By Amanda Litvinov
Speaking to an audience of educators yesterday in Washington, D.C., Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) said few who knew him as a child would have imagined he would one day be elected to public office.
“If someone told my parents when I was in first grade, ‘Someday he’s going to be giving speeches all around the country and visiting other nations serving the United States,’ they would have said, ‘No, we don’t think so,” said Platts. Back then, owing to a serious speech problem, only his best friend could understand him.
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It was thanks to the encouragement of teachers and guidance counselors and the hard work of a speech therapist that he was able to fulfill his dream of serving in Congress. That’s why Platts was particularly moved to receive NEA’s Golden Apple award, reserved for champions of public education.
It’s an honor he earned over 12 years of advocating for policies that support educators and the work that they do every day on behalf of the nation’s students—even when it put him at odds with his fellow Republicans.
“During the 12 years he has served in Congress, Rep. Platts has courageously stood up against some of the most harmful policy fads of the day, including some that were proposed by a President of his own party,” said Arizona educator and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel as he presented Platts with the award.
“He once left an event at the White House so he could return to the House chamber to vote against a federal voucher program. Not many members of Congress are that dedicated or courageous.”
First elected in 2000 to serve Pennsylvania’s 19th district in Congress, Platts has led legislation on environmental protection, campaign finance transparency and tobacco regulation, and served on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce among other committees. He earned repeated endorsements from the Pennsylvania State Education Association and his work garnered A’s on the annual NEA Report Card.
“When it comes to public education, there’s an unfortunate partisan divide with Democrats seen as more supportive, and Republicans less. And in too many instances, that’s unfortunately the case,” Platts told EdVotes. “But I hope that in my work I have reassured educators not only in my district but nationally that there are thoughtful Republicans who understand the importance of public education and that it’s the cornerstone to America being the land of opportunity.
“Here in Washington, especially, everything is seen through a partisan lens, but of all issues that should not be seen that way is the education of our children.”
Platts will retire at the end of the year, but he’s not ready to focus on how he’ll spend the time he now devotes to public service and commuting between York and D.C. Not with so much urgent work still on the table, including finding a way to keep us from going over the fiscal cliff.
“We cannot allow sequestration to happen,” Platts said during the interview. “On the domestic front, these cuts would decimate our commitment to K-12 and higher education. If we really want to turn the country around from an economic standpoint, we need to invest more not less in education.”
Platts said issues in his own district serve as an example of what many public schools are experiencing.
“In my most fiscally challenged district of York City, we’ve already seen so many educator layoffs,” said Platts, noting that those losses all hurt students in the end.
“Some of the first programs to go are the arts. As co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus I know that the more kids are exposed to the arts the better they do in school overall,” said Platts. “And physical education shouldn’t be sacrificed considering the obesity crisis. Kids miss out on the chance to burn some energy so they can be more attentive in the classroom, but also there’s a physical fitness and health standpoint.
“For these and so many other reasons, we’ve just got to fix this fiscal issue.”
Find out how sequestration would affect federal education funding by program and by state.