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Labor Voices: Respect teachers, fund schools

Paula Herbart

Across our country, educators are standing together for their students, their colleagues and their schools. Red-clad teachers and support staff are raising their voices demanding their students be valued, their profession be respected and their schools be appropriately funded as the foundation of our economy and our society.

Here in Michigan, educators are wearing “red for public ed” on Wednesdays. In many schools, building “walk-ins” are showing lawmakers a united desire — from educators, administrators, parents and community leaders — that they “Value Students, Respect Educators and Fund Our Schools.”

We can all be united in a desire to fix Michigan’s broken school funding system. Like our roads, our schools have deteriorated as a result of neglect and lack of proper funding. According to the recent Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative study, Michigan is underfunding an adequate education by as much as $1,959 per student, not including higher costs for special education, English language learners, career and technical education, and more. We need a robust debate to come up with solutions that work for every school and student, regardless of zip code.

However, to truly value students, we must also address the education policy failings that impact students learning every day.

Valuing students means understanding that children are more than just test scores — and ensuring they have a well-rounded education that teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills needed to be successful in the workforce.

Over-reliance on standardized testing also fails to respect educators and has stripped much of the joy from teaching and learning. Preparing and administering these tests takes time away from many great lesson plans — more testing means less teaching. The teacher evaluation system, increasingly linked to standardized test scores, is being used to label and punish, rather than providing feedback on how we reach and teach students.

And the ultimate devaluing of students and disrespect for educators comes when we cannot guarantee their physical safety in our schools. No student or school employee should feel unsafe in a Michigan school. We must address issues of school violence with real solutions, including more counselors and better security procedures — not headline-grabbing distractions like “arming teachers.”

Every educator donning red today has a myriad of reasons to stand up and make their voices heard. Crippling student debt. The worsening teacher shortage. Declining compensation that makes it harder for educators to support a family. Outsourcing of education support professional jobs, like transportation and food service workers. The lack of front-line input from educators to help schools improve.

None of these are revolutionary issues to address – and they shouldn’t be politically divisive ones. For the sake of their students, educators need a seat at the table and a voice in their profession.

I’m proud that educators, parents and students across the country are standing in defense of public education. While the situation for many school employees in Michigan may not be as dire as those in states where educators are walking out of the classroom in their fight for fairness, Michigan teachers and support staff are taking a stand in that fight for public education and their students.

Here in the home state of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — where we know how badly her policies have failed students — we will continue to come together to convey our simple message to lawmakers: Value Students, Respect Educators and Fund Our Schools.

We should demand nothing less for our students now as the school year winds down — and in November when we vote for new leaders for our state.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.