Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) toured two schools and held a town hall meeting in Yonkers, N.Y., with AFT President Randi Weingarten May 10. They met with members of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers and their students, and listened to their stories about what their schools, and public education in general, need to succeed.
Klobuchar warned that if teachers are not paid what they deserve, the nation risks continued teacher shortages. She is an advocate for increasing funding for public schools, an opponent of the sort of privatization Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has championed—including private school vouchers—and an advocate for full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, she told the crowd gathered at Gorton High School. Her mother taught second grade until age 70 and was an enthusiastic member of the AFT, and her grandfather was active in the miners’ union—she says its safety requirements saved his life. As a result, Klobuchar is a lifelong union supporter.
Klobuchar has been campaigning on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that includes funding for schools much like the ones she toured in Yonkers—School 9, a preK-12 school; and Gorton High School—so that students are no longer learning in crumbling buildings. After hearing about gym classes cut short because the “gym” has to double as a cafeteria, listening to students who performed in a music room with paint peeling from the walls, and seeing a radiator held together with duct tape and a school boiler that “is just falling apart,” Klobuchar underscored her commitment to addressing the neglect public schools have experienced. “Our kids deserve better and our teachers deserve better,” she said.
“Success starts with a good education,” said Klobuchar. “If we’re going to put a trillion dollars or more into infrastructure, we better include schools. It’s not just about roads and bridges and ribbon cutting. It’s also about education.” Klobuchar’s infrastructure plan would be funded by reversing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Klobuchar is also campaigning on improved mental health services and recognizes the need for better resources in public schools. “We’ve got a problem in this country,” she said. “One out of two people are hit by addiction. One out of five have mental health problems.
“Teachers, you’re dealing with kids on the front end. You’re supposed to be their counselor, you’re supposed to be their psychiatrist, you’re supposed to be their teacher.” She proposes more funding for preventive mental health services such as additional school counselors to help carry the load.
Weingarten praised Klobuchar for her courage and conviction in the fight for democracy. “This is a person who understands working people and who understands how important public education is,” she said. Weingarten invited Klobuchar to Yonkers because of the particular infrastructure needs there.
The event was part of a series of AFT Votes meetings between AFT members and presidential candidates; the AFT Votes process will eventually lead to the AFT’s endorsement in the 2020 elections. Watch the video of the Yonkers event here.