Teachers have had it.
Too much testing. Low wages. Rising health care costs. Disappearing pensions.
Non-existent or battered textbooks, lead in the water, and buildings that are falling apart. Thousands of dollars of personal money spent on necessities.
The necessity for many to work a second and sometimes a third job to make ends meets.
It’s no wonder teachers all over the country – and in particular, in red states and right-to-work states – have had it and are finally doing something about it.
There is strength in numbers, and teachers are finally realizing that. In West Virginia, there were months and months of advance planning for the walkouts.
These walkouts have surprised a lot of people in red states. According to Thomas Frank in The Guardian:
“And in most cases, it was state governments that capitulated. It was hard-hearted believers in tax cuts and austerity and discipline who caved, lest they themselves get fired by voters at the next opportunity.
“That, folks, is the power of solidarity, and the wave of teacher walkouts is starting to look like our generation’s chance to learn the lesson our grandparents absorbed during the strike wave of the late 1930s: that given the right conditions and the right amount of organization, working people can rally the public and make social change all by themselves. Irresistibly. Organically. From the bottom up…
“It is with an observation about those red states that I want to conclude. However Republicans might appeal to the resentments and fears of white working-class people, they are still working-class people, dealing every day with the indignity of having to sell their labor in a system determined to bid them down and insult them in a thousand different ways.
“Yes, many of them went for Trump in 2016. But just look at them now, as so many rally around … teachers’ unions, a rightwing hate-object bigger than Hillary herself.”
That is where real change happens. From the ground up, when people come together.
Public education is not a partisan issue. It is something that every American should value and fight for.
WHAT TEACHERS WANT
Diane Ravitch has a good summary here of what teachers want. Ravitch writes:
“America cannot retain its position as a global leader unless it educates its children well. Investing in our children is investing in our future. The states’ refusal to pay teachers appropriately, as professionals, is an admission by their leaders that they don’t care about tomorrow and they don’t care about the children of their constituents…
“Until now, we have been a world leader in science, medicine, technology, music, entertainment, the arts, sports and higher education. We can thank our teachers for that. Without the groundwork they provide, none of these achievements are possible.
“If we kill our future, it hurts everyone. Without well-supported, professional teachers, we are nowhere.”
WHAT WE NEED
Teachers need support.
Teachers need autonomy.
Teachers need to be trusted to do their jobs.
Parents know that if they want to find out how their child is doing in school, what their child is learning, what their child is struggling with, how their child is excelling, all they need to do is ask their child’s teacher.
Now, parents, we are asking you for help: please speak out in support of teachers. Please write to legislators asking for full funding of public schools. Please speak up at school board meetings about trusting teachers to do their jobs.
WHAT NOW, TENNESSEE?
So the burning question for me is, will we have a teacher uprising, an “education spring,” here in Tennessee?
Well, let me say this: We are trying.
We are trying to garner public support for public education. Support for fully funding our schools. Because the funding is where it all begins.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE “IT CITY”
So Nashville’s been an “It City” for a while now. There was something like a hundred people a day moving here, though that number has decreased a bit now. So with that fancy title and the thousands of new residents, you’d think we’ve got a world-class city with world-class amenities and services here in Nashville.
But you’d be wrong.
Our city – and I say “our” though I’ve only lived here for five years myself, but I do consider this my home – is bursting at the seams. We’ve put on way too much weight way too quickly and now we can’t figure our why we can’t squeeze into a medium anymore. We didn’t realize we needed to slow down – or at the very least, buy a bigger size. But no, we were stuffing our faces and living it up. And now, we pay the price.
We’re not slimming down anytime soon. People are here to stay – maybe not all, but I’d say most – because Nashville really is a nice place to live. And this comes from someone who grew up in America’s Finest City, San Diego. I love it here (save for the humidity).
So since we are a larger city now, we need to deal with it accordingly.
To keep with this metaphor, we need to be buying clothes that fit the weight we are now. Which means that since we are a bigger city, we need more – more public services, better transportation, affordable housing, and yes, a more fully supported public education system.
