What Hillary Told the NEA
Mike Antonucci's Union Report appears Wednesdays; see the full archive
When Hillary Clinton addressed the National Education Association board of directors in October 2015, it was to ensure that the union would endorse her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination before the start of the primaries. This she accomplished.
The summaries and quotes I published at the time were based on excerpts that NEA chose to share with its leaders and activists. Wikileaks is publishing emails to and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, one of which includes the full transcript of the town-hall-style meeting.
Officially the campaign neither confirms nor denies the authenticity of the emails.
NEA’s excerpts contained several noteworthy remarks from Clinton, including:
“There are people who have the libertarian view that we need to end public education. They want to destroy public education. They want to destroy every public service. I think they are not only foolish, but they are dangerous. Then there’s a group of reformers who may mean well, but they are totally disconnected from knowing teachers who know the names of the students in your class. And then there are the for-profit people who don’t care whether it’s public or private as long as they can make money on it.”
“I really do want Lily [Eskelsen Garcia, NEA president] and the leadership to recommend people for important positions who will carry out the philosophy that I’m expressing, so that NEA is at the table, literally and figuratively.”
“There was an argument for Teach for America, but I think we’ve learned a lot about how difficult it is for people with 6 to 8 weeks’ training to manage a classroom, to be able to really teach in a way that inspires and produces results.”
But the full transcript contains additional comments and expanded answers from Clinton. In a campaign during which education issues have been placed on the back burner, these private remarks help provide a clearer picture of what we can expect from a Clinton presidency, particularly in its early days. As Clinton told NEA, “The honeymoon does not last that long.”
On privatization: “I think we have got to go after private contractors, and I have said in my talking about these issues that I will have the Labor Department continue the good work that Secretary [inaudible] has started to go after misclassification of employees, contractors who are unscrupulous and are not adding to the quality of whether it’s education or any other service. And I will do everything I can to try to use the law and regulation to end what is a race to the bottom.
… So I’m going to do everything I can to try to prevent this [move toward?] dislocating people from the jobs they are doing in a direct line, being hired, being supervised, providing accountability and the services you provide, and the contractors who come in just to make money. I don’t think it’s a good deal for school districts, I don’t think it’s a good deal for colleges and universities, but I’m going to try to figure out how I can tighten it so that we can begin to phase it out, if possible. I feel the same way about for-profit prisons, I feel the same way about a lot of things that have really gotten out of control, and I don’t think they’re justified economically, and we’re going to try to figure out ways to put the screws to it. [Laughter, applause.]”
On early childhood education: “It won’t surprise you to hear that I think, for all kids, but especially special ed kids, you’ve got to start [at age] 0 to 5. There are things you can do to help a child in those first five years that are much harder … [inaudible/applause].”
On the NEA’s role: “And I literally — I want to be ready by Election Day, not three to six months into my first term. I want to be ready to know what legislation I want to introduce. I want you and your collective wisdom to help me on what do we need to do immediately on education.”
On campaign finance: “You know, a third of the money spent to influence the election in 2014, which in my view [inaudible] [off-mike], a third of that money came from undisclosed sources. We have no idea who’s pushing candidates [inaudible], no idea whatsoever. That’s scary.
“But we know like [inaudible] literally these could be foreigners, these could be anybody. Nobody will tell you who it is.”
On consensus: “I don’t want you to think I’m going to agree with you on 100 percent. I don’t agree with anybody on 100 percent. I don’t think you do either. But I agree with you about the big issues, right, and all we need to do together.”
Even with these emails and private conversations, we can’t predict the future. I interpret this new information to mean that Clinton has her own priorities but is likely to give the teachers unions the education secretary they want, preferably one with some sort of K-12 teaching background (and who is a union member). This would placate labor as well as make it easier to fulfill her promise, made during the meeting, to “not make any policies or important decisions about education without literally having teachers in the room.”
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