By TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder
Each year I get to give an update to the TEA Board of Directors and TEA staff on the status of TEA membership. For the past few years, this report has been one of the highlights of my year because I get to share with our leaders and staff that TEA has had another year of membership growth.
The association growing larger and stronger each year is something to celebrate, but it is also something that increases the size of the target on our back. When anti-public education legislators voted to end collective bargaining in 2011, they expected TEA to crumble and get out of their way. While that vote did cause a drop in membership in the years immediately following, the vote more significantly ignited a passion in educators statewide to become strong, vocal advocates for their students and the profession they love.
The legislators who led that attack on public education - and the out-of-state interests backing them - quickly realized taking bargaining away did not have the desired outcome, but instead strengthened the advocacy efforts of educators and TEA. Since then, anti-public education lawmakers have looked for other avenues to weaken the voice of Tennessee educators and the association through attacks on payroll deductions, limiting TEA access to school buildings, requiring annual reauthorization of membership, and more.
To date, their efforts have been unsuccessful, but we expect to see a familiar round of attacks again in the 2020 session. As long as TEA remains the largest and strongest advocate for public education, anti-public education lawmakers will continue to come after us.
After a tumultuous session in 2019, bogged down by numerous scandals and a voucher vote so suspicious that the FBI is said to have opened an investigation, many legislators are on edge heading into the 2020 session and looking ahead to the state legislative races later this year. TEA has proven in recent years that when legislators stand with public education during the session, educators will stand with them during election season, and, conversely, that we will work diligently to defeat lawmakers who consistently vote against the best interests of their students, schools and educators back home.
We need all educators and public education advocates engaged and ready to tell those who wish to destroy public education that we will not be silenced, and we will never stop fighting for our students. TEA will be asking a lot of you this year as we work to obtain significant increases in school funding and teacher salaries, reduce high-stakes testing and defend educators’ rights to be vocal participants in the legislative process and elections.
The first step you can take right now as you are reading this column is CLICK HERE to RSVP for the Rally for Our Schools scheduled for Monday, March 16. We need hundreds of public education supporters in Nashville that day to pressure legislators to do the right thing and stand with public education!