The AFL-CIO pledged on Sept. 11 to join the AFT, parents, and community and civic leaders to help reclaim the promise of public education by fighting for safe, strong neighborhood public schools to meet the needs of all children.
Delegates to the AFL-CIO convention unanimously approved the AFT's "Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education" resolution.
"It is incredibly important that the AFL-CIO and its affiliates vowed to work with our members, parents, and community and civic leaders on our movement to reclaim the promise of public education. We will fight for safe, strong neighborhood public schools where parents want to send their children, teachers want to teach, and students will have a well-rounded, engaging curriculum," says AFT President Randi Weingarten.
The AFL-CIO delegates also approved a strongly worded resolution condemning the political attacks by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Philadelphia educators and other city public service employees, saying the attacks are intended to roll back the promise of equal opportunity, basic fairness and responsive government.
The resolution, sponsored by the AFT and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, calls on Nutter to "stand up for a better Philadelphia for all" by putting politics aside and collaborating "with teachers and city municipal workers to find fair solutions through good-faith negotiations rather than using this manufactured fiscal crisis or the courts to attack collective bargaining and dismantle vital public services."
In addition, convention delegates approved two other AFT-sponsored resolutions, one supporting federal and state efforts to reduce crushing student loan debt and increase funding and access to needs-based aid, and another vowing to work for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
The Reclaiming the Promise resolution reflects the AFT's prescription for ensuring that all children have the educational opportunities they need and deserve.
"Reclaiming the promise of public education will make our public schools the center of the community and fulfill their purpose as an anchor of our democracy and a propeller of our economy," Weingarten says.
Instead of failed strategies such as top-down edicts, mass school closures, privatization, attacks on collective bargaining, and increased testing with sanctions instead of support for teachers, the AFT says reclaiming the promise of public education involves:
- Fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning.
- Ensuring that teachers and school support staff are well-prepared, are supported, have time to collaborate and have tools, like small class sizes.
- Enabling teachers to teach an engaging curriculum that includes art and music and the sciences.
Ensuring kids have access to wraparound services to meet their emotional, social and health needs.
Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, "Every child deserves the promise of an excellent education. The AFL-CIO will join educators, parents, students and community members to reclaim the promise of public education so that today's students will be well-prepared to help build America and its economy."
Among those speaking in favor of the resolution was Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, who spoke about the effect in Chicago of policies that resulted in mass school closings and layoffs of more than 3,800 educators and school employees. The Chicago Board of Education refused to listen to parents, educators, students and the greater Chicago community, he said.
The Rev. Michael Livingston, national policy director of Interfaith Worker Justice, questioned policies that disinvest in public education. "What kind of future can our nation expect if we allow school administrators and lawmakers to simply give up and outsource our public schools?"
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, used the AFT's Reconnecting McDowell public-private partnership in McDowell County, W.Va., to illustrate the positive impact on public schools and the community when unions, community members, lawmakers, business and foundations collaborate.
"By working with both traditional and nontraditional partners, Reconnecting McDowell is reclaiming the promise of public education and revitalizing a community. If it can be done in the rural mountains of West Virginia, it can be done anywhere," Roberts says.