Democratic candidates address teachers, advocates in Pittsburgh education forum

Sen. Bernie Sanders answers questions as host Rehema Ellis and Ali Velshi look on during the "Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All" Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. The Schott Foundation and eleven other public education groups hosted seven top Democratic presidential candidates. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI

Dec. 15 (UPI) — Seven Democratic presidential candidates addressed a crowd of 1,000 educators and school advocates at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday in the first-ever nationally televised public forum focused on public education.

The day-long, invitation-only event was organized by national and local teachers’ unions and public school supporters.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren took the stage along with Sen. Michael Bennet, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was invited to attend but unable to do so due to illness.

Charter school supporters gathered outside the convention center Saturday morning, telling reporters the forum’s failure to include the voices of school choice advocates was “not democratic.”

Sanders touted “the concept of universality” when it comes to public schools, saying they should be for all children, that all public colleges and universities should be tuition free and that student debt should be canceled.

He also drew cheers when he mentioned the importance of teachers’ unions.

“We have seen teachers not only standing up for their rights as workers, but standing up for their children’s education,” said Sanders to cheers.

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Warren also expressed support for making public colleges tuition free and for canceling student loan debt. She also said she wants to increase access to Pell grants, hire more teachers of color and to invest an additional $50 billion in historically black colleges and universities.

“We support our teachers, we support our students of color, when we make college accessible to them without forcing them to go into debt,” Warren said.

Buttigieg said teachers should be honored more like soldiers and paid more like doctors.

The call for higher teacher pay was echoed by Bennet, who said teachers “have to be paid on a scale that looks like the other professionals in their community.”

The Republican National Committee sent out a statement as the forum wrapped Saturday.

“While Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg campaign on socialist policies that will harm hardworking Pennsylvanians, President Trump continues to fight for Americans with policies that have delivered a stronger economy and a better trader deal to the state,” RNC spokesperson Christiana Purves wrote.

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