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Elizabeth Warren: ‘It Would Be Pretty Fabulous’ to Have a Teacher in the White House

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 24, 2019 4 min read
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If you’re watching the presidential campaign and hoping for lots of talk about K-12 education, you’ve probably been pretty disappointed. But it’s still worth watching for the times when elementary and secondary schools do get some attention on the stump. Take Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for example, whose response to a question about public education might have epitomized how K-12 will feature in various candidates’ appeals to voters.

Last Wednesday, Warren’s campaign posted a video in which the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate took a question from an audience member that went, “What would be your vision for public education going forward, if you were to be elected?” The senior Massachusetts senator put her spin on the question by responding, “So I think what Kristen is asking is, ‘What would it be like to have a schoolteacher in the White House?’ I think it would be pretty fabulous!”

Warren is a former special education teacher—her campaign website states that from the time Warren was in 2nd grade she knew she wanted to be a teacher.

Warren goes on to say what many Democrats are likely to say in some form as long as the 2020 campaign continues: that creating a high-quality education system isn’t free and requires serious investment. Next, she details her legislation to provide universal child care and ensuring certain pay requirements for early-childhood education teachers. Then she moves on to K-12.

“We’ve gotta use our federal education laws to help supplement so we can get real money into our public schools K-12,” Warren says. “It’s absolutely critical. These are our children.”

After discussing higher education costs, Warren returned to K-12 schools: “I support teachers being able to unionize. Because when they get in there and fight, they’re not just fighting for themselves, they’re fighting for our kids. A nation can do no better than to invest in its children.”

You can watch Warren’s remarks below:

Democrats in the 2020 race will likely talk a fair amount about the need for more money for public schools. Indeed, on Saturday, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced she would soon unveil a proposal to increase teacher pay nationwide.

During the teacher strikes and protests that have marked the early months of this year, several Democrats seeking the White House (including Harris and Warren) registered their support for the teachers on social media. Warren’s remarks about supporting unionized teachers and their battles is a continuation of this approach, and she’s been a close ally of unions like the American Federation of Teachers since her election to the Senate in 2012.

As the campaign trundles on, it won’t be surprising to see more Democratic candidates publicly back the #RedforEd movement and teachers who are protesting and striking for more money and policy changes. Related: The AFT recently unveiled how it will go about deciding which White House candidate to endorse. In 2016, the union’s presidential endorsement process didn’t go smoothly.

It will be interesting to see if Warren’s support for what can generally be described as public school vouchers, which the senator floated more than 15 years ago, comes up again on the campaign.

Something a bit more wonky also caught our attention: It’s the part when the senator uged that federal education laws must help supplement spending on schools.

Technically, it’s already the law that federal education dollars under Title I—which covers programs serving disadvantaged students—must augment and not be used as a substitute for state and local funding. The general idea is that officials shouldn’t be able to cut their K-12 budgets and then use Beltway money to fill the gaps. (It’s not clear whether Warren was referring specifically to this part of the federal law, which in the education-wonk world is known as “supplement not supplant,” or calling more generally for increased federal spending on schools.)

There’s some disagreement about the extent to which federal dollars do supplement state and local money for schools. In 2016, the Obama Education Department proposed regulations that it argued would require schools to truly live up to the law in this respect. But state and local education officials strongly objected, and the proposal was eventually dropped. In January, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed more relaxed guidance on “supplement not supplant.”

Photo: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gives her victory speech at a Democratic election watch party in Boston in 2016 when she was reelected to the Senate. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

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