Support for public education is growing ‘community by community,’ Arizona Education Association president says at Wisconsin forum

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas (center) was welcomed to Wisconsin by former Green Bay Education Association President Amanda Van Remortel and Appleton Education Association President Chris Heller.

Advocates for public education will win the fight “community by community,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said Wednesday in a session at the Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit in Appleton.

“You won’t win it at the Capitol,” Thomas said. “You will win it community by community, and it will show up at the Capitol.”

Thomas recounted the events surrounding last spring’s massive Arizona walkouts and rallies that led to a 19% increase in teacher salaries and large increases in public school funding.

The movement, Thomas said, came somewhat as a surprise in the wake of a similar uprising in West Virginia. The movement, he said, was a grassroots one. The union did not start it or organize it but helped manage it, as best it could, he said.

“It exploded in different ways,” he said, “but the piece that was most important to us and most successful to us was that we did very actionable items where people could understand what they were being asked to do, and we gave people the freedom to do it in their own way.”

The unity movement began with educators, parents and supporters wearing red T-shirts. “It became kind of the thing to do by Week 2,” he said. The union did not create the T-shirts, and there was no single design: People were creating their own Red for Ed shirts.

Over a few weeks, everyone was wearing red, and in the fifth week, Arizona Educators United – the independent grassroots group that took over leadership of the movement – created a list of five demands, based on surveys (which indicated overwhelming support for walking out if the demands were not met). The demands were:

  • Bring back $1 billion in school funding that had been cut.
  • Bring back salary schedules.
  • Provide competitive wages for education support professionals.
  • Provide 20% raises for teachers in that budget year.
  • Allow no more tax cuts until the state is 25th in the nation in per-pupil funding.

Rallies started at 5,000 people and grew to 75,000 at the State Capitol. Educators and supporters participated in pre-school walk-ins throughout the state, with 110,000 participating statewide during the second week, which Thomas called “our most powerful moment.” They also conducted massive “stand-outs” along the streets of Tucson and Phoenix.

“We needed the community to understand our story,” he said.

“Nobody wanted to have to do this. But the entire school structure was turned on its head because the school employees were saying, ‘We’re done! We’re done with the cuts. We’re done with the underfunded classrooms. We’re done with the overpopulated classrooms. We have to do this!’ ”

Thomas said the movement brought many new people into union ranks, especially young educators who had never before been involved.

“The learning we had was … we had so many young members and so many young leaders step up in the movement, and that is because they had space to do it. And that’s what we have to keep replicating.”

“We had so many people who went down who had never been to the Capitol before, or had only been at the Capitol for a field trip, that got to see how the sausage was made, who got to see legislators listen to them tell their stories about their students and schools and then completely ignore them and vote against students and schools,” Thomas said.

Thomas said these were among the key learning points:

  • Messaging is very important, and a constant focus on kids is critical. “All of this is about better schools for your kids.”
  • Work deeply with the community, including local businesses.
  • Social media is critical for organizing. In Arizona, it wasn’t the AEA that led the social media effort; it was grassroots messaging and organizing from educators, parents and supporters throughout the state that had the biggest impact.
  • “This was not only an education movement. This was a women’s movement, this was a union movement, this was an equity movement. … Everyone was there.”
  • “Trust your members,” he said. “We didn’t tell them what to do all the time. We told them what they could do, and they figured out how to do it, and they will see things you didn’t see. And we have so many people – an estimated 150,000 for the whole six days – who will never be the same.”

Watch Joe Thomas’ 21-minute presentation:

‘Local activism around public education may just transform Wisconsin’s political culture’

The Progressive Magazine this summer took a close look at the history of Governor Walker’s attacks on public schools, educators and students. In an article that recounts the devastating impact of the Act 10 law that undermined collective bargaining, as well as deep cuts to state funding of public schools, author Jennifer C. Berkshire finds reason for optimism in a state known for its fighting spirit and strong support for public schools.

