Hillary Clinton on Tuesday vowed to be a staunch ally of the nation’s largest teachers union, declaring teachers would have a “partner in the White House” if she is elected.
In an address to the National Education Association’s annual assembly in Washington, the presumptive Democratic nominee said she would defend its interests in the White House.
“For anyone who has faced a hostile state legislature, a union-busting governor or both, help is on the way,” she said. “I will fight back against the attacks and I will stand up for your rights to organize and bargain collectively.”
She said, “If I am fortunate enough to be elected president, educators will have a partner in the White House and you’ll always have a seat at the table. You see, I have this old fashioned idea that when we’re making decisions about education, we actually should listen to our educators.”
Mrs. Clinton spent much of her address touting her commitment to children’s education and welfare, describing her early training as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund and her appointment by her husband, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, to oversee a state-wide education task force.
She described inadequate educational opportunities as a source of economic inequality, citing disparities in mental health access, extracurricular programs and internet access.
She called for increasing teacher pay and reducing the role of standardized testing in public schools.
“Tests should go back to their original purpose — giving useful information to teachers and parents,” she said, “so that you know and parents know how our kids in our schools are doing, and then we can come together to help them improve. But when you’re forced to teach to a test, our children miss out on some of the most valuable lessons and experiences they can gain in the classroom.
And Mrs. Clinton took a few swipes at her Republican rival, Donald Trump, whose campaign she said was engendering bullying and race-based violence at schools.
“You would not tolerate that kind of behavior in your classrooms,” she told the assembled teachers. “Let’s not tolerate it from someone trying to become president of the United States.”
Mrs. Clinton made no mention of the biggest news of the morning, the announcement by FBI director James Comey that the agency had declined to recommend she be prosecuted over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
The three million-member National Education Association, one of the nation’s largest and most influential unions, endorsed Mrs.Clinton last October, disappointing supporters of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who saw him as the greater friend to organized labor.
The move was a tactical reversal from the 2008 primary campaign, when the teacher’s union declined to endorse either Mrs. Clinton or then-Sen. Barack Obama. Some members at the time complained that the union’s silence cost it valuable influence over the policies of the eventual winner.
Several of Mr. Obama’s marquee education initiatives eventually put him at odds with the union, such as his push to tie teachers’ pay to performance evaluations.
Mrs. Clinton has broken with Mr. Obama on one key union priority, expressing her opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s so-called Cadillac Tax, which places a levy on premium health insurance plans.