Student loan assistance may become as popular as 401(k) plans?

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Mixing a bit of personal finance and education today. This is something that was talked about a few years ago, but is now making news. Student loan debt in the USA now sits at a staggering 1.5 trillion (and growing) dollars. This debt has outpaced credit card debt, and other consumer debt to become the largest debt held by Americans outside of their mortgages.

What do you think? Is this attacking the symptom over the disease? Is this something that might catch on? Comments welcome!

see the full article here

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/20/student-loan-assistance-becomes-a-mainstream-workplace-benefit.html

Student loan assistance may become as popular as 401(k) plans

  • Around 70 percent of college graduates are in debt today. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, and many owe more than $100,000.
  • Hundreds of companies are now offering student loan assistance to their workers.
  • “It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s,” said Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi, a Boston-based firm that designs student loan repayment programs for companies.

RyanJLane | Getty Images

Jessica Crowley used to dwell on an unpleasant thought. When her children began college, she’d still be repaying her own student loans.

But a few months ago, the company where she works announced a new benefit: student loan assistance.

Now, New York Air Brake, which makes train control systems, pays Crowley $166 a month toward her student loan balance, which means she’ll be debt-free sooner than she thought.

“It’s going to shorten my loan life by a couple of years,” Crowley, 30, said. “It’s going to be a big difference.”

Jessica Crowley, who receives student loan assistance from her employer New York Air Brake.

Source: Jessica Crowley
Jessica Crowley, who receives student loan assistance from her employer New York Air Brake.

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits.

“This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits.

This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up, and it expects that number to double by January.

“This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit.”-David Pratt, professor, Albany Law School

“This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20 percent owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt.

Companies offering assistance grows

Helping employees with their education debt is a great way to attract new talent, said John Samaan, senior vice president and head of human resources at Millennium Trust Company.

The financial services firm began offering its employees student loan assistance a few months ago. Now, 20 percent of the company’s 300 employees are already enrolled, Samaan said.

“We got a lot more inquiries from potential candidates,” Samaan said. “People want to join us to be able to participate in this program.”

Options Clearing Corp., a large clearinghouse for equity derivatives, also started providing its employees student loan contributions this year. More than 70 employees signed up within the first month, said Erin Smith, first vice president of total rewards at the company.

She said student loan assistance is the number one benefit being talked about at job and recruiting fairs.

“Most companies provide a pretty standard benefit menu, like medicine, dental and vision, so when you introduce a program that differentiates you, that really matters,” Smith said.

“It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s.”-Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi

More than 350 companies are administering education debt benefits to their employees through Gradifi, a Boston-based firm that designs student loan repayment programs for companies.

“It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s,” said Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi.

It’s not enough, critics say

To be sure, there’s some skepticism about how much the private sector can remedy a $1.5 trillion — and growing — outstanding student loan debt balance.

“The problem is we’re treating the symptom of a disease — and the disease is that education is more expensive in this country than anywhere else in the world,” said Pratt, the Albany Law School professor.

Student debt could hold back economic growth, Fed chief says

Student debt could hold back economic growth, Fed chief says  

The country needs a more universal solution, like bringing down the cost of tuition, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University.

“It doesn’t work if it’s provided via employers, because it’s always going to be a small amount that offer it,” Bronfenbrenner said. “And they’re going to provide this, but then take away that.”

Indeed, the number of companies supplying the benefit remains relatively small — around 4 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

And one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking.

Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53 percent in 2017, from 61 percent in 2013, accordingto the Society for Human Resource Management.

During that period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50 percent from about 60 percent.

“The problem is we’re treating the symptom of a disease — and the disease is that education is more expensive in this country than anywhere else in the world.”-David Pratt, Albany Law School professor

Still, the benefit can make a big difference for the employees who do receive it.

For example, if someone has a student loan balance of $26,500 on a 10-year repayment term with a 4 percent interest rate, a $100 a month contribution from his or her employer would free them from their debt three years earlier.

It can also help employees better take advantage of other workplace benefits.

Ed Farrington, head of retirement strategies at Natixis Investment Managers, said the company realized after annual surveys of 401(k) plan participants that student loan debt was hindering millennials’ ability to save for retirement.

“We thought, what can we do to try eliminate one of those barriers?” Farrington said. “And we said we want to start helping people who are carrying student loan debt.”

Maggie McCuen, who works at Natixis and uses the student loan assistance program.

Source: Maggie McCuen
Maggie McCuen, who works at Natixis and uses the student loan assistance program.

It seems to be working for Maggie McCuen, 26, public relations manager at Natixis, who’s been receiving the assistance at work for around two years now.

