MANHATTAN (CN) – Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden – and his educator wife – made their pitch Sunday to New York City teachers at the United Federation of Teachers’ annual Teacher Union Day.
“When you’re married to an educator, you understand that teaching is not what you do, it’s who you are,” Joe Biden said, after an introduction from Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education and works as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, a job she also held during her tenure as second lady.
In his 20-minute address, Joe Biden touted his own teaching credentials – he worked as a bus driver and substitute teacher during law school, he said, and also worked as a constitutional law professor.
“It’s a whole hell of a lot of work, and you know it better than anybody does,” he said.
He praised teachers’ work and validated frustrations they might have about not feeling supported.
“Many times you’re not,” Joe Biden said, saying he’d heard New York teachers spend $500 annually out of their own pockets on students and classroom supplies.
“More!” several teachers in the audience shouted.
Biden also mentioned the current teachers’ strike in Chicago, which brought applause from the crowd. Unfortunately, he said, walkouts are still necessary.
“It’s about the things that become possible in our country when our students have the tools they need,” Joe Biden said.
Toward the end of his remarks, Biden laid out his commitments to teachers. He promised to treat them with dignity while getting them resources, he said, and appoint a Secretary of Education who has worked as a classroom teacher.
He would increase federal funding for low-income Title I schools from $15 billion to $45 billion a year, he said, as well as fill financial gaps between minority and majority-white districts and implement universal pre-K. He promised to raise teacher salaries; double the number of school psychologists, counselors and social workers and eliminate student debt for teachers after 10 years.
Biden earned perhaps his loudest applause of the day when he promised to take on the National Rifle Association “so we don’t have kids going to school to learn how to duck and cover,” he said. “Shameful, shameful.”
Biden wrapped up by describing his own journey from a stuttering kid into the office of Vice President, and praised the teachers who’d believed in him.
The UFT is the sole bargaining agent for most of New York City’s public school teachers, as well as paraprofessionals, secretaries, counselors, adult education teachers, social workers and other related positions.
The group’s national arm, the American Federation of Teachers, has not yet endorsed a presidential primary pick, and will not for several months. The UFT’s legislative priorities include safeguarding public education, limiting mandated testing, a millionaire’s tax, and affordable childcare.
Biden’s appearance came as he continues to lead in the polls but came in well behind fellow Democrats Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on third-quarter fundraising.