Education News

2020 Presidential Hopefuls Court Educators at NEA Representative Assembly

By Mary Ellen Flannery and Tim Walker

“Election 2020 starts right here, right now!” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García announced to the almost 7,000 delegates at the NEA Representative Assembly on Friday.

Backstage at the George E. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, 10 presidential hopefuls were waiting to make their case to educators at the first-ever #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum. Across the nation, educators are ready to build on the momentum of the #RedforEd movement and play a powerful role in the 2020 campaign.

For two hours, Eskelsen García moderated one-on-one discussions with former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The forum, Eskelsen García explained to the delegates, was not about lifting up any individual candidate.

“We are promoting our agenda – what we want for our children, our profession and for our communities.”

Bernie Sanders and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas.

The questions came from NEA members and everything was on the table  – education funding, educator pay, school privatization, equity, gun safety, student debt, and, of course, Betsy DeVos.

“What I love about this format is that it’s not just because we will be hearing from the candidates,” Eskelsen García said as the forum began. “It’s because they will be listening to you.”

Reinvesting in Education

Candidates emphatically supported increased federal funding for public education—for infrastructure repairs; for wrap-around services, like mental health counselors and school psychologists; for technology; for after-school programs; for universal pre-K; for special education, and more.

Julian Castro at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

“Ah! I’ve got a plan for that! It starts with a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of the 1 percent—people who have more than $50 million, who would pay 2 cents on every dollar they earn after $50 million,” said Warren. With that two cents, she said, we could pay for universal childcare; pre-K; a living wage for preschool teachers and childcare workers; tuition-free technical schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges; and also cancel student debt.

As Bill de Blasio told the delegates, “There’s plenty of money to fund education. But right now it’s in the wrong hands.”

“Let’s reverse the Trump tax cuts, take $20 billion away from the oil and gas industry, and put it into education to fully fund Title 1 and IDEA,” said Governor Inslee.

“I’d invest $100 billion in school districts to pay teachers for mentoring, to teach other teachers,” said Joe Biden. “Folks, we need you in the schools teaching, not working two to three jobs!’”

Joe Biden and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris, who wore a #RedforEd bandana around her wrist, pointed to the federal government’s obligation to pay for special education, which it has never met. “There is a mandate that the federal government pay 40 percent, but they’re not doing it, they’re at about 15 percent, and it’s actually immoral as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Julian Castro highlighted the dire need for more mental health funding.

“As educators, you see the impact on our students, each and every day, of the lack of healthcare. My plan calls for investing in community-based schools with wrap-around services so that students can avail themselves of services and be healthy.”

The Pay Educators Deserve

Elizabeth Warren and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Every candidate roundly supported increased pay for educators. “This is partly about money, but again it’s about respect. It’s about recognizing the work that every day our teachers do,” said Elizabeth Warren, who promised to put more money into public schools and strengthen unions.

“Every teacher should make at least $60,000,” said Bernie Sanders,  who also promised to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 “so that everybody in a school is paid at least a living wage.”

Meanwhile, Tim Ryan told delegates “we need an economic plan in the United States of America that rebuilds the middle class. For too often, we have not held accountable the people who have run away with the gold. It’s like the country song—you get the gold mine, and I get the shaft.”

The Next Secretary of Education

“I promise you,” Harris told the delegates. “The person I nominate will come from public schools.”

Amy Klobuchar at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Replacing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with an individual who has worked in the public school system was one, if not the, most popular promise made at the forum.

“I want to see someone who has seen a child light up, become engaged for the first time, seen a door open for a child. Betsy DeVos need not apply!” Elizabeth Warren said.

It won’t stop there. The candidates promised to give educators a “place at the table” on policy. “You’re the experts,” said Biden. “You should be part of the agenda. You should craft the policy. You’re the ones who know it.”

School Privatization

Beto O’Rourke at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Both Sanders and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the for-profit charter school industry. Sanders touted his recent proposal to ban unaccountable, for-profit charter schools. “My plan ends federal funding for-profit charter schools and imposes a moratorium until we have a better understanding of their impact on public education.”

Beto O’Rourke vowed, if elected president, never to spend “one dime on vouchers for private schools.”  O’Rourke told the delegates that while he believed there was “a place for public, non-profit, charter schools,” he strongly opposes the unaccountable for-profit charter schools that siphon off billions of dollars from public schools.

Social Justice

Jay Inslee at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Many of the questions that delegates asked candidates raised the issue of inequities in public schools and systems. “I know firsthand the impact of growing up in intensely segregated school districts,” said Castro. “If we want to make sure every child can get a great public education, in addition to investing in our educators and treating them with respect, we also need to tackle housing segregation,” who also supports voluntary busing, he said.

