“When the governor signed SB 1291, it was cool to know I made a difference,” says Elk Grove Education Association member Alexandra Condon. “It felt patriotic. But I could never have done this without CTA.”
When CTA-backed SB 1291 takes effect Jan. 1, teachers laid off because of California’s bruising education funding cuts will be able to collect unemployment benefits while retraining to fill other teaching positions in California’s shortage fields, like math and science.
In the spring of 2010, Condon was one of hundreds of teachers in Elk Grove Unified to receive a pink slip. While she retained her job, others did not. She saw dedicated teachers lose unemployment benefits when they went to sub or get credentials to stay in the profession. Condon had an idea to help and she knew how to make it happen.
“The whole process was a great example of democracy and what our union can do. It was exciting to be a part of it,” Condon says. “CTA has good working relationships with just above everyone in Sacramento. I didn’t realize how much good work legislative advocates do in the background. It’s amazing what they’re able to do to make things happen.”
It took over a year for the bill to be introduced by state Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). Then legislative hearings started.
“I testified three times, and it was nerve-wracking! I didn’t want my voice to crack. I wanted to be composed,” Condon says. By the third hearing she felt more comfortable, so she watched the legislators’ reaction when she described her situation. She told them that one day before her insurance ran out, she was hired back.
“It was fascinating how much legislators work while you talk. They come in and out because they’re working other bills, too. Watching other bills being ‘worked’ is something I never experienced before.”
“I learned I have a voice — and you can have a voice in our union. We need our union to amplify our voice,” says Condon.
The education funding cuts that have slammed schools also damaged the teacher preparation pipeline, leading many would-be teachers to pursue other professions. That reality made filling positions in shortage fields such as math, science and special education even more difficult in many places. California will need at least 33,000 additional math and science teachers by the year 2017, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the state’s licensing agency.
“In order for California to remain competitive in meeting the educational needs of the future, the state needs qualified teachers in high-demand subjects,” says Sen. Evans. Without enough qualified educators in high-demand subjects, “California’s workforce will not be competitive in math or science nationally and internationally, and that’s not where California needs to be to recover from this recession.” California has the highest ratio of students per teacher in these tough-to-staff subject areas in the U.S., she notes.
SB 1291 helps reduce the need for emergency permits allowing persons who aren’t fully qualified to teach these subjects. Studies find a correlation between higher numbers of emergency permits in a school with reduced levels of student achievement.
Condon recently reconnected with Jasmine Aguila, one of the pink-slipped teachers who inspired her to take the new business item to CTA’s State Council. In 2010, Condon taught first grade and Aguila taught kindergarten. Now Condon is an instructional coach and Aguila is a middle school special education teacher. Aguila had to sub and get her special education credential at the same time, and did not collect unemployment benefits.
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