The right to public education might not be explicitly guaranteed under the Constitution, but equal access is covered under the 14th Amendment. What does this mean, in reality? Sometimes, not much. The quality of public education varies a lot from school district to district and even from school to school. Our schools do not deliver on the promise of public education – and therefore equal opportunity – for all students. Take, for instance, the persistent problems in the Detroit public school system, which this week inspired teachers to launch a sickout after the district announced it would run out of money to pay them in June.
(Photo Credit: jimcchou/Flickr)
How it all started:
Many public school teachers are given the option to either take their pay over the course of the nine-to-10 months of the school year or to stretch it out and be paid across 12 months. For obvious reasons, (convenience, financial planning, etc.) a lot of teachers elect to receive smaller paychecks year-round rather than only receiving them during the school-year proper.
In Detroit, a district that has faced considerable financial concerns and difficulties in recent years, teachers were recently shocked to learn that those who had elected to be paid year-round would not receive paychecks after June 30th.
Last weekend, Judge Steven Rhodes, who works as the state-appointed transition manager after the city’s bankruptcy, announced that the $50 million bailout meant to support Detroit’s schools would run out at that time and that the district would not have the funds to pay teachers over the summer months. Union president Ivy Bailey said that this announcement was the breaking point and that it was unacceptable for teachers to not receive pay for work they’d already performed.
Detroit’s teachers didn’t strike as result of last weekend’s stunning announcement. Instead, they elected to call out sick on Monday and Tuesday, closing 94 schools across the area. More than 1,500 teachers felt it was important to express that the proposed arrangement simply isn’t fair, and that they can’t stand for it.
“We want to be in school teaching children,” Randi Weingarten, national president of the American Federation of Teachers told the Associated Press. “But you cannot in good conscience ask anybody to work without a guarantee they’re going to be paid.”
Where things stand today:
After two days away from the classroom, teachers were assured by Rhodes that they will be paid for the full school year and schools across the district reopened today. Yesterday, a House committee approved a $500 million restructure plan for Detroit’s schools, but the Senate and the House will have to come to an agreement in order to advance the measure before June when the state legislature adjourns.
For now, Detroit’s students and teachers are back in the classroom where they belong. But, this city continues to struggle to find a way to make ends meet, and it’s having a big impact on the area’s schools. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
It’s fair to say that Detroit’s teachers will continue to fight for their students’ rights and for their own. The promise of public education cannot be forgotten. If it is, ultimately, it’s our students who will suffer the most.
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