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After GOP Assaults, Teachers’ Union Endorsed a Public Education Advocate Early

* The following is an opinion column by R Muse *

It comes as no surprise to most Americans that regardless how much they support public education and school teachers, Republicans and their religious cohorts have been waging war on America’s public school system. Overwhelmingly, the American people support public schools and the people teaching their children, and no doubt they want a strong leader in the White House to protect public education from Republicans. There has been a steady drive to privatize the public schools, and in most Republican states they blatantly shift public school funding to private and religious for-profit schools. President Obama has not been the champion for public schools one hoped he would be, but if Americans were paying attention they would be aware that a national union representing the people who teach endorsed a candidate for president early in the primary that they strongly believe will protect public education and their children’s teachers.

American public schools and teachers need a strong ally in the White House and even though it was early in the primary season, the executive council of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) voted overwhelmingly to endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for president. Apparently AFT was the first national union to endorse a candidate in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. It is certain that the AFT has watched in horror as Republicans have systematically ravaged public education, as well as joined many Democrats pushing under-performing charter schools that also rob public schools of what precious little funding they get.

As far as endorsements go, from a national union or not, the AFT one was a pretty big deal for public education and America’s students. And, it was one not made lightly or without a comprehensive investigation that took a fair amount of time and resources. According to the AFT, it conducted “a long, deliberative process to assess which candidate would best champion the issues of importance to our members, their families and their communities.”

In order to come to a conclusion that would satisfy its 1.6 million members and not just the union’s executive leadership, AFT reached out to well over a million of its members through several telephone town halls, multiple surveys, and engaged online through a website, “You Decide.”  If that wasn’t enough, over several weeks AFT conducted its own scientific poll of the members on all the candidates in the nominating race and the major issues important to the respondents. Just to put some minds at ease, there was no Wall Street, corruption, banking, criminal, or corporate involvement in the AFT’s decision-making process.

AFT reported that the top issues raised by the significant membership were jobs, the economy, and of course, public education. In fact, the union asked its members who would be voting in the various presidential primaries if AFT should even endorse a candidate so early during the primary;  79-percent of the membership said yes. By more than a three-to-one margin those same members said the AFT should endorse Mrs. Clinton.

As noted above, the decision-making process was as lengthy as it was comprehensive. The union membership’s endorsement came almost one month after Hillary Clinton attended an AFT executive council meeting in Washington where she said, “It’s 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.” Now, before the EmoProg cult starts complaining that the union is biased, Wall Street shills, corrupt or criminals for not giving their hero the endorsement or a proper hearing, both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley attended and spoke with the exact same executive council that Mrs. Clinton attended and spoke with.

In fact, every potential and announced candidate from both parties were given an “invitation questionnaire” to complete and if they returned the questionnaire they earned a meeting with the AFT executive council. Every Republican was offered the opportunity to complete the questionnaire and meet with the council, but not one of the anti-public education crusaders even acknowledged, much less responded to, the AFT invitation.

Republicans are notorious for attacking unions, public education, and particularly teachers, so it is unsurprising they failed to respond to the important invitation. When their goal is exterminating unions and abolishing public schools for privatized religious institutions, the last organization they will meet with is the American Federation of Teachers. But they were extended an invitation like every other candidate.

It is unclear exactly what Mrs. Clinton and the AFT executive council discussed, but they did share a tidbit that certainly summarizes, in part, why a public school teachers’ union would endorse Clinton for president. According to AFT she said,

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.”

As an educator for the past two decades, it is difficult to imagine that any public school teacher would disagree with Mrs. Clinton’s comment. In fact, for well over two decades Republicans and some Democrats have blamed public school teachers for low test scores and ‘failing schools’ instead of the crushing poverty, low wages, poor healthcare, racial bias, income inequality and woefully underfunded classrooms that informs Republican policies.

The president of AFT, Randi Weingarten explained, in part, why the union membership endorsed Mrs. Clinton so early in the primary season.

In vision, in experience and in leadership, Hillary Clinton is the champion working families need in the White House. Hillary Clinton is a tested leader who shares our values, is supported by our members, and is prepared for a tough fight on behalf of students, families and communities. That fight defines her campaign and her career. In Arkansas, Hillary fought to expand access to early childhood education and care. As first lady, she fought for the right to affordable, high-quality healthcare and helped win that right for our youngest citizens. As senator, she fought for education funding and workers’ rights, and she defended public service workers who came to our nation’s defense on Sept. 11. And as secretary of state, she promoted democracy throughout the world, lifting up the worth and dignity of all people—men and women, gay and straight.

Hillary Clinton, a product of public schools herself, believes in the promise of public education. From early childhood learning through higher education, she sees how that promise can create real opportunity for kids, building a much-needed bridge to the middle class. Hillary understands that to reclaim the promise of public education, policymakers need to work with educators and their unions. She’s ready to work with us to confront the issues facing children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income inequality and lack of opportunity. Hillary is the leader we need to help us reclaim the promise of public education and, indeed, of America.”

America desperately needs a strong dedicated advocate for the public school system in the White House. Although President Obama highly values education, he errantly surrounded himself with privatization advocates pushing “charter schools” as the be all, end all to improve public education. All the charter movement delivered is underperforming students and underfunded public schools. It is noteworthy to repeat again that several studies revealed that America’s public schools outperform and students are highest achievers in the world when they attend adequately funded schools and live in households with stable incomes.

Obviously, the education experts working with and for the American Federation of Teachers carefully considered which candidate would best serve public education and all that it encompasses. And after a lengthy investigation they overwhelmingly concluded that what public schools need most going forward is Hillary Clinton in the White House.

When Mrs. Clinton said “It’s just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems,” she put Republicans on notice that if she wins the nomination and is elected president, public schools and teachers will have a powerful ally on their side. And, that she will fight the Republican onslaught to abolish unions, privatize public education, and eliminate over 1.6 million, mainly women’s, teaching jobs.

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