Sunday wrapped up the 157th National Education Association Representative Assembly (NEA RA) in Houston, Texas—a convening of nearly 7,000 NEA members from across the country representing their colleagues and their profession.
Delegates discussed and debated 160 New Business Items ultimately adopting more than 60, including one initiated by CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas. This New Business Item calls on NEA to conduct a study to examine the feasibility of self insuring the risks covered by the Educators Employment Liability insurance, a move that could save the union money, while ensuring greater security for members.
Nicholas also proposed an amendment to a New Business Item that successfully passed. It calls on the government and courts for the immediate end to the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families.
For many delegates a highlight of this year’s RA was the #StrongPublicSchools presidential forum that took place on July 5. For two hours, ten presidential hopefuls—former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren—shared their positions with delegates on a variety of education issues.
Educators came away impressed by the substantive conversation and the chance to have candidates hear teachers’ point of view.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García reminded members that the stakes in 2020 are high, and educators must stay engaged in the political process.
“Political action isn’t subversive. It’s the essence of democracy,” she said. “Showing up informed and engaged, prepared to make a difference is exactly what democracy looks like.”
“We need you to come together and make this country whole,” said NEA Executive Director John Stocks. “Most of all, we need you to embrace your power.”
Eskelsen García introduced NEA’s incoming Executive Director Kim Anderson who will take over from Stocks on September 1. Anderson has most recently served as Executive Vice President of the Democracy Alliance and previously worked for NEA for 15 years. She will be the first woman and first person of color to serve as NEA executive director.
“The pursuit of education equity and excellence has always been my greatest passion and I am committed to building on NEA’s strategic vision through collaborative partnerships with our leaders, staff, affiliates, and our many allies,” Anderson said. “Together, we’ll strengthen our culture of organizing and our commitment to be an active steward of our civic and democratic norms.”
National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, addressed delegates and made an impassioned plea for diversity, inclusion, and greater educational opportunities for our most vulnerable students.
“A one-size-fits all model of equality does not work in education and education funding,” Robinson said. “Equity ensures that the students suffering from multi-generational poverty receive the same resources and education as those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.”
He added, “All students deserve teachers and role models who appreciate and understand the unique gifts they bring to the table no matter their race, religion, gender status, or sexual orientation. We need more teachers of color in American because everyone—and I mean everyone—benefits from diversity!”
Danbury bilingual teacher Luanelly Iglesias was also honored on a national stage as the recipient of the George I. Sanchez Memorial Award at the 2019 NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards ceremony.
“Throughout her career, Luanelly has been a tireless champion for her students, creating a bilingual program for students recently arriving in the United States,” says CEA President Jeff Leake. “Her efforts in the school community through family engagement continues to provide students the opportunity to have pride in their Hispanic heritage. The cultural exchanges that Luanelly brings to the classroom and the school community teach students the importance of honoring the past, embracing their culture and language, and working hard toward a bright future.”
Iglesias, who teaches at Rogers Park Middle School, noted that in her 15-year career as a bilingual teacher, being part of her local union and CEA has opened many doors for her. Born in Puerto Rico, Iglesias worked in a factory to help support her family and was a bilingual student herself 30 years ago, when she moved from Puerto Rico.
“I learned how to defeat many barriers through the power of education,” she said, reminding her colleagues of the incredible influence they have on their students. “Many of our students spend more of their time with us than with their families.”