Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Teachers Are Coming: MEA Rallies Draw Thousands Across the State

bernero mea rally

A politician's nightmare. You're standing on the track of a football field, staring right into a blazing sun. 400 or so potential supporters have gathered in the middle of the grandstand, so many that they nearly reach the press box at the top of the stadium. Hungry for answers, motivated to take action, they are anxious to hear what you have to say.

And your wireless mic keeps failing. Over and over again.

bernero8947Give Virg Bernero some credit, he took it all in stride. He moved onto the track and spoke as loud as he could, drawing cheers from the crowd as he vowed to make education a top priority should he be elected. His wife Teri is an elementary school principal, so he knows about the struggles that schools and teachers are going through right now.

The MEA officials and the teachers and school support staff at this rally? They no happy, and they are pointing the finger right at Lansing. Thousands of teachers and their supporters turned out at events all across the state yesterday. They are tired of cuts to the classroom, and cuts to their pay and benefits. Talk to them about "picking winners and losers" - because they are going to be doing just that this fall. They want to see education funding stabilized through needed changes to our tax code, and who can blame them? The past few years have been brutal for education; always more cuts, always coming well after they have started their fiscal year. They are tired of the excuses, they are tired of the obstructionists, they are tired of the nonsense.

Bernero didn't say how he would address education funding. On one hand, it's good that he didn't make a bunch of false promises. On the other, he's still a little too vague about the direction he would take.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero also attended the rally in Kentwood. He told the crowd if his campaign for governor is successful, education will be his top priority. But he wouldn't rule out the possibility of further cuts.

"My promise is that education will be our top priority, that it is our future," he said after his speech. "I don't know what all's in the budget, they've played such games that I won't know til I get there and perform a forensic audit, to know exactly what I'm dealing with. I can tell you it'll be a top priority."

The Michigan Education Association, which sponsored the rallies, supports expanding the sales tax and creating a graduated income tax in Michigan to help pay for education. Bernero has not endorsed either of those plans.

But when you compare that with the Republican candidate's fantasy-world of eliminating business taxes and yet promising to fund critical services (while also guaranteeing that they will cut teachers and public employees pay and benefits), Virg wins hands down. He is passionate about education. It shows. And he is concerned for the people who work in the field, and that shows too.

mea rallyThe MEA gets a pretty bad rap from the anti-union pundits and press in this state, but when it comes to the pay and benefits for teachers, the public doesn't think they are overpaid at all. The last EPIC poll on the subject back in December showed that voters want education funded, are willing to pay for it, and the benefits and pay are fine with them:

Most responders -- 83% -- feel Michigan teacher wages and benefits are about right or too low.

In a statement that accompanied the release of the poll, EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn said, "Politicians and pundits who attack teachers based on their pay and benefits are out of touch with the opinions of Michigan voters."

Hey Democrats. Funding education is a winning issue. And like the man said, it's time to "put your money where your mouth is" and step up and prove you support teachers and kids - and that means changing our antiquated tax structure. Then, when the Republicans try to obstruct, and insist on more tax cuts for their rich friends, you will have them right where you want them.

Try it and see.