by Félix Pérez
The first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, Elizabeth Warren aspired to be a teacher when she was a youngster growing up in Oklahoma. And teach she did – special education students at a New Jersey elementary school.
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These days, Warren is still involved with public education, but from a vantage point she never envisioned while earning a degree in speech pathology and audiology. Last week, Warren was sworn in as the newest U.S. senator from the state of Massachusetts.
A state debate champion in high school, an accomplished law school professor and famed consumer advocate, Sen. Warren was also appointed to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). There she will leave her imprint on legislation and programs that affect tens of millions of students and educators in classrooms and public schools across America.
Paul Toner, a middle school social studies teacher in Cambridge, Mass., and president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, highlighted Warren’s teaching background when MTA recommended Warren’s candidacy to its 107,000 members:
Elizabeth Warren has the right values and vision to stand up for educators and students in Congress. She understands the issues facing teachers because she was one. Elizabeth Warren recognizes just how important good teachers are to the future of our families, communities, and our country, and will fight to create new opportunities for all of our students from preschool to graduate school.
One of 22 members on the influential Senate HELP committee (12 Democrats, 10 Republicans), Warren will deliberate and vote on issues that shape pre-K through higher education. The committee’s actions, along with those of its House counterpart, play an oversized role in setting the direction for policies and programs followed in schoolhouses and education administration buildings at the state, county and local levels.
Among the wide-ranging issues the committee has jurisdiction over are:
- Teacher quality and training
- Early childhood education
- School lunches
- Student financial assistance
- Education for students with disabilities
- The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind
- Vocational and technical education
- The Higher Education Act
Warren, who came from behind last November to win one of the most closely watched elections in the nation, rose to prominence beginning in 2008 as a fierce advocate for the middle class willing to go toe-to-toe with too-big-to-fail banks and investment firms. It was then that she served as chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), created to protect taxpayers, hold Wall Street accountable, and ensure oversight of financial services institutions. She later built, from top to bottom, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, charged with protecting consumers from financial traps hidden in mortgages, student loans, credit cards and other financial products.
In a November 2011 Vanity Fair article, Warren, who has earned more than her share of Wall Street and high finance enemies, said: “G.E. doesn’t pay any taxes and we are asking college kids to take on even more debt to get an education, and asking seniors to get by on less. These aren’t just economic questions. These are moral questions.”
Her deep concern for the middle class extends to education, which she characterizes as being at “the core of investing in our future and building a strong middle class. For years, I have worked to level the playing field for middle class families, and I will continue the fight to ensure both students and teachers have the tools they need to succeed here in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts, yes, but it’s fair to assume her fight will reach beyond that state’s borders.