The National Education Association, the largest U.S. teachers union, has already jumped into the 2016 presidential race, even though only one major candidate has announced a campaign.
NEA president Lily Eskelsen García told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that the union and its 3 million members are considering candidate endorsements earlier than ever. The goal, García said, is making education a top issue in the election.
"It is not too early to be thinking about who the next president of the United States is going to be, even though it's one and a half years away," said García. "We know that educators have to step up and have our voices heard in this 2016 presidential election."
In the past, García said, the NEA would send politicians questionnaires about their views on education after candidacies had been announced. This time, the union has already sent questionnaires to all viable candidates in both political parties, said Carrie Pugh, NEA political director. The union wants to determine potential candidates' stances on issues that include the role of standardized tests, ballooning costs for university education and the rising number of students who come from low-income families.
The NEA also has begun hiring organizers in states with early voting, including Iowa and New Hampshire, and is putting up billboards in Des Moines and Manchester.
"You can read a poll, and a poll will tell you teachers are trusted and Americans want strong public schools," said García. "A lot of people running for high office are not professional educators. We want them to know what we know are the right answers."
NEA leaders wouldn't say how much the union plans to spend on the election. During the 2014 midterm elections, the NEA and smaller American Federation of Teachers spent unprecedented sums.
The AFT also has begun engaging members on who to endorse in the 2016 campaign, a spokesperson told The Huffington Post, though it's no earlier than in past presidential races.