“The money that I would have been spending on the student loan I’ve been reallocating to my 401(k),” McCuen said. “I think I’ve put away at least four times as much.”

Abbott, an Illinois-based health care company, recently announcedthat it will contribute to employees’ 401(k) plans if they’re putting at least 2 percent of their salary toward their education debt.

Will loan assistance become as big as 401(k)s?

There’s still an unfortunate tax hurdle that will likely stall the growth of a student loan assistance benefit, experts say.

Companies recieve no particular tax incentive for such contributions while employees must report their payments as income to the IRS.

However, a number of recent bills seek to make this assistance tax-free, up to a certain amount. Companies including Starbucks and Verizon have expressed support for such a measure.

“Congress needs to take the next step and make this benefit tax free,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of SavingforCollege.com and a student loan expert. “Most people don’t remember that 401(k) plans started in exactly the same way about 35 to 40 years ago.”

What is to be done?

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In Defense of the Lecture

This piece appeared in Jacobin roughly this time last year. Being a student of pedagogy and learning strategies…as well as a lecturer, I found that I spent quite a bit of time going over this.

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What do you think?

 

Few have savaged lecturers as brutally as the the Enlightenment-era printmaker William Hogarth. In Scholars at a Lecturethe presenter reads from his prepared text, his eyes down, indifferent to his audience. The budding academics are no more impressive; those in thrall to the lecturer’s nonsense have slack faces with lolling eyes and open mouths. The others don’t offer any critique but yawn, doze, or chat idly among themselves.

In The Reward of Cruelty, the lecturer, who cannot be bothered to rise from his chair, pokes lackadaisically at Tom Nero, a criminal whose body has been turned over for dissection. The audience shows little interest. Hogarth’s most damning image of a lecturer, however, depicts one who does inspire his audience, but to dubious ends. In Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticisma minister thunders on about witches and devils as parishioners swoon with terror. The minister’s text quotes II Corinthians: “I speak as a fool.”

Scholars at a Lecture. William Hogarth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hogarth’s satirical prints repeat a common belief about lectures: Those who claim the lectern are dullards or charlatans who do so only to gratify and enrich themselves. The louder they speak, the more we should suspect them. True knowledge, he implies, does not come from speechifying blowhards and self-satisfied experts, but from practical observation of the world.

This distrust has now spread to the lecturer’s natural habitat, the university. Administrators and instructors alike have declared lecturing a stale teaching method and begun advocating new so-called content delivery techniques, from lab- and project-based learning to flipped classrooms and online instruction, that “disrupt” the sage-on-the-stage model. While these new methods work well, we should not completely abandon the lecture. It remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.

Detractors claim that lectures’ hierarchical, inflexible, and unidirectional structure doesn’t suit our dynamic, crowd-sourced world. To be sure, lectures are top-down affairs that occur at fixed times. But these aspects are assets, not weaknesses: they benefit both students and instructors.

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

One common lament among university students is a sense of social isolation during the school year. While lectures won’t necessarily introduce students to their best friends or future partners, they do require attendees to get dressed, leave the house, and participate in a shared experience. This simple routine can head off lonelieness and despondency, two triggers and intensifiers of depression.

Further, dismissing the value of attending lectures only encourages students to skip weeks of classes and then frantically try to catch up later, a destructive cycle that compounds loneliness with anxiety. Students not only fall behind but also miss opportunities to speak with their peers and instructors.

Like a metronome, lectures regularly punctuate the week, grounding other elements of students’ lives by, for instance, encouraging regular sleep schedules and study periods, which can also reduce anxiety and stress.

Audiences outside academia clearly understand the benefits of collective listening. If public lectures did not draw sizable crowds, then museums, universities, bookstores, and community centers would have abandoned them long ago. The public knows that, far from being outdated, lectures can be rousing, profound, and even fun.

The attack on lectures ultimately participates in neoliberalism’s desire to restructure our lives in the image of just-in-time logistics. We must be able to cancel anything at the last minute in our desperate hustle to be employable to anyone who might ask. An economic model that chops up and parcels out every moment of our lives inevitably resists the requirement to convene regularly.

Critics frequently complain that lectures’ fixity makes it difficult for students to work. We should throw this argument back at those who make it: the need for students to work makes it hard for them to attend lectures. Work, not learning, is the burden that should be eradicated. Education is not an errand to be wedged between Uber shifts; it represents a long-term commitment that requires support from society at large. This support is thinning; eroding the legitimacy of lecturing makes it thinner still.

