Parents across the country have counted the days to the start of another school year. Hopes were high that we’d get a return to normal after two years of virtual learning, mask and vaccine mandates, and social and gender ideology curriculum fights.
Unfortunately, some districts didn’t have the perfect first day of school. As a result, some students have not even had their first day of real school.
This year instead of a pandemic halting the school year, the bump in the educational road is teachers unions. Many have taken to the picket line demanding various adjustments to their contracts and changes to their schools.
The Seattle Education Association (SEA) has been on strike since September 7th, with students still not in classrooms. The teachers union and the Seattle Public Schools have reached a tentative agreement. However, parents in Seattle still don’t know when the school year will start as they enter their fifth day of school at home.
The strike has affected close to 50,000 Seattle students who were eager to head back to school. However, the effect on parents who were also undoubtedly looking forward to their children attending school is often missed in the reporting.
The SEA said their main concerns were increasing students’ academic and emotional help, particularly those with special needs. But don’t think it doesn’t also include pay.
The Seattle Public School board offered a 1.1% increase over the state-mandated 5.5% cost of living adjustment, which the SEA promptly rejected. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the other request by SEA involves the dreaded D word: Diversity.
As special education teacher Ibi Idowu of Seattle said:
“The staff should be a representation of the students in the school. That is the biggest thing. Kids need to see teachers that look like them. They need to have books that represent who they are.”
Perhaps Seattle will adopt the same policy as Minneapolis and adjust its hiring and firing procedures to include a racial component.
While I’m no fan of increasing diversity initiatives in schools, there are some teachers unions that have gone on strike this year for arguably worthy reasons. Earlier, the Columbus, Ohio, teachers union went on strike, causing the first week of the school year to be virtual.
In addition to an 8% pay raise, the teachers union in Columbus demanded commitments to improving the heating and air conditioning in dilapidated buildings and for smaller class sizes. Generally speaking, while parents in Columbus were unhappy with the virtual learning the first week, they did support what the teachers were asking for.
As parent Kelley Freeman put it, her son:
“…deserves teachers who get fair pay who have safe and healthy classrooms with heat and air conditioning and not black mold.”
Regina Fuentes, the spokesperson for the Columbus Education Association, said after an agreement was made:
“Let the history books reflect that this strike was about students who deserved a commitment to modern school with heating and air conditioning, smaller classes and well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music, and PE.”
Seems like a reasonable request to me. Hard to believe that teachers would need to strike to get heating and air conditioning put into their schools, what with all that stimulus money that flowed to the school districts.
The stimulus money in the American Rescue Plan, which was widely celebrated (at least by the Democrats), included $122 billion for school districts across the nation. So far, just over $15.4 billion has been spent, 12% of the entirety.
Another teachers union in Washington state opted to go on strike to have their needs heard. The Ridgefield Education Association co-President Elizabeth Stamp said of their strike:
“None of us want to be on strike, but ignoring our dysfunctional intervention program, unsafe staffing levels and the need for more counselors when the district has the money to do something about it is unacceptable.”
It seems odd that these school districts that lamented the cost of making schools safe and ready to reopen seem not to be spending the money to do just that. But, again, in most cases, it’s not the teachers who are the problem but the administrators and elected bureaucrats who seem to be the issue.
As usual, the ones who suffer the most are the children and parents. The recent preview from the National Report Card shows that two years of school shutdowns and remote learning set America’s children back 20 years.
There has been little discussion by the national teachers unions or the Biden administration on how specifically the public school system intends to make up this learning loss. Interestingly, the Seattle Education Association, the same one on strike since the beginning of the school year in the name of diversity, fought against a return to in-person schooling during the pandemic.
Their claim; it was dangerous for the teachers and the students.
So what of the money still left unspent? Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina explains that parents are:
“…now being forced to watch in frustration as billions of federal education dollars sit idle, just out of their reach. It’s time we turn that funding over to parents.”
If only, as I’m sure most parents would opt to pay and hire more quality educators and modernize the institutions they trust their most prized possession; their children. Unfortunately, I think we will see more strikes by frustrated educators until parents are in charge of education dollars.
Peoria, Illinois, might be next up, as their union just passed a vote to authorize a strike. The future of public education seems still reasonably bleak, and any hope of a return to normal for America’s school children and families might be a fantasy.
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