On Friday, leading Democratic presidential candidates took turns in Houston railing on President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy “Grizzly Bear” Devos — to often thunderous applause by thousands of teachers and support staff gathered in Houston.
“The first thing I will do [as president] is to make sure that the Secretary of Education is not Betsy Devos, it is a teacher,” former Vice President Joe Biden said.
Elizabeth Warren, who also derided DeVos on stage and promised to replace her with a teacher, tweeted earlier that “Betsy DeVos is the worst Secretary of Education in our history.”
Ten candidates including Biden, Warren, Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, and Kamala Harris talked education policy at the annual National Education Association association delegate meeting. The NEA is the largest labor union in the country with 3 million members.
The candidates on stage Friday were committed to teachers working one job — teaching — instead of having to pick up a second, even third, job to make ends meet. Higher wages and more resources for the public education system was the progressive chorus throughout the afternoon.
“Every teacher in America should earn at least $60,000 a year,” said Sanders.
O’Rourke made it clear, “Not a single dime of our public tax dollars can go to vouchers and private schools in this country.”
Castro said he would place teachers front and center in his administration and promised to continue reaching out to teacher’s unions like the NEA for policy ideas and potential positions in his administration.
Concerning safety, Harris spoke to gun violence in our schools, receiving foot-pounding applause from the audience. She said she would sign an executive order on gun safety in her first hundred days in office if Congress didn’t act.
Both Sanders and Warren praised the NEA and other teacher’s unions for being instrumental in cowing Republican-led state legislatures into voting for better pay and benefits.
This year, the powerhouse NEA has made it clear their plan on shaping the upcoming presidential election with their coveted endorsement, received in 2016 by Hillarly Clinton. 2019 was the first time the NEA invited presidential candidates to talk policy in front of teachers, another sign of their growing involvement in national politics.
“We will make our presence felt in this election and will play a major role in choosing the next president of the United States,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement. According to the NEA, an estimated 1 out of every 39 votes cast during the 2016 presidential election came from an NEA household.
Anyone but Trump
Although the teacher’s union has yet to hint at whom they might endorse in the 2020 presidential election, it’s more than safe to say it ain’t Trump.
“I am not being partisan when I tell you that Donald Trump disqualified himself for our consideration many times and in many ways, but most particularly on education issues, he disqualified himself with two words: Betsy DeVos,” said García on the opening day of the teacher assembly.
Devos is a multi-billionaire heir and lobbyist who has spent her time as education chief expanding for-profit schools. She believed a Wyoming school should have a gun to protect from “grizzlies.” (This never gets old repeating. Video.)
More recently, Devos repealed an Obama-era regulation that cracked down on for-profit colleges— her latest act in a lifetime career of trying to funnel taxpayer money from public schools into private or religious for-profit schools.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com