Neoliberalism has also made it hard to recognize the work students perform in lectures. Many critics dismiss lecture attendance as “passive learning,” arguing that students in lectures are aren’t doing anything. Today, declaring something passive completely delegitimizes it. Eve Chiapello and Norman Fairclough argue that activity for its own sake has become essential to personal success: “What is relevant is to be always pursuing some sort of activity, never to be without a project.” Indeed, in our constant scramble to project adaptable employability, we must always seem harried, even if our flailing about isn’t directed toward anything concrete. Without moving around or speaking, lecture attendees certainly don’t look busy, and so their activity gets maligned as passive, unproductive, and, consequently, irrelevant.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen.Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity. But today, the act of listening counts for very little, as it does not appear to produce any outcomes or have an evident goal.

No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate. As Professor Monessa Cummins, department chair of classics at Grinnell College states:

Can [students] listen to a political candidate with a critical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.

Discussion sections after lectures always reveal the expert listeners. They ask the best questions, the ones that cut straight to the speaker’s main themes with an urgency that electrifies the whole audience, producing a flurry of excited responses and follow-up questions. Good listening grounds all dialogue, expands our body of knowledge, and builds community.

Although they probably haven’t thought about in these terms, many of the lecture’s critics would probably favor one side of Aristotle’s scheme of knowledge, which separates theory from practice. Historian Pamela H. Smith succinctly describes the difference: theory (episteme, scientia) describes knowledge based on logical syllogism and geometrical demonstration. Practice (praxis, experientia) encompasses things done — like politics, ethics, and economics — or things made — technē, which require bodily labor.

Before the modern era, technē was widely denigrated. Smith writes, “Technē . . . was the lowly knowledge of how to make things or produce effects, practiced by animals, slaves, and craftspeople. It was the only area of knowledge that was productive.” Today of course, the tables are turned; technē’s productive quality elevates it above supposedly impractical theory. Indeed, under capitalism, anything that doesn’t immediately appear as productive, even if only in the most superficial way, is dismissed as a waste of time.

Good lectures build knowledge and community; they also model critical civic participation. But students have suffered a wide variety of bad lecturers: the preening windbag, the verbatim Powerpoint reader, the poor timekeeper who never manages to cover all the session’s material. Lecturing does not come naturally and can take years to master, yet very few instructors have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a good lecture. Given the outsize emphasis many universities place on publication and grants — not to mention the excessive workloads, low pay, and job insecurity the majority of instructors face — lecturers have little incentive to invest the time and effort it takes to gain these skills.

Meanwhile, active learning partisans sometimes overlook the skill it takes to conduct their preferred methods effectively. Becoming a good lab instructor, project facilitator, or discussion leader also takes time and practice. In addition to bad lectures, I’ve sat through plenty of bewildering labs and meandering seminars. Because these teaching methods have the guise of activity, however, their occasional failures are not dismissed as easily as those of the supposedly passive lecture.

Lecturing is increasingly impugned as an inactive and hierarchical pedagogical method. The type of labor demanded in the lecture hall — and the type of community it builds — still matters. Under an economic system that works to accelerate and divide us, institutions that carve out time and space to facilitate collectivity and reflection are needed more than ever.

link here

The war on public education; Time to organize

Here we go, a lesson from over the pond. A few of our states are showing promise in the K12 scene… progress is long overdue. The American Higher education scene has been bled out.

Why I’m a striking lecturer: I want to stop the slow death of public education

On the picket line I’ve seen how much widespread support there is, by those fighting against broader attacks on education

University workers attend a rally outside the Scottish Parliament on 8 March 2018 over pensions changes
 ‘Under the ‘defined contribution’ scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Iam a lecturer, currently on strike. I am also a part-time MA student, whose lecturers are on strike. And I am the mother of a student whose lecturers are on strike. There have been attempts by many vice-chancellors to pit students and their parents against striking staff, often by positioning staff as selfish and greedy, and students as the consumers whose livelihoods they harm. But even though I dread the hole in my next pay packet, and know exactly what it is like to see classes disappear when I have an essay to write, and though I feel for my daughter, who worries about the impact this will have on her degree – and therefore her future – for me there has been no moment of doubt, no internal war.

This unity of purpose is mirrored on the picket lines, where the active support of students has made even the coldest days feel like high summer. They arrive at 8am daily to brew us “solidari-tea”, they make banners, art and music, they occupy buildings, and march alongside us, even in heavy snow. And the support is broad: a YouGov poll conducted on the eve of the strike showed that 61% of students supported it, and only 2% blamed the strikers for the disruption to their studies.

The issue that has led to this dispute is pensions, and yet large numbers of casualised staff are on the picket line too – part of a growing cohort of young academics for whom the only jobs on offer are paid hourly, and meagrely, with no security and very little opportunity to do research. Viewed from the precarious position of many staff and most students, pensions of any sort must seem like an impossible dream. So why do the majority of them support us?

