'Let's put a teacher in the White House': 2020 candidates make promises to teachers

John C. Moritz/USA Today Network Austin Bureau
1 / 4

'Let's put a teacher in the White House': 2020 candidates make promises to teachers

Candidates seeking to take on Trump told the National Education Association's annual gathering that teachers deserve better pay and respect.

HOUSTON — Teachers deserve better pay, more respect and the right to set the agenda for education policy, even if it means shelving so-called high-stakes testing in public schools.

Those were among the long list of promises made by several of the leading contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination who spoke round-robin style Friday in Houston at the National Education Association's annual gathering.

"Teaching is not what y'all do. It's who you are," said former Vice President Joe Biden, who was quick to point out that his wife, Jill, is a lifelong educator. "And we don't treat you with enough respect and dignity. We don't pay you enough and when I'm president ... that will change on day one."

Among his promises, one that was repeated by nearly every candidate who spoke: That a professional educator would be named U.S. secretary of education.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted that she worked as a teacher before launching her political career  — a choice she made in the second grade.

"Let's put a teacher in the White House," she said to loud applause 

When is the next Democratic debate?: July 30 and 31 in Detroit

Both Texans in the race, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso, were among the candidates who spoke to the 7,000 delegates from all 50 states. Their presence filled the sprawling hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden speaks during the National Education Association Strong Public Schools Presidential Forum Friday, July 5, 2019, in Houston.

Castro talked about growing up with his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, in "an intensely segregated school district" in San Antonio but managed to attend Stanford University and then Harvard Law School.

"Today we're still grappling with many of the same issues we were grappling with 30, 40, 50 years ago," he said. To address that, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, said he would support "voluntary busing" so children from struggling campuses can make their way to better schools and to implement housing policies to end segregated neighborhoods.

O'Rourke, like nearly everyone who took the stage, vowed to use federal power to increase teacher pay so they would "not have to work a second or third job as so many do, especially here in Texas."

He also said he would forgive "100% of your student loan debt if you dedicate your life to public service."

'There was a very interesting problem': Trump adds mystery to why Pence abruptly canceled trip

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the National Education Association Strong Public Schools Presidential Forum Friday, July 5, 2019, in Houston.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders put a specific number for starting pay for teachers: $60,000 per year.

"I was criticized for this proposal," the self-described Democratic Socialist said. "I am criticized for every proposal."

Warren said her education spending policies would be financed with what she called a "wealth tax." The plan calls for a 2% levy on income earned above $50 million, which she said would only apply to .1% of Americans.

"This is about our values," she said. "So pitch in 2 cents so that every one of our kids has a chance to make it."

Sen. Kamala Harris of California said she is always reminded that teachers have a lifelong impact on their students. And she illustrated the point.

Justin Amash: The few times a member of Congress has left a political party in recent history

"My first grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, attended my law school graduation," Harris said, adding that when a teacher called her "special," it never failed to lift her spirits.

"I wasn't particularly special but I believed them," she said

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., points to the crowd during the National Education Association Strong Public Schools Presidential Forum Friday, July 5, 2019, in Houston.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota used the NEA conference to announce what she described as a "a state-federal partnership with a generous federal match to increase salaries for all teachers." She also renewed her call for schools to reduce racial disparities in how they discipline students.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington called for more federal education aid to for salary pay increases for teachers and school staff. His plan also included what he called "targeted investments" aimed at putting more teachers in high-need districts.

"We need to be empowering teachers and students to thrive," Inslee said. "This means leveling the playing field for all kids with universal preschool, giving students the education they need to succeed in the 21st century, and making sure every child can afford to go to college and pursue their dreams.” 

Terrorism: Global terrorism is in decline. For victims, it doesn't feel like it

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio called for more initiatives to make schools safe from gun violence.

"I support making sure we get weapons of war off the streets of the United States of America," he said. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during the National Education Association Strong Public Schools Presidential Forum on Friday, July 5, 2019, in Houston.

Harris drew loud cheers when she said: "I will ban the importation of assault weapons into our country. Done."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised national pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

The NEA bills itself the nation's largest labor union with about 3.2 million members. The convention-goers were vocal in their antipathy for Trump, who is seeking his second term next year, and for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Nike: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey dons Nikes 2 days after blasting company over 'Betsy Ross' shoe

"All over this country, politicians ran on being the best candidate for — wait for it — better public schools," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcìa, a sixth-grade teacher from Utah, in her keynote address to the delegates. "And some of them were telling the truth. And some of them were big fat liars."

"I am not being partisan when I tell you that Donald Trump disqualified himself for our consideration many times and in many ways, but most particularly on education issues, he disqualified himself with two words: Betsy DeVos," added Eskelsen Garcìa, referring to the Trump-appointed U.S. secretary of education.

"He put the least qualified person to ever hold a cabinet position in charge of protecting children’s access to quality, equitable public education."

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: 'Let's put a teacher in the White House': 2020 candidates make promises to teachers