U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined nine other Democratic presidential candidates in Houston on Friday seeking the support of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association.
Klobuchar joined several of her rivals in vowing to increase teacher pay and invest in school infrastructure. Earlier Friday, she proposed a “progress partnership” that would give matching funds to states that pledge to improve schools and would make workforce readiness a priority.
Under her plan, states would find ways to help working families with after-school programs or community hubs.
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, was in Houston. She said it was gratifying “to hear that all the candidates seem to be talking about the things we’re talking about,” including the teacher shortage, students’ unmet needs, standardized testing and full funding of special-education programs.
Specht called Klobuchar’s ideas “quite comprehensive” and added, “I love the idea of meeting the needs of working families.”
Like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Klobuchar criticized President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who was not a teacher.
“In Minnesota when I led the ticket we elected a teacher as governor of our state,” Klobuchar said, referring to DFL Gov. Tim Walz. “We put in place a union member and leader [Mary Cathryn Ricker] as education commissioner.”
The National Education Association (NEA) has more than 3 million members and is a potent Democratic voting bloc. The union is not expected to make a primary endorsement. At the forum, each candidate made an opening statement, then answered three different questions posed by members.
Klobuchar was asked about educating “dreamers” — immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by parents who are not here legally. She would “put them on a path to citizenship to make them secure in this country,” she said.
She also was asked about ways to attract and retain teachers, particularly those of color. “My first plan is to increase teacher pay,” Klobuchar said, explaining that she would offset the costs with changes to the estate tax. She also pledged to make a federal student-loan forgiveness program for teachers work better.
“We are not going to compete with the rest of the world if we don’t invest in our schools,” she said, noting that her mother was a teacher. A $1 trillion infrastructure plan she released in March included proposals to repair schools and upgrade technology.
Klobuchar’s list of actions she’d take in her first 100 days as president includes fully funding education, closing the “opportunity gap” and increasing science, technology, engineering and math programs.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told the NEA that she backs “universal tuition-free technical school, community college and four-year college for everybody.” Biden agreed and said the cost could be offset by eliminating a tax cut for the wealthy. Klobuchar was not asked about that topic on Friday. She said in the first debate that such ideas make her “concerned about paying for college for rich kids.”
Warren, a former teacher, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed canceling all student-loan debt. Klobuchar said at a CNN town hall in April that the idea is unrealistic. Sanders also proposed ensuring that every teacher earns at least $60,000 a year.