By INDIA KRUG – The Public Education Forum was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 14, 2019. Seven candidates attended: Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden. Entitled “Education and Equity for All,” the forum was sponsored by teachers unions and civil rights groups, with many people of color in attendance. The candidates were expected to lay out their economic and legislative plans to protect and expand public education. The MSNBC moderators, Ali Velshi and Rehema Ellis, held the candidates accountable for answering the ‘how’s. The audience was there to know “Who’s for kids and who’s kidding?” The forum received national attention and bolstered many of the candidate’s campaigns as they look ahead to the primaries.
Junior Allie Rutledge shared what politicians can do on a local scale to improve public schools. “I believe that the biggest challenge our school faces currently is the lack of preparation for our futures, mainly the types of classes we are required to take. Our politicians could possibly help by working with the schools in their area to change the mandatory classes high school students must take.”
Michael Bennet discussed his experience as a superintendent in Denver, Colorado. He believed that many of the skills he learned from being a superintendent are necessary to fulfill the obligations of the presidency. He also stated that many senators are out of touch when it comes to passing legislation on public education. “They may think they know what’s going on in schools because they went to one like 150 years ago, but they don’t. The farthest thing in the universe from schools are the marble floors of the Senate.”
Pete Buttigieg began by mentioning his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, who is a teacher who put his career on hold to aid in Mayor Pete’s campaign. Buttigieg tackled a range of issues, the first of which being property taxes and de facto segregation, stating that, due to property taxes, poor students are punished for being poor. He also called out internships, claiming that they could not just be a luxury for those who can afford to work without pay. Additionally, Buttigieg discussed the lack of attention on alternate post-high school plans. “We need to make sure you are set up to prosper with or without a college degree.” Overall, his theme was that of unity, commenting: “We have a crisis of belonging and a desperate need for things that are shared.”
Junior Kade Duffee commented, “Being in a rural area, we are of little political importance to most politicians. I believe that the best candidate for these issues, as well as other issues pertaining to education, is Pete Buttigieg. One of my favorite quotes by Mayor Pete is ‘We need to honor teachers like soldiers, and pay them like doctors.’ Pete understands that deep-rooted issues such as racial and economic inequality stem largely from flaws in the education system.”
Elizabeth Warren focused her speech on the idea of “equalizing opportunities.” She laid out her plan for a 2% tax on the top 1/10th percent to eliminate debt for 43 million Americans, as well as make technical schools, and public 2-year and 4-year universities tuition-free. “Your property tax should include your stock portfolio, diamonds, and yacht.” She also touched upon the value of universal preschool and setting up students for success. “A child born into privilege has a great opportunity– I want all children to have that opportunity and I’ll put money behind it.”
Bernie Sanders stated that “we spend too much time teaching for the tests and not individual progress.” Upon mentioning his College For All Act, he received thunderous applause. On the topic of public elementary, middle, and high schools, he was asked if the government should subsidize school lunches for everyone. He responded with “and breakfast and dinner as well,” citing that property taxes would carry the balance.
Tom Steyer was an advocate for teachers’ salaries. “You need to give them an incentive to go into teaching and treat teachers’ professions the same as doctors, lawyers, and architects.” He stated that success is not “one size fits all” or numerical. The success of a society can be measured by the most disadvantaged person. “If you are taking care of the person with the most disadvantages, then the rest of the country is probably well off.”
Amy Klobuchar began by mentioning her mother was a second-grade teacher and the impact she had on her students. She discussed academic risk due to lack of engagement or chronic absences, and that those students were less likely to master reading. She also stated the importance of recruiting and retaining teachers of color. She focused on respecting the dignity of work across the board by prioritizing childcare, retirement, and raising the federal minimum wage. She emphasized that the better education is, the better the public is. “If we do not educate our kids, we cannot compete as a country.”
Joe Biden discussed the importance of teacher-centric schools, and that the main goal of teachers is to build their students’ confidence– mentioning his stutter that he took speech classes for. He argued against a scripted curriculum that pushes through the year instead of curating a curriculum that fits the students’ needs. “Teaching to a test underestimates the capabilities of students.” He also applauded other employees in a public school system, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. He said that they know the students’ situations from dropping them off at home or seeing their faces in the lunch line.
Senior Nathan Birch said, “Currently, I think that most of the Democratic candidates care greatly about teachers and students. Our school has both Republican and Democrat clubs for students who want to have their voices heard.”
[Photo courtesy of Senior India Krug]
Photo Caption: “Members of GirlGov, a Pittsburgh-based civic engagement program for female high school students, attend the Forum with Pennsylvania senators.”
India is a senior and joined The High Arrow because journalism matters. Since joining the staff three years ago, she has written many articles, including opinions, has made a lot of friends, and has grown to adore Bob Woodward.