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2020 Democrats to Teachers' Unions: For the Love of God, Please Support Me

Joe Biden just became the latest candidate to unveil a plan on teacher pay.

by Rex Santus
May 29 2019, 5:04pm

Joe Biden just became the latest presidential hopeful to unveil a policy proposal — his first major one — that specifically targets teachers. On Tuesday evening, the former vice president debuted an education plan that calls for more federal investment in low-income schools, universal pre-K, and raises for teachers.

“How do we increase the dignity of work, how do we increase the professionalization of how you’re treated, unless we pay you what you are remotely entitled to?” Biden said, speaking in front of the American Federation of Teachers in Houston.

Biden’s plan is far less ambitious than previous teacher-pay proposals from candidates like Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. In fact, the central thrust of Biden’s plan — tripling the funding for Title I schools — is identical to a component of Sanders’ Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, which the Vermont senator unveiled earlier this month.

Title I funds schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families, and both Sanders and Biden’s plans call for this boost in funding to be, at least partially, poured into teacher pay.

Biden’s plan does not specify how much of a raise teachers can expect, unlike Bernie, who wants a base salary of $60,000, and Kamala Harris, who wants to give the average teacher a $13,500 raise, or a 23% base-pay increase, over the course of her first term. Harris also said that for every dollar a state invests in teacher pay, the federal government will invest $3.

“Wow do we increase the professionalization of how you’re treated unless we pay you what you are remotely entitled to?”

The California senator says she would fund that by taxing the wealthiest 1 percent through a strengthened estate tax; Biden plans to rely on closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, instead of raising taxes. Sanders did not offer up how he would fund his ideas, but he pointed to rolling back Trump’s tax cuts as one avenue.

Biden plan seeks to tackle what he estimates to be a $23 billion annual funding gap between majority white and non-white districts in the United States.

In his speech before the teachers union, Biden addressed the “systemic racism” in schools that limits children’s education and also called for reinstating Department of Education guidance for schools pursuing desegregation. Sanders’ plan also prioritizes desegregation, and calls for an end to gender and racial pay disparity for teachers.

There’s also the issue of charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate largely like private institutions. Many public school teachers argue that these schools rob them of crucial funding and resources with little public oversight. While Bernie has laid out a plan to stop and reverse the growth of charter schools by, for example, banning for-profit charters, Biden’s plan does not mention them.

Biden did, however, tell supporters Tuesday that he opposes for-profit charter schools.

Why teachers?

If it seems like presidential candidates are clamoring to be the most teacher-friendly, that’s because they are. American teachers have, in a significant way, resuscitated the county’s ailing labor movement with a series of massive strikes that caused an uptick of major work stoppages in the U.S. for the first time in three decades.

Propelled by poor resources and dismal pay, teachers started a new wave of labor actions in February 2018 when 35,000 West Virginia teachers and other education workers went on strike for the first time since 1990. In many states, teachers aren’t even legally allowed to strike. But they’re doing it anyway.

These labor actions have given teachers’ unions — and organized labor at large — an outsized influence in 2020, compared to other recent presidential elections. Biden’s main campaign strategy is to win union leadership endorsements early on, and most other candidates are practically elbowing each other out of the way to show their support on the picket line for striking workers. Meanwhile, Bernie is leveraging his massive email lists to directly rally his supporters to picket lines.

Cover: Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, takes Virmania Villalobos, 10, back to introduce her to members of the media after she asked him a question during a town all meeting with a group of educators from the American Federation of Teachers on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)