By Anthony Cody.
Educators have growing interest in the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. Today I posted my own statement of support for his candidacy. This support has been a bit slow in coming, because many, including myself, have expressed a desire for more specific policies regarding K12 education. Along those lines, Diane Ravitch yesterday shared this statement Bernie Sanders made on Jan. 3 in New Hampshire on her blog.
I’m not in favor of privately run charter schools. If we are going to have a strong democracy and be competitive globally, we need the best educated people in the world. I believe in public education; I went to public schools my whole life, so I think rather than give tax breaks to billionaires, I think we invest in teachers and we invest in public education. I really do. (see video here, statement at 1:48:32)
Last October 15, Bernie Sanders spoke to a gathering of members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and spent time addressing education issues. Below is a transcript I made of his remarks.
Let me just begin by saying thank you for what you do. You are the heroes and heroines of America today, and your job is enormously difficult, and it is enormously important. Certainly one of the goals of the campaign that we are running, which we call “the political revolution,” is to transform America in many respects, and certainly at the top of our lists is to transform how we prioritize education. I cannot think of anything more important to this country than to have the best public education system in the world. And I know we all love Tom Brady, and we have all these athletes that are making millions of dollars a year, but, you know, it might not be a bad idea if we made everybody in America realize that teaching is a great profession, it is an enormously important profession, it is a profession that should be respected and well compensated. We want the best and the brightest to go into teaching, and to stay in teaching.
I am for better or for worse – you’ll have to judge – a product of public education. I believe in public education and I believe that public education is one of the strongest democratic institutions in our country, and we’ve got to fight against the privatization of public education, and I intend to do that.
Furthermore, I understand that many of you, every day in the classroom face overwhelming problems. You have kids who are coming into the class who may not have eaten properly, don’t have enough food. We are looking at a nation that has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. You’re looking at classrooms in America where teachers are taking money out of their own pockets to buy the equipment they need to teach. You’re looking at classrooms where many kids have serious emotional problems, and staff do not exist to deal with those problems.
So the overall issue goes beyond what happens in the third grade or what happens in the second year of high school. The overall issue is how we treat children in America, and let’s be clear, in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, we should be ashamed at how we treat our kids. We should not be living in a society – you tell me, at a time when the top tenth of one percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent, when we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires in recent years, you tell me why over twenty percent of the children in America live in poverty, and forty percent of African American children live in poverty. There is no rational reason for that. And don’t tell me we cannot afford to do a lot better. Tell me why we have a childcare system which is basically dysfunctional, where we have people working with kids from zero to four who are making nine or ten bucks an hour in the most important years of that child’s life. And then please explain to me why hundreds of thousands of bright young kids in America are unable to go to college for one reason, and that reason is their families cannot afford to send them to college. Which is why we have introduced legislation that would make every public college and university tuition-free, substantially lower interest rates on student debt, and we would pay for that with a tax on Wall Street speculation.
I understand that right now MTA is thinking about their national endorsements. And one of the reasons that there is thought at the national level for endorsing my opponent, is because she presumably has the money and the organization. Well, check out the last financial figures, and you will find out that isn’t quite the case. Check out the fact that we do it a little bit differently than other campaigns. We don’t have a super-PAC – our money is not coming from millionaires and billionaires. We’ve got 650,000 Americans who have made contributions of about $30 each. We have hundreds of thousands of people who have signed up to volunteer on this campaign, and the turnouts that we’re seeing at our rallies are larger than any other candidate. The bottom line in terms of politics is this. Republicans win, and push their extreme right wing agenda, when the people of this country turn their backs on politics and turnout is low. Democrats and progressives win when working class people and young people get involved in the political process. I believe we can win the Democratic nomination, I believe we can win the national election, because this campaign is creating a level of excitement that other campaigns are not.
Let me conclude by saying this. We do need a political revolution in this country. We need an economy that works for working families, and not just the top one percent. Today, while teachers are struggling to get a decent salary, 58% of all new income is going to the top one percent. And you got one family out there that owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people.
We need an economy that works for ordinary people, not just the people on top. We need to create millions of decent paying jobs. We need to be hiring more teachers, not firing teachers. We need to end the absurdity of huge numbers of kids who are high school graduates who today cannot go out and find a job. And maybe, just maybe, instead of investing in jails and incarceration, we might want to be investing in education and in jobs.
But when we talk about changes we need in this country, we need to end the corrupt finance system that we have right now as a result of Citizens United. In my view, not only do we need to overturn Citizens United, we need to move toward public funding of elections.
Let me conclude by mostly thanking you for the work you do every day. At the end of the day, I don’t know what work is more important than giving the kids of this country the intellectual and emotional support they need, often under very difficult circumstances, to grow up and be the kind of citizens that we want in this country. So I know that many of you re operating under difficult circumstances, inadequate budgets, etc. But thank you. There are many of us, in Congress and throughout this country, who understand what you’re doing, and appreciate what you’re doing, and I thank you.
Nancy (unclear) President of (unclear):
I was wondering if you are willing to appoint a Secretary of Education such as Diane Ravitch who isn’t all about high stakes testing , and connecting teacher performance to student test scores.
Sanders: I can’t name any names, but let me tell you, in my state there is massive opposition to No Child Left Behind. In fact if I have anything to say about it, and I do, because I’m on the committee, we will end up leaving No Child Left Behind behind. As teachers, your job is to provide the best quality education you can to kids, and not just teach to the test, and I feel very, very strongly about that. And yes, we will find a Secretary of Education who is much more interested in the whole child than teaching to tests.
Christine Lord, vice president of (??):
In your earlier remarks you mentioned the need to stop privatizing public education. My colleagues and I would agree that one way to stop that would be to make sure there is a very strong, very reasonable cap on charter schools. I come from a district up close to the New Hampshire border where students are leaving in droves to attend these sort of “miracle buildings” that are charter schools, and as a result, we are losing valuable funding in already strained budgets. I hope that in your campaign you will continue to strive to keep public funding in public schools.
Sanders: The one word answer is “absolutely.”
I thank you all for your work that you do as teachers, but let me also thank you for your participation in the trade union movement. You are looking at someone who, after 25 years in Congress – 16 in the house, nine in the Senate, has probably the strongest pro-union voting record of any member of Congress who has served that length of time. And what you understand is that in order to be good teachers, in order to provide the quality care that your kids need, you need to stand up and fight, and be involved heavily in collective bargaining, and I thank you for that as well.
What do you think of these remarks? Is it time to get behind the Sanders campaign?