Monday, February 21, 2022

The Value of Public Schools

 t's Public Schools Week! Let’s take a moment to celebrate the promise and purpose of public schools in America. Let’s celebrate the students who learn in them, the people who work in them and the entire education community that supports preparing our next generation for college, career, civic participation and, most importantly, their lives. 

Public schools are central to our communities, and to the ongoing effort to help our kids recover and thrive, academically, socially, and emotionally. And Public Schools Week is an opportunity for us to show our commitment to our students and everyone who makes our schools tick, and for all of us to recognize the essential role of our nation’s public schools and the people who educate our kids. They are foundational to our democracy and key to our post-COVID-19 recovery, renewal, progress, and connection.

Throughout the pandemic, teachers and school staff have been herculean. They have worked hard to help our students recover—overcoming challenges, accelerating learning and bouncing back from disruption and anxiety. That’s why this year’s theme is “creating safe, equitable and engaging public schools.”

I’ve visited 95 schools across America since April last year, and I have witnessed firsthand the joy happening in our public schools. I’ve seen students reading, laughing, and playing; learning how to be informed citizens and critical thinkers; and developing new skills in music, languages, art and coding. 

And this is happening while extremists attempt to politicize our schools and scapegoat educators. It’s been the hardest year for educators—dealing with frustrations and anger, navigating through an ever-changing COVID-19 landscape and curricula and safety protocols, and coping with the staff shortages.

Everyone has an educator, bus driver, cafeteria worker, custodian, or other school staff person who they know and love. Will you join me in celebrating the work of the teachers and school staff you know by sharing our graphic online?

Public School Proud

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This week and always, the AFT is proud to join educators, parents, community advocates, businesses, and others in celebrating the schools that 91 percent of U.S. students attend. We celebrate not just the great things happening in our public schools, but to remind our elected officials and others that our public schools can be transformational when they are well-resourced, recognized and respected for the important incubators they are.

At their best, our public schools provide a ladder of opportunity; a place where young people develop the muscle of civic participation; and a safe and welcoming place where our diverse country forges a common identity. Public education is indeed foundational to our democracy.

In fact, according to our recent poll, 72 percent of parents say their schools provide excellent or good-quality education, and 78 percent say they are pleased with the quality and performance of teachers.

We know there is more to do. That’s why we’re continuing to work with school districts across the country to ensure our school buildings are safe and welcoming and remain open for in-person learning during this pandemic. But it’s more than just remaining open safely―it’s the aspiration to provide an equitable education for all.

It’s funding our kids’ future beyond the status quo, so schools can tackle shortages and continue to recruit and retain diverse educators; secure more nurses and counselors; keep bus routes running and meals being served; and fulfill the promise and purpose of high-quality, equitable public education. 

It’s not an easy time to be part of the public school community, but it is certainly an important one. So whether it’s a classroom greenhouse in Toledo, Ohio, or a marching band in Miami, Fla., this week, we recognize the brilliant things happening in our schools, and we commit to working together as a nation to protect and sustain them. 

We are public school proud.

As part of this week of celebration, our Reading Opens the World campaign is giving away 1 million free books to students for their personal libraries, encouraging them to access the joy, adventure and possibility that come with a good book. And as we celebrate, we promise to keep up the fight for the resources and support necessary so that every public school is one where parents want to send their kids, educators want to work, and students can truly thrive.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten

AFT President

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