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Educators Have Some Advice for Obama's State of the Union

By Cynthia McCabe, Alain Jehlen, and Kevin Hart

January 27, 2010 -- There will be a call for as much as $4 billion in new spending on public education in tonight’s State of the Union address, but those who will be most affected by the speech’s message about education funding have a few things of their own to say. NEA Today asked member educators and support professionals what they would say or want to hear in President Obama’s message.

Their answers focus on everything from more respect and professional pay for educators to providing much-needed education funding boosts to doing away with one-size-fits-all testing.

"What I don't want to hear is more about our need to be fixed,” says Dani Piontak Tucker, a veteran middle school language arts teacher in Hacienda La Puente Unified School District in California.  “We aren't broken. How about supporting public education in deed and words? We are educated professional committed to America's future in a way no one else is. Why doesn't he remind everyone of that?!”

Education Department officials said this afternoon that President Obama will ask for $3 billion in additional school funding in his next budget, plus an extra billion if Congress reauthorizes the so-called “No Child Left Behind Act” this year.

Much of the money would be for competitive grants. In the past, the Department of Education has distributed money mostly according to formulas that allocated money according to the number of students in various categories like low-income. In the future, an official said, the limited federal government funds (roughly 10 percent of all public school funds) will be used as a lever to encourage changes in public education. States, districts, and other education organizations will have to compete for it.

The new money will include funds for public preschools and comprehensive neighborhood programs to support learning like the program pioneered by the Harlem Children’s Zone, in addition to k-12 education. The new funds include the $1.35 billion that President Obama announced recently for a continuation of the Race To The Top program. The President is expected to freeze spending on most domestic programs, but education is an exception.

Like Piontak Tucker, educators have ideas about what else they want to hear as they sit down to watch the speech tonight at 9 p.m. EST:

"Any teacher with 10 years of service may forgive their student loans."
Tim Johnson, art teacher, Auburn, California. (After ten years teaching, he still has $60,000 in student loan debt.)

"Give more money to universal pre-k and Head Start. Both programs are so important to our at-risk babies."
Debbie Burns, Virginia Preschool Initiative teacher, {Petersburg, Virginia 

“That I'm as valuable as a doctor or accountant and will be paid as such. That arts education matters as much as state exams if not more. And how we can capture the attention and imagination of our middle and high school urban youth so they stop dropping out and acting up."
Laverne Mickens, magnet elementary dance and drama teacher, Springfield, Massachusetts

"I want to hear him say we're done with NCLB! I'm familiar with the regular classroom teacher's concerns about it and I agree. As a specialist, what I see on my end is that my program (music) gets kicked in the teeth constantly because we've got to keep those test scores up at all costs! I'm sick and tired of kids coming in late to my 30 minute classes because they were finishing up some (I'm sure) NCLB related work -- all that does is put my own classes behind. Music isn't an "extra,” it's part of the national standards and needs to stop getting the short end of the stick. It's been found in study after study that kids who are involved in their school music programs do BETTER on their academic work, so come on, let's use some common sense here. Scrap NCLB and scrap this constant testing mentality!"
Rita Wells, 5th-6th grade orchestra teacher, Billings, Montana

"Parents need to be held accountable for the education for their children. Educators can only do so much and even less when parents are not actively involved."
Stan Coller, 7th-grade American history teacher, Kingman, Arizona

"I would like to hear him say that he trusts educators to do the right things, that he funds the mandates that come from the feds, that he stops listening to politicians who are far removed from the classrooms, and that he gets back to the basics and supports the working class people who will be the ones that bring the U.S. back."
Lynn Mason, 6th-8th grade physical education teacher, Belding, Michigan

"I would like for him to tell the states that they cannot continue to cut state funding for public schools by whatever amount is sent from the national level. Georgia's governor takes the stimulus and cuts that much more. We are hurting in Georgia!"
LaNelle Kenney Holland, hospital-homebound teacher, Carrollton, Georgia

To see the latest on the conversation, head to NEA Today’s Facebook, friend us, and see what teachers and education support professionals are saying about the speech. Click here

Following the speech several outlets want to hear the public’s reaction. Head to:

  •, to post your thoughts at NEA’s new political action website.
  • PBS NewsHour wants viewers to upload 60-second videos with their thoughts on the speech. Click here. Producers will select the best responses and feature them on the network’s website.
  • At CitizenTube on YouTube, viewers can upload a question and President Obama will answer several. Head here.


After six months in a 10th grade classroom, Tony Danza says teaching is more difficult than he ever imagined.

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