Minnesota senators lift up labor and elections

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Al Franken may be funny—he was a comedian before he became a U.S.senator from Minnesota—but he and Amy Klobuchar, the state's senior senator, are serious about their commitment to the labor movement. Both spoke passionately at the AFT convention on July 18 about their union connections: Franken as a member of three unions, and Klobuchar through her family, including her mother, a proud AFT member who taught until she was 70 years old.

Sen. Franken and Sen. Klobuchar

There's nothing more important than how we educate our kids, said Franken, who learned about the problems with No Child Left Behind and overtesting early in his political career, and worked hard to shift policy away from teaching to the test.

"Tests don't measure everything that's important—not by a long shot," he said. Employers around the state tell him they want creative employees with critical thinking skills and an ability to work well with others. "It's really hard to actually test those things," he said. The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act begins to recognize them, though—and addresses other issues as well, like student mental health, STEM education and the humanities. "Because the brain isn't a mind, and a mind isn't a soul, we need to teach the arts," said Franken.

All students should have access to these resources, said Klobuchar: "It shouldn't matter what school you attend, all children deserve to receive a high-quality education that will open doors to opportunity," she said, adding that NCLB never accomplished that because it was never backed with resources. And Klobuchar praised the ESSA.

But the presidential election is the union's most important work, said Klobuchar. "Our country's choice in November could not be more stark. It is a choice between electing a leader who is determined to make education affordable for all, or someone who has scammed students with his Trump University. Between a leader who will bring down the price of prescription drugs and support our nurses, and someone who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act," she said.

"The choice is clear, and it's up to all of you to make sure we elect leaders who stand up for our children and our communities."

[Virginia Myers/photo by Russ Curtis]