On the eve of a critical vote that could provide $100 billion in direct funding to America’s schools, the National Education Association hosted a tele-town hall urging teachers and other education supporters to ask Congress to pass the HEROES Act.
A $3 trillion COVID relief package proposed by Congressional Democrats, The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act would stabilize education funding so that cities and towns—already reeling from the current health and economic crisis—would not have to cut their school budgets.
More than 12,000 teachers and education supporters participated in Thursday’s call, which featured guest speakers Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia introduced NEA’s We Rise Together campaign and issued a national call to action, warning that that as tax revenues vaporize in cities and towns, we could face a 35% reduction in educator jobs from pre-K through higher education, with areas such as music, art, sports, and foreign language first on the chopping block.
As budgets are lost to the global health crisis, she said, “We are at risk of not having an entire village of educators serving students when we return to school.” She added, “There’s something we can do about that. Rise together and act.” Noting that a bill to support businesses passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, Eskelsen Garcia said, “The HEROES Act should too. Schools are the foundation of their communities, where students are safe and have a fair shot at making their dreams come true. Go to nea.org/covidaction to see how you can stand up for students.”
NEA Vice President Becky Pringle echoed Eskelsen Garcia’s call to action, saying, “We need hundreds of thousands of emails to rain down on our members of Congress. So get everyone who likes or loves you or intends to keep living with you to rise together with us. Our students are depending on you to do what’s right. Let’s bridge the gap we know is coming.”
Pringle urged teachers to text the word ACTION to 84693 in order to get alerts about important legislation affecting education and instant action steps to take.
Voices for teachers
Calling Kamala Harris a powerful champion of public education and our students, Eskelsen Garcia asked the California senator to address town hall participants in last night’s call.
“Thank you for paving the path for our future,” said Harris, who has proposed an average increase of $13,500 in salaries for teachers, pointing out that they earn 11% less than similarly educated professionals.
Characterizing COVID-19 as both a health crisis and an education crisis, she pointed out that 55 million students are currently at home.
“Our educators are participating in educating not only their students in this remote environment but often their own children as well, carrying a heavy burden,” Harris said. “Your job is difficult enough, and
now you have a pandemic that has exposed deep, pre-existing inequities in our education system. We need immediate funding to expand access to broadband at home, to support EL students and students with disabilities, and to ensure that in the fall, schools have PPE for a safe working and learning environment and the funding and flexibility to develop modified school calendars.”
Harris said passing the $3 trillion HEROES Act is critical to ensuring that schools are properly staffed with teachers and support staff when they reopen.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, a former Connecticut teacher who became the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, called the HEROES Act a “bold, aggressive plan to infuse much-needed funds into our education system so that municipalities don’t have to consider cutting teachers or services when they plan their budgets.”
She told town hall participants, “Everyone talks about how much they love teachers and says they’re our heroes, but legislators need to show it, not just say it. They need to support direct funding for education, which the HEROES Act will provide, prioritizing our schools to be sure they’re not left behind. Reach out to legislators and show your unity,” she urged.
Hayes expressed deep concerns about high numbers of students experiencing trauma during the pandemic and then returning to schools “that are stretched and underresourced.”
She said, “You cannot support students without supporting teachers. We need to come out with that rallying cry.” She added, “Kids will need the arts, humanities, and academic enrichment more than ever when they return to school, and the HEROES Act acknowledges that and provides the funding.”
The House is expected to vote on the HEROES Act today. Go to nea.org/covidaction or text ACTION to 84693 to push for passage of this critical bill, and ask likeminded friends and family members throughout the country to do the same.