Biden On Educators

NEA photo

July 3, 2011

Vice-President Joe Biden spoke before my union, the National Education Association, today in Chicago, Illinois at the NEA 90th Representative Assembly.

 His remarks:

Remarks for Vice President Joe Biden
National Education Association
Chicago, IL
July 3, 2011

We all have something in common—you, me, Barack, Michelle none of us would be in the positions we are today without the inspiration, love, and guidance of an educator.

Thank you for inviting me.

I know you have a lot of more business to conduct before this assembly ends.

So, let me get right to the point.

Dennis—I read your speech.

It was rhetorically good.

More importantly, it contained real insight that is not reflected in the public debate.

What’s more, there’s not a single thing you said that I disagree with.

Yesterday, you said:

“I know of no family of means in America who would deny their own children preschool, child care, good nutrition, health care, and other opportunities, from soccer to music to dance to art.

So, if a nation wants to remain strong and prosperous, why would we perpetuate a system that denies these opportunities for any child?”

Well, the answer, Dennis, is that the other team doesn’t think we can afford it, and they don’t think it’s a priority.

This new Republican party has a different philosophy.

I don’t think they really believe in public education, as we do.

Public education is as much about poverty, lack of health care, and unemployment, as it is about what goes on in the classroom.

To quote Dennis again, “part of the madness of this country is an economy that is out of balance”.

To the new Republican Party, it is madness by design. They don’t think it’s out of balance; they think it’s reestablishing balance.

They believe:

• A CEO making 260 times what their workers make is a honest reflection of their respective value.

• That one percent of wage earners controlling 24 percent of wealth will spur economic growth.

• That hedge fund managers making billions of income should paying a 15% tax rate while teachers making tens of thousands in income should pay 25% or more— because it will encourage investors to take risks for economic growth.

Dennis, as you said, you are under attack.

The Republican party has undertaken the most direct assault on labor not just in your lifetimes—but since the 1920s.

Our difference with the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and Michigan... all over ... is much deeper than our differing philosophies on public education and educators.

Fundamentally, it is about the importance of community and the appropriate role of government.

So it should be no surprise that the same people who are pushing vouchers for schools are pushing vouchers to replace Medicare.

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to eliminate for the middle class a $10,000 tax credit for college tuition also want to lower tax rates for the top 1 percent who make millions.

It should be no surprise that the same people who opposed our effort to fund reconstruction of schools also opposed major investments infrastructure investment for highways, bridges, ports.

It should be no surprise that the same people who were against aid to states in the Recovery Act to allow them to keep 300,000 educators on the job had no problem aiding investment bankers on Wall Street.

It should be no surprise that the same people who oppose funding community colleges that are retraining workers for specific companies in America are for incentives for some of these same companies who ship jobs overseas.

It should be no surprise that those who oppose subsidizing after-school programs are for subsidizing oil companies to drill for oil.

It should be no surprise that the folks who want to cut school lunch and nutrition programs also vote against unemployment insurance and food stamps for the jobless.

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to slash funding medical and scientific research at our great universities also want to slash funding for innovation, for renewable energy, for new lithium-ion batteries.


This debate is about whether or not for America to succeed we need to provide the best education for all of our children—or for just some of our children.

Folks, I could go on and on and on ... but, in the end, it’s about more than education. It’s about social equality, economic opportunity, concentration of wealth.

It’s about not only what we are doing in education, but what we are doing to our country.

And, just look around the country ... Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida on and on and on.

All over the country, they’ve rejected good-faith offers by teachers and other public employees to sacrifice and do their part to help balance the state budget, and instead used the budget process to systematically erode the rights of public employees to collectively bargain.

Slashes in education spending. Reneging on teacher contracts. Mandating a decertification vote for any union involved in a teacher strike action. Limiting the issues public school employees can bargain over. Paycheck deception. Benefits slashed, wages cut.

All states are struggling from the impacts of a brutal recession. Yet, there is an organized effort to place the blame for budget shortfalls squarely on educators and other public workers.

This is a debate about a fundamental difference in vision our vision and their vision.

Look, folks—in these times of change, I am sure you haven’t loved everything we’ve done. We won’t agree on absolutely everything.

But you should not have doubt in your mind who’s on your side. Who’ll fight with you, and fight for you.

This administration stands for education, and with labor.

It’s about your fundamental right to collectively bargain about the environment in which you work, the size of your classroom, the mix of special education students in the classroom, after-school programs

It’s also about whether or not we will provide adequate preschool education,

It’s about whether or not we will have classroom sizes that allow a child to be recognized,

It’s about whether we will offer courses in math and science, introduce our children to art and music.

It’s about whether or not there will be adequate sports programs.

And it’s about whether we provide the educational and financial capabilities for every student who wants to go to college.

And, ultimately, it’s about whether America will retain its place in the world.

It’s a fact: more than half the jobs in the next decade will require a post-secondary education.

How can we expect to compete in the future without the best-prepared, best-educated workforce in the world?

And, how can we expect to do that without you?

People are starting to wake up to this, too—in Madison, in Columbus, all over. You are on the front lines of those battles.

You are teaching the next great engineer how to do arithmetic.

You are teaching the next great novelist how to write a sentence.

You are uncovering the next Mozart and unleashing the next Steve Jobs.

You are building generation after generation of hard-working Americans in all walks of life.., doctors, lawyers, architects, computer programmers, welders, business owners, artists, soldiers and, yes, educators.

In your classroom is the incubator of a new technology. A future scientific breakthrough. A medical discovery.

In your classroom is a future President of the United States.

And you all know what my wife knows—you never know where that child will come from. You never know whether that child comes from a rowhouse or a mansion, from the inner city or a farm.

But you know they will come form our children.

These are our children.

They’re not someone else children’s.

They’re America’s children.

They are the kite strings upon which our national ambitions are held aloft.

And, in the end, we will be judged by whether we’ve honored our obligation to them.

My favorite poet William Butler Yeats once wrote that:

Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.

We stand with you to keep that fire lit—and lit brightly—for Americans everywhere, for generations to come.

We stand with NEA because without you, the American dream will grow further and further out of reach for average Americans.

We stand with you because you stand with people who are struggling to get into the middle class, as well as your own members.

We stand with you--NEA—because, with you, we can and will restore the American Dream.

Thank you. May God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.