Teacher Unions Back Kerry

Published September 1, 2004

More than six of every seven delegates to the July 3-7 Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA) supported the recommendation of U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) for president of the United States. The 86.5 percent endorsement margin falls short of previous margins for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, but nevertheless constitutes a pretty firm alliance between NEA’s most active members and the Democratic Party.

Two weeks later, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) also approved a resolution endorsing Kerry for president at its July 14-17 convention. Both teacher union events were held in Washington, DC.

As part of its election efforts, NEA is signing up delegates to host “house parties,” all to be held on September 22, designed to “let people know what’s happening in public schools and get their help to make them better.” The union is putting a lot of energy into those events.

The Kerry camp and NEA arranged a live satellite feed from Cleveland, Ohio, through which Kerry and running mate John Edwards addressed the delegates. The delegates cheered loudly when Kerry and Edwards were introduced, and virtually everyone had a Kerry for President banner. Kerry spoke for a few minutes in general terms about his vision for America and the failures of the Bush administration, and then threw in a few items from his education plan.

“Not only will we fully fund special education, and fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act, but we’ll provide money for construction and early childhood education,” Kerry said.

Edwards then spoke, and he drew sharp distinctions between Kerry and President Bush, saying Kerry “won’t cut afterschool slots” and will see to it “that we invest in both school construction and class size.” Edwards told the delegates, “We need you out there, knocking on doors.”

At the AFT convention, Kerry tailored his message to the crowd, declaring “we can’t create good schools on the cheap” and promising new federal spending for just about every aspect of public education. “My first priority will be to meet our financial responsibilities to our schools,” he said.

Kerry departed frequently from his prepared remarks, and virtually all his departures involved increased spending on federal education programs.

For example, his prepared speech read, “It’s time to fully fund No Child Left Behind,” claiming the Bush administration is shortchanging the law by $27 billion. But in delivery, Kerry added, “and fully fund special-needs education.”

His speech read, “And then we need to invest more in the children who are falling behind–with tutoring and mentoring.” Then he added that he would invest in Head Start, Smart Start, early childhood education, and other programs. He noted his education plan “will extend after-school to more than 3.5 million kids across America.”

Kerry also talked about new spending for school construction and modernization. “Thousands of schools across America are crumbling today,” he said. “What does that say about valuing our kids’ future? When I am President, we will build and rebuild, modernize and repair our school buildings with new school modernization bonds.”

Kerry did touch upon the facets of his reform plan, but his sentences were constructed in such a way that the spending part came first, and applause and cheers often drowned out the reform part.

For example, he remarked, “Pay for teachers in America today is a national disgrace. We need to raise it (cheers ensue) starting in the poorest schools and in the subjects where we face the most serious teacher shortages.”

And, “We need to offer teachers more (cheers) and ask more of them at the same time.”

And, “Teachers deserve due process protection from arbitrary dismissal (cheers), but we must have fast, fair procedures for improving or removing teachers who aren’t performing.”

Mike Antonucci ([email protected]) is director of the Education Intelligence Agency, which conducts public education research, analysis, and investigations. He also publishes a weekly Communiqué on teacher union activities, in which this information first appeared.