The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for president back in July of 2015, becoming one of the first big national groups to throw its support behind the eventual Democratic nominee.
And that early endorsement came back to haunt the union. A very vocal contingent of its membership wished the AFT had given Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, more consideration. They were angry and felt they had been left out of the process. The National Education Association, which also went in for Clinton early, heard similar complaints.
So this time around? AFT isn’t exactly jumping to throw its arms around one of the dozen or so candidates for the Democratic nomination.
Instead, the union has outlined an extensive endorsement process that will feature what the union calls “deep engagement and honest conversation before any decision can be made.” (This follows up on steps that the union took at its convention in Pittsburgh last year to address members’ concerns with the 2016 endorsement process.)
The process will feature a candidate questionnaire, member surveys, focus groups with members, as well as town halls, social media forums, and more. Thirty thousand members joined a recent national telephone town hall to discuss the process.
The union is also inviting candidates to spend a day with an AFT member, so that they get a sense of what educators face in their daily lives.
The members’ priorities at that Pittsburgh meeting included universal health care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, free child care, and more school funding for low-income school districts.
“Our No. 1 goal is to elect a president who reflects our values, and that means beating Donald Trump in 2020,” said Randi Weingarten, the AFT’s president. “But to win our endorsement, candidates will have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As we look ahead to Election Day, we are committed to engaging our members at every step of the way.”
It’s worth asking, though, whether AFT will end up being able to come to a consensus on a candidate. NEA opted not to choose between Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008—and then watched for eight years as Obama pushed policy after policy that the unions didn’t like, including tying teacher evaluations partly to student test scores and getting rid of staff at low-performing schools.
Photo: Cliff Owen for the Associated Press