K Street Rally Urges Funding To Avert School Layoffs

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Good Jobs rallyAFT blue, with an accent of pink hearts, was one of the main colors on display May 17 as thousands of union members and other supporters of financial reform braved a cold rain to rally and march down K Street in Washington, D.C.

About two weeks after a similar rally on Wall Street calling for financial reform and policies that promote good jobs (see earlier story), the Washington event brought protesters to the K Street corridor, where the offices of highly paid lobbyists for many of the nation's largest banks and corporations are located.

The event had a special AFT flavor. Many in the crowd wore pink heart stickers and carried signs to symbolize the AFT's "Pink Hearts, Not Pink Slips" campaign, which is calling for federal funding to help avert massive layoffs of educators in the coming school year.

Speaker at Good Jobs rallyAFT member Joel Hirschey, a science teacher at North Syracuse (N.Y.) Junior High School, spoke at the rally (photo at right). Hirschey, who was recently laid off, developed a "living environment" program (now in its third year) that has shown remarkable success in getting at-risk students to earn the science credits they need to graduate from high school. "We bailed out Wall Street, and we bailed out the auto industry. Shouldn't we do the same thing for kids?" he asked. If 300,000 educators are cut, he pointed out, "think how many students this will affect."

Hirschey and Lynnece Edmond from Poughkeepsie both spoke at an AFT staff meeting immediately before the rally and marched alongside AFT president Randi Weingarten. Edmond, in her first year of teaching sixth grade—after working as a teaching assistant for seven years and also earning her teaching credentials—may be laid off from her position in the city where she grew up and where her children now attend school. With 25 students, she said, it's incredibly challenging to meet the needs of every student; if class sizes go up to 35 or 40, that will become impossible, she said.

A $23 billion funding bill in Congress to help avert layoffs, which Weingarten said was going nowhere just weeks ago, now has a good chance of passage thanks in great measure to AFT members who have put a human face on the layoffs. "This is about fighting for the future of our kids," she said.

"Pink Hearts" pose in front of White House

The funding is likely to be part of an emergency supplemental spending bill that the U.S. House of Representatives will consider soon, and the AFT is encouraging members to call their representatives and urge them to support the measure. [Dan Gursky/photos by Michael Campbell]

May 17, 2010