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Teaching Profession

State and Local Affiliates Aren’t Waiting for National Teachers’ Unions to Endorse Candidates

By Evie Blad — January 13, 2020 3 min read
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A few more state and local teachers’ unions have endorsed Democratic presidential candidates in the last few days, even as their powerful national peers—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—continued their lengthy vetting processes.

The Massachusetts affiliate of the AFT and the Boston Teachers Union on Monday endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who represents their state and has called for quadrupling Title I, “fully funding” IDEA, and putting new restrictions on charter schools.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won an endorsement Tuesday from Nevada’s Clark County Education Association, which represents 19,000 members in the nation’s fifth largest district. That endorsement came about two months after Sanders won early support from the United Teachers of Los Angeles. That union’s leadership said Sanders, an independent, would “stand up against privatization, the charter billionaires, and high-stakes testing,” which have all been the focus of recent teacher activism in the nation’s second largest school district.

And over the weekend, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was born in Scranton, Penn., announced he’d won the endorsement of the Scranton Federation of Teachers. Biden wants to triple Title I funding, which is targeted toward schools with large enrollments of students from low-income families, full funding for IDEA within 10 years, and the reinstatement of some Obama-era civil rights regulations that have since been rescinded by the Trump administration.

What About the National Teachers Unions’ Endorsements?

The national teachers unions have said any endorsements of primary candidates will come much later in the cycle than they did in 2016. Some union members criticized the national organizations in 2016, saying they moved too quickly to support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and did not give Sanders enough consideration.

The AFT has responded by holding town halls with most of the 2020 Democratic candidates to discuss their priorities. The NEA released a series of video interviews with candidates. And both unions were among the organizers of a forum on public education issues that was livestreamed and conducted by MSNBC.

But even as the Iowa caucuses are less than a month away, neither union has made an endorsement.

What Will the New Endorsements Mean for Candidates?

Endorsements from the Massachusetts and Boston chapters signal an important nod from Warren’s home state. It may also motivate some of the organizations’ members to hit the road for neighboring New Hampshire to help organize voters in that early primary state. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts primary is March 3 on Super Tuesday.

Warren often mentions her year as a special education teacher on the trail, a talking point echoed by the unions in their endorsements.

For Sanders, the Clark County endorsement is an important nod in the diverse and influential early primary state, where labor plays an influential role.

“Senator Sanders has a stellar record of supporting educators,” CCEA President Vikki Courtney said in a statement. “His position on public education issues is second to none. He has always been a champion for educators and working class people. He has our support. He has spent time with our members and has made a firm commitment to advance public education in our country.”

Scranton is a relatively small district with about 10,000 students. But Pennsylvania, which President Trump won in 2016, is a significant state in the general election. The Pennsylvania primary is April 28.

“As a native of Scranton, Vice President Biden knows firsthand about the economic, educational and social issues that matter to our community,” SFT President Rosemary Boland said in a statement. “He has been a lifelong advocate for strong public schools, labor rights and access to quality and affordable healthcare—issues important to our members, working families and the students we teach.”

Photo: Getty

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