FROM THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
the American Federation of Teachers
July 16, 2004 • Washington, DC
It is an honor to be here with all
of you today.
Every day, so many of you prove that the difference between
a life of sorrow and a life filled with success can be
the guidance of a good teacher. Your commitment and your
passion encourage us to hope for the very best in our schools.
And your willingness to become involved in public service
is a reminder that in America, optimists are found on every
Years ago, one of our most courageous optimists grew up
on a most forgotten American corner. As a little girl living
in a Coney Island tenement, she attended New York Public
School 188. And from the day her second-grade teacher gave
her her very first book, she began a lifetime giving back
to our teachers, our schools, and our children.
As Sandy Feldman has often said, if that school was not
there, she would not be here.
Fortunately for teachers everywhere and the children who
count on them, it was there, she is here, and her seven
years of leadership has brought us closer to an America
where quality education is there for every child. Sandy
Feldman, we are moved by your public dedication and inspired
by your personal courage. Thank you.
Your example and the example of every member of the AFT – from
our nurses and health care workers to our public employees
and paraprofessionals – show us what it means to
live by real American values: serving your communities,
caring for our families, providing opportunity for our
young people, and taking responsibility for giving them
the best you have to offer.
These are values that built America, and I am running
for President because I believe it’s time our government
stood for the same values you do.
Values are not just talk. They’re what we live.
They’re about the choices we make, the causes we
champion, and the people we fight for.
And we believe that what matters is not the narrow values
that divide -- it’s the shared values that unite
all of us in this country
We value education as the path to opportunity in America.
And we value the teachers who dedicate their lives to giving
our young people the best possible start in life.
That means understanding that we can’t create good
schools on the cheap. And it means ensuring that there’s
a good teacher at the front of every classroom in America.
One of my favorite high school teachers was named John
Walker. He was the kind of teacher who always encouraged
you to do your very best. He pushed you. He believed in
you. He inspired you. And if you ever stopped trying, he’d
remind you that effort is everything.
Teachers like John Walker are demanding. But they’re
the ones who make a difference. You never forget your great
teachers. They stay with you, throughout your life, looking
over your shoulder and pushing you forward.
This is personal for me. You see my other favorite teacher
just happens to be my sister, Diana. Diana and the other
teachers and educational support professionals that I’ve
met go far and above the call of duty for their students – sometimes
spending a thousand dollars of their own money to give
their classes better text books and supplies.
Diana loves being a teacher. But her school in Boston
had to cut back. That meant larger class sizes, less opportunity
and less hope. And it meant that my sister was laid off
because of budget cuts – instead of being rewarded
for making a difference.
Let me tell you, we value our children’s future
by hiring new teachers and paying them more – not
by sacrificing the great teachers we already have.
We can make America stronger by making a new commitment
to our schools and our children. They don’t need
a politician’s praise. They need a president who
values a good education as the gateway to a good job, a
better life, and the best America. And if you send me to
the White House, that’s exactly the kind of President
we’ll have. My first priority will be to meet our
financial responsibilities to our schools.
When the No Child Left Behind Act became law, Congress
and this administration made a commitment to our nation’s
children. We said we’re going to raise standards,
and we’re going to make sure you have the resources
to get the job done. Well, two months after the law was
signed, this Administration tried to break their promise
by shortchanging the law by $27 billion. Millions of children
have been left behind – left with overcrowded classrooms,
left without textbooks, and left without the high-quality
tests that measure what they are learning.
I’ll tell you what: politicians who talk about valuing
morality and personal responsibility ought to start by
keeping their own promises.
It’s time to make these reforms work. And it’s
time to fully fund No Child Left Behind.
We also need to do something about the infrastructure
of our schools. Thousands of schools across America are
crumbling today. What does that say about valuing our kids’ future?
When I am President, we will build and rebuild, modernize
and repair, our school buildings with new school modernization
But I have to tell you, even after we put in these resources,
we will still have a lot left to do. As I’ve often
said, reform without resources is a waste of time and resources
without reform is a waste of money. We need to continue
the work of reform, and improve education in America. The
AFT has been a leader in promoting education reform, because
you know that we owe our children the best we have to offer.