“But there is another, more hopeful story to be told about Wisconsin, seven years after Walker officially kicked off his war on labor,” Berkshire writes. “It involves parents and teachers and local grassroots activists coming together to fight for the public schools in their communities. While Walker and the Republicans who control Wisconsin’s legislature got their way in 2011, there is a robust ongoing debate, throughout the state, about the role of public education and who should pay for it.

“Just as in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado, states roiled by teacher and parent uprisings this spring, school funding has emerged as a flashpoint in Wisconsin. In the place where the modern era of scorched-earth-style state politics began, local activism around public education may just transform Wisconsin’s political culture.”

The article includes interviews with Heather DuBois Bourenane of the Wisconsin Public Education Network and Angelina Cruz, president of the Racine Education Association.

Read entire article:

 

Winning Battles on Education

It would be easy to write the story of Wisconsin’s current union landscape as a tragedy. In this version of events, the bomb that Governor Scott Walker and his allies dropped on the state’s public sector unions has worked just as intended: The ranks of the unions have thinned; their coffers are depleted; their influence over the state and its legislative priorities has been reduced to where, in 2017, the state teachers’ union no longer employed a lobbyist at the statehouse.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College ESS Local wins recertification election, second time around

A new recertification election has proven successful for the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Educational Support Specialists Local. The initial recertification election in April failed by 2 votes. However, the unit experienced voting difficulties in the first 24 hours of the voting period April 5-6. All of the Social Security numbers were incorrectly entered into the AAA database, but were corrected on the second day of voting. However, some people who reported having difficulty subsequently did not log in to vote. The union challenged the outcome and a new voting period was approved. The new election for the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Educational Support Specialists Local was held May 18 – June 7, and this time certification was easily approved, with 125 yes votes of 187 eligible voters. Congratulations, NWTC Educational Support Specialists! This means 18 of the 19 WTCS recertification elections this spring were successful! Read more.

WEAC Election Update – Who’s not running again?

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, is the latest Wisconsin legislator indicating he won’t seek re-election this fall. Kleefisch has served in the Legislature since 2004. Here’s an overview:

Assembly

  1. Joel Kleefisch (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-32
  2. Tom Weatherston (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-62
  3. Andre Jacque (R) – Not seeking re-election to the AD-2, running for SD-1.
  4. Dale Kooyenga (R) – Not seeking re-election to the AD-14, running for SD-5
  5. Adam Jarchow (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-28
  6. Jesse Kremer (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-59
  7. Tom Weatherston (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-62.
  8. Kathy Bernier (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-68, running for SD-23.
  9. Terese Berceau (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-77
  10. Eric Genrich (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-90, running for Mayor of Green Bay
  11. Dana Wachs (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-91, running for Governor
  12. Lee Nerison (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-96

Senate

  1. Leah Vukmir (R) – Not seeing re-election to SD-5, running for U.S. Senate
  2. Terry Moulton (R) – Not seeking re-election to SD-23
  3. Kathleen Vinehout (D) – Not seeking re-election to SD-31, running for Governor

U.S Congress

  1. Paul Ryan (R) – Not seeing re-election to CD-1.

Supreme Court to consider DPI’s independent authority again

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will again take up a case about the independent authority of the elected state superintendent.

The Court is responding to a lawsuit from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) over the DPI’s independent rule-making authority. State Superintendent Tony Evers won a case affirming his independent authority in a 5-2 ruling back in 2016, with conservatives in the majority on the bench.

“Educators are scratching their heads at this latest move by the far-right to play by different rules than our Constitution calls for,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher.

In fact, the court’s conservative majority gave no explanation for why it is taking the case. The decision puts the case on a fast track, bypassing the court of appeals. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson disagreed with taking up the case again, saying the issue had been addressed in Coyne v. Walker. Madison Teachers Inc. and WEAC were successful in asserting the state constitution gives the state superintendent authority to set education policy for the state. Back in 2016, Justices Bradley, Abrahamson, David Prosser and Michael Gableman agreed.

Gableman, who is retiring, will be replaced this summer by Rebecca Dallet. Meanwhile Prosser has been replaced by Governor Walker appointee Dan Kelly.

