Kate Childs Graham
WASHINGTON—On Tuesday and Wednesday, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders attended the American Federation of Teachers executive council meeting as part of the union's endorsement process.
"It was great to see Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders and Gov. O'Malley engage in a candid, broad-ranging conversation about what needs to be done to reclaim the promise of America with the AFT's leaders and rank-and-file members," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "We place an extraordinary value on letting our members' voices be heard, so part of any endorsement process is engaging our membership and our leadership. They know that elections matter, and they are committed to using their voice and their unity to help give pro-public education, pro-worker candidates the strongest possible base to win."
Weingarten continued, "Our members have told us that the economy and public education are their top concerns heading into 2016. At kitchen tables across the country, families are having serious conversations about their neighborhood public schools and their ability to get ahead and stay ahead. We're focused on making sure that the voices of working families are heard by presidential candidates and that the conversation about public education and our economy extends from the kitchen table to the campaign trail."
Excerpts of the candidates' introductory remarks can be found below.
Secretary Hillary Clinton:
"I think we are at a very pivotal turning point. I've been traveling around the country, and I've been listening to people and hearing what Americans are thinking about. And I am absolutely convinced that education must be at the top of our agenda again. So I am putting it at the heart of my campaign. … We can build a stronger, fairer, more inclusive America where once again parents feel like they can give their kids real choices and opportunities. Every single child should be able to start learning early at home, in child care settings, at pre-K, and then go off to public school with teachers who are going to be able to support them and who have the respect and dignity that comes with the teaching profession.
"I want to work with you to make sure we do what needs to be done based on evidence, not ideology. … And from what I've seen, all of the evidence, and my own personal experience, says that the most important and impactful thing we can do for our public schools is to recruit, support and retain the highest-quality educators. It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society's problems. Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too."
Gov. Martin O'Malley:
"We need to build up our own economy. And there is no work more important than the work that so many of you are engaged in. … I have a tremendous amount of respect for the profession of teaching. As a governor and as mayor, I have always worked in partnership with [union leaders]. I don't know how these other guys think. … How do you improve public education if you vilify and turn into enemies the teachers that are responsible for our children? ...
"We believe that the more a person learns, the more a person earns and the better that is for our entire economy. One of the most important things we can do to give our country to our kids and restore the truth of the American dream is to improve education and access to higher education for the next generation of Americans. You know that and I know that. It is a building block of this American dream that we share."
Sen. Bernie Sanders:
"Thousands of schools across this country do not have enough money to provide quality education to our kids, at the same time that the Republicans have just given a huge tax break in their budget to the wealthiest two-tenths of 1 percent, over $200 billion in the next 10 years. The issue is getting our priorities right. You have 25 hedge fund managers who, a few years ago, made as much money as 435,000 public school teachers. Is that what America is supposed to be about? …
"I am calling for a political revolution in this country, and what that means in English is not arguing about whether we cut education by 3 percent or 6 percent, but we're arguing about changing fundamentally the priorities of this nation. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Today. Why in God's name is there any school in America talking about cutting back?"