American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten delivered a defense of public education Tuesday and called for a transformative approach to learning that supports children as the culture war battles rage on.
In remarks to the National Press Club in Washington, the leader of the 1.7 million-member union urged society to fight for the future of public schools as GOP-controlled states across the country increasingly offer parents the option of school choice.
"Attacks on public education are not new," Weingarten said. "The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it. To make it a battlefield, a political cudgel."
"But we also must do better to address the learning loss and disconnection we are seeing in our young people," she continued. "We can make every public school a school where parents want to send their kids, educators want to work and all students thrive."
The union president's plan to recommit to the "promise of public education" consisted of four parts: 25,000 community schools, experiential learning including career and technical education, the revival of the teaching profession and strengthened partnerships with parents and the community in general.
"This is our agenda," Weingarten said. "But this can't just be the work of our union or of school staff and schools alone. This is the work of a great nation — to ensure that our children's basic human needs are met so they are ready to learn to their full potential."
"Our public schools shouldn't be pawns for politicians' ambitions," she continued. "Or defunded and destroyed by ideologues. We are at a crossroads: Fear and division, or hope and opportunity. A great nation does not fear people being educated. A great nation does not fear pluralism. A great nation chooses freedom, democracy, equality and opportunity."
Republican-controlled states are increasingly offering parents the option to send their child to any school of their choice. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday to expand school choice to "every single student in the state." The measure takes effect July 1 and makes it possible for every school-age child in Florida to receive a taxpayer-funded education voucher or savings account.
In her address, Weingarten took aim at "MAGA lawmakers" that she says are using the culture wars to divide communities and "drain resources from public education."
"The Betsy DeVos wing of the school privatization movement is methodically working its plan: Starve public schools of the funds they need to succeed. Criticize them for their shortcomings. Erode trust in public schools by stoking fear and division, including attempting to pit parents against teachers. Replace them with private, religious, online and home schools," she said.
"All toward their end goal of destroying public education as we know it, atomizing and balkanizing education in America, bullying the most vulnerable among us and leaving the students with the greatest needs with the most meager resources," she added.
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