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Friday, January 20, 2012

SCHOOL FUNDING: ALL OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY



He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Martin Luther King, Jr

This is the text of a speech I gave at the Oakridge Rally for Education Funding.
 
I want to remind everyone here and our legislature that our forefathers demanded public education. They knew that to keep our democracy strong and vibrant, we need an educated citizenry. 

And I don't need to tell you that the state of education in Michigan is a mess. Lansing won't let us raise our own funds, yet they refuse to fund us adequately and equitably. They say they want consolidation, but at the same time, they allow for-profit, non-transparent schools to proliferate, squeezing ever increasing funds from our traditional neighborhood schools. 

Our traditional neighborhood schools have been the backbone of our country since its very inception. Now the decisions being made in Lansing are putting them at risk. We now have people who know absolutely nothing about education making all the decisions about it in Lansing. It’s easy, then, to blame Lansing.

The truth is, though, that we in this room must take responsibility for what has happened. We are the people who put those legislators in office. We must be the ones to replace them with legislators who value -- and will vote to support – funding for our traditional neighborhood schools, those who take every student. 

Every single one of us in this room, including me, is responsible for who we send to Lansing to make decisions for us. When we fail to do every single thing we can to send responsible legislators to Lansing, we are part of the problem. 

We cannot change the past, but we can learn from our mistakes and do better in our future. My comments here tonight are a call to arms. Not the arms of bombs and guns, but the arms of political engagement. We are in the battle of our lives. We can be part of the problem by sitting on the sideline and watching. Or we can be part of the solution by engaging in the political process. 

I was a teacher in the public schools for over 30 years, and there is one thing I know for sure. Teachers are hard-working individuals, dedicated to their students. But perhaps that dedication to our students, that single-mindedness of purpose, has contributed to our own downfall. 

For too long, we have abdicated our responsibility to the political decision-making process. It is up to us to each and every one of us in this room to send responsible and responsive legislators to Lansing. We are at a point where simply voting is no longer enough. There is no one single, identifiable group more threatened by Lansing politics than educators and their students. This reminds me of the poignant words of Pastor Martin Niemoller 

First they came for the Communists 
And I did not speak out 
Because I was not a Communist 
Then they came for the Socialists 
And I did not speak out 
Because I was not a Socialist 
Then they came for the trade unionists 
And I did not speak out 
Because I was not a trade unionist 
Then they came for the Jews 
And I did not speak out 
Because I was not a Jew 
Then they came for me 
And there was no one left 
To speak out for me.

Another way to say this:

First they came for the custodians and I did not speak out because I am not a custodian.
Then they came for the bus drivers, but I did not speak out because I am not a bus driver.
Then they came for the substitute teachers, but I did not speak out because I was not a substitute teacher.
Then they came for me.  And there was no one left to speak out.

As a profession, we public school employees and retirees must rally and prepare for battle. The battle is the 2012 elections and we must win. We simply cannot afford to be defeated – far too much is at stake. 

Those of us in this room right now? It is our job to make democracy work and save our public education system. That is why I opened with King's quote tonight. Michigan is in a crisis. Things are bad, but without our help, they could get much worse. And if we sit by the sidelines and watch, we are part of the problem. 

There is so much that needs to be done. Please join the struggle for a better education for Michigan students. There are two tracks that need to be addressed: constant communication with our legislators. And if they don't listen, engage in political campaigns to replace those leaders.

I am asking you to engage in the political process. 

Is this easy? NO. 

Does it make us uncomfortable? YES 

But we all do uncomfortable things. We have had that first day on a new job, faced an irate boss or customer or parent or constituent. We don’t run away from those experiences; we face them. We do uncomfortable things all the time because it’s the right thing to do. Now it is time for each of us to face down our discomfort to become true patriots and join the political realm -- for the sake of Michigan's students. 

Every single person here can do something: donate money, no matter how small the amount, to a political candidate – not to your union, but to the candidate. Keep giving to your union’s Political Action Committee. It is important. But please give to the candidate him or herself. Every single person here can knock on a door or make a phone call, walk in a parade, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. 

There are nearly four thousand public school employees working in Muskegon County. If just half of us donated $10 to the state candidate who supports education and the people who educate, we could raise $20,000 to help defeat the Lansing politicians who have voted to slash funding for schools and ultimately your wages and benefits. If you can donate $10 every month until November, we could fund the whole darn campaign. The best part?? Ten dollars a month is nothing. We could squeeze that out of our budget and not even know it’s gone. 

The time to jump in is not tomorrow or next week. There is no timefor procrastination. The time to jump in is right now. 

Thank you.

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