Public Education: Stop the Attacks and Fund Quality Education for All
Here's how the folks at "UE" describe themselves: "UE" is the abbreviation for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, a democratic national union representing some 35,000 workers in a wide variety of manufacturing, public sector and private non-profit sector jobs. UE is an independent union (not affiliated with the AFL-CIO) proud of its democratic structure and progressive policies.
The resolution below was passed Oct. 14, 2010.
Question: How is it that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America can propose--and pass--resolutions much stronger--and clearer--than anything done by teacher unions professional organizations?
One of the first demands of early labor organizations was universal quality education. At a time when only the rich could attend decent schools, labor leaders saw that access to publicly-funded schools was the only way that the working class and the poor could achieve basic literacy skills. Labor leaders knew that education was tied to the ability to organize and exercise political power.
We find ourselves in an ongoing battle to prevent not just the erosion, but the outright destruction of public education. That many public schools are inadequately funded means poor equipment, crumbling buildings, and larger numbers of students in each classroom. Rather than fund public education adequately, conservatives push for privatization and subcontracting, practices which reduce jobs, and turns janitors, cooks, maintenance workers, educators, and many others into low-wage contract workers who receive few or low benefits.
The Obama administration has announced its intent to reform the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act put into effect during Lyndon Johnson's administration. While the stated goals of NCLB are laudable, namely improving student achievement and closing skills gaps between students of different backgrounds, the Act is flawed. Schools that already face challenges because of poor funding or the demographics of the area they are in are forced to conform to a "one-size-fits-all" standard based on high-stakes testing, and then punished by having funding withdrawn. Vouchers redirect taxpayer money away from public schools to private institutions, which are not accountable to the public or to elected officials. The Obama administration has requested a $1 billion increase in funding, yet no details of Obama's intended reforms have been given.
Barack Obama has also expressed support for merit-based teacher salaries. Excellent teachers deserve to be rewarded, and the potential for higher earnings as a result of hard work would help to recruit and retain talented individuals who would otherwise choose a career in the private sector. However, a system of merit pay is not the answer to poor teacher salaries and poor student performance. Administration of a merit-based teacher pay system would be a bureaucratic nightmare, prone to corruption and dishonesty, and would undermine cooperation and collaboration between teachers. The No Child Left Behind Act has already shown that universal standards don't work when applied to real-world education, in which students come from different economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The way to attract superior teachers is to pay teachers what they are worth.
Private commerce has no place in public education. Schools that are starved for funding turn to corporate sponsors for help or contract services out to private companies. Corporate sponsors flood the schools with commercial messages, and undermine teachers' attempts to have students to think critically. Private companies are not responsible to the public for the quality of service they provide. This same commercialism is rampant in public colleges and universities, leaving many vulnerable to intellectual and moral corruption. At the same time, the cost of public education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is becoming more and more prohibitive, putting working and middle class families deeper into debt for services tax dollars are supposed to provide.
Higher education workers are also facing a crisis as their employers replace full-time positions with "contingent" faculty. Adjunct instructors are paid a fraction of the wage a full-time professor would receive, and these contracts have no benefits. Job security is nonexistent for these workers. Along with vouchers and standardized tests, growing dependence on part-time workers is a further indication of corporate and profit-driven motives in education. This trend inevitably leads to a decrease in the quality of public education.
Public schools, funded adequately and fairly, with certified teachers and full-time faculty, who have long-range educational plans that teach basic skills and critical thinking to all students is the only way to resolve this problem. We support public education because it promotes the best interests of everyone when all members of our society are well educated and able to think independently.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 71st UE CONVENTION:
1. Calls upon all levels of the union to demand and promote:
1. Federal funding that achieves an excellent public education at all levels, including early childhood and adult learning programs;
2. Restructuring of federal, state, and local taxation and funding systems so that all public schools are funded fairly, without regard to income levels of local school district residents;
3. A reduction of class sizes to a manageable student-to-teacher ratio at the primary, secondary, and college/university levels;
4. An increase in the salaries of all public elementary and secondary education teachers which reflects the value of their role in educating future members of society;
5. Barring the use of taxpayer-funded voucher programs that siphon off much-needed funds from public schools and route them to private schools;
6. Elimination of high-stakes testing, which pressures teachers and administrators to "teach to the test" or risk financial ruin, and therefore puts tremendous emotional and psychological pressure on children who are forced to endure such high-stakes tests;
7. Removal of commercial/corporate sponsorship that tends to interfere with the academic freedom of students and teachers and the decision-making freedom of elected school boards and other publicly-employed professionals;
8. Preservation and enhancement of the arts, foreign language and multilingual education programs, whose elimination most often hurts poor and working-class children's education;
9. Preservation and enhancement of vocational education programs for adolescents and adults;
10. Full and appropriate services and accommodations for students with disabilities;
11. Full funding of Head Start;
12. Passage of conflict-of-interest legislation that prevents individuals with ties to for-profit schools and to for-profit corporations with school contracts from serving on school boards or boards of regents;
13. Elimination of privatization and contracting out of school services;
14. The teaching of labor history and other aspects of history which present a full view of the economic, social, and political history of the U.S. in public schools, colleges and universities; and support of local labor education centers;
2. Calls on the union to work with other unions and push for a change in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in order to ensure that all employees have the right to unionization;
3. Supports all campaigns which advocate universal access to free public higher education.
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
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