Warren rallies with striking teachers, calls for structural education reforms
John Bachtell/PW

CHICAGO – “Everyone in America should support this strike. Because when you fight, you don’t just fight for yourselves. You fight for the children of this city and this country,” declared Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “I believe in you. I believe in the work that you do every day.”

Warren stopped at Oscar DePriest Elementary School on the city’s West Side, Oct. 22, to lend her solidarity to 35,000 striking Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) teachers and Service Employees International Union Local 73 support staff. The unions went on strike Oct. 17.

Warren, a former special education teacher herself, said she once stood in their shoes and urged the strikers, clad in red and purple, to keep fighting. “People are told to quit now. Give up. But they don’t give up, they stay strong in the fight for what they believe, and they change the course of American history! This is our fight to stand together!”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, CTU officers, and many elected officials, joined Warren at the picket line.

Warren is one of several Democratic presidential candidates who have lent solidarity to the strike. Others include Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Only a few years ago, the dominant narrative demanded teachers teach to standardized tests and then blamed them when students performed poorly. Their unions were vilified and some state legislatures passed laws to undermine their power or destroy them altogether.

Teachers were pushed to work miracles as wages stagnated, schools were closed, and school funding was slashed, especially in working-class and majority people-of-color communities. Meanwhile, Wall Street hedge funds pushed a privatization agenda, including in the Democratic Party, that pushed support for charter schools.

But a wave of teacher strikes over the past year, including in GOP-dominated states, is leading to a sea change in attitudes. The strikes and allied education justice movements have empowered teachers while galvanizing public support for a new agenda of increased state funding and support for teachers, support staff, and wrap-around services.

“I believe in public education. And I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education,” said Warren, as she spoke briefly about her education plan unveiled on Oct. 20. The plan reflects her desire for sizable structural change to address deeply embedded inadequate and unequal funding based on class and race.

“This is about who the government works for. Right now, the government is working great for the rich and powerful. It’s just not much working for anyone else,” said Warren. She vowed to replace the billionaire education privatizer, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, with someone who “has been a public school teacher and actually believes in public education.”

Warren’s plan calls for an investment of $800 billion in school funding, including $450 billion over 10 years for Title I schools in low-income working-class communities, quadrupling the current allocation. The total includes $20 billion for students with disabilities, $100 billion in “excellence grants” or additional resources schools could use as they choose, and $50 billion for infrastructure.

The funding would also boost the salaries of teachers and support staff.

Ninety percent of public school funding comes from state and local sources, creating the vast class and racial inequalities and chronic underfunding. Only 11 states have progressive funding formulas. Warren’s plan, like many of the Democratic candidates, vastly increases the commitment of the federal government while incentivizing states to increase funding and adopt progressive funding formulas.

Warren has also put forth plans to fund universal childcare and pre-K, raise wages for childcare workers, universal tuition-free college, $50 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and cancellation of student loan debt for 95 percent of graduates.

Both Warren and Sanders have called for an end to charter school expansion. Most of the Democratic candidates are against for-profit charters. Warren’s plan calls for an end to the $350 million federal Charter Schools Program, which funds charter start-ups.

“I believe public money should stay in public schools,” said Warren, who also opposes diverting money to school vouchers to pay for private schools.

Warren’s plan also tackles school segregation by strengthening the 1964 Civil Rights Act and incentivizing states to act to integrate housing and communities. It provides $50 billion in grants to cities to build parks, roads, and schools if they eliminate restrictive zoning laws that lead to segregation.

John Bachtell/PW

The plan also strictly prohibits federal funds from being used in any way that discriminates against children with disabilities, LGBTQ students, English language learners, and immigrants, including undocumented immigrants.

Reporters peppered Warren with questions on how she would fund her plan. She reiterated her call for a wealth tax, consisting of “a two-cent tax on great fortunes above $50 million.” A wealth tax moves away from a reliance on property taxes, which results in greater segregation and leaves schools in working-class communities chronically underfunded.

“The first $50 million is free and clear. But after $50 million, you have to pitch in 2 cents tax on the first dollar and every dollar after that. We ask the top one-tenth of one percent in America,” she said.

“To pitch in two cents and we can provide universal childcare for every baby in this country, universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America. We can raise the wages of every childcare worker. We can put $800 billion directly into our schools.”

“[Warren’s plan] is a stark reversal of years of austerity and failed quick-fix reforms that have defunded public schools, hollowed out the teaching force, prioritized testing over learning, and failed to meet the needs of our children and the promise of public education,” Weingarten said in a statement.

“This is about who as a country we want to invest in,” Warren told the strikers. As you would guess after the rally, strikers mobbed Warren for selfies.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.