Partly, because they can see the injustice. Often presented as if a gift, like some fat cat’s golden handshake, pensions are in fact part of our pay. People who choose to teach in universities do so because they believe that teaching and research are a public good, and worth doing in return for modest pay and a decent pension. So when the vice-chancellors, represented by Universities UK (UUK), announced their intention to switch from a “defined benefit” scheme to a “defined contribution” scheme, the betrayal was keenly felt.

Under the “defined contribution” (aka “die quickly”) scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement. It is a deeply cynical move by people with vested interests, which if successful, would mark the end of higher education as a public service.

Why are university staff striking?

Show

The fact that the majority of vice-chancellors involved have now publicly distanced themselves from UUK’s position, including OxfordCambridge, and others who appeared implacably hostile to the strikers’ demands only days ago, is a sign of the weakness of their argument, as well as the strength of the strike. Many universities have expressed dismay at how their own contribution to UUK’s “consultation” was presented. UUK also claimed that defined benefits have become prohibitively expensive – a claim that turned out to rest on an implausible scenario in which every university went bust tomorrow, and which has been challenged even by the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, universities enjoy record surpluses, vice-chancellors are being given obscene salaries and lavish expenses, and cash is poured into trophy buildings to make the “brand” easier to “sell”. And all while junior staff struggle to pay their rent, and students in huge debt sit in overcrowded seminars.

But, like most strikes, this one is about much more than money. My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market. The raid on pensions fits this pattern – it is an attempt to shift the risk of volatility in the market from the employer to the individual, to pave the way for further privatisation and rid universities of any remaining sense of responsibility for the long-term health and dignity of their workforces.

The real reason for the widespread support for the strike is that these broader attacks on education as a public service affect the entire academic community – the full-time staff, the casualised staff, and, of course, the students.

The problems we face – debt, increasing workloads, precarity, mental health issues – are not only shared, but systemic. Students understand that staff working conditions are their learning conditions; staff understand that students’ financial stress is an assault on their freedom to learn. On the picket lines, the conversation has not been about pensions, but how we can democratise universities, and restore them to their real purpose. Every member of the academic community knows education is potentially life-enhancing, liberating, world-changing. That is something worth fighting for.

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 Becky Gardiner is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and former comment editor of the Guardian

Wildcat strikes and progress!

All the way from Bloomberg news. It’s been a shit time for educators across the spectrum. The breaking point may be near. High time for some much needed militancy.

Could Wildcat Teachers’ Strikes Spread to Other States?

Oklahoma and Kentucky may follow West Virginia as educators across the country take advantage of a strong economy to agitate for more pay.

By Josh Eidelson

March 6, 2018, 6:15 PM GMT+1

Updated on March 6, 2018, 11:44 PM GMT+1

The fury among low-paid teachers that triggered a wildcat teachers’ strike in West Virginia—the longest in its history—may be spreading.

Teachers across the country may soon build on the state’s example. The Oklahoma teachers’ union said it will shut down schools within months if its demands aren’t met, and some teachers said they may strike even if a deal is reached.

“The end goal is funding for public education and our core services, and if it takes us closing down schools to do that, then we are prepared and willing to do so,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. On Thursday, the OEA will announce a timetable that could culminate in a school shutdown if lawmakers don’t pass teacher raises, something the legislature hasn’t done in a decade. While some teachers may have been on the fence, said Priest, the two-week West Virginia strike “has given them an emboldened sense of purpose and a sense of power.”

That may not be enough for the rank and file. Some Oklahoma teachers are planning a wildcat strike of their own. Leaders from a dozen schools met last week to discuss such an unsanctioned walkout, and they plan to reconvene Wednesday to vote on a strike date. If the union’s plans aren’t to their liking, they may walk out, said Larry Cagle, who teaches advanced placement courses and is one of the organizers behind the independent effort. “We’re going to force this on the union and on the superintendent,”  he said. “Teachers are ready—they are chomping at the bit.”

“A lot of people do not trust the promises made by the governor.”

Teachers have complained of low pay and poor treatment by politicians for years, breeding a high level of distrust when it comes to any new promises. In West Virginia, teachers expressed skepticism on Tuesday right up until the legislature voted to approve a pay hike bill and the governor signed it.

Nevertheless, American teachers are benefiting from a tailwind these days thanks to a tightening private-sector labor market, which brings stronger state revenue as well as alternative job opportunities, said Heidi Shierholz, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration. “The argument that the money just isn’t there, that it’s ‘blood from a stone,’ rings a lot more hollow at a time like this,” said Shierholz, who now directs policy for the Economic Policy Institute.

