WASHINGTON – Reg Weaver, president of the 2.7-million-member National Education Association (NEA), touched off cheers from 11,000 NEA delegates and guests, July 4, when he accused the Bush administration of leaving millions of school children behind while squandering $160 billion on the war in Iraq.
Weaver told the delegates to the NEA’s 83rd Representative Assembly that money spent in Iraq could have funded Head Start for 17 million children and health insurance for 52 million youngsters, hired 2.3 million new teachers, and provided 3,061,859 four-year scholarships at public universities.
“If there’s enough money for war, then there’s enough money to provide for our children and students,” Weaver declared.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which promised equal education. But George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law has “effectively reduced education opportunities for all children and students,” Weaver said. “This administration wants to cut you off at the knees and then blame you when you can’t walk.” Bush’s program forces children into a “one size fits all” education. Tests are the sole measure of success, Weaver said.
“If we test their butts off, there won’t be any child’s behind left,” sang NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen, a fifth-grade teacher from Utah, as she played the guitar, bringing the crowd to its feet.
The teachers, dressed in red, white and blue for July 4th, wore buttons that proclaimed, “I am the NEA.” They were referring to Education Secretary Rod Paige’s slur calling NEA a “terrorist organization.”
Weaver concluded, “Give me five! … Five newly registered voters committed to a pro-public education agenda … five full days between now and Nov. 2 dedicated to electing pro-public-education candidates.”
The next day the delegates voted 7,390 to 1,153 to recommend a vote for Democrat John Kerry for president. Representing Kerry, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation when she addressed the gathering July 6.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 turned out to hear Angela Y. Davis at a July 5 event sponsored by NEA’s Peace and Justice Caucus. Her theme was “education not incarceration.” Davis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, assailed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for slashing funds for education while pushing funding of prison construction and incarceration above $3 billion.
Delegate John Streater, a high school math teacher and executive board member of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association, which encompasses Tampa, Fla., said the Florida Education Association is mobilizing to defeat Bush. The 110,000-member FEA united the state chapters of the NEA and its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers,
“Gov. Jeb Bush and election officials have sent out another purge list,” Streater said. “They are still using an 1868 law to remove people as ‘felons.’ It could result in the disenfranchisement of several thousand voters. We’re trying to tap everyone, to get people to volunteer as voter registrars.”
Karen McDonough, president of the New Hampshire Education Association, told the World that public education is a crucial issue in her state. “Bush’s record is dismal. When the secretary of education calls teachers ‘terrorists,’ it’s really shocking.”
Ray Siquieros, a teacher at Sunnyside High School, in Tucson, Ariz., told the World, “Our number one priority is supporting Kerry and defeating Bush. ‘No Child Left Behind’ is anathema to the interests of the students I teach.” The enrollment in his school is over 90 percent Mexican American and Latino, he said, pointing out that the NEA embraces civil rights and civil liberties for immigrants and non-English-speaking children.
Homer Adams of Royalton, Ohio, is a leader of the retirees group of the Ohio Education Association. “They have called up the Ohio National Guard and this has renewed interest in the Iraq war,” he said. “People feel that spending Social Security and Medicare trust funds to pay for this war in Iraq is not fair. When they called up the National Guard, many churches were holding spaghetti dinners to buy flak jackets and body armor to protect our soldiers.”
Donita Mize of Carlisle, Ind., a retired classroom teacher and a candidate for the school board in her town, said, “I lived through many regimes and this one is the hardest. I’ve lost benefits that I retired with and thought I had forever. More than ever I’m working for a regime change in Washington.”
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org here for Spanish text