One of the Democratic senators seeking the presidency had a message Monday for teachers: I’ve got your back, and I’ll help your wallet.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also stressed that America needs to do a better job of focusing more money and attention on K-12 education, making her comments Monday at a town hall event in Detroit hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.
“Our society pretends to care about education,” but doesn’t actually do a good job of educating many children, Harris said.
Harris made waves in the national education community when in March she proposed giving every teacher a $13,500 raise by the end of her first term if she’s elected. For the average teacher, that would be a pay hike of 23 percent. Harris’ blueprint would use federal dollars to match state efforts, with extra resources going toward those working in high-need schools. (Such schools aren’t defined in her plan). Harris touted that plan Monday as the first federal investment toward closing what some research describes as a pay gap between teachers and other comparable professionals.
"$13,500 a year is a year’s mortgage payments” in most parts of the country, she stressed at the town hall gathering. “We are not paying you your value,” Harris also told teachers.
AFT President Randi Weingarten has praised the idea, although if Republicans maintain control of the Senate it would be extremely hard for it to pass Congress.
In political terms, the AFT-Harris event checked a few boxes. It took place in a 2020 swing state that’s also in U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ backyard. It also happened just a few hours after DeVos, during remarks at the Education Writers Association conference on Monday, said that good teachers should make at least half of the $500,000 annual salary Weingarten earns. Weingarten responded later in the day by saying of DeVos, “I can’t imagine she would be this stupid. I know she’s stupid.”
Weingarten added that raising teacher salaries is a great idea, and said DeVos should use Harris’ event as a starting point instead of supporting tax cuts for the wealthy.
Harris touched on other education topics during the town hall:
- She sharply criticized the current system of school funding that relies heavily on local property taxes. “We are not adequately resourcing schools,” Harris said. “It is bananas.”
- Harris said schools must get help with the “undiagnosed and untreated” trauma many students currently experience. “Poverty is trauma-inducing,” Harris said.
- Not every student is destined to attend a four-year college, Harris stressed.
The AFT held a similar town hall event with Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, another 2020 presidential candidate, earlier this month.
Image: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., right, speaks at an American Federation of Teachers town hall event in Detroit on May 6, 2019, as AFT President Randi Weingarten looks on.