It’s been just three months since the AFT kicked off the Fund Our Future campaign, and already the victories are stacking up. At more than 120 events across the country, AFT members have amped up their ongoing push to adequately fund public education, calling on Congress, state legislatures and employers to prioritize resources for their schools and ensure that all students have the high-quality education they deserve.
Leading the nation
Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill June 19 that increases funding for public schools by $4.5 billion—including $1 billion each for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and significantly increased federal financial aid for college. That’s an $11.9 billion increase over the education budget President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have proposed. At a time when 21 states still spend less on public schools than they did before the Great Recession, this bill—supported by more than 5,000 letters solicited by an AFT campaign to Congress—has the potential to reverse a decade of disinvestment and will make a big difference in the lives of children and educators.
Congressional advocates are also pressing hard to prioritize public education and wraparound services through the Rebuild America’s Schools Act and the Keep Our PACT Act, rejecting the disinvestment and privatization pitch coming from DeVos and her ilk. If they are successful, these bills would fully fund Title I, designed to support the country’s neediest schools, and IDEA, and would funnel more than $100 billion into school infrastructure.
The movement to Fund Our Future has struck a chord among presidential candidates as well: Many are engaged in and committed to finding solutions for our nation’s education system and have signaled their support for educators by interacting with AFT members during our AFT Votes town hall events. Former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to triple federal spending on high-poverty districts, double the number of school psychologists and health professionals, boost teacher pay, and provide universal preschool. Sen. Bernie Sanders has called for free college and an end to for-profit charter schools; Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to eliminate student debt—also including free college—and would also invest in historically black colleges and universities. Sen. Kamala Harris has proposed increasing teacher pay; Sen. Amy Klobuchar has focused on public school funding, including infrastructure; and Rep. Seth Moulton has proposed expanding loan forgiveness with a plan modeled after the GI Bill.
Winning across the country
Relentless advocacy and election activism have resulted in big gains in a number of states as well. AFT-New Mexico has had a landmark year, reaping the results of its hard work during election season, when it recruited and elected dozens of pro-public education candidates. The state has gone from a hostile governor and state Legislature to a host of newly elected former educators who have already begun to increase education funding, raising teacher and school staff pay from among the lowest in the nation, and establishing a statewide framework for implementing more community schools.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers helped move the needle toward a new state tax system that could add about $3 billion in funding for public services, including schools and colleges. “With the vote to approve the Fair Tax proposal, we finally have the chance to fix our state’s broken tax system that places the burden on working families,” said IFT President Daniel Montgomery. The proposal, which will let Illinois voters decide via a ballot measure whether to adopt progressive tax rates—rather than the current 4.95 percent flat tax—has been a cornerstone of the IFT’s Fund Our Future campaign.
Louisiana educators just won legislation that increases public school spending by $140 million; districts will get an additional $39 million in discretionary funds, and teachers and support staff will get pay raises. In Texas, legislators increased teacher pay; increased per-student funding by more than $1,000; budgeted for free, full-day preschool for eligible 4-year-olds; and mandated that a portion of school funding be spent on pay and benefits for teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors.
At a more local level, AFT affiliates are “funding our future” at the bargaining table. Rutgers AAUP-AFT in New Jersey won a contract that increases funding to hire and retain women and faculty of color, provides a living wage for graduate employees, and dedicates funding to ensure pay equity across all the university’s campuses. After striking for two weeks, the Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Illinois at Chicago won significant raises, lower fees and more-affordable healthcare. Educators at two Chicago charter schools won a contract with reduced class sizes; more counselors, psychologists and nurses; and wage increases. And the Boston Teachers Union reached a tentative agreement on a contract that would provide a full-time nurse in every school, a significant increase in the number of licensed mental health care providers, additional funding to help homeless students and students living in poverty, and pay increases for teachers and paraprofessionals.
Fighting for funding at home
These gains have not come by themselves, and AFT affiliates across the country have been busy advocating for every win they can get. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers launched a Fund Our Facilities campaign in March, proposing an immediate investment of $170 million to make critical repairs to the city’s public school buildings. “It’s not enough to simply call attention to the inhumane school building conditions faced by too many of our children and educators,” said PFT President Jerry Jordan at a kick-off rally for the campaign. “We also must have a comprehensive plan to immediately address the environmental hazards plaguing our schools.”
In Washington, D.C., educators urged Mayor Muriel Bowser to remember the city’s low-income neighborhoods and distribute education funding equitably, providing more support for students with the most needs. “This is about saying this is one city, in this capital, that should be funding all its schools fairly,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten at the April 25 Washington Teachers’ Union rally.
In Boston, hundreds of AFT members and community supporters rallied to fund our future May 16, marching in the streets and through the Statehouse with letters and petitions pressing to overhaul the state funding formula so schools would have the money they need for manageable class sizes and enough librarians, nurses and special education to serve their students.
At a May 18 Education Summit, the Florida Education Association rallied members to continue resistance to the conservative Legislature’s attacks on neighborhood schools and favoritism toward charter schools and voucher programs. “We see this summit as the start of something big, a real grass-roots movement that brings together many disparate voices for our schools,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “If public education is going to have a future in Florida, it’s time for the people who care about our public schools to step forward and take control of the conversation.”
In California, the Los Angeles teacher strike continues to reverberate, and the union is maintaining momentum with events like the Day of Action in Sacramento May 22. More than 1,000 educators and advocates gathered at the state Capitol to demand fully funded public schools and to stop billionaire privatizers from dismantling public education. The California Federation of Teachers is campaigning hard for the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, which would restore more than $11 billion a year to the state’s schools, community colleges, health clinics and other vital local services by closing a tax loophole that benefits millionaires, billionaires and big corporations. And it’s continuing to fight for legislation that would more closely regulate the formation of new charter schools.
AFT-Washington has focused on community college funding with its campaign (Re)Invest in Our Future, or ROC. This coalition of unions, students and community organizations won a $327 million increase in funding for community and technical colleges, including need-based grants, increases in some faculty salaries, more money for student support services, and funds for student loan refinancing.
In New York, some of the AFT’s largest affiliates—New York State United Teachers, the Professional Staff Congress, the United Federation of Teachers and the United University Professions—have kept up the pressure to fund public schools and colleges, holding lobby days and telling legislators that the inadequate public school budgeting is “just not enough.” UFT members have driven the message home to New York City councilmembers, advocating for crucial programming like the United Community Schools initiative, the Positive Learning Collaborative, the BRAVE anti-bullying program and the Dial-A-Teacher homework helpline. The state’s higher education unions are working in Albany to close the gap between funding provided by the state’s Tuition Assistance Program and rising tuition—the TAP Gap. And PSC, which represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, is rallying for badly needed funding for its campuses and pay raises for adjunct professors, who frequently live below the poverty level in this expensive city.
AFT members are making efforts in a number of other states as well, including Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon, helping to craft and advocate for legislation that would get back funding for public school budgets that have been under attack for years.
“For far too long, our public schools and colleges have been shortchanged, particularly in relation to our nation’s staggering wealth,” says Weingarten. “After a decade of neglect and austerity, the American people have had enough—and want a reordering of priorities to make their lives better. That’s why educators and communities have hit the streets over the last year to demand not just a small course correction, but a sustainable investment in public schools and colleges.”