Teach­ers’ union puts its pen­cil down early to en­dorse Clin­ton

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY LYN­D­SEY LAY­TON lyn­d­sey.lay­ton@wash­post.com More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ blogs/ post-pol­i­tics

The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers en­dorsed Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion Satur­day, the first na­tional union to back a 2016 pri­mary can­di­date.

The endorsement was not a sur­prise to close observers— the AFT had sup­ported Clin­ton in 2008 in­stead of Pres­i­dent Obama— but the early tim­ing may be de­signed to boost Clin­ton over surg­ing ri­val Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.).

“In vi­sion, in ex­pe­ri­ence and in lead­er­ship, Hil­lary Clin­ton is the cham­pion of work­ing fam­i­lies need in the White House,” AFT pres­i­dent and long­time Clin­ton ally Randi Wein­garten said.

In a state­ment re­leased by the union, Clin­ton said she was hon­ored by the nod. “I know from my own fam­ily that teach­ers have the power to change lives,” she said. “We need to make sure ev­ery child has ac­cess for a qual­ity public ed­u­ca­tion and to the teach­ers with the tools to help them suc­ceed.”

Wein­garten and Clin­ton have been friends since their days in New York, when Wein­garten led the city’s teach­ers’ union and Clin­ton ran suc­cess­fully for the Se­nate. Wein­garten sits on the board of pro-Clin­ton Pri­or­i­ties USA po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee.

The 1.6 mil­lion-mem­ber AFT, along with its sis­ter union, the 3 mil­lion-mem­ber Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, have been un­der siege from el­e­ments within the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties. The unions have been fight­ing the ex­pan­sion of public char­ter schools, which are largely not union­ized, as well as teacher eval­u­a­tions based on test scores and chal­lenges to ten­ure and other work­place pro­tec­tions.

The unions have both been crit­i­cal of many of the ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, say­ing they have led to a “blame the teacher” cul­ture. They ar­gue that eval­u­at­ing teach­ers based on stu­dent test scores does not rec­og­nize the com­plex­i­ties of teach­ing stu­dents who of­ten come from im­pov­er­ished homes or strug­gle with dis­abil­i­ties.

Clin­ton, San­ders and for­mer Mary­land gover­nor Martin O ’Malley all met with the AFT and NEA lead­er­ship last month in an ef­fort to win their back­ing.

Clin­ton struck a par­tic­u­larly sym­pa­thetic tone in her meet­ing at the NEA, telling the union that peo­ple are “dead wrong to make teach­ers scape­goats for all of so­ci­ety’s prob­lems.”

Clin­ton’s re­la­tions with teach­ers’ unions didn’t be­gin as smoothly when she first en­tered public life. As first lady of Arkansas in 1982, Clin­ton pushed to broaden course of­fer­ings in public schools, re­duce class sizes and in­sti­tute com­pe­tency test­ing for teach­ers — an idea that pro­voked a fierce push­back from the union.

But as a first lady and then sen­a­tor, Clin­ton pro­moted poli­cies much more friendly to the teach­ers unions, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing preschool and af­ter­school pro­grams. As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2008, she op­posed merit pay for teach­ers, another stance in line with the unions.

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