Vice President Kamala Harris both appealed to teachers for their support and condemned the latest gun massacre in a speech Tuesday.
The Biden-Harris White House is the “most pro-union administration in America’s history,” Harris told educators, while urging them to vote in the upcoming midterm election. She spoke at the National Education Association’s representative assembly here to about 4,500 in-person union delegates and 1,500 virtual attendees.
Democrats are forecasted to lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November, and the nation’s largest teachers’ union has been urging its members to vote and canvass for Democratic candidates. During Harris’ speech, teachers waved signs that said, “Educators Love Biden-Harris,” and “Elections Matter.”
The day before Harris’ speech, a gunman opened fire on a July 4 parade in Highland Park, a suburb about 30 miles from Chicago, killing seven people and injuring dozens more. Harris dedicated a portion of her speech to the massacre, calling for an end to the “horror” and “terror” of gun violence.
“Our nation is still mourning the loss of those 19 babies and their two teachers in Uvalde,” Harris said. “This massacre was the most recent reminder, in Uvalde, of the risks that our children and our educators face every day. Teachers should not have to practice barricading a classroom. Teachers should not have to know how to treat a gunshot wound. Teachers should not be told that lives would have been saved if only you had a gun.”
There have been 27 school shootings this year, according to Education Week’s tracker, on track to outpace 2021. While school shootings are statistically rare, educators have said they feel increasingly less safe in schools.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed into law bipartisan gun legislation that introduces enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21, provides federal support for state red flag laws, restricts gun purchases for people convicted of domestic violence, and introduces several measures aimed at reducing gun trafficking. The new law also boosts funding for school mental health.
But there is more to do, Harris said. Congress must renew the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, and repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers.
“There is no reason that we have weapons of war on the streets of America,” she said. “We need reasonable gun safety laws.”
Earlier this week, NEA delegates approved a measure to coordinate a “unified response” to protect schools and communities from gun violence. The NEA will support organizing efforts across the country, continue its federal advocacy work, and “hold accountable” elected officials and candidates running for office to “make sure they are willing to put an end to gun violence on school campuses and in our communities,” that measure says.
Harris points to new tutoring initiative
The vice president also touted the Biden-Harris administration’s education work, including the $122 billion in pandemic relief to schools through the American Rescue Plan. President Joe Biden has called on schools to use that money for high-quality tutoring, summer learning, and after-school programs to help students catch up academically.
The U.S. Department of Education announced July 5 that it would launch the National Partnership for Student Success to recruit an additional 250,000 tutors and mentors over the next three years. (Many districts have struggled to find and compensate tutors; some have turned to volunteers or online programs instead.) These tutors, Harris said, “will be in schools across the country to give students the support they need and to support your work every day.”
But there is more to do, Harris said. She told educators that raising teacher pay is a priority for the administration.
“We are determined to fight for a future where a teacher’s wage can provide for a family,” she said. “Because I know it is still the case that some of you are working two jobs. Some maybe even three.”
And Harris slammed Republican politicians who have “fought against raising your pay” and “refuse to keep assault weapons off our streets and out of our classrooms.”
“These so-called leaders have tried to make you the pawns of their political agenda,” Harris said. “While you work hard, ... they dare question your dedication, your motivation, and your value.”
For instance, politicians have removed the freedom for a K-3 teacher in Florida’s ability “to love openly and with pride,” Harris said, referring to what is commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida that restricts certain topics in the classroom.
“I also think these extremist so-called leaders need to attend a civics lesson,” Harris said. “I think it would benefit us all if they sat in your classroom for a few days to remember how a democracy works.”
Harris urged the union delegates’ continued advocacy, saying that the National Education Association is a “powerful force.”
“You are not only essential to our children’s future,” she said. “I’m here to share with you—you, I believe, are essential to the future of our democracy.”