Hiking teacher pay may be necessary for states to stay competitive when it comes to retaining educators, said Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute. However, states that buckle to pressure from striking teachers could be hurt when the economy goes south, he added.

“If they do make big commitments, then a recession comes, then they get themselves into budget troubles,” said Edwards.

In West Virginia, the strike by thousands of school employees began Feb. 22 with the backing of the schools’ three unions, and then morphed into a rare “wildcat” walkout when teachers rejected an agreement between union leaders and the governor. Teachers said they were concerned the deal didn’t offer a concrete solution to the pressing issue of escalating health insurance premiums, and they lacked faith that the legislature would approve the 5 percent raises agreed to by Governor Jim Justice, a Republican.

“A lot of people do not trust the promises made by the governor,” striking teacher Kristina Gore said Thursday after West Virginia’s Republican-controlled Senate shunted the proposed pay raise to committee. On Saturday night, the Senate voted to approve raises of only 4 percent for the teachers, who have not had an across-the-board increase since 2014.

On Tuesday, legislative leaders and Justice announced the new deal to fund 5 percent raises. The package signed today includes a 16-month freeze on premium increases under the teachers’ health care plan, according to the state’s American Federation of Teachers local. Rather than counting on the additional revenue projected by the governor’s office, Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair said Tuesday morning that the chamber would make “very deep cuts” elsewhere in the budget to compensate for the raises.

“Teacher strikes have tended to breed more teacher strikes.”

Favorable economy notwithstanding, this year is shaping up to be a perilous one for the embattled U.S. labor movement, with the White House and Republican-controlled Congress hostile to unions and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected by summer that may slash their budgets by outlawing mandatory union fees in the public sector. Nevertheless, the West Virginia walkout has provided a beacon of sorts for activists who see it as the stirrings of grassroots organizing and defiance that they say the movement needs to survive. “Everybody I know is excited about this and what it shows is possible,” said former Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, who now chairs Our Revolution, the advocacy group of Senator Bernie Sanders, Democrat of Vermont.

If strikes break out in other states such as Kentucky, where teachers are fighting lawmakers over pay and benefits, it wouldn’t be the first time. “Historically, public-sector strikes have tended to come in waves,” said Georgetown University historian Joseph McCartin. “Teacher strikes have tended to breed more teacher strikes.” From 1945 to 1950, there were around 60 work stoppages by teachers around the country, many mounted without official union backing or legal protection. At the time, said McCartin, schools were underfunded and classrooms increasingly crowded. Teachers felt left behind amid quickening private sector wage growth in a postwar economy.

Striking school workers inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, on March 2.Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg

West Virginia’s example has “lit some fires” among teachers in Kentucky, said Jennifer Ward Bolander, a special education teacher there. “It’s definitely a subject of everyday water cooler conversation now,” she said. While she and other teachers are eager to avoid a strike, she said, there have been increasing rumblings about the possibility since West Virginia pulled it off.

Teachers in Oklahoma have now gone without raises for a decade. Average pay there is the lowest in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Jonathan Small, president of the conservative think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said he expects the Republican-controlled legislature to approve a raise for educators. Small said he would support an increase of at least $5,000 a year for each teacher, at a cost of about $246 million, which could be paid for by spending down a surplus while increasing the state’s gross production tax on oil and natural gas.

Many Oklahoma teachers aren’t willing to wait. “People are talking about ‘strike’ now out in the open, and that’s been a change,” said John Waldron, a teacher and a member of the union’s legislative committee. “The groundswell right now is pretty loud.” Union leaders are hearing regularly from members who want to go on strike, and that pressure has helped force the leadership’s hand, said Waldron, a Democratic candidate for the state legislature.

In a statement, Oklahoma state Senator Greg Treat, the Republican majority floor leader, said “teachers deserve a pay raise” and that lawmakers have “repeatedly, in a bipartisan manner, passed revenue plans to fund teacher pay.” He argued that Democrats have obstructed such efforts. Minority Leader Steve Kouplen rejected the claim, blaming Republicans for driving the state into insolvency with tax cuts that don’t allow for a fully funded public sector.

The threat of a wildcat strike in Oklahoma has even split the labor movement there. Priest, the Oklahoma union president, argued that the vast majority of teachers “are on the same page” about strategy, notwithstanding a few groups “that don’t have all of the information.” Before shutting down schools, she said, the union will push for local school board resolutions endorsing school funding hikes and expressing support for teachers in the event of a shutdown. “We have an opportunity to stand together in a unified voice,” she said, “and we need to do so.”

Walk out!

Teacher Pay

Here we go! as last posted here Labor lessons from former coal country

We are now in the midst of a genuine walk out.  Best of luck educators throughout West Virginia!

