WASHINGTON–The American Federation of Teachers today announced a national campaign to fight for America's future by strongly supporting a federal economic stimulus package that makes smart investments and mitigates the need for any further draconian cuts in education, healthcare and other essential public services.
"A well-crafted federal stimulus package is absolutely necessary to stem the economic tidal wave spreading across America. The solution isn't just about dollars but about the kind of smart investments that will help slow the economic free-fall and strengthen education, healthcare and public services in order to preserve opportunity in this country," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. The campaign is called "Fight for America's Future: It's Dollars and Sense."
"This fight must be waged not only in the nation's capital, but in every state legislature, every city hall, every county council and every school board," she said. "There are no do-overs for students-a child is only five once; patients can't wait for a better economic climate; and our country's crumbling infrastructure must be modernized sooner rather than later."
Among the states particularly hard hit is Florida, where Weingarten met Tuesday with Gov. Charlie Crist to discuss the state's economic challenges and explore ways to ensure quality education.
"The Governor and I had a very positive, productive conversation, and we are both committed to working in a bipartisan way to get our states and our public institutions the stimulus investments they need," Weingarten said. Crist has been designated by the National Governors Association to be the point person on the economic stimulus for Republican governors.
"I'm taking the fight to the very people who can prevent devastating cuts that would have punishing effects for years to come. This campaign will decide our country's future. Victory will take not only dollars, but the good sense to use those dollars wisely," Weingarten said.
She said she has heard from hundreds of AFT members nationwide, who are coping with severe cuts already made and are afraid of the adverse impact of proposed cuts. The following are a few examples of how the dire economic situation is affecting public services and communities:
- Boston schools are facing an estimated cut of at least 500 teaching positions, or 10 percent of the teaching force.
- A Florida teacher said that because of the economy, many of her students have difficulty doing homework because their electricity has been turned off, while others are left alone at night because their parents are working extra jobs.
- A Yonkers, N.Y., inner-city elementary school counselor is concerned about an imminent layoff. "There is a great need for our services, but because we can't meet the need, children will suffer," she wrote in an e-mail to the AFT.
- In Alabama, which is facing the biggest school funding cuts in 50 years, AFT Jefferson County is running a food pantry for members and students whose families are facing tough times.
- In Philadelphia, where many schools have no library at all, officials plan to shutter 11 public libraries.
- In Manatee County, Fla., business, technology, art and music classes have been cut, some schools have eliminated media specialists and guidance counselors, and there are fewer reading coaches for students struggling with literacy.
- In Shreveport, La., high school paraprofessionals have been transferred to elementary and middle schools, leaving at least one teacher to worry about the graduation prospects of some students. "This is a disservice to children with disabilities being mainstreamed as they enter high school," the teacher wrote in an e-mail to the AFT. "I would hate to see a few of my students out there in a regular classroom without [her paraprofessional team member] or me."
- In San Francisco, more than 400 city workers are going to be laid off, with the vast majority coming from the Public Health Department, including nurses. This will affect healthcare for low-income residents.
- A Florida teacher reports that budget cuts have led to huge class sizes and a student load that jumped from 130 to 192. In an e-mail to the AFT, she wrote: "The United States is struggling to find students who are qualified to enter in the advanced fields of science, engineering, medicine and mathematics, yet we don't provide the funds to each school district in order to provide the teachers these students need. This is going to truly endanger the future of our country."
The AFT is approaching "Fight for America's Future" as a campaign that will decide our country's future, Weingarten said, much as the AFT approached the presidential campaign. AFT members and leaders will meet with elected officials across the nation, conduct letter-writing and petition efforts and public demonstrations "to preserve and improve those services that help make our nation great," she said.
More information about AFT's "Fight for America's Future" campaign can be found at: www.aft.org/fight4america.