Hillary Clinton drew big cheers and rounds of thunderous applause from AFT convention delegates July 18 when she detailed a strong vision for public schools and the public sector—one that steers clear of derision and division as it charts a new course toward well-resourced institutions, effective community connections, and solid school strategies forged in partnership with educators on the frontline.
The presumptive Democratic nominee flatly rejected any effort to return to top-down reform. Real school improvement, she insisted, is something that requires the voices, talent and buy-in of professionals who do the work every day.
"I want to thank you for being one of the essential partners for everything we need to do to move the country in the right direction," Clinton declared to enthusiastic applause. "I want to say right from the outset that I'm with you.
"When I'm president, you will have a partner in the White House, and you will always have a seat at the table."
AFT President Randi Weingarten introduced Clinton at the session and pointed to a quarter-century of close work with the Democratic standard-bearer that revealed her "compassion, courage and the commitment it takes to achieve real-world change."
The AFT was the first national union to endorse Clinton in the 2016 primaries and, as president, Clinton will "keep the promise she's made to all of us—the promise to break down barriers, to raise people's wages and to keep America safe," Weingarten said.
Clinton's fire to bring people together, rather than tear groups apart, was clearly on display at the convention. At one point, when a group of demonstrators interrupted her address with chants reminding the audience that black lives matter, Clinton pointed to common ground in two essentials for society: "respect for the law and everyone respected by the law."
On education, Clinton vowed to lift the status of educators through career-long professional development, higher salaries for teachers and PSRPs, and relief from staggering student debt—a refreshing departure at a time when too many educators are ignored and underpaid.
And, the Democratic candidate insisted, these efforts must involve unions. "If we are serious about supporting educators, we need to support unions." Those seeking to privatize public education, to impose vouchers and to launch reckless charter school efforts can expect to find an enemy in the White House under any Hillary Clinton administration, she said.
Some of Clinton's harshest remarks were directed to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. She listed a litany of his most vulgar, insulting and outrageous comments—his belief that we spend too much on schools while reserve too little for tax breaks benefiting the wealthy; his racist and sexist attacks; and the fear, pain and anger he has needlessly caused vulnerable groups ranging from immigrants to the disabled. Trump compounded the misery by picking as his running mate
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, "a tea party politician and one of the most hostile when it comes to public education."
"Neither Donald Trump nor Mike Pence should be anywhere near our children's future," Clinton added. "If I weren't running against him, I would ask Randi to invite me here so I could rail against them."
[Mike Rose/photo by Michael Campbell]