Editor’s Note: Lily Eskelsen García is a sixth-grade teacher, Utah Teacher of the Year, and president of the National Education Association. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
A shining sea of red, comprising public school teachers and education support professionals who are frustrated, agitated and fed up, is rising across the nation.
Parents and students, along with community, religious and business leaders, are right beside them, demanding an end to the chronic neglect of public education in America. In fact, a majority of Americans support the walkouts and believe educators don’t get paid enough, according to a recent AP/NORC poll.
This school funding crisis has been a decade in the making, manufactured by irresponsible lawmakers, and we have reached the tipping point. This is the start of a national #RedForEd movement to demand the schools our students deserve.
Armed with the unofficial national anthem of the #RedForEd movement, “We’re not gonna take it,” teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, guidance counselors, custodians and other public school educators will no longer stay silent as their students sit in crowded classrooms at broken desks with decades-old textbooks.
It’s no coincidence these walkouts are happening where they are. For years, some Republican-controlled state legislatures have pushed punitive austerity policies that serve up huge tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations while starving public schools and students of the things they need to support learning – and that includes retaining experienced and properly trained educators.
There is no length that public school teachers won’t go to help their students, and many routinely buy the paper, pencils, world maps and books that their students need, and even desks and chairs for their classrooms. We have the only job where you steal supplies from home and bring them to work.
We don’t ask sanitation workers to buy recycling bins. We don’t ask surgeons to buy scalpels and sutures. It’s time to stop asking teachers to make up for the funding gaps created by their state legislatures.
Given these conditions, educators are right to be deeply concerned about the future of their profession – and the learning opportunities provided to their students. This school year, to keep schools open, Oklahoma approved a record-breaking number of emergency certifications for teachers. These emergency certified teachers have not completed the state’s requirements to teach our students, but they are in the classroom with our children anyway.