Teaching Profession

Citing Experience and Record, AFT Endorses Kerry

By Sean Cavanagh — February 11, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Citing John Kerry’s support for workers’ rights and his personal accomplishments outside politics, the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers last week endorsed the Massachusetts senator for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts speaks last July to an American Federation of Teachers conference in Washington. The union last week endorsed him in the Democratic presidential race.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

In lending the AFT’s collective voice to the buoyant Kerry campaign, leaders of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union pointed to the candidate’s pledges to reduce class sizes, bolster teacher recruitment and retention, and channel more funding into the No Child Left Behind Act.

The union delivered its endorsement Feb. 4, one day after Mr. Kerry won five of seven races in state Democratic primaries and caucuses. One AFT official predicted that the union’s support would give the senator early momentum in a general-election battle against President Bush, assuming Mr. Kerry goes on to become the Democratic nominee.

“If you look at where our membership is strongest, it’s in battleground states,” AFT spokesman Alex Wohl said.

The endorsement was based on a unanimous vote of the organization’s 40-member executive council, which convened in Florida last week. The decision was based partly on candidate responses to questionnaires, as well as feedback taken from state and local AFT members, Mr. Wohl said.

The union backing also came only days before the Feb. 7 caucuses in Michigan, traditionally a bastion of organized labor. Leaders of the AFT’s Michigan affiliate said they would work to inform their 35,000 members of the national organization’s endorsement.

Sen. Kerry had already secured the endorsement of the 157,000-member Michigan affiliate of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, on Jan. 30.

The national organization of the 2.7 million-member NEA has not yet endorsed any of the Democratic candidates. It could issue such an endorsement as early as Feb. 12, when its political committee will meet, but it has no immediate plans to do so, said Daniel Kaufman, an NEA spokesman.

“I will make teachers a priority,” Sen. Kerry said in a Feb. 4 statement after the AFT’s endorsement. “Everything we know tells us that good teachers make all the difference. But our teachers are drowning in praise from politicians while they’re parched for the support they need.”

Taking Labor From Dean

Over the past two months, a number of state affiliates of teachers’ unions had rallied behind the candidacy of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. The New Hampshire NEA affiliate recommended Mr. Dean before that state’s Jan. 27 primary, where he finished second behind Sen. Kerry.

In October, Mr. Dean also won the endorsement of the NEA’s 335,000-member affiliate in California, which will stage its primary on March 2. Mike Myslinkski, a spokesman for that state union, said the organization had no plans to change its endorsement of Mr. Dean, whose showings in the early contests have fallen far short of earlier expectations.

Teachers praised Mr. Dean for being much less reserved in his criticism of the No Child Left Behind law than his rivals, some of whom, like Sen. Kerry, voted for it in Congress(“‘No Child’ Law Faulted in Democratic Race,” Jan. 14, 2004.)

But recently, Sen. Kerry has lured more teachers’ unions into his camp. Like other Democratic candidates, the senator accuses President Bush of underfunding the No Child Left Behind Act. He pledges to push for higher teacher pay and school programs to improve student discipline.

The senator would focus on “fixing our aging school buildings, reducing class size, recruiting and retaining quality teachers, and giving them the resources they need to do their jobs,” AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement.

The national AFT, which represents 800,000 teachers in K-12 schools, in addition to higher education employees, health- care professionals, and other public employees, also pointed to issues well outside the classroom, such as Mr. Kerry’s military service in Vietnam and his long experience as an elected official.

Sen. Kerry had angered teachers’ unions in 1998 with public statements criticizing teacher tenure. (“Candidates’ Proposals on Teaching Await Details,”) Feb. 4, 2004.) But he has avoided that issue so far in this campaign, and an AFT spokesman said that dispute had dissipated.

“That was not a major problem for us,” Mr. Wohl said.

Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said that the AFT’s and the NEA’s criticism of the Bush administration’s record on education was misguided.

“It’s unfortunate that the unions have chosen to reject accountability in education,” Ms. Iverson said. Had they supported that principle, she said, “they would have endorsed George Bush.”

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession How Teachers Are Spending Their Summer Vacation
Swimming, hiking, and an occasional academic project are on the agenda.
1 min read
Lifeguards watch over children and their families as they enjoy the shallow end of the Woodson Family Aquatic Center on the opening day of the 2022 pool season Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Odessa, Texas.
Lifeguards watch over children and their families at the Woodson Family Aquatic Center as pool season opens in Odessa, Texas.
Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Can Educators Agree to Disagree Respectfully?
We must acknowledge that there are strong, defensible differences in perspectives about divisive topics, writes an educator.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Q&A The First 5 Years in the Classroom Are Tough. This Teacher Has Ideas to Lessen the Burden
A middle school teacher talks about why educators need to share stories about their jobs—and find schools that reflect their values.
7 min read
Patrick Harris
Patrick Harris
Teaching Profession Teachers in Texas Shooting Died Trying to Shield Students, Their Families Say
Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, both veteran teachers, co-taught a 4th grade class at their Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
3 min read
Fourth grade co-teachers Irma Garcia, left, and Eva Mireles.
Fourth grade co-teachers Irma Garcia, left, and Eva Mireles, were killed in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, alongside 19 children.
Courtesy of Uvalde CISD