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Christy McGill, Art Teacher - Divide Elementary School, Lookout, WV.

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Fighting for the Importance of Public Education - For Our Children, Our Economy, Our Communities and Our Future

August 5, 2010

A strong public education system is essential to the individual and collective well-being of our country and its people, and to the development of an informed and engaged citizenry, without which no democracy can exist and flourish.  A strong, universal system of public education is the foundation of the American middle class, and is vital to the survival of the United States as a broadly middle class society in the global economy.  The guarantee of access to a free and quality public education should be a right accorded to every child in this country.  Securing that guarantee should be a goal and a value that unites all Americans and is supported by our public policies and policymakers at every level.

At this time in the history of our country, all those who support public education, as the labor movement has historically done—who believe in its centrality to our national vitality and are committed to strengthening this institution so every child, in every corner of the country, has access to a great education—should come together to affirm this commitment.  A public education system in all its component parts—pre-K, K-12 and higher education—can be strong, vital and productive only with the broad support, commitment and participation of all sectors of our communities. 

Those who have dedicated their careers and lives to providing a public education to our children should be recognized for their contributions, supported and included in our efforts to continuously improve our education system and to ensure that the students in every public school have equal opportunity and access to highly qualified teachers, staff and instructional resources.  The complex and considerable challenges facing public education require a public school environment that fosters thoughtful solutions, shared responsibility, consideration of proven strategies and programs and public education policies that help ensure access to the excellent education every child deserves. 

For the past several years, we have been living through the most severe recession since the Great Depression, which has affected public education, not just through cuts to core programs, but through job losses that destabilize students’ families, cuts to other critical services that the communities depend on, and stress that pulls at the social fabric that unites us. Rather than fostering an environment that allows for thoughtful, collaborative solutions, so-called “reformers” focus instead on imposing unproven programs and polices that shake the foundation of our schools, neighborhoods and communities. Public education is a public responsibility and must be a public trust.

Our shared pain, rather than divide us, must instead become the impetus for our shared efforts to force a national commitment to programs and polices designed to invest, not disinvest, in public education and other vital public services to ensure opportunities for lifelong learning  Exclusionary approaches, simplistic slogans and punitive strategies that substitute for real solutions,  such as the mass removal of both instructional and non-instructional personnel  from low-performing schools without regard to the investments that have not been made in those schools,  distract from the important work needed to strengthen public education, divide our communities and undermine public education, which is the institution that has the potential and purpose of creating equal opportunities for all our children. 

The AFL-CIO is united in opposing shortsighted arguments that focus on affixing blame rather than finding solutions to the problems that confront our schools in this time of economic crisis.  The labor movement opposes any effort to pit public sector and private sector workers against each other.  All workers deserve adequate health care and retirement security.  The labor movement understands that until private sector workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively is restored, no public sector worker is economically secure.  And we also understand that attacks on public sector workers are led by those whose goals is to weaken and impoverish all workers.

The AFL-CIO will support all efforts to show that working with labor is part of the solution. We will redouble our efforts to make common cause with communities and will act—not just one day or one week but every day—to mobilize support for the programs and policies critical to building strong and vibrant education systems and communities throughout America.

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