EdAction in Congress

Edaction in Congress October 24, 2021

Senate Republicans block action on voting rights—again

All 50 Republican senators refused even to debate the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747) shaped by Sen. Joe Machin (D-WV) and a group of moderate Democrats to address shared concerns. A scaled-back version of the For the People Act (S. 1) blocked by Republicans earlier this year, the Freedom to Vote Act would make Election Day a national holiday and set federal standards for early and mail-in voting, among other things. Both bills were felled by the Senate rule known as the filibuster which requires a 60-vote supermajority to bring most bills to the floor, where they can be passed by a simple majority of 51.

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans again have failed to protect our democracy by standing in the way of advancing the Freedom to Vote Act, said NEA President Becky Pringle. “As a middle school teacher of more than 30 years, I am struggling with how to explain their indefensible action to our students, who are watching as they try to restrict access to our democracy and stack the deck against them. We will not be silent. And we should not allow Senate procedure to stop critical legislation like this from passing.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed to take up the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R.4) as early as this week despite the threat of another filibuster, saying, “Republican obstruction is not a cause for throwing in the towel.” H.R. 4 would reverse dangerous, undemocratic trends flowing from Supreme Court rulings: Shelby v. Holder, decided in 2013, which invalidated the crucial “preclearance” provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, decided just a few months ago, which further weakened the law. TAKE ACTION

Build Back Better negotiations enter new phase

President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are scaling back and refining the Build Back Better Act to win the near-unanimous support of congressional Democrats that is a must-have for passage—the Senate is split 50-50 and the margin in the House is nearly as narrow. With child care, education, health care, and more at stake, the Build Back Better Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a real difference in the daily lives of students, educators, and families. Failure to act at this critical juncture—due to timidity or politically motivated delays—is not an acceptable option. Too much is at stake.

School modernization is among NEA’s top priorities for the bill. Public school facilities are the largest sector of public infrastructure spending—after roads and bridges—but we have allowed them to deteriorate. According to the 2021 State of Our Schools report, the annual funding gap is $85 billion. Some public school facilities are so poorly equipped or in such poor condition—too hot, too cold, or infested with vermin—they undermine student learning.

Other NEA priorities include expanding access to free school meals, investing in educator recruitment and retention to help diversify the profession, providing pathways to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants, and ensuring sufficient revenue to make long-overdue investments in our communities. TAKE ACTION 

Urge senators to support and push for action on the Equality Act

The Senate still has not acted on the Equality Act (S. 393) passed by the House in February. The bill would amend federal laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, giving LGBTQ Americans explicit protection from discrimination in key areas of life: employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.

The current patchwork of laws—most states lack non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity—leaves many students and educators vulnerable to discrimination and sends the message LGBTQ Americans are second-class citizens. “[N]ondiscrimination policies must be enforceable by the law; we cannot leave it to the whims and feelings of individuals who may have biases and phobias they are unaware of,” NEA member Brian Kerekas, a teacher in Florida, wrote in a guest column.

Nearly 70 percent of LGBTQ students endure name-calling or threats based on sexual orientation, the National School Climate Survey found, and 40 percent have seriously considered suicide, according to the 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The Equality Act would help cultivate nurturing school environments for LGBTQ students while safeguarding the LGBTQ educators who support and encourage them. As NEA member Stephanie Rowe, a teacher in Wisconsin, said in a letter to the editor, “[Advocating for students] becomes more difficult if I fear being fired simply because of who I love.” TAKE ACTION

Cheers and Jeers

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) released FY2022  Department of Education appropriations with historic increases for education that include doubling Title I funding, significantly more for IDEA, and $400 million (an increase of $370 million) for community schools.

Reps. Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Chuy García (D-IL), Alma Adams (D-NC), André Carson (D-IN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Al Lawson (D-FL), Andy Levin (D-MI), and Kathy Manning (D-NC) signed a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key committee chairs calling for the Build Back Better Act to include investments that ensure all students have access to “a diverse, well-prepared, and stable educator workforce.”

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) joined NEA members for an online conversation about the Build Back Better Act and what’s happening with higher education in Congress.


Reps. John Rutherford (R-FL), Al Lawson (D-FL), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and John Katko (R-NY) introduced the bipartisan HELPER Act (H.R. 3172) to honor teachers, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders by creating a federal home loan program similar to the popular VA home loan program available to our nation’s veterans.

Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) and Nanette Barragán (D-CA) introduced the Latina Equal Pay Day Resolution to acknowledge the disparity in wages paid to Latinas and its larger impact on women, families, and the economy.


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