Meanwhile, both Sanders and Biden said they would triple funding for Title 1, and O’Rourke said he’d set aside $500 billion to erase the disparity between majority-white and majority-minority school districts. Amy Klobuchar also spoke about Dreamers, saying, “You know these kids. They’re in your schools…What I would do in my first 100 days is make sure Dreamers are safe and secure.”

Gun Violence and School Safety

Many of the candidates were asked to address the epidemic of gun violence. U.S. Senator Harris made a passionate vow to push Congress to take action.

Bill de Blasio at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

“On day 1, I will give the Congress 100 days to get their act together, and if not, I will take executive action to put in place the first comprehensive universal background checks and ban the importation of assault weapons in our country!”

Arming teachers, said  Inslee, was an “idiotic idea.” In addition to gun safety measures, Inslee and other candidates emphasized the need for comprehensive mental health services in schools. “We need more counselors and psychologists to help students deal with domestic violence, homelessness, all the problems of growing up,” Inslee said.

Rep. Ryan agreed. “It’s imperative for us to have social and emotional learning in every school so that we can make sure that all of these kids are connected to each other, to the teacher, to the school… So help me God, if we’re going to transform our schools before we start talking about tests, we have to start talking about how we take care of our kids [and] how we address their trauma.”

Keeping Unions Strong

2020 presidential candidate Tim Ryan during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Candidates knew they were speaking to leaders of the nation’s largest labor union—and many voiced support for collective bargaining rights. The best way to “raise teacher pay and get more resources into our public schools” is to “strengthen our teacher unions. Make it easier to join a union and give those unions more power when they negotiate,” said Warren.

O’Rourke told delegates that he recently visited Iowa, where state legislators gutted union rights, and “those educators are leaving Iowa…I want to make sure we guarantee the rights of every educator to organize, including Iowa, and right here in Texas.”

Student Debt Relief

As student debt tops $1.6 trillion in the U.S., many candidates said they would make higher education more affordable. “If we could bail out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of billions of dollars, we surely can cancel student debt in America,” said Sanders.

2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Biden promised “absolutely free” community college, while Warren’s plan provides free community college, technical college, and four-year college.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar spoke to the need to improve the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, “to make it actually work!” Harris, who also would reform PSLF and provide “debt-free college,” pointed to her experience as attorney general in California, where she sued one of the largest for-profit college chains in the U.S., Corinthian College, “and put them out of the business,” she said. “And the reason is, they were predatory in their practices, as are so many in this field.”

After the forum, Eskelsen García said the 7,000 delegates were clearly energized by the event.

“The power of this union and the collective voice of our 3 million educator members was on full display today. …This must be at the center of the 2020 campaign conversation. Educators are ready to make their presence felt in this election and we will play a vital role in choosing who becomes the next president of the United States.”

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34 responses to “2020 Presidential Hopefuls Court Educators at NEA Representative Assembly

  1. REPEAL: WEP & GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET FOR TEACHERS! Solution for POVERTY: CASH……..YANG 2020 / FREEDOM DIVIDEND / Humanity First / Abundance Mindset / M4A. The Freedom Dividend would be $1,000 per mo per adult. Imagine what CASH…would do for TEACHERS & IMPOVERISHED PARENTS!!! YANG 2020 = YES!!!

  2. Was Andrew Yang at this event? If not, why not? Did he pass up the invite? Was he even invited? #yanggang #yang

  3. I hope whomever is elected deals not only with student debt, but includes the parents in that. Students are loaned such a small portion of the total amount and parents have to make up the difference. It’s hard on them.

    I also hope we look at ways to not be test heavy. Kids know how to fill in a damn bubble, but they aren’t learning how to think critically and they sure are learning life skills. As a HS teacher, I push for my students to go to college, but they cant even see on a simple button, write a proper thank you note or leave a phone message. We have a business manners and etiquette class and they learn all of those things and more. I think EVERY school should have it and it should be a mandatory for graduation class.

    1. I know Pete Buttigieg sat down for interview with Lily because he had a prior commitment. I would like to know why NEA appears to be leaving out his answers, when he answered questions knowing he was unable to attend forum in person. The appearance that the NEA is excluding a top tier candidate makes this 26 year member consider not renewing for year 27. I will not support financially an association that appears to play favorites instead of giving ALL information from ALL participating candidates during this extremely i.important election cycle.

      1. For this event, only candidates that were able to attend were included. However, the sit down interviews with Lily are part of the PAC recommendation process, and will be released once all candidates who choose to participate have had time to complete their interviews.

  4. I hope whomever is elected deals not only with student debt, but includes the parents in that. Students are loaned such a small portion of the amount owed, but parents have to make up the difference.

