In AFT Talk, Hillary Clinton Doubles Down on Support for Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 18, 2016 2 min read
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For the second time this month, Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton promised America’s teachers that they can expect a friendly ear in the White House if she’s elected.

The speech she gave to the American Federation of Teachers on Monday at its biennial convention in Minneapolis was substantially similar to the one she gave just weeks ago to the larger National Education Association. But the mood—after the spate of violence this month that has wracked communities, from nearby St. Paul, Minn., to Dallas to Baton Rouge, La.—was more sober.

Indeed, before she addressed K-12 issues, Clinton sought to address that violence.

“This hate, this violence cannot stand,” Clinton said. “Killing police officers is a crime against us all; there can be no justification, no looking the other way. This must end. And it can be true, both that we need law enforcement and that we need to improve law enforcement, to get back to the fundamental principle that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law, and everyone is respected by the law.”

Clinton Reiterates Education Priorities

Like the National Education Association, the AFT endorsed Clinton early, generating some criticism from some members. She promised the AFT, as she did the larger NEA, that she would have teachers’ backs.

“I know that you have some of the hardest jobs in the world, and I want to say right from the outset that I’m with you. When I am president, you will have a partner in the White House and you will always have a seat at the table,” she said, a turn of phrase identical to her speech to the NEA.

Many of her policy proposals were familiar, too. Among other things, she mentioned:

  • Supporting a national campaign to elevate and modernize teaching;
  • Expanding the teaching of computer science in K-12 education;
  • Ensuring that testing informs teaching and learning, but does not dominate it; and
  • Opposing vouchers and for-profit schooling.

Clinton voiced support for allowing most Americans to attend college at no cost, a newer addition to her repertoire that many observers believe she cribbed from the playbook of her closest rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders.

(Earlier in the day, during her own keynote address, AFT President Randi Weingarten had credited Sanders with infusing the party with fresh blood and vitality, and for helping make the Democratic Party platform “the most progressive in American history.”)

And Clinton sprinkled in a few lines that were directly aimed at the AFT—by endorsing, for example, the right of adjunct higher education faculty to unionize, one of the AFT’s most recent organizing pushes.

Such faculty members “deserve to have a strong voice, with a union,” Clinton said.

On charter schools—a topic that garnered Clinton brief boos at the NEA convention—Clinton was more circumspect. She said only that, “where there are public charter schools, we will learn from them.”

Photo: Hillary Clinton listens to an American Federation of Teachers delegate after addressing the 1.6 million-member union, while AFT President Randi Weingarten looks on. —Stephen Sawchuk. Via screenshot.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.