Florida students don't get another chance
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten met Tuesday with Gov. Charlie Crist for what the AFT called a "positive" discussion about the future of education financing in Florida. A spokeswoman for the teachers union said Weingarten and the governor had a frank conversation and agreed to keep talking about issues going forward.
Afterward, Weingarten penned a column about the need to deal with the current economic crisis in order to avoid damaging public education for a generation of students. Here it is:
"When the economy catches a cold, our schools get pneumonia. Today, pneumonia is spreading from state to state, and our students are feeling the effects.
"A Florida teacher says that because of the economy, some of her students have difficulty doing homework at night because their electricity has been turned off. Another Florida teacher reports that budget cuts have led to huge class sizes and the number of students she teaches has jumped from 130 to 192.
"In Philadelphia, where many schools have no library at all, officials plan to shutter 11 public libraries. And in numerous school districts nationwide, teachers and school support personnel are being laid off, resulting in larger class sizes, shorter kindergarten days and other consequences that will impair educational progress.
"The economic crisis must be addressed — and addressed quickly.
"Clearly, the cost of righting the listing ship will have to be shared by all. The fight for America's future rests with Congress, every state legislature, every county council, every school board, and with each of us. Success requires passage of a well-crafted federal economic stimulus package that will mitigate the need for draconian cuts to core services. But long-term success will require that decisions made today not only will protect, but will improve, the cornerstones of our society, especially education, health care and other essential services.
"We can't pull the rug out from under the people who depend on these services, especially those with the greatest needs. Children grow each day; their education can't wait. Illness doesn't follow economic trends; patients need help now. And our country's infrastructure must be modernized sooner than later.
"Here in Florida, $3-billion already has been slashed from schools, colleges and universities. More cuts are on the way. None of these cuts is just a line on a budget page; they have a real and immediate impact on students and teachers. And these cuts will have lasting consequences; they will diminish our nation's ability to produce the leaders we need to build and keep a strong, vital economy.
"This week, the American Federation of Teachers will launch our economic campaign: 'Fight for America's Future: It's Dollars and Sense.' As important as it is to infuse dollars to prevent a disinvestment in education, we also will press for smart investments. There are no do-overs for students. Children today are coming of age in an economy that demands ever-increasing knowledge, skill and adaptability.
"Smart investments would ensure that students have class sizes that don't swell to unmanageable levels. Smart investments would provide children with special needs with the staff and programs they require. They would allow an intense focus on low-performing schools and a commitment to make every school safe, orderly and modern. And smart investments would guarantee that higher education is accessible and affordable.
"Our children need the right tools to be able to make the American Dream a reality. Chief among those tools is a rigorous, well-rounded education. That is true in good times — and even truer in bad. This is a fight for America's future. If we don't do it now, our children will be paying the consequences for years to come."