BOSTON — Teachers are fleeing the profession, salaries are inadequate and instructors aren’t getting enough funding to do their jobs, say Maryland teachers who are out in force at the Democratic National Convention to call attention to their plight.
Teachers go home for Thanksgiving break and “never come back,” said Patricia Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association and Cockeysville delegate. “You know something’s not right.”
The problem is statewide. All 24 Maryland school districts were projected to have a shortage of teachers, according to the Maryland Department of Education.
At the convention, Foerster and the seven other teachers in the state’s delegation are on a mission to build support for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in hopes he’ll fulfill his campaign promises to repair the education system.
Mary Jo Neville, another MSTA member and a delegate from Dayton, said Kerry “knows who’s on the front line” educating students, while the Bush administration has “little appreciation for the job.”
“Everything is put on the backs of teachers,” said Loretta Johnson, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Maryland and a delegate from Baltimore.
Although Maryland ranks 13th nationally in teacher salaries, which are 8.3 percent better than the U.S. average, Foerster said salaries need to rise, pensions must improve and administrative support has to increase to address teacher flight and burn out.
“Teaching is a continually developmental process” where teachers need resources to provide the best environment for the children, Foerster said.
School problems have been compounded by a lack of support and funding from the Bush administration, Johnson said.
“Schools are everything to our students,” Johnson said, and problems have persisted “over decades.”
“Someone has to say ‘We’re going to fix public schools,'” Johnson said.
Kerry will make a “huge difference” if elected, Neville said.
The Democratic Party’s proposed platform, which is scheduled to be approved Tuesday, echoes the Maryland teachers’ rhetoric: “For this White House, education is an easy promise — easy come, and easy go.”
Teachers and politicians of both parties backed the promise of No Child Left Behind, the bipartisan education bill passed in January 2002, but it’s not had the impact some hoped.
But U.S. Education Secretary Rod Page, writing in Foster’s Daily Democrat last year, defended the bill.
“Never in the history of our country has the federal government spent so much on education. This law has funded the measures it requires,” he wrote.
The “No Child” act still is leaving children behind, said Kweisi Mfume, head of the NAACP, Baltimore native and former congressman from Baltimore.
“Too many of our schools are overcrowded and ill-equipped,” he told Maryland delegates Tuesday morning.
The Democratic platform says the Bush administration has shortchanged schools by $27 billion less than they were promised, “literally leaving millions of children behind.”
Still, disadvantaged students are expected to all pass the same standardized test despite their varying levels of ability, crowded classrooms and unqualified teachers, Foerster said.
Republican-backed vouchers and charter school plans are not the solution to urban school woes, Johnson said, pushing the dilemmas into the suburbs.
Democrats have proposed a six-point education platform: meeting fiscal obligations, putting qualified teachers in all classrooms, raising achievement levels, bringing money back to public schools, lowering the cost of college and “teaching good citizenship and values.”
“The president,” Foerster said, “needs to be a cheerleader for the children of the United States.” – 30 – CNS-7-27-04