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Saturday, July 5, 2008

OUR TEACHERS UNION AT WORK

Some
of the almost 10,000 members of the National Education Association
(NEA) attending the teachers union's annual conference this week in the
nation's capital spoke out on the issues they hope their lobbyists will
fight for during next year's legislative session, including the
establishment of a peace academy, in-state college tuition and a path
to citizenship for illegal immigrants who graduate from high school.

Susie
Jablinske, a first grade teacher at Central Elementary School in
Edgewater, Md., said children who are in the country illegally should
have the same educational rights as American children.

She
proposed that the NEA add the following words to its resolution to
develop programs to help minority students become college graduates,
regardless of immigration status: "Access to higher education and
in-state tuition, regardless of immigration status, as well as paths to
legalization to undocumented high school graduates," Jablinske proposed.

She said as many as 65,000 graduates from U.S. public high schools are "undocumented," even if they don't know it.

"Many
of them actually didn't even know they were undocumented until they
started applying for a driver's license or financial aid for college,"
she said.

Outgoing NEA President Reg Weaver, in an interview with The Hill
newspaper in February, said that the NEA - with a membership of 3.2
million - plans to spend $40-$50 million to help get candidates who
will help advance its agenda in the 2008 election, including the
union's endorsement and support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

"We
plan to be very aggressive," Weaver said in the interview, citing at
least 25 House and nine Senate races around the country the NEA
supports.

"We also knew that our commitment to public education
would require us to employ new strategies in the political arena,"
Weaver said in his keynote address at the start of the NEA
Representative Assembly of delegates on Thursday.

"So we had
the courage to create a campaigns and elections department, which
helped us win important battles last year in states like Utah,
Kentucky, Virginia, Washington state and others," he added.

Members
who spoke at a legislative hearing on Wednesday told lobbyists what
they hoped would be priorities in the 111th Congress, including the
creation of a federal post-secondary institute devoted to peace.

Ken
Curtis, a retired teacher from Missouri, said he wanted to amend the
NEA's "Good Public Policy" legislative platform to include a "peace"
academy that would hold the same status as its military counterparts,
including offering degree programs.

"I've had the good fortune
in the last four or five years to visit a number of countries, and I'm
disturbed about the image the United States has in terms of being an
advocate of peace," Curtis said. "We have somehow developed a
reputation that we are not a peace-loving country, and I think that
this would be a step in the right direction."

Curtis said a peace academy would send the right message to the world.

"Look,
we're in favor of establishing a peaceful community worldwide, and
we're trying to do that right here in the United States," he said.

The
session's moderator agreed it would be a step in the right direction,
but that it would most likely take "a new attitude at 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue" to take that step.

Delegates at the conference elected
officers and updated its core mission statement, or Resolutions, on a
wide range of educational and other issues, including human rights - a
topic addressed by one of the delegates at the legislative session in
another proposed amendment of the "Good Public Policy" section of NEA
Resolutions.

"The NEA opposes torture and other cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or under
the physical control of the United States government, regardless of
nationality or physical location," the delegate said.

A 45-page report detailing the NEA's vision for the future of public education also was unveiled at the conference.

"Great
Public Schools for Every Student by 2020; Achieving a New Balance in
the Federal Role to Transform America's Public Schools," spells out
that vision, including a condemnation of the No Child Left Behind
policy, a cornerstone of the Bush administration.

In the
introduction to the report, William Blakely, chairman of the board of
the Council on Legal Education Opportunity or CLEO, offered advice to
the winner of the 2008 presidential election.

"The National
Education Association has taken a bold step and articulated a brave
vision for redefining the federal role in education for the next
president of the United States," Blakely said.

"(The report)
challenges the nation by outlining a vision for educating America's
children and assuring the nation will provide 'liberty and justice' for
all. Our next president would do well to heed the words and wisdom
reflected in this important document," he added.

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