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Teaching Profession

Sen. Bernie Sanders in DNC Speech: Invest in Education, Not Prisons

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 26, 2016 4 min read
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It was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ night to speak at the Democratic National Convention here, and Hillary Clinton’s one-time rival for the party’s presidential nomination used his time to shift money away from incarceration and into schools.

Sanders gave a brief nod to K-12 and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. Deep into his late-night speech, Sanders said Clinton understood the importance of making sure young people in this country “are in good schools and in good jobs, not rotting in jail cells.”

“Hillary Clinton understands that we have to invest in education and jobs for our young people,” Sanders said.

Earlier, Sanders, who got a thunderous and prolonged ovation from the crowd when he took the stage, said the elecition is about “the thousands that I have met who left college deeply in debt” and others “who cannot afford to go to college.”

He highlighted a proposal he and Clinton crafted together that would guarantee tuition-free access to public college and universities for children in families earning under $125,000 a year—the vast majority of Americans, he said.

“That proposal also substantially reduces student debt,” Sanders said.

Too Much Like Obama’s Policy?

Reaction to the education records of Clinton and Sanders has been mixed.

Jane Pulling, a retired school superintendent and South Carolina delegate said before Sanders’ speech that she was “absolutely” ready to embrace Clinton.

“I think she will be a strong supporter of public education,” Pulling said. “She always has been, so it’s hard to believe she won’t continue to be. This is an embarrassment of riches. Certainly from an education perspective, I have a hard time understand people who can’t just let it go.”

But Carole Chi, a Michigan delegate and retired teacher who taught mostly art at the middle school level, is not so enthusiastic, though she will back Clinton. She thinks Clinton’s education policy will probably look a lot like President Barack Obama’s, and that’s not a good thing in her book.

“He hired [former U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan, who had never taught a day in life, didn’t go to a college of education. He had no experience and [Obama] relied on him,” Chi said.

Sanders has gotten support from a notable share of teachers and other educators. In fact, many of them were irritated when the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association moved quickly to endorse Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primary last year.

Both AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia spoke at the convention Monday night and strongly supported Clinton.

Earlier this year, we profiled a few members of the Badass Teachers Association, a union splinter group dissatisfied with the NEA and AFT, who were seeking statewide office and said they were inspired by Sanders’ rhetoric on education and other matters.

And many inside the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center expressed support for Sanders on Monday.

Sanders, Booker, and DREAMers

Sanders spent little time talking about K-12 during his White House bid. Most of the time, when he talked about education, he focused on his plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

But he did back the Chicago Teachers Union in its bitter fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel earlier this year. And his wife, Jane Sanders, said she and her husband stood with unions and against standardized testing. He sent mixed messages on charter schools, meanwhile.

On Monday night, education got a few mention in other speeches. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker praised Clinton’s work on behalf of students with disabilities in Massachusetts and against school segregation in Alabama.

Booker cast education as an issue of competition between the U.S. and other countries. Booker said that Clinton knows, “The country that out-educates the world will out-earn the world.”

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who, like Sanders, serves on the Senate education committee, also emphasized college affordability when she said, “We believe every child in America should have a chance at a great education without being crushed by student debt.”

A few young immigrants also spoke on Monday night to criticize GOP nominee Donald Trump’s stance on illegal immigration.

Astrid Silva, for example, an immigration activist, spoke on behalf of DREAMers, or immigrants who came to the country illegally as young children, but are seeking to go to college or enter the workforce. As an undocumented immigrant, she said she felt like college was “out of reach” for a long time, but eventually graduated from Nevada State College.

“While President Obama’s immigration action protected me, we live in constant fear that my parents could be taken away from their grandson Noah,” said Silva, who’s worked with Democrats on immigration issues for several years and referred to Obama’s actions on deportation relief. “So when Donald Trump talks about deporting 11 million people, he’s talking about ripping families apart. Hillary Clinton understands that this is not who we are as a country.”

Assistant Editor Alyson Klein contributed to this post.

Top Photo: Senator Bernie Sanders takes in the crowd’s applause before he begins his headliner speech at the Democractic National Convention on Monday, July 25, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. --Deanna Del Ciello/Education Week

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