Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) promised a crowd of educators on Monday that she would make one of their colleagues the next U.S. secretary of education if elected president.
“I will name a secretary of education who has been a public school teacher,” Elizabeth Warren said to applause in Philadelphia. “No more Betsy DeVos.”
Warren first announced her promise in an email on Monday. She reiterated her commitment later in the day during the town hall event, which connected her with educators from the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country’s two major teachers unions.
While DeVos, the current secretary of education, has never worked in a classroom, multiple previous education secretaries have, like DeVos’ predecessor John B. King.
“I want someone who has seen tattered textbooks. Or tried to manage when there’s too many kids in a classroom. But I also want someone who has actually been there and taught a child to read,” said Warren to applause.
A New York City public school teacher named Liat Olenick approached Warren’s team in March about pledging to make a public school teacher education secretary. Olenick sought out members of Warren’s team at a rally in Long Island City, and kept in touch with them about her idea, she told HuffPost.
Olenick has also asked Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) during events to make the same pledge. They have not publicly done so, she said, though they both affirmed their commitment to public education in responding.
Spokespeople for Warren did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment. But Olenick said she believes the pledge represents proof of Warren’s commitment to public education.
“Just the fact that Elizabeth Warren is listening to teachers and thinks it’s important to listen to teachers is really powerful,” said Olenick, who is also a leader of Indivisible Nation BK, an activist group in Brooklyn.
The commitment, according to Warren, is part of her larger plan to transform education in America. Warren said she would start by enacting a new tax on the wealthiest Americans, targeting those who have fortunes of more than $50 million. Then, she said, she would use the money to pay for universal child care, universal preschool, higher wages for early childhood educators, expanding Pell grants, tuition-free public colleges and wiping out student debt.
Warren also used the town hall to burnish her own public school credentials as a former special needs teacher. She called the role a dream job, and one that she still might have today had she not been terminated for being visibly pregnant.
The role was “not a job. It’s a calling and I loved it,” said Warren. She later noted that her campaign is “a chance to put a public school teacher in the White House.”
The town hall was the American Federation of Teachers’ third recent event with 2020 presidential contenders. Union members previously met with Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The events are part of the union’s presidential endorsement process.
“Our No. 1 goal is to elect a President who reflects our values and that means beating Donald Trump in 2020,” AFT President Randi Weingarten previously stated of the process. “But to win our endorsement, candidates will have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”