Monday, September 20, 2021

Improve the Schools- Build Back Better

We’re on the precipice of charting a bold new course for our country with the Build Back Better Act. With historic investments in school infrastructure, expanding access to high-quality healthcare, boosting our economy, expanding and making permanent the child tax credit, establishing universal pre-K, making college more affordable and accessible, supporting hospital and health center infrastructure, and more, we have an opportunity to set future generations up for success.

Now we all must do what it takes to help this important bill get passed. Click here to send a letter to your lawmakers and tell them to pass the Build Back Better Act.

The Build Back Better Act uses what we know, to fund what we need. We know that “building back better” is not only essential—it’s possible. We know that by asking everyone to pay their fair share, including the wealthiest earners and big corporations, we’ll have the resources we need to improve life for all working families. We know that scrapping the state and local tax deduction cap will help middle-class families and fund the local services we all depend on. And we know that investing in school infrastructure will create safe, welcoming environments for students to learn and thrive—not to mention creating more than a million well-paying jobs to make those upgrades.

The Build Back Better plan will help families, children, students, working Americans and communities by:

  • Investing $82 billion in rebuilding and modernizing schools and $4 billion to support internet access and distance learning.
  • Providing up to 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave for all U.S. workers.
  • Lowering the cost of child care for all families, regardless of income, and making it easier for families to find available child care slots.
  • Expanding access to healthcare for 4 million more Americans, reducing Affordable Care Act premiums by 7 percent, providing vision, hearing and dental benefits to seniors on Medicare, and improving elder and community-based care.
  • Providing all 3- and 4-year-olds with access to high-quality, free universal pre-K classes, which will be inclusive for children with disabilities.
  • Prioritizing paying child care workers and pre-K teachers a worthy, livable wage.
  • Addressing the teacher shortage by funding “grow your own” programs, teacher residencies and teacher preparation grants.
  • Securing better-paying jobs for workers with additional access to job-training programs.
  • Giving 9 million more children access to free school meals, and expanding effective child nutrition programs.
  • Making college more affordable for all students by reversing disinvestment in public higher education, increasing investments in historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions, and making two years of community college free.
  • Replacing lead pipes to provide safer drinking water for communities.
  • Reducing gun violence.
  • Providing loan forgiveness for nurses working in communities with staffing shortages.
  • Raising the corporate tax rate, and closing Trump-era loopholes to ensure the IRS has the resources it needs to make the ultra-wealthy and tax-dodging corporations pay their fair share.
  • Addressing the climate crisis through developing an electric vehicle infrastructure, reducing pollution and toxins around schools, funding environmental justice initiatives and investing billions of dollars in incentives for clean energy.

We know what we need. We need to pass the Build Back Better Act. Write to your lawmakers here and tell them to pass it.

We have a plan. We know what works. And with everyone paying their fair share, we know how to pay for it. Contact your lawmakers today.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten

AFT President   

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Green New Deal for Public Schools



JACOBIN Magazine.



A major socialist-led grassroots campaign is underway to pass Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools — a strategically savvy measure that combines forthright climate action with large-scale investment in working-class schools.

Global warming is here, wreaking havoc and terror, and even as children return to school under uncertain pandemic conditions, our public school system — especially in working-class neighborhoods — is, like so much of American infrastructure, a disgraceful wreckage. Schools are understaffed. Buildings are poorly ventilated, with windows that don’t easily open, and science labs and bathrooms in varying states of disrepair. A new socialist congressman has proposed addressing these problems with a Green New Deal for Public Schools. With a dynamic national organizing campaign, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been pushing to make it happen.

This summer, as wildfires and hurricanes ravaged the country, newly elected New York congressman Jamaal Bowman, who was endorsed by DSA and represents Yonkers, parts of the Bronx, and southern Westchester County, introduced the legislation, which would invest $1.43 trillion over ten years in public schools, to upgrade them for energy efficiency and health, and to hire and train hundreds of thousands of new staff (education jobs are green jobs; they don’t require fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gases). (Bowman, a former middle school principal, was well-known as an education justice activist long before he ran for office and was interviewedby Jacobin during his campaign.)

