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‘Educators for Biden-Harris’ launches in Pennsylvania with focus on teacher pay

Valerie Williams, a former teacher in Pittsburgh, speaks at the April 26, 2024 launch of Educators for Biden in Pennsylvania. She was joined by state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) (l) and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president Bill Hileman (Credit: Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 27, 2024

PITTSBURGH — When her daughter was born, Valerie Williams had already had her on a waitlist for childcare for six months, hoping she’d have a spot lined up before it was time for her to go back to her job as an early childhood educator. She eventually found a child care program, but said she had to work extra jobs just to pay the $1,400 monthly bill— the equivalent of a second mortgage or rent payment, Williams said. 

“I was a pre-school teacher working for untenably low wages, teaching in a local Pittsburgh area child care center making $12.40 an hour — that’s $496 a week before taxes, or $25,792 a year — from which my own health care premiums were also deducted, a few hundred dollars each month,” Williams said. “So I worked two additional jobs at that time, routinely working seven days a week.”

But then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. While it was ultimately benign, at the time of her diagnosis Williams had no idea how she was going to manage or how much medical care she would need. Then she was hit with another shock: She could not afford the deductibles and copays under the health care plan provided by her teaching job. 

“I realized that my wages were so low, I couldn’t afford to use my own health care,” Williams said. She made her comments at the Friday launch in Pittsburgh of an “Educators for Biden-Harris” initiative for Pennsylvania, joined by state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president Bill Hileman. 

Sen. Williams, who is minority chair of the state Senate Education Committee, said the launch was “about mobilizing educators, school staff, parents and everyone in the community who cares about public education in this country.” 

For many teachers, Sen. Williams said, the pandemic pause on student loan payments — which began during former President Donald Trump’s administration — and the recent loan forgiveness initiatives were the only ways they could afford to remain in their classrooms. 

First lady and teacher Jill Biden launched the national Educators for Biden-Harris initiative April 19 in Minnesota, joined by the presidents of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The two national teachers’ unions, which have already endorsed President Joe Biden, have nearly five million combined members with local affiliates in all 50 states.

As part of its student loan debt forgiveness initiatives, the Biden administration in March announced it would forgive about $6 billion in student loan debt for 78,000 public service workers including teachers, nurses and social workers. 

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Philadelphia earlier this month to tout a new round of student debt forgiveness from the administration, and spoke with educators who described how having their loans canceled had changed their lives for the better. 

To date, the Biden administration has canceled or forgiven a total of $144 billion in student loan debt for more than 4 million borrowers, Harris said. 

Campaigns’ education plans

Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP nominee for president, has criticized the Biden administration’s student debt relief efforts, calling them “very, very unfair to the millions and millions of people who have paid their debt through hard work.”

On his campaign website under a “Protect Parents Rights” section, Trump outlines his education plan if he wins another term, which includes “reward[ing] states and school districts that abolish teacher tenure for grades K-12 and adopt Merit Pay, cut the number of school administrators, adopt a Parental Bill of Rights, and implement the direct election of school principals by the parents.”

Under his 2025 budget request, Biden proposes $12 billion to “fund strategies to lower college costs for students,” according to a White House fact sheet accompanying the budget request. And during his 2024 State of the Union address in March, Biden echoed an earlier call to increase pay for public school teachers.

Valerie Williams said she ultimately left her teaching position and took a full-time role with her second job for better benefits and pay. “I still think about those children and their families and how frustrating it was to have to make that call,” she said Friday. “If I’d been making more money and had the benefits I needed, I would have been able to stay at the job I loved so much.” 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.