2020 Dems promise teachers pay raise, respect at education town hall

Ten 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls descended on Houston on Saturday to try to gin up support among the nation's public school teachers, vowing to boost educators' pay and give their profession the respect it deserves. 

Speaking at this year's annual National Education Association (NEA) forum, the 10 contenders laid out their plans to prioritize public education funding and praised teachers as the guardians of the nation's future, also accusing the current administration of not prioritizing one of the country’s most valuable professions.  

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“You hold, more than any other profession, you hold the future of this country in your hands. I’m not exaggerating. It’s a fact,” former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden jokes he's ready for a push-up competition with Trump Biden says his presidency is not 'a third term of Obama' Biden knocks Trump on tweets about 'smart as hell' Ocasio-Cortez MORE said.

“All these children are our children. They’re all our children. They’re the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft, and they’re in your hands, and we don’t treat you with enough respect or dignity, we don’t pay you enough, and I promise you if I am your president it will change on day one,” he said.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Sanders slams decision not to charge officer who killed Eric Garner Cardi B says voters let Bernie Sanders down MORE (I-Vt.), meanwhile, said every teacher should earn "at least" $60,000 a year.

“In America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it must go without saying, we are going to have the best public schools in the entire world. And that means that it goes without saying that we are going to have teachers who will receive the respect and the remuneration that they deserve for doing some of the most important work in America,” he added.

Friday’s forum is a critical part of the NEA’s nominating process; it said it will endorse a candidate “at the right time.” The influential group, which boasts nearly 3 million members, is one of several that the two dozen presidential hopefuls are targeting as they seek to shore up support among a crucial constituency for Democrats. 

Public school teachers captured national headlines last year as they gathered at state capitals across the country to call for smaller class sizes, pay raises and increased education funding. West Virginia teachers led the "Red for Ed" movement in February 2018, prompting teachers in primarily GOP-led states such as Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona to go on strike. 

So far this year, West Virginia teachers went on strike again, as did educators in Los Angeles; Denver; Oakland, California; and North Carolina. And Democratic presidential candidates have taken notice, vowing to step up federal efforts to improve teachers’ conditions and include them in the decisionmaking process. 

Several top-tier presidential candidates have unveiled sweeping education policy proposals, including providing universal pre-K programs and lowering the cost of higher education. Virtually all guarantee a pay bump for teachers.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death Harris vows to 'put people over profit' in prescription drug plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE (D-Calif.) promised to nominate an Education secretary "who comes from public schools," an implicit dig at President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE's appointee, Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats MORE, whom public school advocates have targeted over her support for private charter schools.

“I also promise you that you will be at the table to help me make that decision,” Harris said.

Biden, echoing Harris, made similar promises to appoint a teacher to head his administration's Education Department.

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“I will put a lot of pressure to make sure teachers are in on deciding what the curriculum is, what you’re going to teach, because you know better,” Biden said.

Several candidates touted their personal connections to teachers, emphasizing their backgrounds as former educators or highlighting relatives who had been in the profession.

"I think this goes to the fundamental question of respect for our teachers," Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Trump says administration will 'take a look' after Thiel raises concerns about Google, China Thiel calls Warren the most 'dangerous' Democratic candidate MORE (D-Mass.), a former public school teacher and law school professor, said to applause.

"Too many folks seem to have gotten the idea that teaching is kind of like working on an assembly line, and we’ll just test your widgets to see if they’re coming out all right, and if they are you must be a good teacher, and if they don’t meet the standards set somewhere else you must not be. No, that is not what teaching is all about." 

Many also offered implicit and explicit critiques of the Trump administration and DeVos. Candidates denounced what they see as the administration's prioritization of standardized testing and accused Trump's Education Department of allocating funds to private charter institutions, hindering progress for public schools.

"We must end federal funding completely for for-profit charter schools. Taxpayer money should be going to educate our kids, not to make Wall Street investors even richer than they are," Sanders said, adding that his policy proposal would put a moratorium on all new charter schools "until we have a full understanding of their impact on public education."