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'Pink Hearts' Campaign Kicks Off on National Teacher Day

With staggering education budget cuts likely to leave more than a quarter-million educators out of work and children without important educational services, the AFT officially kicked off its "Pink Hearts, Not Pink Slips" campaign on National Teacher Day, calling for passage of federal legislation to avert these cuts.

AFT president Randi Weingarten discussed the effort at a May 4 Capitol Hill news conference with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.); two teachers who already have received pink slips, Justin Hons of Cleveland and Joelle Beck of O'Fallon Township, Ill.; and two parents who are concerned about the consequences of severe cuts in their school districts, Yolanda Francis of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and O'Cynthia Williams of New York City.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has estimated that as many as 300,000 teachers and other school staff could be laid off by fall. "The level and magnitude of these cuts are staggering and unsustainable. The number of educators being pink-slipped is about the same size as the entire population of Toledo, Ohio," Weingarten said. "This is about saving the next generation—teacher jobs are synonymous with education for our kids."

Starting May 4, hundreds of thousands of AFT members are wearing pink heart buttons and signing an online petition to support legislation sponsored by Sen. Harkin and Rep. Miller to provide $23 billion to help school districts avoid layoffs in K-12 schools and higher education.

Educator layoffs would result in dramatic increases in class sizes, erode classroom discipline, and eliminate essential programs such as art, music, physical education, AP classes, summer school and intervention programs, which would hurt the kids who need the most help.

Senator Harkin and Joelle Beck at press conference"This country is about to face a massive wave of layoffs in our schools and institutions of higher learning that could weaken our economic recovery and cause serious damage to our education system," Sen. Harkin said. "This bill is an investment in our kids, in our economy and in our future."

Rep. Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said, "Teacher layoffs threaten our economic recovery and long-term stability at every level. Our teachers can't afford to lose their jobs, our children can't afford to lose a year of learning, and our nation can't afford to stall the progress we've made to get our economy back on track."

In his remarks at the press conference, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel said it's important to remember that even if hundreds of thousands of educators are laid off, the same number of children will remain in our public school classrooms.

Randi Weingarten speaks to parents at Pink Hearts press conferenceThe teachers and parents at the press conference spoke about the terrible impact those cuts would have in their schools and districts, especially for the most vulnerable students. If class sizes rise to 45, as they are predicted to do in Cleveland, school "will be about survival first and education a distant second," said Hons, who teaches social studies and also coaches his school's wrestling and mock trial teams.

Despite the personal hardship her layoff will mean for her family—she is expecting her first child in the fall and will lose her health insurance before then—Beck talked about her students, "who will struggle to keep their heads above water" if the huge cuts proposed in her Illinois district are not reversed.

In prepared testimony for a hearing later in the day before the House Education and Labor Committee, Weingarten described two of her recent visits to places facing devastating layoffs. "I visited El Dorado Elementary School in San Francisco, where 13 of 20 teachers received layoff notices in March. The teachers there were most concerned about what will happen to the school and its students, who are low-income, if it loses so many teachers," Weingarten said. At a stop in Albuquerque, N.M., she said teachers echoed many of the fears and concerns expressed in California about budget cuts and their impact on teachers and students.

"We can't shortchange kids and their education just as we're making inroads on genuine schools reforms that will transform public schools. The federal government didn't walk away from Wall Street, and it shouldn't walk away from our kids' public schools. Education should be considered too big to fail," Weingarten said. [Dan Gursky, AFT press release, photos by Michael Campbell, video by Matthew Jones]

May 4, 2010