WASHINGTON— Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten on President Obama's State of the Union address. Two AFT members joined first lady Michelle Obama to watch the address: Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year Kathy Hollowell-Makle, and Antoinette Tuff, a DeKalb County, Ga. bookkeeper who talked down a shooter at the elementary school where she worked.
"We are a stronger nation when we champion opportunity, reward work and create a path to success for all of our citizens. The forward-seeking agenda that President Obama laid out tonight combats the economic inequality many working Americans face with real and practical solutions that raise people up—not deepen wealth divisions—by increasing the minimum wage and putting Americans back to work in good jobs with family-friendly policies like paid sick leave, expanding early childhood education, making college affordable, and creating a new retirement savings program called MyRA. And by using the first words of his address to honor the dedication of teachers, the president highlighted the importance of educators and our schools in helping our children achieve their dreams. We cannot rest until we fully re-establish the steps on the ladder to opportunity and give working families a shot at the American dream. The president has heard the American people, and we now must heed his call for action.
"A vibrant economy and a high-quality public education system have been and always will be intertwined. It's no coincidence that when our nation summoned the political will to launch a war on poverty 50 years ago, we not only slashed poverty rates, put Americans back to work and rebuilt communities, but also witnessed a rapid spike in student achievement that has yet to be repeated. The black-white reading gap alone shrank by two-thirds from the 1960s to the 1980s.
"While we can't replicate today the same strategies employed 50 years ago, the American people need leaders willing to expand opportunity and help re-create a path to the middle class. We must build on what the president laid out tonight. It starts with investing in early childhood education, making college affordable, making public schools the center of communities, and, equipping students with essential life skills and offering multiple paths to graduation and the world of work through rigorous career and technical education programs. We need to reject sequestration and austerity, and invest in the services that keep our communities safe and vibrant and our families healthy. We need good jobs with living wages and opportunities for workers to develop new skills and compete in a changing workforce; unions can play an important role in both creating a highway to the middle class for workers, and partnering with government and the private sector to create career-ladder opportunities like we've done for paraprofessionals in New York City, Baltimore and elsewhere. We need to do more to ensure people have a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work. We can create good jobs today and invest in our future by putting Americans back to work rebuilding our infrastructure. And we need to stop just debating it and finally pass comprehensive immigration reform to end exploitation and strengthen our economy.
"The American people expect and deserve their leaders to act on their behalf to move an agenda the expands economic opportunity and reclaims the promise of public education for all children. With too many families still feeling the sting of an economy tilted against them, we simply can't wait."