It’s an axiom of politics that elections have consequences. That axiom is usually recited when the consequences are negative. But the election of Gov. Phil Murphy has had positive consequences for educators, students and New Jersey’s public schools.
In her State of Our Union speech at the Sept. 12 Delegate Assembly (DA) meeting, NJEA President Marie Blistan listed the association’s accomplishments over the past year. These included the enactment of Ch. 78 relief, due-process rights and protection against privatization for educational support professionals (ESPs), massively increased pension funding, successful membership campaigns supported by the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, and gubernatorial executive orders in the wake of the pandemic that protected ESP members’ incomes and cancelled statewide standardized testing, among many other examples.
“This is a tribute to the work that NJEA members did to get a governor elected who respects public education and school employees,” Blistan concluded.
The governor demonstrated that respect by attending a portion of that DA meeting to address delegates one day after signing the anti-privatization bill. The governor has regularly been accessible to members, attending several NJEA Conventions and other association conferences.
As she introduced the governor, Blistan remarked, “He listens to the voices of educators on education policy issues. He promised to change the hostile negative rhetoric about public schools and about the work that we do. And both as a candidate and as a governor he has lived up to what he promised.”
Compare that to the consequences of the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Under Trump, public education and public educators are not respected or valued. Nothing demonstrates that more clearly than his appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. Sen. Kamala Harris knew that DeVos was the wrong choice. In her first speech as a new senator on the floor of the Senate, Harris voiced her opposition to DeVos.
DeVos not only lacked any experience in public education but had a history of antipathy toward it. She famously derided public education saying, “It’s a monopoly, a dead end.” In Michigan, she and her family used their extensive financial resources to dismantle any oversight of for-profit charter schools.
The hostility of Trump and DeVos toward public education is so great that even during a crisis, Trump and DeVos proposed cutting billions of dollars from public schools, while pushing voucher schemes that subsidized private schools. Rather than provide relief, Trump and DeVos are demanding that students and educators return to classrooms that are unsafe, threatening to punish schools that wait until it is safe to reopen by withholding funds.
The election of 2016 had negative consequences, but the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the election of 2020 can turn things around.
On his first day in office, Biden will replace Betsy DeVos with a secretary of education who has experience in public schools and respects what we do. Biden’s spouse, Dr. Jill Biden, will be a first lady with a deep understanding of what we do: a public school educator, she is a long-time member of the National Education Association.
Biden and Harris understand the importance of public education to economic recovery, but they know that a lasting recovery cannot take hold unless we listen to doctors and scientists on when to reopen school buildings. And Biden and Harris will listen to educators and parents on how best to support our students during these tough times.
During the last economic crisis that our country faced, Biden led the recovery effort under President Barack Obama, helping to save jobs for 450,000 educators while re-building the U.S. economy.
Biden and Harris respect educators and are committed to ensuring they have a seat at the decision-making table and providing the support they need and have earned. They know that a return on America’s success starts with an investment in public education, supporting universal pre-k for all, tripling the Title I investments for students with disabilities, providing nutritious meals to students at risk of going hungry, and tuition-free community college.
NJEA members remember what it was like to go from one election that led to a governor hostile to educators to an election of a governor who respects them. At the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, all American educators may finally go from a president hostile to them to a president who respects them.
By 2022, perhaps NEA President Becky Pringle will be able to echo Blistan’s works saying, “Joe Biden listens to the voices of educators on education policy issues. He promised to change the hostile negative rhetoric about public schools and about the work that we do. And both as a candidate and as a president he has lived up to what he promised.”