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By News Release @ 9:25 PM :: 5213 Views :: Democratic Party, Education K-12, Labor

Hawaii teachers question candidates during national presidential forum

10 candidates take part in NEA Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum

News Release from HSTA, June 28, 2019

Hawaii teachers played a key role in Friday’s Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum, hosted by the NEA at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Ten candidates sat down with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and answered questions submitted by NEA members about their plans for public education. 

The lineup consisted of former vice president Joe Biden, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Compare the candidates here.

In a video question posed to Sanders, Mireille Ellsworth, an acting and English teacher at Waiakea High on Hawaii Island, asked: “How are you going to increase salaries to make teaching more attractive so that we will have less teacher shortage nationwide. What do you plan to do on the national level for that?”

In his response, Sanders said every teacher in America should earn at least $60,000 a year and that student debt should be canceled. “The answer has everything to do with changing the culture of America so that we recognize that there is nothing more important than education in America,” he said.

“I think it was awesome to be able to have that direct communication and to be able to ask him, and he was actually able to answer,” Ellsworth told HSTA. “Bringing in the issue of moving wealth from the top one percent of the country to teachers, which will impact students, is probably one of the best connections that I’ve heard Bernie ever make.”

Vickie Parker Kam, left, and Mireille Ellsworth speak to Hawaii-based media following Friday’s forum. Their experience was covered by Hawaii News Now, KHON, KITV, Hawaii Public Radio, and Civil Beat.

Vickie Parker Kam, a financial literacy teacher and academic growth coach at Ilima Intermediate on Oahu, submitted a written question that was answered by Ryan: “What is your plan to address gun violence and stop the proliferation of school shootings?” In his response, Ryan said, “This is an issue that we see too often and it's unique to the United States, and so I support the universal background check.” Ryan also stressed the importance of wraparound services to ensure every school has a mental health counselor.

Kam told HSTA, “I wanted to ask because even though in Hawaii, (gun violence) is not something that’s currently an issue for us, if laws continue to change, if things continue to loosen where we don’t have regulations, it could become a larger issue and it is facing many of the teachers nationwide now… It is something that I think is going to be a larger issue as we get closer to election time.”

The forum was part of the NEA Representative Assembly, the largest democratic deliberative assembly in the world. More than 100 delegates from Hawaii joined 6,000 from across the country to set policy and further support public education in America.

HSTA Vice President Osa Tui Jr. was in the national spotlight Friday morning, chatting with MSNBC correspondent Mariana Atencio, and Houston stations KHOU and Houston Public Media about what educators wanted to hear at the NEA’s 2020 Presidential Forum.


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