Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden speaks during the National Education Association Strong Public Schools Presidential Forum Friday, July 5, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Biden, like Warren, promises teacher as education secretary

July 05, 2019 - 5:19 pm

HOUSTON (AP) — Echoing one of his top Democratic presidential rivals, Joe Biden is promising he would appoint a teacher as secretary of education if he wins the nomination and defeats President Donald Trump.

"We don't treat you with dignity," Biden told thousands of public school teachers gathered for the National Education Association convention in Texas. "If I am president, it will change on day one."

The former vice president's pledge was part of a campaign forum that featured almost half the Democratic field promising sweeping changes to federal education policy, with more than a few taking aim at current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, herself a former public school teacher and law school professor, already had promised she'd nominate a federal education chief with classroom experience. Taking the stage after Biden on Friday, she repeated the pledge with glee.

"Betsy DeVos need not apply," Warren said, drawing a roar.

DeVos has long been among Democrats' favorite targets in Trump's Cabinet. Hailing from a wealthy family of conservative activists, she has spent decades advocating for an expansion of charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools. She had no previous professional education experience.

Yet the challenge for Democratic presidential candidates is how to stand out, beyond hammering Trump and DeVos, as they vie for support from the influential NEA and its 3 million members, a roster that makes it the nation's largest union.

Warren and New York Bill de Blasio took aim at high stakes testing. Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders touted their promise to triple federal funding for Title I schools, campuses that are identified as having students with economic and social challenges.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee noted he's won pay raises for educators in his state.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar emphasized that their national infrastructure priorities include massive investments in public schools.

Julian Castro, who served as housing secretary under President Barack Obama, noted his work expanding affordable housing, describing the approach as a key to reducing de-facto segregation in public schools.

Perhaps the most obvious deviation came on charter schools, campuses that are financed with tax dollars but typically left free from the management of traditional public school systems.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke tracked the rest of the Democratic field by panning for-profit charter schools. "Not a single dime in my administration will go to them," he promised. But, he said, "There is a place for public, non-profit charter schools."

The comment drew a few boos and otherwise was met with silence from an audience that was otherwise boisterous throughout the afternoon forum.

De Blasio did not single out O'Rourke or any other Democrat, but said "too many Democrats have been cozy with the charter schools," offering the argument that they siphon money away from traditional public education. "I hate the privatizers and I want to stop them," he said.

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Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.

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