Oral arguments are set for May 15, and the Court said it would initially take up only the narrow issue of who will represent Evers in the case – whether it has to be the governor’s pick, Attorney General Brad Schimel, or if Evers can use a DPI attorney who is not tied to the governor.

Schimel is closely aligned with the governor, and Evers is one of several Democrats running for the seat this fall.

WEAC Election Update: State, local results – and what’s next

Election results
Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet – recommended by the WEAC Board – won a 10-year seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Tuesday. WEAC had cited Dallet’s 21 years of experience, support for the role of unions in the workplace and support for public education. Dallet will be seated in August. Voters also decided to keep the State Treasurer’s Office, a position supported by public education advocates. And they approved the five largest school referendums in the state.

WEAC members in their communities worked within their districts on several of the referendums, including the Beloit Turner referendum that is reported to have lost by just two votes.

WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade social studies teacher, credited the work educators are doing to raise awareness about how the politics of recent years has hurt students and schools. “The pendulum is swinging back to restore Democracy; it’s time and we’re not slowing down,” he said. “Wisconsin educators voted with their students in mind, and we’ll always vote for our students.”

Referendums
Voters supported 55 of 66 local school referendums — 83 percent — in Tuesday’s election, indicating communities are supportive of their public schools and willing to step up to fund them to make up for what the state has cut over the past few years. The passage rate is up from the fall elections, where 70 percent of referendum questions were approved, and the spring 2017 elections where 62 percent of referendum questions passed. Tuesday, the five largest referendums in the state all passed:

  • Chippewa Falls, $65 million
  • C. Everest, $60 million
  • River Falls, $48 million
  • Sparta , $32.5 million (two referendums)
  • Plymouth, $32 million

Of the nine largest referendums, seven passed and one of the others – in the Beloit Turner School District – is headed for recount after losing by only two votes.

A new law will benefit 13 of the districts with successful operating referendums, which are now eligible to receive a low revenue bump via an increased revenue ceiling for the next three years. That’s funding that can be used to improve student opportunities, hire educators and increase pay. The districts are:

  • Adams-Friendship
  • Almond-Bancroft
  • Benton
  • Ellsworth
  • Howard-Suamico
  • Kiel
  • Manitowoc
  • Markesan
  • Merrill
  • Mondovi
  • Randall J1
  • Shullsburg
  • Westby

See the complete list of school referendums here.

School Board Elections
Members of our local associations also recommended candidates in several school board elections, supporting candidates who support public school students.

Up Next: Special Elections
This is a big year in Wisconsin elections, and we’re already watching the next races shape up. After the governor was forced by the rulings of two judges to hold special elections in open Legislative seats, a field of candidates is coming forward. In Senate District 1 (Northeastern Wisconsin), Republicans Alex Renard and Andre Jacque have stepped forward. In Assembly District 42 (Southcentral Wisconsin), Democrats Ann Lloyd and Nicolas Schneider have announced their candidacies, along with Republicans Spencer Zimmerman and Jon Plumer. A special election primary election is set May 15, with the special election slated June 12.

SIGN UP FOR WEAC ELECTION UPDATES

Agreement ends West Virginia strike, gives teachers 5% raise

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement, in reaction to Tuesday’s agreement that will allow West Virginia to attract and retain the best educators for West Virginia students.

“I am so proud of West Virginia educators and the West Virginia Education Association, without whom the West Virginia Senate would not have honored the agreement to give educators, school support staff and all public employees a 5 percent raise. They have stood in solidarity and made their voices heard to demand recognition of their professionalism and dignity because they know attracting and retaining the most caring and competent educators for West Virginia students is essential to their state’s success.

“While this is a good first step, West Virginia will need to make additional changes to ensure they can recruit the best educators in the future. Even with this raise they remain 43rd in the country for teacher pay, and unless the task force charged with addressing the health care system is successful, the victory will be short lived. It is important that the task force confront the serious challenges facing the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) and generate solutions that are fair, equitable, and do not balance shortfalls on the backs of public service workers like educators, librarians, or state employees. I have complete faith in the educators of West Virginia to continue making their voices heard and ensure the task force is successful.

