Education News

Go behind the scenes at NEA’s presidential candidate interviews

Educators are keeping public education a central focus of the 2020 presidential election following wins for students and schools across the country during 2019 races. Parents, students, teachers, and support staff have carried the Red For Ed spirit into rallies and electoral work, calling for greater investment in public schools and expanded opportunities for all children. 

Leading up to the 2020 election, NEA members are leading the charge in selecting a new president. NEA has invited ALL presidential candidates to participate in its candidate recommendation process. That process includes getting to know members, listening to their concerns and hopes, and engaging with them on issues that affect our schools, our students, and our communities. 

Senator Michael Bennet

It starts with a candidate questionnaire. Then participating candidates sit down for a recorded interview with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. Last week, NEA publicly released the five videos that are available at this time.

“Our priority is listening to our members, letting them continue to lead this process, and lifting up their voices so that every candidate is not only hearing from educators, but also directly answering their questions about how to expand opportunities for our students by strengthening our neighborhood public schools,” said García.

García presented each candidate with a variety of the most frequently asked questions submitted directly by NEA members, including how a candidate would select a Secretary of Education, increase educator pay, and more.

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Michael Bennet applauded a question on immigration reform as a former Denver superintendent, saying, “There are [other] education policy questions you could be asking and instead what you’re doing is using this time to advocate for the kids in my school district. I deeply appreciate that.” 

One subject on which the candidates agree is that we need a new Secretary of Education. Sen. Amy Klobuchar says one of her first moves in education will be to replace Betsy DeVos. What qualities would she look for in a Secretary of Education? ”You want someone who doesn’t just have the head for this work, but also has the heart,” said Klobuchar, whose mom was a second-grade teacher and active union member.

During the interviews—all of which are available at StrongPublicSchools.org—the candidates agreed on the importance of involving educators in decisions that affect public education. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

“When the educators fight, they don’t just fight for themselves, they fight for our children. Last year, I was so excited to see so many educators across this country, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, to see them out in California, stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough. You have cut budgets and squeezed our educators for long enough. We’re out here to start fighting back,’” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former special education teacher, on strengthening teachers unions.

García asked the candidates questions from NEA members about IDEA and Title I, racial and economic inequality, and charter schools. Many of the candidates committed to increasing funding for IDEA and Title I, and working to boost educator pay.

After detailing his plans to boost federal education funding, Vice Pres. Joe Biden expressed his great concerns around teacher pay and teacher respect. “It’s not just that teachers aren’t getting paid enough, they’re not treated with dignity…. It’s the single most consequential profession in terms of whether the United States succeeds in the world,” Biden said. 

Vice President Joe Biden

Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed the educator pay gap–the fact that teachers make less than their similarly educated peers–that punishes educators and their families. “I do not want to continue to see experienced teachers forced out of the profession because they’re not making a living wage, because they’re taking money out of their own pockets to buy school supplies…” Sanders said.

NEA follows an established, inclusive process to recommend a presidential candidate, led by NEA members. NEA believes that a candidate recommendation is only powerful if it involves deep engagement among NEA members and includes their voice at every turn. There is no specific timetable for NEA to make a recommendation in the presidential election.  

Senator Bernie Sanders

More videos will be added as more candidates schedule time to speak with President García. 

NEA members will continue to have opportunities to get involved and make their voices heard by reaching out to candidates from all political parties in order to form a deep, comprehensive understanding of their positions on the issues that educators care about. 

You can submit questions that draw attention to the challenges facing public education, what matters most to you, your students, and your community online at StrongPublicSchools.org.

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