJoy to slow down voting by mail since it was perceived that would impact the democratic voters. It wasn’t fair that Republicans led the way to limit voter drop boxes to inconvenience voters in democratic areas. It wasn’t fair that Republican poll watchers endangered those trying to do their job to accurately count votes by arming themselves and forcing their way into polling places. It wasn’t fair that the President of the United States encouraged his supporters to threaten both democratic and republican leaders trying to support their citizens to make their votes count.

      I also agree that ALL lives matter. How many lives must President Trump risk by allowing his ego to cloud his judgement, as usual when it comes to Putin, to ignore the danger created as a result of Russian hackers. I really don’t relish waking up to a nuclear winter because our nuclear codes have been penetrated. How many more of our citizens have to die because the president lied to Americans about the risks from Covid-19? How many babies, children, teens, and twenty-somethings’ lives must he risk before he can admit he made a strategic mistake?

      Mitch McConnell and the rest of the senate republicans have never had the guts, much less the integrity, to stand up to Trump. They certainly could care less for the U.S. citizens. You mentioned that you started teaching in ’74. If I were you, I’d be more concerned about ending up waiting in line for a hospital bed than whether you stay with NEA or not.

    3. Mr. Turner-Based on your ramblings, I’m praying for your school district that you are not a Civics, or Social Studies teacher. 1974? Enjoy retirement somewhere. Maybe in a charter school.

  4. Work together on most urgent Hierarchy of needs for all Americans. From food to housing, working, education and more while we have this Pandemic raging our entire country! Then hit fine points later! Get to work and lead us back to a United States that rises from this legislative crisis! Come to a consensus on life and death matters! Our children’s education is a matter of survival for our future in a global society that we better grasp ASAP! It affects economic security for our survival through and post Pandemic! Taking the right actions NOW can save our nation’s survival and to flourish in our global position. We must move forward together!

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