Our school buildings should be gleaming, our textbooks up to date, our teachers well-paid.
It’s not a pipe dream. What I’m describing is what it’s like in Williamson County, our next door neighbor.
And yet, our city has failed us. We grew too quickly and now we’re paying for it.
Or rather, we’re not paying for it.
And that’s the problem.
SCHOOL FUNDING 101
In a nutshell, schools here in Tennessee are funded from two sources, state and local. First, the federal government gives money to the state government, and they divvy it up to each county according to some complicated formula they call the BEP (Basic Education Plan).
For the record, the state has never fully funded the BEP.
That’s right – you read that correctly – they created a formula and they chose not to follow it. So from the start, school funding has been a problem. A huge part of this problem lies with the state government.
And we will continue to fight that fight. But the state legislature is out of session for the year.
The second source of school funding is local, from each county’s government. That means that here in Nashville, the Metro Council and the Mayor are responsible for setting the budget. And currently, approximately 40% of the Metro budget goes to public schools. And it isn’t enough.
In fact, it has never been enough. The state says that Nashville’s revenue is higher than other counties, so they decided that we would get less money from the state because the city can afford to pay more.
The problem with that, of course, is that the city is NOT paying more. It is not paying its fair share of funding for public education.
If you ask me, the whole system of school funding in this state is a crock of BS. It’s like a bad joke – one side is saying you can pay more, so pay more – and the other side is saying no, you need to pay more. But no side is actually paying more.
And that’s where our fight begins. With the local funding for public education.
Tonight, the public gathers to speak out about the budget. I’m here now, in the Metro Council chambers. Hundreds more are here, too. Lots of red shirts for public education. #RedForEd
And lots of purple shirts too, with SEIU members here in support and to ask for more funding as well. #UnionStrong
Tonight’s council meeting has time on the agenda allotted for public comment, and so, I’m waiting in line, along with many others, to speak for two minutes. It should be my turn in about 30 minutes. I’ve already been here for two hours. (It’s a good thing I’m a teacher and know how to control my bladder!)
Here is my speech to the Metro council:
Good evening. My name is Mary Holden.
I am an MNPS teacher and parent. I care deeply about our public schools. My question is, do you?
It really is that simple. If you value public education, you will show it by fully funding our schools. The first step is to vote no on the current proposed budget and then correct the tax rate.
When I moved to Nashville five years ago from southern California, I had been teaching for 12 years, and I took a $40,000 pay cut to teach here. Now that we are an “It City,” we should be keeping up with the rising cost of living here in terms of teacher’s salaries. But we are not. We should be keeping up with capital demands and schools repairs and upgrades. But we are not. We should be doing a lot more to actually be an “It City.” But we are not.
Please stop selling out our city to corporations. There have been many incentives for them, but now we need to focus on taking care of our city and its needs, including our public schools and our teachers.
This is your chance to be the heroes! Be the ones who fixed the problem and paved the way for Nashville to truly be a world-class place to live.
And I don’t want a 1% raise. That’s basically a slap in the face and it will take away from someone else without really doing anything. It’s a hollow attempt to make things right.
As a teacher and parent, I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how Dr. Joseph is choosing to spend money in the budget. But that is the school board’s job. And we will continue to hold Dr. Joseph and the board accountable for how the money is spent.
But that should not prevent this council from fully funding our public schools. They have been chronically underfunded for years. And that tells me that you do not actually value our children.
Nashville has the capacity to fully fund its public schools, but does it have the willingness? We may be the “It City,” but it is our city. Do your part and fund our schools.
I’m hoping from here, this number will continue to grow across the state, so that by the time the state legislature is back in session, we will be strong enough in numbers to make a real difference – just like they did in those other states.
UPDATE: Joey Garrison at the Tennessean wrote about our efforts at the council meeting here. I think we were successful, but time will tell.
Please help us out. Help make Tennessee grow in its support of public education. Let’s get into the Top 10 states when it comes to public education funding! That may be a lofty goal, but our children are worth it.