By Mike Myslinkski
Just as teachers are working diligently in these final weeks before the November election to take back our classrooms and protect students from more cuts by electing Jerry Brown governor, a handful of persevering California educators worked hard this summer to return laid-off colleagues to their classrooms.
They helped accomplish what seemed like a long shot — securing billions in federal funding to rehire thousands of pink-slipped educators.
The dedication of these few laid-off teachers — who went to Washington to lobby in person — was rewarded. As California school districts begin this fall to receive their share of $1.2 billion from the $10 billion federal Education Jobs bill, Santa Ana Unified teacher Clarissa Barragan is coming to terms with her role in CTA’s massive mobilization to fight for the money.
“I knew that we made history and that we were able to make a difference in California, and in Santa Ana,” says Barragan. “I am happy to think that I had something to do with something so critical to us.”
While California’s $1.2 billion is one-time federal money, it will help districts rehire thousands of California teachers and education support professionals laid off this year due to state budget cuts. The stimulus funds can also be used to eliminate local furlough days or to restore pay cuts that teachers negotiated to avoid some layoffs around the state, which totaled about 15,000 this school year. The funds cannot be used for school districts’ administrative expenses or support costs such as equipment, utilities, renovations or transportation.
“In California, public schools have been cut by $17 billion the last two years, so the $1.2 billion in federal money is a good step toward restoring some of the damage to our classrooms,” says CTA President David A. Sanchez. “Individual teachers helped make a huge difference in this victory — as did the pressure from thousands of CTA members who called Congress to demand this relief.”
Action pays off
Several California teachers with pink slips hanging over their heads went to Washington in late June as part of a national push by NEA in Congress that led to President Obama signing the urgent funding bill on Aug. 10.
Barragan was joined in Washington by Brianna Clegg of Stockton and former Los Angeles Unified music teacher Christopher Rieder, among others. Luckily, they all found teaching jobs by September.
Barragan went to Congress despite having just been laid off for a fourth year in a row. She did stressful substitute teaching and tried to stay in Santa Ana, where she had grown up, attended local public schools and become the first in her family to finish college.
In Washington, as part of the CTA delegation, she met with the staffs of Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and spoke with her representative, Loretta Sanchez, about the impact on students and teachers from so many layoffs. “I felt that I could have a voice for other teachers in California going through the same thing.”
Pressure from CTA members led to Barragan’s Santa Ana Unified getting about $10.2 million, according to preliminary estimates released by the California Department of Education (CDE). All districts, charter schools and county offices of education will get some funding according to a base revenue limit formula (see sidebar).
Clegg says lobbying in the halls of Congress was “an incredible experience” that she won’t forget. “Leaving the offices of different Congress members and senators, I felt inspired that we might actually have been the voices they needed to hear to pass the bill.”
Clegg was pink-slipped on the same day last spring that she was named one of three teachers receiving an award from the San Joaquin County Office of Education as a “Teacher of Excellence” in English instruction. Fortunately, she was rehired at her same Stockton Unified school, though reassigned from fourth to fifth grade.
Rieder, the music teacher from Los Angeles, wasn’t so lucky. He could not afford to wait around for the district to decide whether to rehire him, so he uprooted his life and took a teaching job in the
Dixie School District in Marin County. Lobbying with CTA gave him an insight into politics that he will not forget.
“I’ve followed national politics closely for a long time, but didn’t have a clear sense of the complexity of the legislative process until actually participating in it,” says Rieder. “When we got the news that Speaker Pelosi was calling Congress back from recess to vote on the bill and that it was expected to pass, I started crying out of happiness and relief. It was an unexpected reaction, but man, did it feel good.”
Tremendous group effort
All told, using e-mail, texting and phone calls, CTA members made more than 10,000 contacts with California’s senators and representatives in Congress. They spoke with one loud voice: “Pass the bill!”
Local CTA chapters that were hard hit by layoffs are looking forward to the federal relief.
“This is really good news for us,” says Mike Day, president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB), which at press time still had about 200 laid-off teachers, down from the more than 800 layoffs it was facing earlier this year. Day says TALB will be discussing ideas with the district, such as using the money to rehire teachers now or to prevent layoffs and furloughs next school year.
In Mt. Diablo Unified in the Bay Area, several hundred teachers and librarians were cut earlier this year, along with many programs. The Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) helped fight for the federal funds and wants them to make an immediate impact to help heal some cuts, says MDEA President Mike Langley.
“This is not the time to funnel funds into reserves,” says Langley, echoing sentiments felt by teachers across the state, many of whom have to purchase classroom supplies with their own money due to state cuts.
“We must be sure that our administration focuses on the three R’s: Restore, Rebuild, and Respect the input from professional educators in our association. We need help in the classrooms and are ready to find solutions now.”
CDE’s estimates of allocations for larger districts:
Los Angeles Unified, $114.7
San Diego Unified, $21.3
Long Beach Unified, $15.9
Fresno Unified, $13.1
San Bernardino City Unified, $9.5
San Francisco Unified, $9.4
Sacramento City Unified, $8.4
Oakland Unified, $7.1
Mt. Diablo Unified, $6.4