Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown quarantine that followed, the state of public education has been altered in severe ways. There are more than 50 million students in the United States. Public education represents a cornerstone for a democratic society, but in its current state, it is little more than a feeble system, limping from one academic year to another.
Key personnel shortages, including of teachers, custodians, bus drivers, librarians, and educational aides, have the potential to undermine the availability of educational services and learning to students, family, and schools, which can have long lasting effects. Teachers fill in for unsupervised classrooms when substitutes are not available, drive school buses, and monitor lunch lines at the expense of their lunch and planning period, thereby affecting the quality of education for students across the country. Staff shortages, school funding, learning loss, and increased discrimination are crushing schools. Further, when seeking to fill these vacancies, many candidates lack proper qualifications, and positions are filled with people with no teaching experience. Students with disabilities miss out on crucial services that are written into individual education plans, and required to be received by federal law. Staff question whether or not to work part time at fast food restaurants, in which they would get paid higher per hour than while at school. Despite collective bargaining agreements outlining responsibilities, staff agree to fill in these responsibilities for the welfare of the students, but at their own expense, leading to greater frustration, higher stress, and greater burnout, with the cycle repeating itself until there is nothing left.
As of 2021, a report published by Education Weekly Research Center indicated the U.S. received a C grade for school finance. While states are free to direct their federal dollars as they please, there is a strong need for improvements in educational funding policies across the U.S. Over the last five years, federal education spending has dropped from 11.5 billion to 9.5 billion, further tightening the resources necessary for appropriate education of students.
Perhaps one of the most alarming attacks on public education is the changes in curriculum from teaching fact to teaching agendas. Books by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals are being removed from the shelves. Misinformation in curriculum might leave students further behind in their critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and even social-emotional skills such as empathy. When curricula are altered in such alarming, oppressive ways, it is important to remember that we are not only altering learning, we are altering the future of society.
Higher education is also under a privatization attack. Corporate-backed reformers are imposing profit-based models onto higher education. Professors are under tremendous pressure to bring funding into the university, rather than focusing on doing good academic work that will benefit the greater society. The labor protections that professors fought hard to achieve through the tenure system are under threat of being dismantled with the increased exploitation of adjunct and other non-tenure-track faculty whose labor produces value for colleges and universities far beyond what they receive in wages and benefits.
Over 43 million Americans are crippled by student loan debt. Overall student debt is now over $1.74 trillion, with average student debt over $37,000. The cost of college has risen eight times faster than wages over the last 40 years. It’s no surprise that 7.8 percent of student loans are in delinquency or default, with a disproportionate number of those who default being low-income students or students of color who have been hoodwinked into attending private for-profit colleges and trade schools.
Those who pursue graduate education are doubly affected by the crisis in higher education. The average debt for graduate students is over $78,000, while more and more academic workers with advanced degrees are being pushed into contingent adjunct positions where they make as little as one quarter of what a tenure-track professor makes. Workers who are paying off student loans are delaying the purchase of homes and cars, and putting off marriage and starting families, creating a further drag on the U.S. economy. Further, key positions in healthcare and education are not being filled, due to the exploitative nature of private loans, amounting debt, and low paying positions. This continues a vicious cycle which the country stumbles through, in which workers, crippled by financial burden, are not able to serve the communities that need it most.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 78th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress:
- Pass laws implementing free public higher education and student loan forgiveness for all;
- In the meantime, put a moratorium on all student loan defaults, introduce default forgiveness, implement measures so that loans can be repaid at no more than 10 percent of annual income, reduce student loan interest rates to the same rate available for banking entities, and ensure interest cannot accrue until after graduation;
- Maintain funding for Title II intended for professional development, mentoring programs, and class size reduction;
- Demands the U.S. Department of Education:
- Bar the use of taxpayer-funded voucher programs that siphon public funds from public schools and funnel them to private and charter schools;
- Eliminate all high stakes testing;
- Work with borrowers to seek loan forgiveness if schools have deceived them or committed fraud;
- Ensure curriculum is accurate;
- Fund school personnel programs in order to maintain appropriate student-to-staff ratios;
- Provide vocational training and job placement services for individuals transitioning into the workforce, including those who have advanced degrees but need further direction to reach the desired level of job placement;
- Demand that state legislatures:
- Fully fund public education;
- Preserve tenure systems;
- Address economic and racial segregation by disconnecting educational funding from property taxation;
- Advocate for the removal of police forces from schools;
- Encourages regions and locals to actively lobby Congress and state legislatures on this program;
- Supports all campaigns that advocate universal access to free education;
- Demands an end to book bans, censorship, and restrictions on curricula taught in libraries, school districts, and universities.