Public education is how we help our children have a bright future. It is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative and a fundamental civil right.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the importance of in-person schooling and underscored that public schools are the bedrock of every community. As educators, we constantly strive to help all schools provide the highest standards for teaching and learning. Public schools may be the last institution that, on a local level, is overwhelmingly trusted by families and communities.
Providing public schools that are safe, healthy and welcoming spaces to teach and learn in, and where students’ academic and social emotional learning needs are met, is an essential building block to giving all students an equal opportunity to succeed, and to having an educated citizenry that will protect and participate in our democratic government.
Public school staff—along with many other front-line workers—have been heroes during the pandemic. They have continued to keep children fed, looked after their considerable mental health and social emotional needs, and kept kids engaged during a time of great uncertainty. Public school staff deserve the resources they need to do their jobs safely, with appropriate working conditions, and the supports they need to recruit and retain a diverse workforce where all employees receive a living wage.
Instead of helping educators help kids recover and thrive, the right wing is exploiting anxiety to engage in culture wars and attacking public education to win elections. They are building on their traditional attacks against public education—including underfunding, private school vouchers and charters—to scare communities with debates about masks and the teaching of honest history to undermine our most valuable institutions. This includes refusing to address the crisis of gun violence in schools that keeps students and educators from the safety they need and deserve to learn and teach.
There are real issues in public education that must be addressed, including educator shortages, mental health challenges, and the effects on students of disruption and missed instructional time. However, we know what needs to be done and what works: expanding community schools and wraparound services; creating new pathways for students, including career and technical education; and ensuring a greater focus on teaching and learning, not testing.
The AFL-CIO will continue our work with Congress and state and local school boards and governments to ensure the following for educators, school employees, communities and parents:
- A voice to work together, not only to protect and defend our public schools from these attacks, but also to ensure our public schools continue to be a beacon of hope and democracy.
- The shared goals of equitable education for all students, freedom to teach honest history, diversity and bringing students together around common values.
- Resources to expand community schools and wraparound services.
- New pathways for students, including career and technical education, so that all students can succeed and have bright futures.
- A safe, welcoming environment where students, teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees can feel secure.