National Education Association President  Lily Eskelsen Garcia addresses delegates at the NEA RA 2017 in Boston.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia addresses delegates at the NEA RA 2017 in Boston.

America’s largest teachers’ union faces down Trump administration over charter schools

published 4 July 2017 updated 5 July 2017

The National Education Association will not meet with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos until she answers simple questions about her commitment to accountability and transparency for charter schools and to protecting America’s most vulnerable students.

“I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos”, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told the delegates of the organisation’s 155th annual meeting held in Boston from 2-5 July. “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. So, there will be no photo-op.”

The NEA President told the assembly delegates that the Trump administration may “try to take away your freedom to organise and to take away your freedom to negotiate with a collective voice. They will try to silence us because when we win, the entire community wins. Working people who don’t even have access to a union win, because we’re there to fight for their kids’ schools and affordable college.”

The Assembly discussed a policy statement opposing unaccountable, privately managed charter schools that threaten public education system. Charters are acceptable when meeting a number of criteria. They must be authorized and held accountable by a local democratically elected bodies and “comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools”.

Bailey Danielson (25), a primary 4th grade classroom teacher from Provo, Utah, and a member of Utah’s delegation to the Representative Assembly, says that the most important challenge facing her state is the shortage of teachers. “In my school we have seen as many as 14 teachers not return after summer break. Some leave because of poor pay, and in many districts the shortages have led to the hiring of substitute teachers on a permanent and full time basis.” The shortages have also caused entry standards to slacken affecting education quality. Danielson says that Utah’s Education Association convenes weekly public meetings with state legislators during their session.

Danielson has started to develop a young teachers network in Utah which offers professional development programmes. The union succeeded to obtain an increase of 12 percent for teachers working in the Granite District, which has started reducing the high teacher turnover in that district.

Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood, General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen and Deputy General Secretary David Edwards attended NEA’s Representative Assembly.