By Amanda Menas
Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Joe Biden has made public education a top priority. This continued during the Democratic National Convention this week, where Biden appeared with wife Dr. Jill Biden by his side, an educator and long-time NEA member herself. Throughout the virtual convention, NEA members from Arizona and Kentucky spoke about issues facing their students and communities, from systemic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic to educator shortages, and how a Biden administration would address them.
NEA members were the largest delegation at the convention, with 213 members present. Jill Biden was even with NEA members on Facebook Live ahead of Joe’s acceptance speech, saying, “Americans, and especially educators, have the grit to get through this pandemic.”
She also talked about the need for federal guidance for schools during the pandemic, universal pre-K, modernized school infrastructure, and increased school support staff. She also acknowledged Joe’s long-time commitment to making schools safer, saying, “Finally, someone is standing up to the NRA and keeping our children and our schools safe,” said Jill Biden.
In accepting his party’s nomination, Joe Biden spoke about the country coming together to build a more equitable version of America with opportunity for all..
“It’s time for us, for we, the people, to come together. And make no mistake. United we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America,” said Biden.
Starting off the convention, Monday’s speakers included Michelle Obama, and one of NEA’s own–Michelle Beebe, a school nurse in a COVID-19 hotspot, who described returning to school remotely.
“I am committed to take care of my family, my students, and all the staff at my school. I will make sure we’re all ready to go back to school safe and healthy. Wear your mask, we’re all in this together.” — Michelle, Texas Nurse #DemConvention pic.twitter.com/gSVwCpuLRw
— Texas Democrats (@texasdemocrats) August 18, 2020
Another NEA member, eighth grade social studies teacher Marisol Garcia, represented Arizona during the roll call and shared her story. “As a middle school teacher, I know that public educators are doing everything they can to make sure our students have quality learning experiences this fall. As a mother of a high school freshman, I know that it’s far from perfect,” said Garcia, who serves as vice president of the Arizona Education Association. Garcia continued, “As an NEA union organizer, I will fight to make sure that it’s scientists, parents, and educators deciding when it’s safe to go back to school—not politicians.”
Colman Elridge, an education advocate and NEA member in Kentucky, also helped cast votes for Joe Biden from his state. Elridge told a personal story about Joe Biden’s commitment to improving American health care.
The respect educators, and especially educators of color, feel within the Biden campaign make the differences from the current administration even more stark. Biden has promised to listen to scientists on when to reopen schools, and to educators on how to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. His plans stand in stark contrast to President Trump’s actions, which include ignoring scientists and public health experts, and threatening to withhold funding from schools to force educators back into the classroom without proper safety protections. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has called out the “gross incompetence of the people who are supposed to be protecting us.”
Biden and vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris understand they will have an obligation to protect educators and our most vulnerable students, and must address the long-standing racial inequities that have only worsened during the pandemic.
“This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism. Of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation,” said Senator Harris during her speech Wednesday night.
Jill Biden spoke from her former public school classroom at Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Del. where she taught English, underscoring what she called “the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways” as students and educators prepare for the fall semester. She offered hope to educators and the families across America who rely on public schools, saying, “With Joe as President, these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”
“I know that if we entrust this nation to @JoeBiden, he will do for your family what he did for ours:
Bring us together and make us whole.
Carry us forward in our time of need.
— 2020 #DemConvention 🇺🇸 (@DemConvention) August 19, 2020
After her speech, Joe Biden said of her, “Just think of your favorite educator who gave you the confidence to believe in yourself. That’s the kind of First Lady Jill Biden will be.”
In reacting to Dr. Biden’s speech, NEA President-elect Becky Pringle told Newsy that her “smile” from “ear-to-ear said it all.” She described Dr. Biden, with her experience teaching K-12 and higher education, as having a “comprehensive lens that allows her to think deeply about what our students need at every level as well as [what] our educators need.”
Pringle, a former middle school science teacher from Jill Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania, also moderated a panel with the Arizona, California, and Michigan Secretaries of State on preparing for an accessible and secure general election. She prioritized educators as essential to the process saying educators “are the people who understand that every decision that impacts their students and their schools is a political one.”