Joe Biden gets warm welcome, but no endorsement, at Manhattan address to teachers union

Photo by Todd Maisel

Vice President Joe Biden didn’t get an endorsement from the powerful teachers union the United Federation of Teachers at their “Teacher Union Day” at the Hilton in Manhattan Sunday, but he did receive a warm welcome and hugs from their president and the leader of the powerful American Federation of Teachers.

In return, Biden promised to triple funding of up to $45 billion for public education to, “close a $23 billion gap between white and non-white communities.” He did not say how he would pay for it.

“Funding shouldn’t depend upon what ZIP code a student comes from,” Biden proclaimed.

Biden was accompanied by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who is herself a life-long educator and was warmly received by union leaders. The unions have repeatedly trashed President Donald Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, for failing the education system and not properly funding educational initiatives.

Biden is the latest in a series of Democratic presidential candidates whom the UFT has invited to address its members. The most recent candidate to speak to the union was New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand before she dropped out of the race.

Joining UFT President Michael Mulgrew at Sunday’s forum was current AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has been a staunch supporter of democratic candidates in the past. She and Mulgrew both condemned DeVos.

“Do you think there is a partner in the White House today?” Weingarten asked the audience, to which she received a resounding “no” from the more than 2,000 teachers assembled in the grand ballroom of the Hilton.

“Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and change who is in the White House?” Mulgrew asked the crowd. “Throughout his career, this man (Joe Biden) has always understood and fought for public education in its purest form.”

Weingarten equally praised Biden, saying “there was one person in the Obama administration that when we had a real issue, I would pick up the phone and call and we always got fairness and an open mind and an open phone line to fight for people that our classrooms need.”

Biden said he had a plan for improving public education including higher pay for teachers, stronger benefits and increased funding for public education.

“You need unprecedented investment in public education and we can afford to do this,” Biden said.

He also said the goal would be to “invest in students from birth,” including bringing universal pre-kindergarten to the entire country.

What did the teachers think?

Tanya Pragados, a teacher in Manhattan at P.S. 175, was on hand Sunday to receive from the UFT the Trachtenberg Award for fighting for equality for her fellow teachers. She said she’d like a presidential candidate to give attention to education “equity.”

“More attention needs to be paid to the socio economic and social behavior of students – there has to be equity for students as well as for teachers,” she said.

Joan Garvin, a retired teacher who taught at J.H.S. 281 in Bath Beach, Brooklyn for 16 years.

“I’d like to hear how Biden will improve the country when he is elected president and on education, I’d like to see the end of Betsy DeVos and somebody who is education friendly, Garvin said.

Carisma Paylor, a paraprofessional in the Manhattan School for Children on the Upper West Side, said she seeks better pay, and also blasted Devos.

“DeVos has not supported the education system. She doesn’t care for the kids or education and we need a change,” she said.

Todd Maisel