AFT Members Continue Push for Jobs and School Repairs

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AFT educators and union leaders from New York to Florida gathered at the White House with President Obama and top administration officials on Nov. 1 to show support for the administration effort to press forward with the American Jobs Act, the president's plan to revive employment and lay the groundwork for sustained recovery through well-staffed, modern public schools.

Carrying firsthand accounts of understaffed schools and buildings in desperate need of modernization, the AFT contingent provided compelling illustrations of how the White House's emphasis on spearheading employment recovery and long-term growth through strong federal support for public schools is the right way to proceed for children, public education and the nation. Through the jobs act, the administration is proposing $30 billion to prevent 280,000 teacher layoffs and to help rehire thousands of teachers who have lost their jobs since 2008. The plan also seeks $30 billion to modernize, renovate and repair one-third of all U.S. public schools, with funds targeted to schools serving large concentrations of disadvantaged students.

Phil Cleary, a preschool teacher in North Syracuse, N.Y., brought to the White House reports of how the number of staff at his building has plummeted from 100 to 60. These cuts, the teacher says, are driven by budget concerns rather than children's needs at the Main Street School—a school serving the same number of students today, including higher concentrations of students with profound learning needs and students from homes hit hard in the current economic climate.

"The board of education tries to keep class size in the low 20s, but we're in the high 20s now" because of fiscal woes, says Cleary, who is also first vice president of the North Syracuse Education Association. He urged Congress to move immediately to pass the American Jobs Act.

Also attending the Nov. 1 meeting were Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade (Fla.); Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton (Pa.) Federation of Teachers; Thomas D. Calhoun Sr., president of the Norfolk (Va.) Federation of Teachers; Miami-Dade County teacher Karyn Cunningham; Arlene Kempin, general vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; and Joe White, staff organizer for the West Virginia School Services Personnel Association. They were joined at the meeting by AFT president Randi Weingarten, who thanked them for carving out time in their busy schedules to make their voices heard in Washington.

This direct, sustained communication from those who do the work in the field, Weingarten stressed, is a critical element in the fight for jobs and stronger schools. And, in just a few short weeks, it has helped change the public narrative from blaming teachers to growing public support for schools, educators and public services.

Today, she said, "people get the point that you can't do a better job with the bottom falling out" of public education. [Mike Rose]

November 1, 2011