Fighting for the schools our children deserve

September 8, 2023 6:00 am
Warner Elementary School in Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Warner Elementary School in Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Our children have returned to school and many parents felt the effects of inflation while shopping for school supplies. For education workers across the country, the lack of respect, pay, benefits and job stability to support their own families is not new. In Tennessee, support staff have a chronic issue of short paychecks when school is out for breaks. Over spring and fall break, many school employees have to decide whether to be late on rent or on the light bill and that’s heartbreaking.

The education crisis is deeply felt, echoing from every corner: slashed public school funds, crumbling buildings, educators under fire for teaching about race and racism. 

Our children and education workers bear the weight of racial and economic disparities. In the years following the Great Recession, disinvestment in public schools has robbed our children’s education of a staggering $600 billion. 

Almost 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education, non-white students are getting $2,200 less each in investments than white students. The gap between funding for white and non-white school districts remains at $23B. 

The disinvestment in public education in America is a choice — an immoral one. It’s a strategy designed by white supremacy and the ultra-rich.

Meanwhile, the rich thrive, and the poor suffer. Corporate taxes plummet, with some billionaires shamelessly avoiding federal income taxes, while the top 1% evades $160 billion in owed taxes each year. In Tennessee, a recent report revealed more than 60% or corporations are paying ZERO in the state corporate income tax. Who pays the price? Working families. Kids. Education workers. All of us.

Let’s be clear: The disinvestment in public education in America is a choice. And it is an immoral one. It’s a strategy designed by white supremacy and the ultra-rich. Here’s how they do it: use race and fear to divide working people, weaken frontline workers by attacking unions, portray public services as inefficient or corrupt, slash public budgets, privatize public services, all while shifting the tax burden to poor and working class people.

America is the richest country in the world. We have the resources to create the highest quality child care system, the best K-12 schools, and debt-free higher education. So why don’t we?

There’s some hope: that’s exactly what SEIU members are fighting for. Education workers, students and families are at the heart of a revived movement for racial and economic justice. SEIU members work in Early Learning, classroom instruction and support services for our children, from cradle to career. We are at the front line of a revived push by workers for unions for all, for transformational investment in our children, and for respect for the people who educate and care for them.

Right here in Tennessee, we’ve won major improvements in support staff pay in Metro Nashville schools, raising the bar for education workers across the state. We’ve also won historic local investments in our kids.

We will fight for the education system we deserve. We have to, for our communities, for our kids, for ourselves. And together, we will win.

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James Brown
James Brown

ames Brown is an SEIU Local 205 Member who has worked as a Network Specialist at Metro Nashville Public Schools for 14 years.