By Barbara Moldauer and Amanda Menas
Educators have high hopes for improving racial and social justice within school communities under the Biden-Harris administration during the 117th Congress. NEA, which represents 3 million educators nationwide, is calling on Congress to ensure that the lives of all of our students–Black, White, Latino, Native, LGBTQ+, and newcomers–are valued, and that all students have access to high quality public education and protections against discrimination.
NEA is dedicated to rebuilding public schools with an emphasis on equity, returning to the classroom safely, protecting vulnerable students, and helping educators navigate their rights and responsibilities during the pandemic.
“We will get into good trouble every day, in every state, in every community all across this nation to keep our students and educators safe and center our schools in equity and excellence during the COVID-19 crisis,” NEA President Becky Pringle has promised.
To ensure all students and educators are safe from discrimination, educators want Congress to pass the Equality Act. This bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Because all students deserve communities where they can live without fear, Congress should enact meaningful law enforcement reforms, for example by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Another priority is comprehensive immigration reform that provides legal status and pathways to citizenship for Dreamers–people brought to the United States as minors who know no other country as home–and others allowed to remain here for humanitarian reasons. On his first day in office, President Biden sent Congress a plan called the U.S. Citizenship Act, a comprehensive immigration reform bill that takes steps to help keep families together. It provides an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people living in the United States on Jan. 1, 2021.
Educators defended our democracy during the 2020 elections by educating voters in their own communities about casting ballots safely during the pandemic. Now, educators are advocating for democracy reforms – ensuring access to the ballot box by making it easier to vote, restoring protections eliminated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder, and making the District of Columbia a state.
NEA believes strongly that both inside school buildings and throughout school communities, federal legislation and resources should target the students most in need–for example, increased funding for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and full-service community schools. Community schools provide a variety of resources to students, educators, and families to improve food security and health care.
Congress should also ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals and maximize access to the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (also known as food stamps). Improving the Affordable Care Act by focusing on comprehensive coverage that reduces out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families, including prescription drugs is another priority.
President Joe Biden has prioritized educators in vaccine distribution plans and pledged to supply schools with the resources they need to reopen buildings and campuses safely, moves that NEA supports.
“From day one of his administration, President Joe Biden is demonstrating he is listening to educators and proving that he understands the complexities of providing students with safe and equitable learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rebecca Pringle.
Tens of billions of dollars of emergency funding are needed to address a variety of immediate needs: equipping students and educators for remote teaching and learning via the E-Rate program, paid sick leave, ameliorating hunger and homelessness, and state and local aid to avoid laying off educators, firefighters, and other essential public servants. Additionally, public school buildings are in need of significant renovation and repairs to improve indoor air quality, and provide adequate connectivity for digital learning.
In higher education, the top priorities are relief for student loan borrowers and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act that governs student-aid programs, federal aid to colleges, and oversight of teacher preparation programs. Congress should focus on making higher education more accessible and affordable, expanding public service loan forgiveness, and enhancing diversity in the educator workforce.
Educators know that their ability to bargain collectively and advocate for change not only benefits themselves, but also their students. Congress can ensure that our nation’s 20 million public employees have the right to organize and bargain collectively by passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. Legislators can reinforce retirement security by protecting Medicare, preserving Social Security, and repealing the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that deprive public employees of Social Security benefits they have earned.