WASHINGTON - Seeking to mobilize support for the November election, Vice President Joe Biden today warned the nation's public school teachers that they are "under full blown assault" from Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
"Gov. Romney and his allies in the Congress, their plan for public education in America is to let the states use Title One dollars to boost enrollment in private schools," Biden told a crowd of more than 15,000 delegates at the National Education Association convention in Washington.
"I'm not looking for boos," he told the crowd, which was reacting to mention of Romney. "I think we should just have a straight honest to God talk about the difference between… how President Obama and I view education and how our Republican colleagues today view it."
The NEA, one of the nation's largest public sector unions, endorsed a second Obama term one year ago and is considered a key player in Democratic organizing efforts in swing states. Membership has slumped over the past two years - down 100,000 alone since 2010, according to the group - meaning potentially fewer bodies on the ground and money for advertising. But the group's enthusiasm for Obama appears not to have waned.
Biden, deploying his characteristic folksy charm, energized the crowd by hammering his Republican opponent for not understanding the public teaching profession or how to make it better.
"I'm afraid the governor and his allies, they don't get it," Biden said. "They don't get why you chose this profession.
"Look folks, they either directly call you - and I'm not quoting Gov. Romney now - but your critics have directly called you or implied that you're selfish. That all this is about is an easy ride… As if you're not part of the community, as if you decided to teach for fame or fortune," he said.
"They criticize you and they blame you. They make you the fall guy. They should be thinking of ways to help you make your job easier, not more difficult," he said.
Citing the House Republican budget, Biden said a President Romney would gut investments in public education and lead to more teacher layoffs. He hit Romney for recent comments opposing additional federal aid to states to boost teacher hiring and claims that smaller class sizes don't matter in student success.
"If you really want to know how fundamentally out of touch he is with what made you choose your profession go to his website," Biden said. "Here's what he says about you, and I'm quoting. 'When your cause in life,' referring to you… 'is preventing parents from having a meaningful choice, or children from having a real chance, then you're on the wrong side.' That's what he thinks of you. Pretty astounding," Biden said.
"Your cause in life is preventing parents from seeing their children have an opportunity to dream? Your cause in life is preventing children from having a real chance? Is he serious? He is though," he added. "I believe he means what he says. I can't think of a candidate for president who has made such a direct assault on such an honorable profession."
In May, Romney revealed his plan to overhaul the nation's public education system, which would promote school choice. He would allocate federal education funds by student, allowing parents to pick where to send their child to school, including online institutions.
Romney opposes additional federal aid to states to boost jobs for teachers and first responders, and he has argued that smaller class sizes (and more teachers to run them) should not be necessarily be a policy goal. "All the talk about we need smaller classroom size … that's promoted by the teachers unions to hire more teachers," he said at a GOP primary debate in Orlando last September.
At a campaign stop in Iowa last month, Romney criticized the Obama-Biden plan to promote teacher hiring on the state level.
"He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did," the former governor said of Obama, invoking the unsuccessful recall of Wisconsin's Republican governor. "It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, responding to Biden, sought to focus on the economic situation facing U.S. high school and college graduations.
"Vice President Biden today doubled down on the same policies that have failed to fix our economy and help the middle class," she said in a statement.
"Instead of creating good jobs for graduates, this administration has presided over one of the bleakest jobs markets for young people. Mitt Romney has the plan and record to put students first and make sure that they have a job waiting for them when they graduate."