So I want to talk about three great challenges facing
our educational system today, and how I plan to meet them.
First, we need a national effort to put a good teacher
in every classroom. That means we need to offer teachers
more and ask more of them at the same time.
Pay for teachers in America today is a national disgrace.
We need to raise it—starting in the poorest schools
and in the subjects where we face the most serious teacher
shortages. Teachers deserve more support, mentoring, and
continuing education so they don’t feel like they’re
left to sink or swim. And we need career developments so
successful teachers get the added responsibilities and
respect they deserve.
We need to treat teachers more like the professionals
that they are and pay them more like professionals. Not
only does that mean higher pay; it means new rewards for
teachers who gain advanced training and excel in raising
student achievement. And teachers deserve due process protection
from arbitrary dismissal, but we must have fast, fair procedures
for improving or removing teachers who aren’t performing.
We should hold all teachers to the same high standards
you apply to yourselves.
And today, one of the biggest obstacles to higher pay
for teachers is the rising cost of health care. You’ve
all seen it during negotiations. The money that should
be going into your pockets is going to pay for the rising
cost of health care. That’s why I’ve got a
plan to get the waste and greed of our health care system
and help families save up to $1,000 on their premiums.
This will help all working Americans earn the pay they
Second, we need a national movement to raise graduation
rates. It’s time to make and keep a commitment to
leave no high school student behind by tracking graduation
rates just like we track test scores.
And then we need to invest more in the children who are
falling behind—with tutoring and mentoring. This
will send those kids a signal: not only do we want you
to finish high school, but we want you to have the tools
and the skills and the knowledge to go to college. And
we need more after-school programs for kids—so that
they can get extra help in school instead of getting into
trouble. That’s why my plan will extend after-school
to more than 3.5 million kids across America.
And finally, we need to send more young people to college
and help them graduate. My plan will provide new incentives
to hold tuitions down and a new refundable tax credit on
up to $4000 of tuition. We can never stand back and shrug
pessimistically at the fact that 220,000 young people have
to walk away from their dream of going to college simply
because they can’t afford it. We can’t afford
to lose those bright minds. We value our children too much.
We can’t provide a 21st century education in 19th
century schools. No broken promises on funding. No more
empty rhetoric on reform. No privatizing the public jobs
that strengthen our communities. And no vouchers. For too
long politicians have used private school vouchers to avoid
responsibility. As president I will meet our responsibilities.
We're going to get this done right because we know that
empty rhetoric and empty promises lead to empty dreams—and
we won't let that happen in our America.
We can do this, because we know that America’s best
days lie ahead. And because Americans have always reached
for the impossible, looked toward the next horizon, and
asked “what if?”
What if this airplane could take off at Kitty Hawk and
change the world forever? What if we could go to the moon
in ten years? What if we could take all the information
in the world and put it in a little chip, the size of a
fingernail. If you’d told anyone that 50 years ago,
they wouldn’t have believed you. But you know what?
We did them. And we’re going to keep pushing those
boundaries in the future.
What if we cured Parkinson’s, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s?
What if all Americans could have health care? What if our
schools could lift all our children up?
This is the most important election of our lifetime. Our
health care is on the line. Our jobs are on the line. America’s
role in the world is on the line. Our children’s
future is on the line.
But this election is in your hands more than mine. Over
the next four months, will you knock on doors? Will you
be part of this effort? Will you talk to your neighbors?
Will you bring America back?
We need a new conversation. We need to lift ourselves
up, reach for the possible, and look to the horizon. We’re
the can-do people.
I know that the teachers of America will not rest until
we build the future of our children’s dreams, for
all Americans. And as your President, neither will I. Because
you and I believe America can do better. We believe in
the possibility of tomorrow. And we believe, as the poet
Langston Hughes once wrote, that we must “Let American
be America again.”