Thursday, September 23, 2004

Parties spread teacher issues


The goal: More federal funding

By Cindy Kranz, Enquirer staff writer
and Sue Kiesewetter, Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - No Child Left Behind shared center stage with Kentucky teacher woes Wednesday night when Kim Egan hosted an education house party at her home.

Egan's party was one of thousands held nationwide to rally support for more funding for No Child Left Behind and special education. But talk among the 10 participants turned to Boone County teachers, who are joining a statewide one-day walkout Monday to protest changes in health-insurance benefits.

Attendees voiced concern about rising health insurance costs on top of low teacher salaries, compared with neighboring states.

"What this is going to ultimately do is keep good, qualified teachers from coming to Kentucky," said Debbie Wooton, president of the Northern Kentucky Education Association, which has 2,000 teacher members. Wooton teaches language arts at Gray Middle School in the burgeoning Boone County Schools.

The house party was part of the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools, a movement to discuss challenges in education and the need for more federal aid. About 3,800 parties were scheduled across the country, including about 10 in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The initiative is being led by a coalition that includes the National Education Association, Campaign for America's Future, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, MoveOn.org, NAACP Voter Fund and U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Egan said she hosted a gathering because of her commitment to public schools. She has three children - two now in college and a senior at Boone County High School.

A good educational system is equivalent to homeland security, she said, because it ensures this country will have the best and the brightest.

"Education should be the top priority," she said.

"I can't think of anything more important for the government to be worrying about," Egan said.

Meanwhile, retired teacher Alice Walker left an hour-long Hamilton party determined to circulate petitions in her neighborhood to seek more federal funding for education.

"I felt it was very informative,'' Walker said. "I will share the information with my neighbors and other parents.''

She was one of a half-dozen current or retired educators who attended the NEA party hosted by Deloris Rome Hudson, a Hamilton Freshman School teacher and president of the Hamilton Classroom Teachers Association.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind legislation at Hamilton High School in January 2002.

"We feel children are left behind,'' said Hudson, who sits on the Executive Committee of the Ohio Education Association and the board of the National Education Association.

"We're doing this to energize people and get them working toward great public schools," Hudson said.

Hudson said teachers don't disagree with what the No Child Left Behind legislation is trying to accomplish - higher standards, accountability, well-trained educators.

But they are concerned about the lack of funding to implement it and its high-stakes testing.

Participants in the house parties watched a seven-minute video that took the president and Congress to task, saying No Child Left Behind is underfunded.

But not everyone saw it that way.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who co-authored the education legislation, called the NEA-produced video misleading.

"The problems in our nation's schools have never been solved by simply spending more money and they never will be,'' Boehner said. "We need high standards, accountability for results and pay-for-performance policies that reward good teachers and identify poor ones. The video doesn't mention that in Washington, NEA lobbyists are fighting tooth-and-nail against all of these reforms.''

First grade teacher Debra Pfeiffer said something has got to change because schools are not funded properly.

"The money has to come from somewhere,'' Pfeiffer said. "This is a start to tell people what (they) can do.''

E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com and suek@infionline.net




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