“If being ‘militant’ means being vocal and taking action to get the dignity and respect educators deserve, then I know a lot of militant CTA members.”
More than two years after California classrooms closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves moving cautiously beyond that deeply challenging period and, hopefully, embarking on a new day. With safety still a priority, our focus is where it truly belongs: making our schools the best they can be.
California still lags behind the rest of the nation in per-pupil funding. By last measure we rank 37th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., but this year’s state budget promises to bring another year of record investment in California schools. These investments are essential to ensure our students have equitable access to the education they need and deserve. Most immediately, that means we must recruit and retain teachers, counselors, nurses and education support professionals.
We must also use this new influx of funding to build back our profession and to make education a more attractive field for young people to consider. California is facing a massive teacher shortage, and it is imperative we do all we can to mitigate factors contributing to an increase in people leaving the profession and a decline in the numbers coming in.
While local decision-makers will determine how to use much of the funding, there are at least two statewide programs of tremendous significance that will impact California students for decades to come. One is the move to make transitional kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds by 2025. This is an opportunity for our youngest learners to start their education on a more level playing field and should have a positive impact on millions of students from elementary through high school and beyond.
I’m also tremendously excited about the $3.4 billion state and federal investment in community schools. The community schools model, which takes a whole student approach to learning and makes the local school a hub for wraparound services, has had remarkable outcomes, such as raising enrollment, attendance and graduation rates, and increasing the number of students who go on to college. When schools become the heart of the community, the community gives its heart back to our schools.
A recent USA Today headline citing “militant” teachers observed that educators are doing what it takes to improve our profession, and that across the country they are organizing to make up for lagging salaries and poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. If being “militant” means being vocal and taking action to get the dignity and respect educators deserve, then I know a lot of militant CTA members.
Over the past few months we’ve seen an increase in educator activism in many CTA locals. Chapters like Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association and Sacramento City Teachers Association have gone on strike in order to improve student learning and make their local districts more competitive for hiring. Going on strike is never easy, but just as educators were willing to make huge sacrifices for their students throughout the pandemic, they continue to be willing to do so to fight for contracts that benefit everyone: students, educators and communities.
Throughout the pandemic, I have encouraged you to take time for yourself. Take time to care for yourself and your family, just as you have cared for your students. I also encourage you to recognize and reflect on the incredible job you have done over the past two years. We have three special recognition days coming up: California Day of the Teacher and National School Nurse Day (May 11), and CTA Education Support Professionals Day (May 17). It’s a time to be honored by others or just to treat yourselves to a little something special. You have earned it, for all you’ve done and for all you to continue to do to make things better for California students and public schools.
E. Toby Boyd