HSTA president addresses national meeting to boost relief for schools, states during pandemic

Members can get involved to pressure Congress to pass the $3 trillion aid package

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee told a National Education Association tele-town hall audience Thursday about the HSTA’s successful efforts to fight a proposal that would have cut the pay of teachers and other state workers in the islands.

About 12,000 educators and allies from across the country joined the phone call as part of an effort to get Congress to pass a new relief package to support state and local governments and public schools, whose budgets face major cuts because of the pandemic.

After the coronavirus hit, Gov. David Ige floated the idea of reducing Hawaii state employees’ pay by 20 percent in April.

“As a union, we knew that was unacceptable,” Rosenlee told the national event. "Hawaii already has a shortage of over 1,000 teachers. Before the pandemic struck, we were close to finally improving teacher pay. Our students and our schools could not afford another cut.

“We took this fight to the public and even during this tough time, the public supported their teachers,” Rosenlee added.

“Last week, we engaged 900 teachers to submit testimony to our Board of Education explaining how the cuts would worsen our students’ learning,” he said, “and this Saturday, more than 2,500 teachers will hold a virtual rally.”

On Tuesday, HSTA members and the members of other Hawaii public sector unions received the good news that Ige backed off his initial plan and announced no immediate pay cuts. 

“The keyword is ‘immediate,’ because even without federal support, Hawaii can use its savings and special funds for one year and then Hawaii will be in trouble again,” Rosenlee said. “This is why we need all of your help and why it is important to be part of the largest union in the country. Hawaii may have been first to face these kinds of reductions, but soon politicians across the country will try to cut education funding. This is why we need to take collective action to get Congress to pass CARES Act 4.”

Kathleen Mika, a former Hawaii public school teacher who was born and raised in the islands, listened to Rosenlee’s speech on the tele-town hall in McMinnville, Oregon, outside Portland, where she teaches at Gandhaven Elementary.

“So nice to hear from HSTA on the virtual rise up meeting this evening,” Mika wrote in an email. "Soon as the beach opens, I hope to head home for a few days."

Mika's first teaching position was at Kahului Elementary in 1990, followed by Kahakai Elementary and Innovations PCS in HSTA's Kona Chapter, then Waikele Elementary on Oahu before she moved to Oregon in 2007. 

Scott DiMauro, president of the 120,000-member Ohio Education Association, also addressed the event, telling participants about daunting cuts his members and their students face.

“Students across Ohio and around the country need strong public schools now more than ever. That why Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement last week of $465 million in K-12 and higher education budget cuts for just the remainder of this fiscal year, plus additional cuts to Medicaid in the middle of a public health crisis, cut like a knife,” DiMauro said. 

“We need Congress to act now to provide desperately needed relief to make sure we don’t lose a generation of kids. Only the federal government is in a position to take the kind of decisive action to protect America’s educators and students,” DiMauro added.

How to take action to assure Congress passes important aid package

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia explained the situation in stark terms.

“Tax funding is falling off a cliff and that means school funding won’t be there when we need it in the fall,” Eskelsen Garcia said.

“Not having the entire village educators on the job serving students is going to make it damn near impossible to think about how we plan to open our schools on that wonderful day when the medical professional scientists say that we can open the doors of our schools to students,” she added.

“How are we going to do that if we face the predicted 35-percent reduction in educator jobs or more that we’re going to experience in this coming school year (because of budget shortfalls)?” Eskelsen Garcia said. “Systems that depend on tax revenues are going to see historic levels of layoffs and furloughs if we don’t do something about it now.”

Eskelsen Garcia asked the thousands of people listening to the call to send a quick email to their members of Congress, asking them to fully fund the latest $3 trillion relief package that the U.S. House is expected to approve Friday and the U.S. Senate will take up later this month.

Those who support additional COVID-19 funding can also text the word “action” to the number 84693 on their smartphones to receive updates on future action on this proposal.

Hawaii's all-Democrat congressional delegation favors the aid package, but members of Congress from some other states are skeptical of it.

California's Harris advocates for up to $2,000-a-month aid for some families

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D, Calif.) also addressed the event, saying the “crisis has been made worse by a total lack of leadership” from the White House.

“People are suffering, in large part because in a moment of crisis. The people of our country deserve and expect that the government will be there to help them and to support them,” Harris said.

“We (the United States) are four percent of the world’s population, but we have almost one-third of the coronavirus cases. So the numbers speak for themselves because there’s no leadership” at the presidential level, said Harris, who’s considered to be on the shortlist to join presidential candidate Joe Biden as his running mate on the Democratic ticket.

“I’m working with Senator (Bernie) Sanders to make sure that families who are making less than $100,000 a year get recurrent payments through the course of this pandemic of up to $2,000 a month,” Harris said.

Former National Teacher of the Year, now in Congress, says public education urgently needs $100B in aid 

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D, Connecticut) is a former social studies teacher and 2016 National Teacher of the Year. 

Hayes the next relief package before Congress is critical to people nationwide.

“This bill provides nearly a trillion dollars for state and local governments and over $100 billion for direct education funding so that when states and municipalities are coming up with their budgets, they don’t have to consider cutting teachers or cutting support services. And those are challenges that many will be facing,” Hayes said.

“Everyone’s talking about how much they love teachers, how teachers are doing a wonderful job, how teachers are our heroes. I don’t want people to just say it. I want them to show it, and that’s what Congress is trying to do,” Hayes added.

As she wrapped up the tele-town hall, Eskelsen Garcia told participants, “There is no campaign without you. We can’t do anything without you. There is not a community without you, and we need you to take action.

“We are a community and we rise together, or we don’t rise at all,” she said.

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Author: Keoki Kerr