Teaching Profession

Hundreds of Teachers Brave the Heat to Protest Trump’s Education Agenda

By Liana Loewus — July 22, 2017 3 min read
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On a sweltering summer day here, about 200 teachers and other public school supporters gathered at the Washington Monument to protest the Trump administration’s education policy agenda, including $9.2 billion in proposed funding cuts.

“We want equitable public education, we want meaningful inclusion, we want more time to teach and less time testing, we want the kind of school funding that invests in the schools our students deserve, and we want the right for all workers to organize and belong to a union,” said Mary Catherine Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

About a dozen other sister marches for public education were scheduled to be taking place at the same time in cities including Austin, Texas; Detroit; and Miami.

Indeed, the group was dedicated, with most people remaining in the open field under the blistering sun for more than an hour of speeches during the pre-march rally. But compared to the massive crowds gathered for the Jan. 21 Women’s March and even the April 22 March for Science, which gathered many teachers, the turnout looked somewhat paltry.

“I’m here because I’m from a high-poverty, high-minority school and I see the detrimental impact of the Betsy DeVos defunding of education and the anti-immigration laws that Donald Trump is bringing forth,” said Tina Bujno, a reading remediation teacher at Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, Pa., who came down to the rally and march with her mother, a former public school bus driver and cafeteria worker, and two nieces.

President Trump’s aggressive stance on immigration has been particularly worrisome, Bujno said. “We have students who are afraid to come to school, afraid that when they go home their parents might be deported, or afraid they might be deported. It’s really scary,” she said.

‘A Right for Everyone’

The other speakers included: Rebecca Cokley, former executive director of the National Council on Disability; Sanna Abrar, a senior policy fellow at United We Dream, an advocacy organization for immigrant youth; and Bob Bland, co-chair of the Women’s March.

Mark Daugherty, an 8th grade science teacher at Stone Middle School in Centreville, Va., attended with his daughter, Katie, a junior at George Washington University. “Everything that the current administration is proposing is completely the opposite of what we should be doing,” he said. “This administration seeks to treat education as a business. ... And because the product is long-term, it’s not valued. [It’s not seen as] something that turns a profit.”

Katie, an international affairs major who was holding a sign calling education an issue of “national security,” chimed in. “Public education is a right for everyone. It’s something we need more than ever to combat cyclical poverty and economic inequality,” she said.

The rally culminated with a speech—and a couple of songs—from a guitar-clad National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. After a rendition of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song, “Teach Your Children,” García reiterated her demand that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos answer questions she avoided at her confirmation hearing. “Will any federal money going to ... private schools be held to the same transparency and accountability [as public schools]? Will we get to know how they spent our public dollars?” she asked. “And are you planning on supporting the civil and human rights of every blessed student?”

The crowd clapped and cheered as García went on. “You know that we’ve already got her answer, haven’t we?” she said. “We know what they’re planning on cutting from our most vulnerable children.”

Soon after, the crowd organized to begin marching in the 92-plus degree heat. (Some seemed in disbelief. “Are we really doing this?” one participant joked.)

As they headed toward the toward the Department of Education, the marchers could be heard chanting, “This is what democracy looks like” and “Education not deportation.”

Image: Educators and other advocates raised their hands to show their support for public education while gathered on the National Mall July 22 to protest President Trump’s proposed funding cuts. —Liana Loewus for Education Week.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post mischaracterized Rebecca Cokley’s position. As of July 7, she is the former executive director of the National Council on Disability.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.