NEA members, Louisiana Needs Your Help
Being part of the NEA family means coming together in good times and in bad. Right now, it is the worst of times for students, families and our members in Louisiana.
The southern part of the state is undergoing historic flooding. At least six people have died and thousands have been forced from their homes. More than 20,000 residents have been rescued over the past few days and more than 10,000 are in shelters, mostly in the Baton Rouge area.
Unfortunately, most of the affected families did not have flood insurance because their homes were not considered to be in high-risk areas that would have required the insurance.
Several of the state’s parishes have been declared disaster areas, and more are likely to be soon.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), has been communicating regularly with members and is asking them to let the association know of their communities’ needs so they can offer as much support as possible.
We are encouraging state affiliates, members and others to use this secure web site to make donations to LAE members and schools who are in need. All donations will be directed through LAE and routed to those most in need.
We appreciate anything you can do and please consider sharing the link to the donation page on your social media platforms. Every bit helps as we support those communities in need.
Algonac teacher to receive Habitat for Humanity house
Shrinking incomes are driving Michigan educators like 'Coach Smitty' into severe financial hardship - and some out of the profession entirely
EAST LANSING, Mich. - In a situation that spotlights the financial hardships endured by growing numbers of Michigan educators in recent years, a veteran St. Clair County teacher has been selected for a Habitat for Humanity home.
Algonac Community Schools teacher Jeff Smith, who also coaches high school football and softball in the district, has seen his pay decrease, while recent state laws have simultaneously increased his health insurance and pension costs.
The 43-year-old father has been sharing a one-bedroom duplex with his two young sons, who share the bedroom. Smith sleeps in a dining room separated from the kitchen by a curtain hung from a shower rod. He does not have cable television, and his parents pay for his phone.
The 16-year veteran teacher has been forced to consider other career prospects as his income has continued to shrink following years of step freezes and pay cuts in his district. But teaching is what he loves to do.
"My reward is seeing kids do well, but I just want to be able to pay my bills," Smith said.
In a unique partnership between Blue Water Habitat for Humanity and the Michigan Education Association, Smith will be helped in construction and fundraising for his new energy-efficient, three-bedroom home by members of his local union, along with community members and his students and players.
"It’s been a godsend for me," he said.
MEA President Steve Cook praised the ingenuity of the Habitat-MEA partnership, and condemned state budget cuts that have created such hardship for dedicated school employees like Smith.
"While these are wonderful acts of kindness and charity, the fact that college-educated veteran teachers qualify for these homes should be a wake-up call to policymakers," Cook said.
This is the second Habitat house build for a St. Clair County teacher. Last fall, Yale preschool teacher Lea Chapa was a Habitat house recipient.
Two recent studies highlight the challenges faced by Michigan school teachers. According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, actual salaries and take-home pay for many teachers has dropped every year for the last four years. The Economic Policy Institute released a study last week showing the gap between teacher pay and the earnings of other college graduates has reached record levels in the past 20 years. In 1994, the disparity was 1.7 percent, while in 2015, it has ballooned to 17 percent.
For Smith, these are more than just numbers. His ability to provide basic necessities for his family has been an ongoing struggle. Public Act 152, passed in 2011, limits the amount districts can contribute toward employee healthcare. That law has forced him to absorb an additional $150 monthly deduction in his paycheck, on top of pay cuts, including a $7,000 salary reduction, which happened a few years ago.
"Every year, everything goes up except my wages," Smith said.
Stagnant wages, exorbitant health cae premiums and increased contributions to the pension system are forcing many school teachers and support staff out of the middle class. Teachers with less than five years of experience are leaving the profession at record levels, and enrollment in Michigan’s college teacher preparation programs has declined by nearly 40 percent in the last five years.
"Those statistics ought to concern parents of school kids and motivate the Governor and legislators to address the problem. Budget cuts have wreaked havoc on public schools and school employees across the state. These problems have reached a breaking point, and the only solution is for policy makers to treat education funding as a top priority," said Cook.
MEA & AFT MICHIGAN - NEWS RELEASE
LANSING — School employees from the American Federation of Teachers Michigan and the Michigan Education Association picketed outside Governor Rick Snyder’s office today, demanding that he stop wasting taxpayer money appealing court rulings that have found school employees are owed $550 million due to an unconstitutional law that took money from their paychecks.
“Michigan school employees like myself feel deeply disrespected by Gov. Snyder, and his efforts to deny school employees their hard-earned paychecks are a complete waste of taxpayer money,” said Reed Bretz, who is a high school teacher with Kenowa Hills High School outside of Grand Rapids and a member of the MEA.
Both a trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals have struck down Public Act 75 of 2010 as unconstitutional. PA 75 mandated that all school employees contribute 3 percent of their salary through an involuntary payroll deduction to fund retiree health care — a benefit that they were not guaranteed to receive. The law was in place from 2010 to 2012, and more than $550 million was taken from 200,000 school employees during that time. The money is currently being held in an interest-bearing escrow account pending an outcome to the case, which has been appealed by the state three times already.
“I’m angry that Governor Snyder is standing between us and our hard-earned money,” said Patti McCoin, who is a middle school teacher at Clifford Academy in Detroit and a member of AFT Michigan. “We deserve better. We deserve respect and support from elected leaders like Rick Snyder. But instead, he continues adding to his long line of attacks on public school employees from his perch here in Lansing.”
July 19 is Snyder’s deadline to appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court, and he has stated publicly that he plans to do so. Attorney General Bill Schuette has declined to provide legal counsel if Snyder appeals.
“As a retiree on a fixed income, the 3 percent of my paychecks that was stolen from me is very important to my husband and I. Governor Snyder has treated school employees as political punching bags, and I urge him to give school employees our fair pay without delay,” said Cheryl Farver, who is a recently-retired social worker from Shiawassee RESA and a member of the MEA.
Last month, MEA and AFT Michigan delivered more than 33,000 petition signatures to the offices of Snyder and Schuette, urging them not to appeal the June 7 appeals court ruling