A Mixed Bag in 2020 Lame Duck Session
September 16, 2020
By PAULA HERBART/President – Michigan Education Association
For decades, we’ve all heard the refrain: “This is the most important election in our lifetime.”
More than ever, this statement is ringing true for voters with more than 190,000 American lives — and counting — lost to the pandemic, a crumbling economy that has devastated so many families, and the crisis of institutional racism and continued police brutality across the country.
For educators, there’s another reason to add to this list: A new president will mean a new secretary of education. Betsy DeVos is unqualified for this role in the best of times. In a pandemic, with all of the challenges public education faces, she has failed in leading America’s public schools.
To reverse DeVos’ continued attempts to dismantle public education, MEA proudly supports Joe Biden for president of the United States, as well as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters for reelection.
Educators across the country have come together to support Biden for president because he has consistently made students a priority during his long career in public service. Along with his wife, Jill Biden, a life-long public school educator, Biden would renew our nation’s commitment to public education.
Biden strongly opposes the Trump-DeVos plan to siphon off pandemic funding for already badly underfunded public schools and give those tax dollars to private and religious schools — a plan which was recently blocked by two federal district courts.
He has promised to nominate an educator as secretary of education, who would use that role to stand up for public schools. That would be welcome relief to educators and parents.
Fixing the broken Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is among Biden’s plans to help teachers pay off their student loans. His new secretary of education would reverse decisions of the DeVos education department on loan payments and forgiveness that prioritized lenders over student borrowers. DeVos implemented rules making it harder to eliminate the loan debt of students defrauded by private, for-profit colleges, and is being sued for reneging on her promise to halt collections on student loans during the pandemic.
These efforts are critical in order to attract the best and brightest to a career in education. Too many teachers and school support staff cannot support their families on stagnating and even declining wages, which have forced many out of the profession.
Average weekly wages for public school teachers have not increased since 1996, and in 2018, public school teachers earned 21.4% less than their counterparts with similar education and experience. Colleges and universities are reporting 50% declines in students studying to become teachers.
Biden has a plan to reverse the wage decline for educators, starting with tripling the funding for Title 1, which provides additional federal funding for low-income families.
To accomplish all this, Biden needs a partner like Peters in the U.S. Senate. Peters has been a strong voice for public schools and educators in his first Senate term and throughout his time in public service.
Peters provides a stark contrast to his opponent, John James. While Peters has fought the Trump-DeVos agenda to privatize and profitize public schools, James has loudly proclaimed his support for DeVos, saying she’s a “very, very good” education secretary.
While that statement doesn’t match reality for those who’ve seen the damage she has done, it’s not surprising given the campaign funding James has received from the DeVos family.
Biden and Peters are the leaders that educators need to reverse the damage done by the Trump-DeVos education agenda.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.