“Students, parents, administrators, school superintendents, community and faith leaders, and a bipartisan effort from lawmakers were also essential to reaching this agreement, and we can’t thank them enough for the outpouring of support they provided our educators over the past two weeks.

“This is a great day for West Virginia’s students and its future.”

Read more:

West Virginia leaders reach deal to end teachers strike

West Virginia’s striking teachers cheered and applauded Tuesday as lawmakers acted to end a nine-day classroom walkout, agreeing to grant them 5 percent pay hikes that are also being extended to all state workers. A huge crowd of teachers packing the Capitol chanted jubilantly, sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and some even wept for joy at the settlement.

West Virginia lawmakers reach deal to give striking teachers pay raise

West Virginia lawmakers said Tuesday morning that a deal has been reached to deliver a 5% pay raise to teachers, according to the governor and the committee meeting on the matter. Teachers have been on strike since February 22. At a committee meeting Tuesday, state Sen.

Family’s experiences in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin illustrate impact of political climate on education, unions

In an Education Minnesota article, Sparta, Wisconsin, teacher Lauren Cody says her mother’s involvement in the union as a Minnesota Education Support Professional has instilled in her a deep appreciation of the importance of the union for educators and students.

Lauren, a fourth-grade teacher in her second year of teaching, says she joined the union because she saw the benefits the union has provided to her mom, Deb Cody, as a paraprofessional in Caledonia, Minnesota.

“My mom is active in the union, and that is what motivated me to also get involved,” Lauren said. “I have learned a lot from her experiences. I have seen her work through numerous injustices, and it has really opened my eyes to how imperative it is to be part of the union.”

The article emphasizes the negative impact of Act 10 on educators and education in Wisconsin and also the impact of similar legislation in Iowa, where Deb Cody’s son, Kalyn, teaches. Deb says the experiences of her children in Wisconsin and Iowa illustrate how critical it is that educators in Minnesota work to maintain their much friendlier environment for unions and public education.

“I feel strongly and talk often to others about the benefits of being a union member,” she said.

Read the entire article:

Education Minnesota – Minnesota Educator

As a mom, Deb Cody is of course proud of her children. As a paraprofessional, she is even prouder that two of her children became teachers. As a leader in her local union in Caledonia, Deb is nervous about losing collective bargaining rights because she sees the effect it can have on the education profession with her daughter teaching in Wisconsin and her son in Iowa.

Participate in the Working People’s Day of Action February 24 in Madison!

Around the country, workers are taking a stand against the continued assault on the rights of working people! Join the Working People’s Day of Action, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Saturday, February 24, 2018, at the State Street side of the Capitol Square in Madison.

AFSCME Wisconsin invites you to stand with your union colleagues, fellow workers and advocates to show all those who have taken away the rights of working people that they will be held accountable.

Speakers at the rally will address the power workers have to demand fair treatment, the proud history of labor, and the Janus vs AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court case. Arguments in that case will be heard before the high court two days after the rally.

Open the Day of Action flier.

‘Janus’ case is not just an attack on unions, it is an attack on racial minorities

In this column, published by The Daily Beast, journalist Barrett Holmes Pitner says unions have consistently provided a pathway into the middle class for American minorities. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules this year in favor of the Janus case, it will undermine unions and severely impact the ability of minorities in particular to achieve fair wages and benefits.

“Championing unions formed an integral part of the civil rights movement in 1960s,” writes Pitner, a politics and race-and-culture journalist, and an adjunct professor in the department of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders linked social justice to the strength of labor unions to provide minorities with employment opportunities and a livable wage. Public-sector jobs have historically provided employment opportunities for African Americans before the private sector did, and the employment opportunities created within them provided the black community with job opportunities that never existed before.

“These unions also brought new protections to valued professionals within the black community, notably teachers. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond, teaching was especially important, given that white educators simply wouldn’t teach black children in many parts of the country. Many of our best and brightest have flocked to this profession.”

Read the entire column by Pitner:

Unions Helped Integrate America. The Supreme Court Could End That This Year.

This month the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that threatens to severely weaken the collective bargaining power of America’s unions. This is not a column about the merits and demerits of public-employee unions.