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NEA News

Joe and Jill Biden, Champions of Public Education, Cheer on Educators at NEA RA

Members shared how the Biden administration supported educators and students through three tough years, and received words of support from the President and First Lady.
President Biden speaks via livestream to NEA RA in Orlando, Florida.
Published: July 4, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. President Biden,  Dr. Biden,  and Vice President Kamala Harris have been tireless advocates for public education—in fact, the most pro-public education, pro-union administration in modern history, a point made clear by NEA President Becky Pringle.
  2. Four NEA members shared how the Biden administration has positively changed their professional and personal lives.
  3. “Educators have champions in the White House,” President Biden assured the audience. “I know the last three years have been so difficult—we asked so much of you. I want you to know I see you, we see you, and we thank you,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden celebrated public education and vowed to continue listening to educators, who know what students need to succeed, when they addressed NEA’s Representative Assembly in Orlando via livestream today. 

“I knew Joe would be the most pro-public education president,” First Lady Jill Biden said proudly after catching up with NEA President Becky Pringle, whom she asked for summer reading recommendations.  

The First Lady described the Biden Education Pathway—the administration’s vision of public education from universal preschool through high school, with paths to both careers and college—then introduced the president as “the man who will never stop fighting for you.” 

“Educators have champions in the White House,” President Biden assured nearly 6,000 delegates in attendance, and thousands more watching the livestream across the nation. “I know the last three years have been so difficult—we asked so much of you. I want you to know I see you, we see you, and we thank you,” Biden said.  

Delegates in the hall cheered, and many recorded the event on their cell phones so they could take the Bidens’ words of support home with them. 

“Our job is to make sure you have what you need to do what you do best,” President Biden said. “That’s why through the American Rescue Plan we delivered critical support for schools, including funding for after school programs, summer programs, hiring more teachers, counselors, school psychologists.” 

The Biden administration listened to educators when it came to supporting pandemic recovery in schools. Not only did they see through the largest-ever investment in public schools through the American Rescue Plan, the administration also made sure that educators and their unions were included in local decisions regarding how that $170 billion would be dedicated. 

The massive infusion of resources has made a profound difference in the professional and personal lives of NEA members across the country. Several of them were invited by Pringle to share their stories just before the Bidens spoke.

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Tackling the educator shortage, diversifying the profession

Ronnie Beard was able to make his voice heard in the Biden administration in the most direct possible way: The Maryland high school social studies teacher, along with a small group of fellow educators, met with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss how to recruit and retain educators of color.  

Beard, who served as a paraeducator before becoming a teacher, says being able to have that dialogue shows what a priority public education is to the administration.  

“When the vice president asked for my suggestions on addressing these issues, I had a detailed list,” said Beard, who co-chairs the Maryland State Education Association’s taskforce on recruiting educators of color.  

Relief from crushing student loan debt 

Chastity Baccus, a member of The South Carolina Education Association and president of the York County Education Association, shared with delegates how President Biden’s commitment to fixing Public Service Loan Forgiveness changed her life. 

The hardworking 22-year veteran elementary educator, who has two master’s degrees and a Ph.D., was carrying nearly $130,000 of student loan debt.  

“As we all know, our profession is one that is severely underpaid, and to advance, we must continue our education which usually means incurring more debt,” Baccus said.  

But that debt was forgiven when the Biden administration jump-started the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, because Baccus had met all of the program requirements. Thousands of other educators are among the 615,000 public servants whose student debt was cancelled. 

“The Biden-Harris Administration listened to educators, took decisive action, and created a way for me to enhance my professional learning to give back more to the students and staff in the public education system,” Baccus said. 

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Curbing a culture of gun violence 

Erin Headson, a special education teacher at John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, Virginia, and a military veteran, commended the Biden administration’s commitment to curbing America’s epidemic of gun violence.  

“Gun violence is EVERYWHERE,” Headson said, “and sadly this has now become a predetermined fact of life that we must be prepared for. Gun violence affects the lives of our students and educators far too often, both inside and outside of school.” 

She shared that Vice President Harris came to her school to rally alongside educators and students to honor the anniversary of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and 2 educators died, and many more lives were forever fractured. 

In June 2022, Joe Biden signed the first gun law reform in 30 years. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act not only enacted commonsense limits to gun ownership, it also added $1 billion in mental health resources for schools

Educators recognize that the new law is a significant first step in creating a safer world for our students, but more progress is needed—“because we should be able to live in our homes, send our kids to school, pray in our houses of worship, shop in our local malls, walk in our neighborhoods, and teach in our schools without being shot,” said Headson. 

Addressing the mental health crisis 

Colorado special education teacher Robert Gould talked about how the pandemic exacerbated gaps in resources for students, and the overwhelming need for mental health supports in schools. 

“The past three years have been a constant challenge for our students,” said Gould, who serves as president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. He had the opportunity to share his experiences with Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who came to Denver to hear directly from educators about their experiences working with students every day.  

Gould is convinced that the administration’s commitment to listening to educators is critical for student success. 

“Make no mistake, the actions of this administration have saved lives, and helped more of our students thrive, learn, and grow,” Gould said. 

Biden to educators: “I’ve never been more optimistic” 

President Biden, Dr. Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris have been tireless advocates for public education—in fact, the most pro-public education, pro-union administration in modern history, a point made clear by NEA President Becky Pringle. 

“We have never had stronger partners in the White House than President Biden and our NEA member, Dr. Jill Biden…. They listened to us, and they worked since day one to not only support public education in this country, but to support the people who have dedicated their lives to educating those students,” Pringle said. 

“He cares about educators!” said Maria Hernandez, an elementary teacher in El Paso, Texas. “And I know he will persist,” she said, in efforts that matter to teachers, like gun safety, college affordability, and more. 

Kimberly Adams, a union leader from Fairfax, Virginia, heard Biden’s resolve. “There is a commitment to providing the resources that we need in our schools, so that we can help every student be successful,” she said. “There is a commitment to fund our schools like they need to be.” 

President Biden praised the role educators have played in the nation’s pandemic recovery, and pledged to do everything he can to support public schools. 

“We’ve added 100,000 schoolteachers and we’re going to continue to address the shortage,” Biden said, citing that improving educator pay and further expanding teacher apprenticeship programs will help. 

Biden also called on Congress to step up and enact more gun reforms—“NOT arming teachers,” he specified, but “banning assault weapons, extensive background checks—those things make a difference.” 

Finally, he called out politicians who are trying to score political points by banning books. 

"Did you all ever think you’d be in a situation, in the United States of America, where we’re talking about banning books? Come on. That’s not who we are," said Biden, to a roar of applause.

The president closed his remarks with a message of reassurance: “We’ve come out of every crisis we've faced in the past 247 years stronger than when we went into that crisis. We're doing it again. I’ve never been more optimistic than I am today.” 

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.