This is a pre-K through college fight and we need to have each other’s backs–adjuncts, Pre-K teachers, K-12, and the post-secondary tenured, together, are a mighty, mighty force in this country. Let’s have some solidarity.

 

From Dissent.com  (Full article here)

“When Logan County special education teacher Leah Clay Stone entered the West Virginia capitol building on February 2, she saw a sea of teachers from the chamber doors of the Senate and House all the way back to the rotunda. Her county was part of the first work stoppage this month that saw public school teachers flock to the capitol building in Charleston to protest continued low wages, spiking insurance premiums, and poor working conditions.

The teachers flooding the galleries that day came from schools in just three counties. But since February 2 the rebellion has spread. Today marks the second day of a statewide work stoppage, with schools closed in all fifty-five counties. The teachers—who don’t even have legal collective bargaining—wear red T-shirts with the outline of West Virginia and the word UNITED emblazoned across them, a visual that calls to mind not only the Chicago teachers’ strike of 2012 but also the Wisconsin capitol occupation in 2011, against Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature’s move to take away collective bargaining rights from the state’s public employees. Now West Virginia public employees are showing that even without collective bargaining rights, they too can make a heck of a lot of noise.

On Thursday morning, thousands of teachers headed to the capitol, carpooling because the walkout included bus drivers. Others stayed close to home to make sure they had a presence in their schools, where they were met with support from students and parents. That support has been building over recent weeks: Ashlea Bassham’s ninth- and tenth-grade students and others had already held their own walkout in Logan County, wielding signs that read “I’m in the bleachers for my teachers.” Parents have held informational pickets and walk-ins, standing outside schools in the cold and the snow to support the teachers. The movement has spread from county to county, neighbor to neighbor, as teachers who live in one county and work in another talk to friends at home and on the job. “It literally was like a fire just catching and going,” says Stone, who is the local vice-president for the Logan County Education Association, one of the two associations in the state.

At the beginning of the legislative session, the executive committee of the association called an emergency meeting to discuss changes to their insurance plan and other bills being introduced in the legislature. The teachers called for a vote to walk out. “I don’t think there was anybody still seated. It was a resounding yes,” Stone said. She then put her production-management background to use pulling together a voting process, getting representatives from every school to collect ballots. “We managed to get ballots into every school and all three bus garages and had them back into my hands and counted in twenty-four hours,” she said. “I literally was creating a ballot as I was walking out the door of the building. I was like ‘somebody else needs to drive, I need to take care of this.’”

The teachers were trying to avoid the district getting an injunction to halt their action, but instead the superintendent closed the schools, a pattern that would repeat itself in every county across the state as teachers stood up to join the statewide day of action. A movement organized by teachers on the ground was able to spread in part through existing networks, in part through social media. “A lot of people blame Facebook for all the bad things in 2016 with the election, but it has actually been really helpful here because West Virginia is so rural and spread out,” said Jay O’Neal, who teaches in Charleston.

Like other teachers who have resorted to stopping work in recent years, the West Virginia teachers have emphasized that their goal is to make education better for every child in West Virginia. “Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions” has become the byword in these campaigns. The West Virginia teachers have demonstrated this commitment not only with their demands—for filling teacher vacancies, for smaller class sizes—but with immediate action. “As soon as we called the work stoppage for Thursday and Friday our locals took it upon themselves to start working with churches and food banks and different places to provide day care for the parents who needed it, to provide meals for the many students who get their hot meals at school,” said Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA).

The legislature and the board of the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) have begun to make some noises about conceding some to the teachers’ demands, but nothing is concrete and the work stoppage is set to continue at least through Monday.

 

The teachers began to notice trouble in January, right at the beginning of the legislative session. In that first session, Bassham noted, there were over thirty bills introduced that seemed ominous. When it comes to salaries, West Virginia teachers are already some of the worst off in the country—forty-eighth, according to Lee—and their health-insurance premiums had increased so much over the last year that it amounted to a pay cut. “I keep seeing this number thrown around—$45K is the average teacher salary. I’ve been teaching for seven years and I am nowhere near that,” Stone said. O’Neal added, “I moved here in 2015 and my second year teaching, I made less than my first.”

That pay cut came from a change to how PEIA insurance was calculated—it shifted from being based on the individual teacher’s income to total family income. That could effectively double the already-high premiums for insurance that used to be seen as a counterbalance to low wages. On top of that, the teachers would be penalized if they did not participate in a wellness program.