    I also hope we look at ways to not be test heavy. Kids know how to fill in a damn bubble, but they aren’t learning how to think critically and they sure are learning life skills. As a HS teacher, I push for my students to go to college, but they cant even see on a simple button, write a proper thank you note or leave a phone message. We have a business manners and etiquette class and they learn all of those things and more. I think EVERY school should have it and it should be a mandatory for graduation class.

  5. Many NEA members are Republics, of which I was one until the party nominated Trump. My opposition to him is based on the example he is setting for our youngest citizens, many of whom are without any guidance in evaluating the president’s example of how to conduct one’s self. His election, especially with young children, validates the idea that this country affirms his charter traits and his way of interacting with others as something to be valued and emulated. Do we want to promote this type of citizenship for ourselves and our children so that a more conservative philosophy can rule the land? I ask our Republican members to consider the bigger picture of the type of society we want to promote when considering your vote in 2020 for not only the presidency, but also your federal and state representatives.

    1. Sorry for the error of Republics rather Republicans, and charter for character. This is an example of how poor your proofreading can become at 1:30 in the morning. My apologies again!

  6. Important process but I want to know what will be done to address poverty, addiction, and mental health. I want my students to be safe, healthy, and well taken care of. Economic and social justice for children and their families has to be the goal. VOTE for our children.

  7. It sounds promising to have candidates have some grasp on the huge educational issues. One complication that comes to mind for me is some schools are in worse shape than others to rise up to be on a level playing field. My neighborhood has mostly charters for elementary schools which I believe should either be taken over by public school districts or be replaced by them. More schools need to be built to address class size as well, but that is going to take more teachers …which there is already a shortage. I don’t mean to be a kill joy, but I’ve been in, (and forced out due to program elimination) and back in too long with toooooo many hollow and broken promises. Can any strides be made before I retire and for the future of all of our communities?

    1. I wouldn’t hold my breath. These candidates talk a good game, but most of their plans are unattainable. People think increasing teachers’ salary will solve the problem, but that’s only a small part. None of us teachers went into the profession to become millionaires.

      1. After watching and listening to the 10, my only comment was,”Tthey were very well prepped on what the crowd wanted to hear.” I couldn’t say any of them had the sincerity in their answers just the big buzz words for educators.

  8. Elizabeth Warren is a highly intelligent candidate that honors education and educators. She has been sharing her strategic plans, and they make sense! I hope the NEA will back Elizabeth as she was the first to address student debt and the need to put educators in the Dept. of Education.
    Her experience and knowledge will benefit all of us!

  9. Beto O’Rouke is against vouchers but he supports charters. Strike him from the campaign.
    Both Sanders and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the for-profit charter school industry. Really! They must be educated on the fact there is almost no difference. Especially because they use “self dealing”. Look no further than Rocketship. They treat their schools like franchises and require 500K-600k kickbacks. They then charge their schools for all additional services, thus making perhaps larger profits than those classified as “for profit” charter schools. They must change their message to against “both types of charters” or drop support for them as well.

    1. It clear to see who the favorites are. There was not much equity with reporting on what the candidates had to say. Certain names were repeated over and over with lengthy quotes while others were barely mentioned. All of this doesn’t matter if we can’t get the right person elected. Think about who can win the general election so that our kids get a fighting chance!

      1. AGREE!! It is critical to choose someone who can beat Trump and change the direction of the country.

  10. It sounds like these candidates are listening. The challenge is trusting that these words will be put into action. In the meantime, you can add my name to the list of educators who would like to be at the table for policy.

  11. I find it very interesting that in a time of elections these politicians, who are already in power to help accomplish some of these goals, are saying they will do all this. If they were just folks off the street, I could believe the promises more. Senators and Congress members could have already been working on this. I find it another ploy to win teachers votes and then screw us the same after the election.

  12. A remarkable and purposeful event! If current and retired educators would agree to vote as a block in every state and national election, we could change the course of public education.

  13. Good article, helpful, but please proof read and correct the many spelling errors and repeated words. As an educator and writer, I am embarrassed that someone let this go live without proofing and corrections.

  14. Strengthen unions?!? We are not even ALLOWED TO UNIONIZE in the South – and don’t even get me started on the so-called “right-to-work” states’s restrictions that render unions impotent. THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE!!

  15. Proud teacher here and I am for Bernie!!! No other candidate has the best plan for our teachers, our students, and our future. #Bernie2020

  16. What a fabulously democratic forum to allow delegates to speak about how they’ll further quality education to every child in every zip code. Strong unions, yes! Further, this was an incredible way to allow our members to decide whom the NEA should endorse. #redfored

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