President's Column: Victories and setbacks

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President's Column: Victories and setbacks

Voice: March 2017

When you wake up each morning, you probably think about the students you'll see that day, the lessons you have planned, and the school community you love.

I'm sure the last thing you want to think about during your school day is politics. Yet, that is what I keep asking you to do, more often and with greater urgency.

When President Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education, despite her unprecedented lack of qualifications, I asked you to speak out -  and you did. You contacted Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey more than 100,000 times to oppose her nomination.

When the Pennsylvania Senate pushed a bill that would prevent PSEA from using the dues voluntarily deducted from your paychecks to advocate for what we believe in, you sent more than 25,000 messages to say we will not be silenced that easily.

We may not always like it, but working in public education requires us to use our collective voice to engage in the political process, and to be advocates for our students, our schools, and our professions.

And you have come through again and again. Thank you.

Not everything has gone the way we'd like. The U.S. Senate voted narrowly to confirm DeVos, despite her lack of qualifications and our strong advocacy.

That was disappointing, but don't let that disappointment deter you. We're only warming up.

This issue of Voice explores the many legislative challenges that lie ahead, and the opportunities that come along with those challenges. In Harrisburg, the payroll deduction bill will continue to be debated. Attacks on our pensions will resurface. An effort to shift local school funding away from property taxes to higher state taxes is raising concerns from educators, businesses, and taxpayers alike.

There are opportunities, too. Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a budget that invests enough in K-12 education to nearly reverse the state funding cuts of 2011. He also wants to dedicate more resources to school breakfast programs and increase the minimum wage for hardworking Pennsylvanians, something that will impact thousands of our members.

It's a long list, and we will have victories and setbacks along the way. The confirmation of DeVos was a significant setback. But even in defeat, we find hope.

I was moved to see so many PSEA members, even those who had voted for President Trump, take an active stand against DeVos' nomination. It reminds me that when it comes to our schools and our students, there is far more that unites us than divides us.

In the months ahead, we are going to build on what we did to mobilize against the DeVos nomination.

And we are going to continue to do what we do best - educating and meeting the needs of the students in our schools.

So, as you head off to school each morning, take comfort in knowing that your work matters -  in your schools and in the halls of government - and that there are 180,000 of your PSEA brothers and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder with you. 

Email Jerry Oleksiak: