By Amanda Menas
When it comes to support for public education and students, the difference between a Biden and Trump administration will be night and day. That became even more clear over the last two weeks, when Dr. Jill Biden embarked on a back to school listening tour, where she personally in person and virtually with students and educators across the country. As entire school communities grapple with how to reopen school doors in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden made sure to prioritize the voices of educators.
Without the leadership and accountability expected of a president since the novel coronavirus began to take hold, the Trump administration has failed to propose any meaningful plans to ensure all students have access to an equitable education. With parents and educators desperate for leadership, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been completely absent, only coming up for air to use a deadly pandemic to push again and again voucher schemes that deprive the majority of our students the funding they need to be safe in public schools.
Vice President Joe Biden has instead been a compassionate leader, listening to scientists and educators on how best to reopen school buildings to support students and parents. He has taken their advice and proposed a roadmap for reopening schools safely and plans for restarting our economy equitably. Most recently, the Bidens hosted a listening session with educators and health experts to discuss school reopening during COVID-19. Biden tweeted about the session, “Unlike Donald Trump, I’ll listen to the experts and heed their advice — especially when it comes to matters of health and safety. You should expect nothing less from your president.”
Jill Biden’s tour started in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware with elementary educator Christopher Wiggins.
We need a president who listens to educators.
This is Mr. Christopher Wiggins. Let’s listen to him.
He teaches 2nd grade at Shortlidge Academy in Wilmington, Delaware where I had the pleasure of visiting him on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/Vo0innlaTL
— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) September 3, 2020
Along with Mr. Wiggins, the Biden campaign has made sure to bring educators to the table to listen about new and creative ways to teach remotely, in hybrid settings, and in-person during the pandemic. A Biden administration will “mobilize a large-scale U.S. Department of Education effort to work with practitioners to develop, adopt, and share the latest tools and best practices to ensure high-quality learning during this pandemic.”
Continuing onto a community college in Florida, Biden used her own experience as a professor in Virginia to speak about the challenges facing the higher education community. While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all forms of education, students who are also parents or full time workers have additional challenges compounding their new struggles.
“Community college students are some of the hardest working people around. It’s not always easy. But you show up when it counts. You put in the hours. And you support one another. In you, I see the best of the nation,” Biden told students. She continued to say that this nation needs “leadership worthy of all of you.”
Moving west, Biden virtually visited Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota on the days surrounding Labor Day. As a long-time NEA member, Biden continued her advocacy for students, educators, and unions alongside her husband Joe Biden.
Nothing like Wisconsin Kringle.
Thank you again to the parents and educators I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
I see you and I hear you. pic.twitter.com/6nS6BtMKIs
— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) September 6, 2020
“I’ve been an educator for more than 30 years. NEA is my union. Our campaign is honored to have the support of educators and the endorsement of the [NEA and AFT], two of the largest unions in the country. Today and always, I honor educators. Happy Labor Day.” Jill Biden said on Twitter.
As part of her visit, Biden made sure that educators and students know, “Joe and I will always have your backs.”
Dr. Jill Biden made a campaign stop for her husband, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, to discuss school reopenings with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz, his wife Gwen, and others Wednesday at Jeffers Pond Elementary in Prior Lake, Minn. (Anthony Souffle/@StarTribune) pic.twitter.com/33I2R2xrw7
— Anthony Soufflé (@AnthonySouffle) September 9, 2020
I want to reassure you that when my husband is president, he already has a plan. He’s not going to wait. He already has a plan to reopen schools,” Jill Biden said.
Part of Biden’s plan directly addresses Minnesota educator LeAnne Weikle’s concerns about counselors. “Any support for guidance counselors, mental health experts; it’s an area that was lacking before COVID, but boy oh boy has COVID blown that up,” said Weikle, an elementary school teacher in Prior Lake. Biden promises to double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools so our kids get the mental health care they need.
I hear you.
Students and educators will need more mental health support to deal with the trauma of this pandemic.
— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) September 12, 2020
During her final listening sessions, Jill Biden and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin spoke virtually about the impact of COVID-19 on families with school age children during this pandemic. Biden’s plan to aid families includes providing tools and resources for parents and other caregivers to help them make informed decisions on sending their children to school. He has called on Congress to pass legislation that would include funding for child care providers and public schools — particularly Title I schools and tribal schools, and $4 billion specifically to upgrade technology and broadband.
— NEA Education Votes (@edvotes) September 10, 2020
The Biden campaign has continued to commit to including educators, students, parents, and entire school communities in their road to the White House, and in policies once they arrive. By taking the time to speak and listen directly to education professionals from across the country, Jill and Joe Biden are sending a clear message: you matter.