Here’s a political pick-me-up for K-12 leaders who’ve grown weary of the wave of new state laws that have narrowed curricula in various parts of the country. For every ban on critical race theory and “Don’t Say Gay” law, public schools have scored a number of victories in their state legislatures in recent months.
Educators around the country have, in fact, rallied for and won pay raises, defeated school privatization schemes, and built stronger relationships with state legislators, according to the NEA teachers union. “When educators made their voices heard, it made the difference,” the union said in a report this summer. “They shared their stories with legislators, rallied, made calls, sent emails, and educated the public.”
Here’s a list the NEA compiled of recent legislative wins for K-12 schools:
1. “Rally at the Roundhouse”: The New Mexico state legislature this winter unanimously approved 7% raises for all school employees and boosted teachers’ minimum salaries. NEA’s New Mexico chapter collected two-minute testimonials from its members about their needs to share with legislators and hundreds of public school advocates rallied in front of the state capitol building, which is also known as the “Roundhouse.”
2. Record pay raise: At the beginning of this year’s state legislative session, the Mississippi Educators Association hosted virtual meetings each week to guide members in advocating for education and connect them with state legislators to push for pay raises. After months of activity, teachers in Mississippi received pay raises of more than 10%, the largest in state history. Teachers’ salaries will increase by $5,100 annually.
Mississippi teachers previously earned among of the lowest salaries in the nation, with first-year educators making $36,500 on average during the 2019-20 school year. “I want every child to have the opportunity to have the best education they can get,” Suzanne Smith, the state union’s secretary-treasurer and a special education teacher, told the NEA. “And the only way that’s possible in a state like Mississippi is for us to be hands-on in engaging with our legislators.”
3. Curriculum champs: The Indiana State Teachers Association mobilized earlier this year to kill a state bill that would have restricted classroom discussions about so-called “divisive topics” such as race, gender, and ethnicity. Erin Braune, an English teacher and ISTA member, used a private Facebook group for educators to encourage members to join the “Pack the Statehouse” protest to rally against the bill at the state capitol.
What followed was four weeks of action during which union members met with legislators to discuss the consequences of the bill. “A lot of our state lawmakers don’t necessarily realize what the bills they propose are going to look like when they’re applied in a school setting,” Braune told the NEA. “So part of what we did was just get them to realize that this goes against everything that educators know is best for their students.”
4. Victory over vouchers: Educators in Iowa defeated one of the governor’s top priorities when they prevented the passage of a school voucher program that would have reallocated $55 million in public school funding to scholarships for private school students. The Iowa State Education Association even swayed 20 Republican legislators to join Democrats in blocking the legislation.
5. Twin triumphs: Educators in South Carolina have won raises and defeated voucher expansion this year. The state’s $14 billion budget increased the minimum teacher salary by $4,000. And a major expansion of the state’s voucher program died when it met fierce opposition from educators and supporters and the legislature could not agree on a final version of the bill.
6. Energy in Idaho: Advocacy by educators persuaded the heavily Republican Idaho Legislature to approve 7% pay raises for teachers and school employees, expand health insurance coverage for educators, and increase K-12 funding by 11%. The legislature also created new incentives to encourage teachers to work in rural schools. The House Education Committee also rejected a voucher program that would have shifted public school funding to private schools while the wider legislature dismissed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s call to create an “education indoctrination task force.”