Educators are rising up. The #RedForEd movement has galvanized us nationally, at the state level, and in countless local efforts to raise awareness around public education and to ensure students get the schools they deserve. Now is the time to seize on that momentum and move ahead with the combined power of collective action and a deep commitment to students.
This year started off with hugely successful strikes by United Teachers Los Angeles and the Oakland Education Association. A strike is always a last resort and comes at great personal sacrifice for all those on the picket line, but UTLA and OEA members had exhausted all other avenues to secure what they had spent years trying to achieve. And what were they fighting for? They were fighting for their students — smaller class sizes, additional nurses, counselors and other support services, and reining in the devastating fiscal and academic impacts of unfettered charter school expansion.
Lawmakers are answering the call to do something about the waste, fraud and abuse that have dogged the charter school industry. Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 126, which requires charter schools to operate with the same transparency as traditional neighborhood schools. Additional CTA-backed bills are now making their way through the Legislature, legislation that would ensure decisions about charters are made locally, and would set a firm cap on the number of charter schools. Newsom and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond have formed a commission to look at the impact of charter schools on local school budgets.
Our collective action is also paying off in increased school funding. Newsom’s first budget proposal will increase K-12 education funding by $2.8 billion and invest significant additional money in both the CSU and community college systems and in CalSTRS. The record $80.7 billion proposed for education will help lift California from near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending, and under the Local Control Funding Formula, local educators and parents will have greater impact on how those funds are spent.
As we push forward, we must continue to be vigilant. The billionaires and school privatizers who put profits before kids have been dealt some setbacks, but they aren’t going to stop. At the national level, the U.S. Department of Education is facing proposed slashes of $7.1 billion. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently argued in favor of larger class sizes and fewer teachers, saying it would save money and free up funds to pay “good” teachers more. Attacks on unions continue, with wealthy anti-labor organizations trying (unsuccessfully) to peel off our members and undermine our collective strength.
But the momentum is with us, not them. The talent and commitment of CTA members is remarkable. Working together for our kids’ futures through the #RedForEd movement, we are unstoppable.
Eric C. Heins