WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers has launched a sweeping, multipronged campaign to fund the future of American public education.
Amid the continuing wave of teacher activism shining a spotlight on massive shortfalls in education investment, the Fund Our Future initiative aims to take the teachers’ megaphone into Congress, statehouses and communities nationwide.
This ambitious new deal for public schools and colleges, launched today by AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFT leaders from across the country, zeroes in on the concrete steps necessary to do three things:
- Reverse the economic austerity masquerading as reform that has stripped support from K-12 and higher education, hurting children and sending tuition and student debt skyrocketing.
- Recognize those states that have made commitments to fund our future where the campaign will be to sustain and build on that investment.
- Fight for a national commitment to the programs that can provide necessary and equitable investment in public schools and universities across America.
Fund Our Future will include an array of community- and state-based legislative initiatives, and strategies paired with national demands to fully fund Title I; fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; increase investment in school infrastructure; secure operating funds at the national and state levels to counteract disinvestment in public colleges and universities; and forgive outstanding student loan debt under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
A six-figure advertising campaign, rolling out today across print, digital and online streaming services in 14 states, will draw attention to the necessity of increased investment to give students a shot at a better life for themselves and their families. Community events, rallies, lobby days and petition drives will take place daily, with the AFT serving as a national clearinghouse for advocacy. Fund Our Future priorities will also provide the 2020 presidential and down-ballot candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to students, their parents and their communities.
While some states have sustained their commitment to public schools and universities, many have not. Twenty-five states spend less on K-12 education than before the Great Recession, and 41 states spend less on higher education, while the federal government has continued to underfund its education commitment by hundreds of billions of dollars. That disinvestment in public schools and colleges has hurt students and faculty and led to overcrowded classrooms; schools without nurses, librarians, guidance counselors and supports to ensure children’s well-being; deteriorating school buildings with outdated teaching materials and technology; and unhealthy, unsafe environments. The testing fixation, coupled with austerity, has meant the loss of instruction in the arts, music and other programs; and disinvestment has led to huge increases in tuition and student debt as well as fewer course offerings and full-time tenured faculty.
Parents and communities are standing with educators. The 2018 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools made clear that most Americans have trust and confidence in public school teachers. Ninety-one percent of Americans send their children to public schools, and say they want public schools strengthened. When asked about strengthening public schools or moving to private alternatives, nearly 80 percent said they wanted to strengthen public schools. Americans believe teachers are underpaid and said they would support them if they went on strike for better wages.
“We have some notable exceptions, but for far too long, our public schools and colleges have been shortchanged, particularly in relation to our nation’s staggering wealth,” the AFT’s Weingarten said. “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.
“This funding hole for public schools is not inevitable; it’s the direct result of deliberate and harmful political choices. That’s why we’re launching Fund Our Future—to supercharge the work teachers, parents and students have been doing into a set of comprehensive demands to take to the halls of state legislatures and Congress. What better time than now and who better than us to take on this challenge and win?”
Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said: “Fund Our Future is a campaign focused on our country and actualized in our communities. The lack of investment in Florida’s schools is a real crisis. And when our students are in crisis, we know that educators are the first responders. Our members have stepped up to the plate and responded to the needs of their students time and time again; and with this campaign, we are holding our legislators accountable.” He continued, “We know what’s best for our students, and we’re committed to supporting students throughout their journey to reach their full potential. We just need the politicians in Tallahassee to give us the tools necessary to do that. We need our legislators to fund the future and invest in the success of our students.”
AFT Washington President Karen Strickland said: “In Washington state, the community and technical college system has been defunded over the last 30 years, with the recession exacerbating the damage. Our budgets reflect our values, so investing in our students and our communities is about choices. Our state’s tax system is the most regressive in the country, so we’re effectively telling our students: Your higher education is less important than protecting the wealth of Washington’s highest earners. Our CTCs prepare students for civic engagement, employment and attainment of higher degrees. Employers benefit from a well-prepared workforce. And the economy is fueled with $20 billion of activity each year. Investing in the CTCs is a smart investment that pays huge dividends. That’s why AFT Washington is joining the Fund Our Future campaign to fight for the reinvestment in our colleges that makes a difference in people’s lives.”
For more information on the campaign, visit http://fundourfuture.aft.org.