Those issues already left teachers feeling undervalued and disrespected. And that came on top of legislators proposing bills that threatened public education—such as introducing charter schools, “education savings accounts” (giving parents public funds to spend on educating their children, or a “backdoor voucher” in Lee’s words), so-called “paycheck protection,” which restricts the ability for automatic deduction of union dues, and other attacks on the already deeply restricted unions. Anger at the anti-union proposals opened the door to bring up other issues that had been frustrating teachers for much longer, like sky-high class sizes in secondary schools and a lack of electives for students.

Despite it all, Lee noted, “We have great schools. We’re right at 90 percent graduation rate, and for a rural state that is exceptional.” To him, legislators’ complaints about spending are disingenuous—the state is paying for past underfunding of retirement benefits and counting those dollars as education spending. Because West Virginia’s population is quite spread out, that also means that transporting students costs more than it would in more densely populated states—more dollars that aren’t going to the classroom but are still necessary to spend.

Meanwhile the state has a shortage of certified teachers because it’s hard to convince people to enter a job when starting salaries for people with advanced degrees are still in the $30–35,000 range. “You’re sold the idea of, hey, go to college, get a degree, get an advanced degree, and then you still really can’t make ends meet,” Bassham said. “Obviously we do it because we like the kids, but I also like to be able to pay my bills and not have $8 to last me six days until payday.”

 

Leah Clay Stone is a second-generation member of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA)—she and her walked picket lines with her mother during a 1990 teacher strike. Her father was a coal miner through the 1980s. West Virginia is a state with a proud labor history that gets lost in the “Trump Country” profiles. Many of the teachers in today’s fight have personal experiences like Stone’s. It was not lost on anyone I spoke with that the first teachers to stop work were from coal country, from Mingo and Logan Counties, the sites of the great mine wars.

Stone also recalls, as a teenager, going to party with friends on top of the infamous Blair Mountain, the site of what historian Elizabeth Catte, in her new book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, calls “the largest show of armed resistance in the United States since the Civil War—and the most significant labor uprising in the United States.” Immortalized in part in the 1987 movie Matewan and in memorable labor ballads, the Battle of Blair Mountain pitted workers and their allies—like venerable labor agitator Mary Harris “Mother” Jones—against a “private army” that would later be praised by the National Rifle Association (yes, the same one that currently wants to arm teachers against school shooters). It is a stark reminder that West Virginians died to organize the unions that the state’s officials are currently bad-mouthing in the press.

Today’s action is the first statewide walkout of teachers in almost thirty years. “If you look at what teachers and their allies are posting on social media, you can see that they are connecting the upcoming action to the state’s important history of labor uprising, from Blair Mountain to Widen.” Elizabeth Catte told me via email. She pointed to a tweet from Richard Ojeda, a candidate for Congress from the state, who posted a photograph of himself in a red bandanna with the caption, “The term redneck started when WV coal miners tied red bandanas around their necks during the bloody battle of Blair mountain to unionize. Today, our teachers channeled their history. #UnionStrong”

“It’s rather impressive to me that people don’t have the knowledge of what it means to be union proud. Or what it means to be involved in an organization,” Stone, who recalled doing a school project on Mother Jones, said. “For the past few years we’ve struggled to keep membership even in our organization. But in this moment and this movement people have been finding out that they are the movement. If they want something done they have to speak up.”

These days, of course, the labor movement is a shadow of its former self in terms of both militancy and membership. With collective bargaining banned for West Virginia teachers and public-sector workers, unions are voluntary associations—meaning that teachers at any given school might be members of the WVEA or the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia (AFT-WV), or neither. Without collective bargaining, the WVEA’s Dale Lee explained, mostly the associations fight to get work issues that unions might bargain over—like duty-free lunches and planning periods—written into state law.

There is a separate association for school service personnel, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, who have also backed the job action—cooks, custodians, maintenance workers, and bus drivers. Beyond that, Bassham told me, they are standing for all public employees who are struggling. “It’s not just a teacher issue, it’s not just a school issue, it’s our state not wanting to take care of the people who are trying to make our state a better place.”

Their message is a reminder that despite pollsters’ tendency to make a college degree the dividing line between “working” and “middle” class, the categories are often not so clear cut. The reality is that college-educated workers too have to fight for decent wages and benefits. That the teachers all cite Blair Mountain’s miners as inspiration is an act of class solidarity and a reminder that the so-called knowledge economy we have been told to prize over manual labor doesn’t come with a guarantee of good pay any more than coal mining did.

West Virginia’s government has long been dominated by coal and other extractive industries. In fact its sitting governor, Jim Justice, is a second-generation coal tycoon and a billionaire who owes his own state millions in back taxes. But Jay O’Neal is heartened that teachers and their supporters—including the mine workers’ union—are now calling for raising taxes on those extractive companies in order to fund education. In a literal sense, the teachers are fighting the same companies that the coal miners were, decades ago.

