Skip to Content

Follow Her Lead!

Directions for a better future for public education.

When Lily Eskelsen flew to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August, the first person she met, while sliding into an airport taxi, was a cab driver from Ethiopia. She talked to him, of course, because she pretty much talks to everyone. Introducing herself, she said, "I'm a public school teacher!"

 The two of them chatted about the convention. And they talked about the importance of this national election, and Lily Eskelsen, public school teacher, explained to this cabbie why she so fervently supports Barack Obama, the pro-public school candidate. And then she stopped herself to say, "Oh, but
I'm so embarrassed! I don't know anything about politics in Ethiopia!"

"It doesn't matter," the cabbie told her. "The President of Ethiopia cannot harm your children. But the President of the United States? He can help-or harm-children all over the world."

Then Lily Eskelsen, who happens also to be Vice-President of the NEA, slid out of that airport cab with another vote for Barack Obama in her handbag.

And here's what she wants you to know: You can do that, too. You can help elect a President who will help-or harm-your children, your children's children, and children all over the world. One out of 100 Americans is an NEA member. "If each of us talked to 10 or 20 people about public education-if each of us talked to just one other person! Just imagine what we all could accomplish," says Eskelsen.

And then, after the elections, you can keep on talking so politicians at every level of government hear your voice when they're writing laws and spending money.

"The best person to talk about what schools need and what people in schools need is not somebody with a title at the NEA," Eskelsen says. "There is nothing more powerful in the world than a third-grade teacher who calls a congressional office or a school custodian who calls his state representative and says, 'This is happening in my building.'"

Even simpler, start with the people you know. "Talk to somebody at church, next to you in the line at the grocery store, and tell them what you love about what you do. Tell them about the school band or the importance of the theater program. We can't sit silent when politicians jeopardize these great things!" Eskelsen urges.

Your voice is the most authentic-because, unlike many politicians, you actually know what you're talking about. "We're constantly dealing with people who don't know anything, but they're telling us how to do our jobs!" Eskelsen says. "I want our political leaders to respect our voice."

In January, when Congress reconvenes, they'll begin the hard work of rewriting the No Child Left Behind law. "The least we can ask of our politicians is that they do no harm," Eskelsen says plainly. "If we look at NCLB, it really has done harm."

At the same time, state and national legislators also will be talking about new ways to pay teachers. NEA opposes pay-for-test-scores, but it does want to be part of the conversation on authentic measures of teacher performance.

"We want 1 million, 2 million, 3 million people to email or write those newly elected politicians, even if they're not the ones we supported, to say, 'Here's my voice, my passion, my love. Don't be stupid. Don't hurt the kids. We're counting on you.'"



Pension Battles

In New Jersey, a bill aimed at reforming the pension system for future public and education workers was passed by the Assembly in June and (at press time) is awaiting the governor's signature. The measure requires part-time workers to earn $7,500 per year to qualify for a pension credit but does not mandate those employees work a certain number of hours to be eligible. The $7,500 threshold is up from the $1,500 now required for local, county, and state workers, and $500 required for education workers, last changed in 1955.

Joyce Powell, president of the New Jersey Education Association, conceded the $500 threshold should have been adjusted in prior years, but argued that going from $500 to $7,500 is too dramatic a change and makes too many low-wage workers ineligible for pensions."It should have been phased in," she said.

Meanwhile, NEA-Alaska members joined about 90,000 Alaskans who comprise the Alaskan Public Pension Coalition, a partnership of public employee unions and retirement organizations. The coalition was founded in 2005 after the Alaska Legislature dismantled the public employee retirement system. For more, go to

Report Card

We check out who's making the grade—or needs improvement—in education across the country.

Randy Pausch: A

A computer science professor and author of the inspiring The Last Lecture, Pausch lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on July 25. The book is now in 30 languages and popular on high school and college campuses.



The Leverage of a Wage Campaign

After staging a three-month-long living wage campaign, a tentative agreement has been reached in Pennsylvania between members of the Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 Education Association and the state agency of the same name that employs them. Most wage campaigns take up to three years to organize and execute. The Association is made up of 330 associate teachers (paraprofessionals), secretaries, warehouse clerks, and certified part-time assistants employed at 95 worksites. ESP salaries, formerly starting at $13,740, were raised to a starting salary of $18–19,000 by the end of the five-year contract. The new contract also includes a salary schedule, 12 Association days, and the right to transfer unused days to the next year.

In other salary news, the Texas State Teachers Association reported that poor pay and working conditions were the two main reasons why educators leave the profession, according to a survey of Texas teachers. "Texas Teachers, Moonlighting, and Morale" revealed that the average salary of teachers surveyed was $47,545. An extra job brought in another $8,288. For more, visit news/current/


Texas Gov. Rick Perry: F


the board of the Harrold Independent School District voted to allow teachers and other staff to carry concealed


Collective bargaining

Progress on Campus

New Mexico Highlands University faculty won the first collective bargaining agreement in the state's history. "We are thrilled to be the first four-year plus institution of higher education in the state to reach such an agreement," says New Mexico Highlands University Faculty Association President Tom Ward. Under the agreement, salary increases are retroactive to August 2007 and a 3 percent increase was applied to the 2006–07 base salary. Minimum salaries for 2007–08 were raised to $45,000 for Assistant Professors, $51,000 for Associate Professors, and $58,000 for full Professors.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Education Association Council is supporting legislation requiring the salary and benefits of part-time technical college instructors to be prorated based on full-time instructors' pay and benefits. Approximately 60 percent of instructors with the Wisconsin Technical College System teach part-time and receive disproportionately lower pay and health care coverage even though they meet the same certification standards as full-time teachers. It is estimated that part-time instructors are paid 40 percent less than a full-time instructor for teaching the same class.

Hiring part-time faculty instead of full-time instructors is a growing trend.


American Teen:A

From award-winning director Nanette Burstein, this charming and humorous documentary provides an inside look into the lives of four teenagers in a small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school.

Photo: Scott Iskowitz

Published in:

Published In