Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on a webinar on Wednesday night where members of the nation’s largest union – our education association – were urged to press Congress to send money to states for public education needs.
The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on state budgets across the country, Whitmer noted. States are required to balance annual budgets, and Michigan is anticipating a significant shortfall in the upcoming budget cycle, which makes it imperative for Congress to act, she said.
“As Democrats and Republicans, the governors are united in this and trying to call everyone to take part in pushing Congress to do what we need them to do in this moment,” Whitmer told thousands of NEA members from across the country who participated in the event.
“We know it is going be a while before we get back to the economic strength that we were at prior to this, but we can’t sacrifice the education of our kids in that time,” Whitmer said.
Leaders at NEA have outlined three priorities for members to advocate with U.S. representatives and senators, including $175 billion earmarked for education to the states, $4 billion to address the digital divide, and protective equipment and supplies for support staff and others who still must show up at worksites to supply meals and schoolwork for students.
“We want the same consideration that Congress gave to businesses – where they said, ‘We wouldn’t want entire communities of businesses to go under’ – we want that same consideration for our public schools,” Eskelsen García said. “That is job 1, 2, and 3.”
The first CARES Act passed by Congress included some money for states but little flexibility for governors in how to allocate the funds, Whitmer said, adding: “When budgets are tight, decisions can be made that adversely impact education; we’ve got to make sure that does not happen.”
In these difficult times, it’s important to find “glimmers of inspiration and hope” to sustain ourselves, Whitmer told participants on the call. “One of the glimmers of hope for me is that people are really appreciating how important our public schools are,” she said.
Bringing the voices of parents and community leaders to bear in advocating for Congress to appropriate funding to states will be critical, Whitmer added.
“With the fact that we’ve had to close down our schools, parents are home trying to supplement the work that teachers and districts are doing and appreciating how difficult your jobs are. Where we can enlist the support of the general public, now is the time.”
As discussions move forward about how and when to safely reopen schools, Whitmer said it’s important for educators to have a seat at the table. The governor gave credit to MEA President Paula Herbart for being a reliable partner in the decision-making process all along the way.
“The fact that we’ve got an open line of communication, and we are nimble enough to address issues as they come up, is really important,” Whitmer said. “That is how we are going to continue to proceed in Michigan. It only makes our decisions better informed, with better outcomes for our children.”
When schools do reopen, the needs of our students on every front – academic, mental, and emotional – will be great, Eskelsen García said. “We are going to get behind the governors in demanding that Congress save our schools and do what’s right to address desperate need in the states.”
Get involved! Learn more about what you can do to help at www.NEA.org/covidaction, and text “action” to 84693 to receive information about national events and opportunities to join the cause.
“We can’t do this without you,” Eskelsen García said. “NEA is all of us together.”