Home Minnesota Educator President’s message: When teachers are chanting, you know it’s time to act

When teachers are chanting, you know it’s time to act

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Education Minnesota President, Denise Specht

The stories on the picket lines and sidewalk rallies have been the same whether I was in Anoka, Bemidji, Chisholm, or a dozen school districts in between the last few weeks. Educators said they were hurting, but they were standing up and demanding better for themselves and their students.

As we stood together in snow and subzero windchills, educators shared the same anxieties that showed up in our union’s polling. (See page 9) Their jobs are burning them out. They don’t feel safe at work. Their paychecks  don’t  go far enough. There aren’t enough adults in the building. The health insurance companies keep gouging them. They won’t make it to the normal retirement age for their pensions.

Those concerns shaped our union’s agenda for the 2024 session of the Minnesota Legislature, which starts in February. Our policy and budget solutions, if passed, will bring relief to educators and better results for students, helping Minnesota resolve the staffing shortage affecting nearly 90 percent of school districts.

We have proposals for higher pay, pension reform and more affordable health care for all kinds of educators. Everyone who dedicates their careers to helping others should be able to raise families, get treatment when they need it and retire without penalties at a reasonable age.

We will pursue those policies and more to make workloads sustainable, class sizes manageable, and ensure educators and students feel safe at school, both physically and mentally.

At the same time, we will continue advocating for more just and equitable schools and campuses, including by recruiting and retaining more educators of color and defending our students’ freedom to read age-appropriate books and learn an honest history of America, both the good and the bad.

Read more about our legislative agenda and how to get involved on page 4 and on our website.

We have a daunting list of challenges in our worksites and an uphill struggle at the Legislature, but every session is an opportunity to innovate and to correct the mistakes of the past.

As I write this, more than half of Education Minnesota’s E-12 locals are working with expired contracts. They are fighting for raises many legislators intended for them to receive when they passed a multi-billion-dollar new investment in education in 2023.

Our union cautioned legislators at the time that sending the money to school boards instead of earmarking it for compensation would ignite the conflicts we’re now seeing at bargaining tables across the state. They didn’t listen then. Now they may.

Of course, there will be critics who claim our legislative agenda is too ambitious. They’ll say the 2024 session will focus on policy, not money, so don’t bother. Election year politics will gridlock the House, the pundits will write.

To them I say: Too bad. When you find angry educators chanting at an outdoor rally in January, you know the situation is too serious to delay.

Our union will continue pushing district-by-district for the contracts educators and their families deserve, contracts that will attract next generations of educators and slowly fill the open jobs.

And we will continue encouraging our legislators to take up the issues that educators care about but cannot be fixed through collective bargaining – with pension reform in the top tier of that list. Unfortunately, nothing is easy in collective bargaining or politics, but I never doubt the tenacity of educators working for their students, their families and their own retirements.

Denise Specht
Twitter: @DeniseSpecht

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