For Mandy Spitzley, it was about respect.
Spitzley joined nearly all of her colleagues who gathered outside Lakewood Elementary School in Ionia County Wednesday morning in a show of collective unity that included educators from more than 100 school buildings across the state.
The 13-year veteran teacher participated in the #WearRedForPublicEd Wednesday Walk-in because she wants lawmakers to listen to educators before making big policy decisions.
“Things on paper often look good, but that’s not the reality of how it works in the classroom,” the first-grade teacher said. “They need to respect our profession.”
School employees will continue wearing red on Wednesdays in a show of solidarity for the rest of the school year. Staff at many buildings will also hold walk-ins on Wednesdays throughout May.
A few miles up the road, Kurt Murray said he organized a walk-in at Lakewood High School because he wants education policies to value students. Murray and about two dozen MEA members marched from the back parking lot to the front entrance of Lakewood High School –wearing red and carrying signs.
“After 30 years, we still haven’t closed the funding gap, and it’s not fair to our students,” the Lakewood local vice president said, pointing to inequitable funding and under-funding of public education as issues that lawmakers have known about and ignored for too long.
Several recent studies have documented Michigan’s under-funding of education at nearly $2,000 per student – and the figure is even higher for at-risk students and those with learning disabilities or language barriers.
The overarching message that unifies educators coming together to demand change is that state leaders need to fund our schools, said Frank Burger, president of the Carman-Ainsworth Education Association in Flint. Educators are “fed up,” he told a local television reporter.
“We have seen so many drastic cuts to education in Michigan, leading to higher class sizes, less teachers, less paraprofessionals in our classrooms, less bus drivers,” Burger said. “We’re now seeing a big teacher shortage in the state of Michigan because of these funding cuts.”
Value Students. Respect Educators. Fund Our Schools.
Those imperatives are driving educators to action across the country and here in Michigan. From Caro to Saginaw, Utica to Manistee, Belleville to Petoskey, school employees staged walk-ins across the state to voice frustration – protests that will continue in coming weeks.
In Pinconning, union members were joined in their call for change by MEA’s recommended candidate for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who thanked school employees for their service.
“I’m here because I want to thank you for the work you do,” she told the red-clad crowd as the 7:30 a.m. sun rose in the sky. “I know how hard it is; I know you haven’t had enough support out of Lansing; I know we’ve got to make a change in Michigan so our kids are getting the education they need and so you have the support to do your jobs.
“I’m going to make education a top priority in the state again,” Whitmer said.
If you’re interested in organizing a Wednesday Walk-in at your school during May, contact your local field office.
Don’t forget to share photos from your walk-ins with us on MEA’s Facebook page!