Student – Teacher Unity is the Only Way Forward!

September 12, 2011 - NJYouthUnited Org - http://njyouthunited.org/wp/student-teacher-unity-is-the-only-way-forward/

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Early this summer, while students and many teachers were scattered to the winds on break, many away on pre-planned vacations, NJ Governor Christie and about half the Democratic state legislators led by State Senator Stephen Sweeney and the entire set of Republican legislators were busy indeed.

The bipartisan anti-teacher and public worker putsch occurred in June, when the New Jersey State Legislature passed a law that threatens the retirement security and health benefits of public employees. Under the bill, teachers will pay more into their retirement pension, and will get less when they retire. In terms of health benefits,the average teacher will be paying thousands of dollars more for their healthcare. The bill translates into a huge paycut for our teachers.

Further, Governor Christie and the Democratic legislature plan on taking up the issue of Education ‘reform’ this fall. New Jersey has some of the best public schools in the nation, consistently ranking in the top five of all states using various measures. The schools where students do tend to struggle – places such as Trenton, Newark, and Atlantic City – are the result of extremely high poverty not poor teaching. The proposed bills will make it easier to fire more experienced teachers and will allow school districts to evaluate teachers based largely on student’s standardized test scores.

What will be the effects of these laws and proposed bills on New Jersey’s teachers? The initial effect will be a lessening of teacher’s democratic rights as union members. Public school teachers in our state have unions that have traditionally allowed them to negotiate their health benefits, and the way in which teachers are evaluated. This is being undermined. The lasting effect will be good teachers leaving the profession and others deciding that it is not worth it to become a teacher – given the attack on teachers pay, benefits, and union rights.

This summer, a $26 billion bill was passed by the House regarding teachers and public workers. Democrats promoted the bill as saving 300,000 public workers from being laid-off during the 2012 election year. President Obama signed the bill into law.

$10 billion of the bill has been put toward the re-hiring of laid off teachers and to make sure that other teachers would not be let go before the beginning of the new year. The other $16 billion is for a 6 month extension of Medicaid payments granted to the states. That money means that states can now focus on meeting other budgets, ensuring the safety of 150,000 jobs.

However, the Republican Party does not agree with said bill. They have labeled it “a giveaway to teachers’ unions and an example of wasteful Washington spending that voters will punish the Democrats for in this fall’s elections.”

Schools all over the country have felt the impact of budget cuts made by local lawmakers, state governments, and the national government. New Jersey is doing no better.

Republican Governor Chris Christie has made numerous cuts in New Jersey budgets, most notably to education. Last year, he made more than $1.3 billion in cuts to all school districts, resulting in the laying-off of teachers and the removal of classes and extra-curriculars. While all public schools were hit hard, none of the private schools were affected. Later, it was pointed out that Gov. Christie’s children attended private schools. Suspicious, no?

In an interview with Caucus NJ host Steve Adubato, a woman named Gail asked Christie why it was he felt comfortable making huge cuts to public schooling, while private schools (like the ones his children attend) remained unharmed. Christie’s response was:
“It’s none of your business!”

Graceful, Christie. Very well-thought out response. As it turns out, New Jersey judiciaries have been wondering the same thing. On March 22, 2011 a judge ruled that Gov. Christie’s cuts were unlawful because they were “slanted to heavily towards poor districts”, this being a violation of the Abbot vs. Burke case. The rulings produced during the case led to the requirement of the state of New Jersey to equalize public education funding for all students. That means that districts with high poverty rates receive additional state funding to account for the debilitating –and well-researched – effects of poverty on student’s learning.

Spotswood High School (where I and all of the teens from Milltown, Helmetta, and Spotswood attend high school) has also felt the sting of Gov. Christie’s budget cuts. Last year, numerous teachers were given the heads-up that there was potential for the termination of their jobs. A few did lose their jobs and some classes were cut, including the cooking class. There was the threat of losing an arts class and two language courses. Luckily, the school managed to hold onto the classes.

In order to battle the budget cuts, some school districts around the country had to make up for lack in funding by charging fees for extra-curriculars. Said fees would contribute to covering the cost of salaries for the staff that run the courses. Why should students and their parents have to pay for staff salaries when that’s the state’s job? Because budget cuts to education have made doing so nearly impossible.

This issue had directly affected students all over the country, so why should we not get a say in all of this? Students should participate in any way they can. Whether it’s starting an organization in their school to help discourage teacher layoffs and cuts made to the curriculum, or just getting the word out there, students can influence school board and governmental decisions. We don’t always have to accept what the “big guys” tell us, especially when we know they’re wrong.

NJ Youth United Against War and Imperialism puts this call out to the youth of this state to form a partnership with the teachers , education workers and other government workers. We need to capture the spirit of resistance of teachers, workers, student alliance in Wisconsin where a similar attempt was resisted through militant occupation of state buildings for weeks. We need to support the teachers and recognize that this latest onslaught will likely be followed by more and more drastic actions.

We also call upon the teachers to continue to struggle and not to accept the recent defeat that occurred in June – to dust yourselves off and get back into the fray. While most of the grumbling is leading to a recommitment to backing Democrat candidates – many of whom backed Christie’s anti-teacher law – we suggest another option – the student option.

You can help us and we can help you. Help us to organize not only to support your efforts but to end the wars that are a root cause of all of the austerity, the reason why the federal government refuses to aid economically scrapped states and threatens to slaughter part of our generation. We are with you but our analysis and our goals while embracing your challenges, are about the very survival of our generation, so accept us into the fold on our own terms.

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