President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden joined the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) Friday to thank teachers for their dedication to their profession and stress the importance of investing in public education.
“NEA is one of the nation’s indispensable organizations,” the president told delegates, “and I’m not just saying that because the first lady is a member.”
Although the NEA RA took place virtually for delegates this year due to the pandemic, NEA leaders (including NEA President Becky Pringle, pictured at right) and staff gathered in-person to broadcast their portion of events live, and the president and first lady joined them in D.C.
“Our children are the kite strings upon which our national ambitions are lifted, and your profession helps them believe they can do anything,” President Biden said.
“A kid like me from Scranton wouldn’t be standing here were it not for the teachers I had,” he said. “They took a stuttering kid who couldn’t speak well, who was scared to read aloud.”
He continued, “You give so many kids confidence, you let them believe in themselves. Don’t forget how much of a difference you can make.”
Dr. Biden told delegates that when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered school buildings, educators everywhere stepped up and did all they could to help students and their families.
“I saw it with my own eyes. The cafeteria worker who spent long hours making sandwiches for hungry families. The teacher who re-taught her lessons at night because her student’s siblings used the family computer during the day. The bus driver who drove [buses as wi-fi hotspots] to neighborhoods with no connection.”
President Biden told educators that their efforts were seen and applauded.
“The entire country has witnessed the dedication and resolve of NEA members,” he said. “The American people understand what you have been saying for years: You are professionals. All of you. And all of us have a responsibility to make sure you have what you need to educate our children equitably, safely, and well.”
Before President Biden, Bill Clinton was the last president to visit the NEA RA, in 1993, and Biden is only the fourth sitting U.S. president to do so, (the others being Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 and Lyndon Johnson in 1965).
On the campaign trail President Biden and the first lady stressed their commitment to public education, reaching out to NEA members and earning widespread support.
The First Lady reminded delegates that she had promised them that if Biden was elected president, educators would have one of their own in the White House.
“Well, here we are,” she said. “You helped make this real, so thank you NEA. I have never been more proud to call myself an educator.”
Pringle praised President Biden for an “unwavering commitment to our students, to educators, to unions. to racial and social justice… to the shared values we all hold dear: freedom and fairness, equity and equality.”
Biden’s federal budget proposal unveiled in April and the American Families Plan that he has introduced call for enormous investments in students and public education.
“This is an historic effort to decrease the funding gap between rich and poor school districts,” Biden told delegates. “No student’s education should depend on their zip code.”
He said that a top priority of the funding bill would be higher teacher salaries and additional resources for schools.
“This is absolutely necessary if we are going to compete in the 21st century,” the president said. “Unions and teacher protests across the country made it clear that you deserve a raise—not just praise!”
Watch the president and first lady’s full remarks to the NEA RA.