Bowman’s office estimates that the legislation would fund 1.3 million new jobs per year and remove seventy-eight million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equivalent to seventeen million cars vanishing from the nation’s roadways. The Green New Deal for Public Schools could become law this fall, most likely as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill — but lawmakers will need public pressure.

Besides addressing the urgent problems facing our schools, the Green New Deal for Public Schools can introduce the public to — and provide a focal point for organizing around — the broader idea of green jobs. Other than Medicare for All and the labor law reform bill known as the PRO Act, there are few national legislative priorities more popular on the Left than the Green New Deal, the bill proposed by socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to create good jobs while following the urgent call of nearly every climate scientist to move toward a carbon-free economy.

But, as DSA activists interviewed for this article explained to me, the organization doesn’t currently have the political muscle to help pass the Green New Deal bill. To do that, they said, DSA needs to build labor support and expand its reach as a mass organization, especially in working-class communities. One route to reaching this more powerful position is DSA’s campaign to pass the PRO Act; the other is the organization’s campaign to enact Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools.

To build the power DSA needs to pass a Green New Deal, says Gustavo Gordillo, a member of the Green New Deal for Public Schools steering committee, the group needs “to be more embedded in working-class institutions, which public schools are.” The campaign in support of Bowman’s initiative also builds on a DSA strength: many members work in public schools — in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, the public school system is the largest employer of the DSA chapter’s members — and those members have been organizing their colleagues and unions.

DSA members working in the building trades have been doing the same. So far more than fifty DSA chapters are participating in the national campaign to pass Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools, a highly coordinated effort with extensive cooperation among chapters. In a weekly phone call, members get updates on the legislation’s status in Congress, share tactics, templates for flyers, and other ideas. This level of cross-chapter communication, say Gordillo, newly elected to DSA’s National Political Committee, “doesn’t always happen in DSA and we want to do this more.”

Yvette Jordan is a public schoolteacher in Newark, New Jersey, where, she says “our schools are disenfranchised and not afforded the accoutrements enjoyed in many other communities.” Jordan teaches in a newer school building, but she says many Newark school buildings lack ventilation and are plagued by mold. Asthma and other respiratory problems are common among both staff and students.

Cara Tobe, chapter lead for the Green New Deal for Public Schools campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, describes similar problems in her local schools: a single nurse has to be shared by six different schools, whole floors of a building cannot be used because of asbestos or mold, there are not enough buildings, resulting in serious overcrowding (obviously a matter of special concern under pandemic conditions).

Devin Collins, a Jacksonville, Florida, DSA member, described (via text) receiving an enthusiastic reception in poor, black neighborhoods while canvassing for the Green New Deal for Public Schools. He spoke with mothers whose children dropped out of unresponsive, understaffed schools, and residents who described schools with toxic waste buried onsite.

A longtime environmental justice activist and the leader of a reform caucus in her union, Jordan joined North New Jersey DSA about three months ago after attending the chapter’s meetings for some time. In Newark, the campaign has focused on organizing constituents who live near the Mount Vernon School, an elementary school in the city’s West Ward that is especially lacking in resources; members have been knocking on doors weekly, engaging new recruits and getting residents to call their representatives to urge them to support the Green New Deal for Public Schools. For her part, Jordan has also been organizing her fellow educators and their unions to support the campaign.

The campaign has engaged DSA’s members en masse. A thousand DSA members participated in a launch call hosted by Jamaal Bowman this summer. The Green New Deal for Public Schools inspired the Louisville chapter’s biggest post-Bernie action, with a thousand doors knocked. It’s also been “very effective at engaging people not involved in DSA,” says Gordillo. In addition to the working-class communities whose schools most desperately need investment, the campaign has drawn many others who want to take action on climate change, Gordillo says. After Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of several people in New York and New Jersey earlier this month, NYC-DSA organized a protest at Senator Chuck Schumer’s house, demanding that he support the Green New Deal for Public schools. About two hundred people showed up.

Aside from DSA, there is no grassroots, mass organization committed to building working-class power and pressing for sound climate policy. A victory on the Green New Deal for Public Schools would be an incomparable boost to those efforts — but even more important in the long run may be the power and organization that such campaigns can build.


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