The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats in Congress try to woo back teachers with $100 billion plan

From left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), along with Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, announced a proposal to raise teacher pay. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Remember when leaders of the two major teachers unions were furious at the Democratic Obama administration for education policies they believed unfairly targeted their profession?

And remember when President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, was so unpopular in the education world that the National Education Association called for his resignation (in 2014), and the American Federation of Teachers came close to doing the same?

Arne Duncan’s troubled legacy

Well, on Tuesday, Democrats in Congress made nice with the leaders of teachers union. They sought to win over educators with a plan that would spend $100 billion in federal money to improve schools and teacher pay and would take steps to ensure that teachers could bargain collectively for contracts.

After several months of teachers strikes and protests in several states over low salaries and underfunded schools, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a plan called “A Better Deal for Teachers and Students.” It would, according to a news release from Schumer’s office:

1. Dedicate $50 billion to states and school districts to increase teacher compensation and recruit and retain a strong, diverse workforce over the next 10 years.
2. Establish a new $50 billion fund for school infrastructure and resources.
3. Provide additional support to initiatives that increase capacity in schools and ensure all students have access to academic opportunities such as computer science, music and civics.
4. Protect teachers’ freedom to negotiate for better pay and conditions by safeguarding the right of public employees to join unions, collectively bargain and engage in collective action to support one another.
5. Meet the federal commitment to fund special education.

Schumer said: “We’re here because teachers are marching on state capitols across the country. Teachers of America, the Democrats hear you loud and clear.”

Teachers have had it. Why they’re revolting against low pay and inadequate school funding.

Of course, Democrats don’t control Congress or the White House, and so this plan has no chance, at the moment, of getting approved and funded. But ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, the Democrats are signaling their interest in winning back teachers, parents and others who in the past have supported Democrats but became disillusioned in recent years.

They said Tuesday that if Democrats take control of Congress, they would scale back the tax cuts the Republicans passed last year, which greatly benefit corporations and wealthy individuals (though many low-paid Americans saw tax relief, too).

Schumer said he believes the Democrats’ day is coming “sooner than you think.”

This year’s massive teachers protests have largely been in Republican-led states with weak labor protection laws, some of which bar public unions from collective bargaining.  One of the most prominent features of this Democratic plan is that it seeks to provide federal protection for teachers union to collectively bargain.

While it isn’t likely any teachers are holding their breath for this plan to become reality, it is an indication that at least some Democrats recognize they have lost some labor support in the world of education and want to get it back.