News in Brief

Outrage in Detroit

Buckets to catch leaks
Deplorable conditions inside one Detroit school, where buckets have been placed to catch water leaking from classroom ceilings.

AFT members have mobilized with the Detroit community to make deplorable environmental and learning conditions in school buildings a national issue. Many school settings are undercutting educational opportunities by exposing students, educators, and school visitors to dangerous conditions that could seriously harm their health, safety, and welfare. That warning was laid out in a lawsuit filed in January by the Detroit Federation of Teachers, its affiliates, and several parents. On February 9, members and school employees joined with parents, students, community leaders, and AFT President Randi Weingarten in a day of action, calling attention to these problems through “walk-ins” at Detroit public schools. The unacceptable school conditions have received national media attention from PBS NewsHour and People magazine.

Minnesota’s Pre-K Push

Concern about persistent opportunity and achievement gaps in Minnesota has fueled a new call in the state for universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds. It comes from the Educator Policy Innovation Center, a group founded by Education Minnesota to bring research-proven solutions and the voice of educators to the challenges facing schools. Along with universal access, the group’s new report lays out major components and indicators of program quality, calling high standards in early education “absolutely critical.”

Steps Toward Immigration Reform

Even with Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, the U.S. Supreme Court this term could potentially end a challenge to two major federal initiatives that give 5 million aspiring Americans the chance for temporary relief from deportation and for work authorization. Such a ruling in United States v. Texas would be welcome but falls short of the ultimate goal: comprehensive immigration reform. That is the argument made by AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a recent column in The Hill. “A temporary reprieve from deportation [is] not a green card or even a pathway to citizenship,” Ricker and Hincapié write. “We know that entire families, along with local economies, benefit when immigrants are allowed to apply for deportation relief and work authorization.”

Chicago Teachers Reject Contract Offer

On February 1, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted down the Chicago Board of Education’s latest contract proposal for failing to address the difficult conditions in schools, the lack of services for the neediest students, and the long-term fiscal crisis that threatens to gut public education in the city. CTU President Karen Lewis, who is an AFT vice president, says her members already have given more than $2 billion back to the district over the last five years in the form of rescinded raises, layoffs, and a three-year partial suspension on pension contributions by the school system. Three days after the CTU vote, more than 3,000 rank-and-file members, parents, students, and public education advocates marched through downtown Chicago in support of the union and its efforts to secure a fair contract. At press time, union members are continuing a series of demonstrations and actions while fact-finding continues between CTU and the district. Additional information is available online.

Teacher Improvement Plans Challenged by NYSUT

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has taken the state Education Department to court for what the union says are actions on teacher improvement plans that violate teachers’ collective bargaining rights. The suit was filed in January in the New York Supreme Court on behalf of four teachers and six local teachers unions. It charges that the Education Department violated the Taylor Law (which governs public employee contracts and negotiations) because it took teacher improvement plans, which had previously been bargained, into the realm of management prerogative. Details are available on NYSUT's website.

Easing Student Debt

Sen. Warren at student debt event
Senator Elizabeth Warren at a Press Conference for #InTheRed.

Student debt has soared to more than $1.3 trillion, and activists are committed to finding solutions. In January, seven U.S. senators launched #InTheRed, a campaign to push legislation that would ease this financial burden. On January 28, National Student Debt Day, students gathered for advocacy workshops and encouragement from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a champion of affordable higher education. Students then met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to launch the Young Invincibles’ Campaign to Fix Higher Ed. Read the full story.

American Educator, Spring 2016