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Teachers across the country demand better pay and support

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After weeks of strike, a big teachers strike in Minneapolis has ended – at least for now – with a deal between the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and the Minneapolis school district.

However, as the Minneapolis strike ends, another begins: teachers and support staff in public schools sacramento began their own walkout Wednesday, which has closed schools to 40,000 students in the K-12 district. Other teacher strikes in Sonoma County, California and Illinois also took place earlier this year as part of a wave of protests against underfunded classrooms, low wages and Covid-19 protocols.

Much of the fighting between educators and district officials is squarely rooted in the issue of funding. Teachers and school support staff, such as those who have gone on strike in Minneapolis, are demanding better salaries, mental health care and safer school pandemic protocols. In response, district officials tend to argue that they don’t have enough money to make those kinds of investments.

Some educators and advocates say those statements are just an excuse.

“We’ve been talking about this for years. This is not new,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. “And here’s the reality. If you consistently underfund our public schools, it will get worse.”

According to Pringle, the underfunding of the country’s schools became even worse in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. As with other school districts across the country, Minneapolis has struggled with schools reopening during the pandemic, with educators bearing the brunt of the classroom for experiencing a lack of support from school administrators in implementing Covid-19 health protocols and providing of mental health support for both staff and students.

“If you ask anyone, I think it’s been the hardest two years in education anyone has been through,” said Sara Anderson, a Whittier International Elementary School teacher on strike in Minneapolis.

Teachers at Minneapolis school hold signs during the strike in front of Justice Page Middle school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 8, 2022.
Kerem Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

To help revitalize and rebuild schools, the federal government has allocated $122 billion to school districts across the country as part of the American Rescue Plan. But a lack of cooperation and transparency at the local district level about how these funds were distributed and invested has left schools and teachers in trouble, leading to strikes by educators.

Yet these teacher strikes are more than a symptom of the country’s growing labor movement spawned of the inequalities caused by the pandemic. They can be a sign of an education system in dire need, and educators in the US are raising their voices to be heard.

The Minneapolis teachers’ strike is over for now

Friday, after 14 days of school closures, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers announced it was… reached a deal with the school district saying it could reopen schools Monday and resume classes on Tuesday for the district’s more than 30,000 students.

The strike — the first in more than 50 years in Minneapolis — is one of the longest recent actions by teachers in a major city, including the Chicago Teacher Strike that made headlines in 2019.

The preliminary agreement announced Friday covers the district’s teachers and education support professionals, or ESPs, which include support staff such as counselors and school nurses.

“We’ve spent hundreds of hours with these people trying to close this deal, and we’re very pleased with the results of what we’ve seen,” said Shaun Laden, president of the union’s education support professionals division. a Press conference after the announcement of the agreement.

Provisions The union’s tentative deal for ESPs includes increased work hours and work days, and increased wages of $2 to $4 per hour — bringing the annual salary for many ESPs closer to the union’s original demand of $35,000 per year as a starting salary. The agreement also secured seniority and placement rights for associate educators, who, according to Laden, are largely people of color.

In addition, the new agreement provides more mental health support for students and outlines a return to work agreement that would replace the 14 school days missed during the strike by extending school days starting next month.

How things will unfold in Minneapolis, however, remains uncertain. According to Anderson, important parts of the preliminary agreements have not been well received.

“The contract is not at all what we had hoped for,” Anderson said, referring to both the return to work terms and the union agreement.

“I really believe this is the best our negotiating team can get. I think they’ve worked really hard, and I’m glad the ESPs have come closer to what they deserve. It was just foolish to think we wouldn’t be punished for our action,” Anderson added, calling the return to work deal “punitive.”

Anderson said many of her colleagues hadn’t expected the strike to last this long, nor the arrogant attitude they saw from school district officials when the strike started, which only prolonged the strike.

“They basically refused to come to the negotiating table. I think four or five out of 13 days, 14 days we’ve been out,” she recalls. Anderson plans to discuss the terms of the agreement with her colleagues before making a decision on the union vote.

Minneapolis union members will vote on the tentative agreements this weekend. If a simple majority is not reached to accept the deals, the teachers’ strike is likely to resume.

Covid-19 exposed a broken education system in the US

The Minneapolis teachers’ strike isn’t the only teachers’ strike this year. California and Illinois have both seen similar protests, including a January strike by the Chicago Teachers Union over Covid-19 protocols in classrooms

As teachers on strike in Minneapolis vote on preliminary agreements reached this weekend, school teachers in Sacramento have just begun negotiations with district officials. On Saturday, after four days of strikes, district officials agreed to become acquainted with the teachers’ association.

According to Pringle, the issues raised during the strike in Sacramento are similar to those faced by educators in Minneapolis.

“The school district has the resources to address the concerns and issues that educators have raised around the same kinds of things,” Pringle said. “We certainly hope that the [Sacramento] district will negotiate in good faith and see what the teachers and other educators ask are things we’ve been talking about for years that our students need.”

Sacramento also has a particularly acute problem with labor shortages. “In fact, some schools make it difficult to run the schools some days because there are so few adults on campus,” said David Fisher, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association. told the New York Times on Friday

These overlapping teacher strikes follow a wave of teacher activism in 2018 and 2019, which resulted in a number of strikes across the country as part of the Red for Ed movement

They also reflect a broader trend of growing labor movement activism that grips the country and encompasses various professions, from teachers and professional healthcare professionals nasty factory workers and shop assistants

But an increasingly disenchanted workforce, especially among educators, could spell disaster for the country’s public education system in the long run. a february questionnaire The NEA found that 55 percent of responding members are considering leaving the teaching profession earlier than they planned, up from 37 percent of educators who said the same in August.

In addition, a disproportionate percentage of black (62 percent) and Hispanic or Latino (59 percent) consider educators — groups already underrepresented in the education sector — according to the NEA survey.

Union leaders say Friday’s deal with teachers in Minneapolis shows it is possible for school districts to prioritize their staff.

“What we’ve been saying all along is that we don’t have a budget crisis, we have a values ​​and priorities crisis,” Laden said at his press conference on Friday. “I think what our members have proven is that this is the case.”

Pringle agrees. She points to historic funding from the US bailout plan for the country’s schools, which has been distributed to all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“It was a historic investment, and then we ran into roadblocks as it got distributed and implemented,” Pringle said of the federal funding increase. “It’s unacceptable that we were able to at least fight and get that money, and then we have these district-level conversations about ‘oh, we can’t spend it hiring more mental health professionals.’ … Our kids need that [support] now.”

A lack of funding, Pringle said, “is no excuse we are willing to tolerate.”

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