Democratic Presidential Candidates Vie For The Teachers' Vote

10 of the 2020 contenders answered questions at a forum hosted by the nation's largest teachers union.
Former Vice President Joe Biden at a candidate forum about education issues on Friday.<br>
Former Vice President Joe Biden at a candidate forum about education issues on Friday.

Ten Democratic candidates for president courted the votes of educators on Friday afternoon at a Houston forum hosted by the nation’s largest teachers union. Each candidate was asked a different set of questions, but all took pains to emphasize the need for increased education funding, and many referred to their plans to raise teacher pay.

The National Education Association forum included former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Though questions over school segregation and busing have dogged Biden and Harris in the past week, neither was asked about the topic. Only Castro was asked explicitly about the issue. He called for investments in “tools like voluntary busing” and also emphasized the need to address housing segregation.

“I know from firsthand experience the impact of growing up in segregated school districts. The challenge is that today we’re still grappling with so many of the same issues,” Castro said.

Three candidates also followed Warren’s lead in pledging to nominate someone with a background in public schools and teaching as education secretary. In May, Warren promised to appoint a public school teacher to the job. Biden, de Blasio and Harris pledged Friday to do the same.  

Candidates were asked about topics that included the rising costs of health care, the opioid crisis, predatory for-profit colleges and teacher retention.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the forum hosted by the National Education Association.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the forum hosted by the National Education Association.

Several 2020 candidates were also asked about their views on charter schools, of which teachers unions have been critical. Charter schools are a type of public school that is privately run.

O’Rourke, whose wife has run a charter school, was the most favorable to charters, saying he believes there is a place for nonprofit charter schools. 

Sanders pointed to his previously released education plan, which calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on federal funding for the opening of new nonprofit charter schools until there is a study on their effect. 

De Blasio took a similarly tough stance on charters ― a type of school he has worked to diminish in New York City ― saying there should be no federal funding for charters.

No one should be the Democratic nominee unless they’re willing to stand up to Wall Street and the rich people behind the charter school movement once and for all,” de Blasio said.

For months, Democratic presidential candidates have been courting the votes of teachers. And, in a testament to the power of this voting bloc, especially amid a year of teacher protests throughout the country, several have released plans that specifically address pay increases. 

During the forum, Sanders said his plan is to make sure every teacher in America earns at least $60,000 a year. Harris pointed to her comprehensive plan to increase educator pay across the country. 

“You are not paid your value,” Harris said.