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In Defense of Public Education

WHEREAS:

            Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education mandated that removal of racial discrimination in education must be the law of the land, millions of students in our inner cities and surrounding communities are still victims of separate and unequal education; and

WHEREAS:

            AFSCME has long been on record against privatization of education.  We deplore the investment of millions in privately owned and administered charter schools, the proliferation of high-stakes student testing, and other market-driven initiatives, which have been shown to neither save money nor improve learning.  These measures are undermining the delivery of quality education for all; and 

WHEREAS:

            Neighborhood public schools, often the last vestige of stability in the communities they serve, are being targeted for takeovers in unprecedented numbers. More than 50 schools were closed last year in Chicago alone, despite well organized opposition from the communities.  These schools are being replaced with voucher programs, or private, non-union charter schools, often in the same buildings that formerly housed public schools, forcing many students to seek public education outside of their own neighborhoods; and

WHEREAS:

            The remaining public schools in cities throughout the country are being devastated by slashed funding and the layoff of thousands of teachers and support staff.  These massive cuts have resulted in alarming increases in class size, and the loss of books, libraries, health and physical education, programs in science and all of the arts; and

WHEREAS:

            Communities of color and the poorest are bearing an inordinate burden of the suffering in areas already devastated by job cuts, health facility closings, and scores of other cutbacks.  The school-to-prison pipeline has never been more robust, rewarding only those who profit by building more prisons, and not solving the underlying social problems by providing quality education, quality housing, and jobs which pay a living wage; and

WHEREAS:

            Institutions of higher public education are also struggling under staggering cuts made by state and federal governments.   College and university enrollment numbers are directly affected by the assault on public education through high school.   The rising cost of higher education and escalating student debt, at a time of increased layoffs and inability to find or replace jobs, are negatively affecting all levels of education, and destroying hopes of successful participation in a global economy; and

WHEREAS:

            High-quality public education for all is an economic necessity and a fundamental civil and human right.  All students deserve access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment; and

WHEREAS:

            The misguided leadership of both major political parties has entrenched the erroneous notion that the achievement/opportunity gap suffered by Black, Latino/a, special needs and other minority students can be closed by overturning the profound legal and social conclusions of Brown v. Board of Education in favor of crude, biased and self-serving laws of the free market; and 

WHEREAS:

            States across the nation are enacting and threatening more draconian laws that attack public education, attack the rights of teachers to bargain collectively, and advance pro-charter policies.  The few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations who own and run charter schools are earning record profits, while leaving student needs, teacher skills, and community involvement, including local school councils, out of the equation.  Stepped-up union busting is central to the all-out assault to defeat those who defend public education; and

WHEREAS:

            Growing numbers of charter school teachers are seeking union representation to fight for fair contracts as well as the same rights that all teachers and students deserve; and

WHEREAS:

            The example set by the 2012 strike of the Chicago Teachers Union continues to inspire workers here and abroad to stand up for our rights.  Teachers unions have mobilized their members, uniting with students, parents, and communities across the nation, from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles, California, to Chicago, Illinois.  These united fights for fair contracts, and the schools that all students deserve, emphasize that teachers’ and students’ rights are inextricably linked in the struggle to defend public education; and

WHEREAS:

            The assault on public education is led by unelected school boards made up of wealthy corporate leaders and bankers, who masquerade as authorities on public education while stomping on the rights and voices of those who actually live in the communities and attend these desperately needed neighborhood schools.  These captains of industry and finance, who are directly responsible for the economic crisis, are determining the character of public education, rather than the teachers, parents, and leaders of the communities where students live.  Their policies blame the victims of injustice for the inequalities they suffer, and punish the tireless teaching and support staffs in public schools for the failures of the system itself; and

WHEREAS:

            AFSCME members serve vast numbers of people in the poorest and most vulnerable communities.  Our members throughout the United States have been actively involved in the battle to defend public education; and 

WHEREAS:

            The vast majority of Americans support the right to a free public education for all.  If public sector unions and organizations do not defend the universally-supported institution of public education, all jobs, services, and entities in the public sector will be severely threatened.  Any attack on the public domain threatens the fabric of our collective will and democracy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

            That AFSCME embrace every opportunity to mobilize in defense of public education, to ensure that we keep the “public” in public education, and that we call for:

  • The elimination of school voucher programs and the elimination of all privatization of education, including non-instructional programs;
  • The comprehensive scrutiny of any charter schools that receive public funds but are not necessarily accountable to the public, the communities they serve, or the teachers and support staff who work in them. This is especially urgent where new charters replace public neighborhood schools and force students to seek education outside their community;
  • The elimination of high-stakes testing of students;
  • The expansion of curriculum supports led by teachers and staff best equipped to develop these; and
  • The release of all federal education funds to be based solely on need; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:

            That AFSCME remain an active ally with all who demand the reopening of shuttered neighborhood schools, and the repair and strengthening of all schools, to provide a healthy learning environment to students in all neighborhoods.  We will continue to support and participate in occupations and walkouts, rallies and marches, providing organizational and financial resources, and, whenever appropriate, encouraging our local affiliates to do the same; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:

            That AFSCME calls for a massive increase in federal funding for education, funded by taxing the rich and corporations, and by a fair tax schedule that places less of a burden on under-served communities.  We also support measures that call for the reallocation of taxes, TIF funds, and other public funds to prioritize education where current funding levels are inadequate; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED:

            That we advocate for elected school boards in every municipality that can fairly and fully represent the communities that attend these public schools and has the greatest stake in the successful outcome of delivering a quality education for all.


SUBMITTED BY:     Ellen Larrimore, President and Delegate

                                                Diane Rumsfield, Recording Secretary

                                    Patricia Johnson, Treasurer and Delegate

                                    Vladimir Fernandez, Trustee and Delegate

                                    Jeanette Hernandez, Executive Board Member

                                    Linda Loew, Executive Board Member

                                    AFSCME Local 1989, Council 31,

                                    Illinois

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