A task force designed to unify the Democratic Party ahead of the presidential contest includes the presidents of the two national teachers’ unions, as well as a top congressional leader for education and other figures with notable ties to education.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García were selected by former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, and runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, to be on the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force” for education issues, the two men announced Wednesday.
In addition, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee, is serving on the task force for criminal justice reform as a co-chairman.
The task forces will make recommendations to the commitee that will put together the Democratic National Committee’s 2020 platform. There are six task forces in all; the other task forces deal with climate change, the economy, health care, and immigration reform.
“The work of the task forces will be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress and not simply turn the clock back to a time before Donald Trump, but transform our country,” Biden said in a statement. And Sanders praised Biden for helping to put together “a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction.”
It’s no surprise that García and Weingarten made the cut; both the NEA and the AFT endorsed Biden, although neither did so until March, when Biden had already built an essentially insurmountable lead in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. However, the education positions of the party and the two unions have largely merged on key issues such as education spending. For example, both Biden and Sanders pledged to triple federal Title I spending on disadvantaged students, a promise that will be extremely difficult to deliver, on especially in the short term.
How the task force’s input affects the DNC’s stance on charter schools will be particularly interesting to watch. The party platform on charters has changed significantly over the last several presidential campaign cycles—the Democratic Party called for tripling the number of charter schools in its 2000 platform.
Some local AFT and NEA affiliates made their own endorsement decisions independently of the two national unions.
Other notable members of the unity task force include:
- Former Attorney General Eric Holder
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
- Former Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, now president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a member of the House education committee who’s on the education task force with García and Weingarten
- Heather Gautney, a Fordham University sociology professor who was an education adviser to Sanders and is on the education task force
- Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a member of the House subcommitee for education spending
Photo: National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, left, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.