 

On Thursday teachers from all three education workers’ associations took to the streets and the capitol halls, dressed in red, bearing handmade signs, some of them wearing those red bandannas. They waved to passing drivers and marched with other unionists. Schools throughout the state remained shuttered Friday, and at an afternoon press conference, union representatives said they were prepared to continue the walkout until the state commits to address their demands: higher pay, fully funded insurance benefits, and rejection of the regressive bills.

Teachers had already driven to the capitol on snow days, on treacherous mountain roads. “Our colleagues in the northern panhandle and the eastern panhandle have to come so much further,” Bassham said. “They drove on some crazy mountain roads to holler at legislators, and it was fabulous.”

Those legislators are slowly beginning to take action, Stone said, though there is also “quite a bit of grandstanding. . . . They want you to think that they’re doing everything they can for you but their voting record doesn’t show that.”

Public-employee strikes in West Virginia, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has stated, are illegal. And yet the teachers have gone out anyway, taking the risk because it can’t get much worse for them. With the Janus case looming before the Supreme Court, potentially decimating every public-sector union in the nation, and right-wing governors looking for additional ways to punish unions, the West Virginia teachers’ situation is a bellwether.

These teachers recall that there were no laws protecting the mine workers in the 1920s either. Stone said, “West Virginians have a long background of doing what’s expected until it gets to be too much, and then we make sure we do what’s right, and we really want our legislators to do what’s right instead of what’s expected.”

Mother Jones would be proud.”

 

Hell yes she would.

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Labor lessons from former coal country

Some Motivation from West Virginia. The battle hardened state has a long history of labor struggle. This bit comes from Krystal Ball at the TheHill.com All eyes on

Could this be the moment the labor movement has been waiting for?

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Link Here

It’s been a rough couple of decades for the national labor movement. Unions have been subjected to a full blown assault by the GOP, eroded by new work arrangements and all but abandoned by Democrats. Major newspapers no longer employ labor reporters, 28 states have undermined unions with so-called right-to-work laws, the Trump administration has decimated the National Labor Relations Board, and every year brings another grim statistic about how union membership has fallen.

With this set of facts piling up, plenty of people have decided unions are now irrelevant and left the movement for dead. Turns out, though, that West Virginia didn’t get the memo.

Teachers, school service personnel and other public employees in the Mountain State are on the verge of a historic statewide walkout over pay that’s near the worst in the country. Over the past few weeks, these workers have staged local walkouts, flooded town halls, and descended by the thousands on the state capital in Charleston. Today, teachers will walk out of schools in at least three more counties, and on Saturday they’ll rally in a massive protest at the Capitol building in what is expected to be their largest action to date.

 

With no sign that the Republican-dominated legislature is going to accede to the teachers’ demands for a decent wage, the only avenue left is a coordinated statewide walkout. According to Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union: “Unless things change, we’re headed toward a work action.”

It’s hard to overstate just what a dramatic scene this will be. When thousands of teachers walk out of West Virginia schools, they’ll be bucking a national trend in a big way. Last year was the second lowest year ever recorded for large-scale strikes. In the entire country for the entire year, there were only 7 strikes involving more than 1,000 workers.

If you’re surprised to see a resurgence in progressive radical action coming from West Virginia, then it’s time you toss out your old stereotypes of West Virginians as an endlessly trod-upon people who don’t understand their own self-interest and reflexively back Republicans. You may also want to revisit your history.

West Virginia was a cradle of militant unionism and the site of some of the most storied, important battles between labor and management. In fact, if you’ve ever called someone a “redneck” or been called one yourself, you can trace that proud pejorative back to one of the bloodiest battles between labor and management to occur in our nation’s history. In the Battle of Blair Mountain, miners literally fought against management and government for their right to organize and to earn cash instead of scrip and to shop outside of company stores. In order to easily identify their brothers in arms, the miners wrapped red bandanas around their necks.

You might also be surprised to learn that those rednecks were composed of whites, black migrants from the South and new European immigrants. They spoke different languages, came from different cultures, but their red bandanas stood as a sign of cross-racial, working-class solidarity.

In other words, West Virginia may be the perfect place for workers to once again disregard the rules meant to keep them in their place. The perfect place for workers to demand more from a system that has been systematically rigged to deliver for business and the politically connected at the expense of working people in every community. The perfect place to lead a vanguard of progressive activism that just might be the jolt the entire national labor movement needs.

These modern-day rednecks are ready to fight.

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Krystal Ball is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia. A former candidate for Congress in Virginia and host on MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” she is a video host for the soon-to-be-launched Hill.TV project. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.