By guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk
The 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers announced July 11 that it has endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2016.
The move puts the union’s significant political war chest—and, potentially, thousands of teachers-turned-door-knockers-and-canvassers—behind Clinton, far and away the front-runner in the Democratic primaries.
The union’s endorsement follows the approval of its executive council, which is composed of the union’s leadership and its 40-odd vice presidents. The council weighed interviews with the primary candidates, as well as feedback from town hall-style events and polls of the union’s members.
That said, the endorsement is not much of a surprise. As colleague Alyson Klein recently reported, the ties between the AFT and the candidate are deep and longstanding, and they continue up to today: A former senior advisor to AFT President Randi Weingarten, Hartina Flournoy, is a top aide to former President Bill Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton, a product of public schools herself, believes in the promise of public education. From early childhood learning through higher education, she sees how that promise can create real opportunity for kids, building a much-needed bridge to the middle class,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Hillary understands that to reclaim the promise of public education, policymakers need to work with educators and their unions.”
According to the union, Clinton said in response to the endorsement: “For nearly a century, the American Federation of Teachers has worked to expand opportunity for the people and communities they serve. I’m honored to have the support of the AFT’s members and leaders, and I’m proud to stand with them to unleash the potential of every American.”
Clinton has not explicitly outlined her education priorities. But she has historically supported early-childhood education, and she has been critical of the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on standardized testing, positions that align well with the AFT’s. On the other hand, she has also supported charter schools, and the AFT remains deeply wary about the expansion of the typically nonunionized, privately managed schools.
The National Education Association has not yet endorsed a primary candidate in the race. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential contest, the AFT endorsed Clinton at the height of the fierce primary campaign battle between Clinton and Barack Obama. The NEA, on the other hand, did not endorse until after Obama had sewn up the nomination.