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USA: Education union vows to back Obama to defend education

With the United States presidential elections a little over a year away, EI’s largest U.S. affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), has set out proposals for a strategy to invest $60 million into a campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama.

The NEA revealed its plans to make an early endorsement of Obama for the presidential elections of 2012 and is prepared to put forward the money and resources to do so because he has supported the interest of educators on several controversial issues.

President Obama has firmly defended education from drastic budget cuts and has supported the need to guarantee high-quality schools despite economic troubles. He has also publicly supported Wisconsin teachers’ unions earlier this year when legislation compromised their collective bargaining rights.

The sheer number of unionised educators in the U.S. makes teachers’ unions a valuable political ally, especially in the day-to-day, ‘on the ground’ portion of a candidate’s campaign.

Although President Obama’s endorsement is no surprise, the NEA’s support may provide an advantage during a time when many Americans are unsatisfied with the state of the country.

“He’s not perfect,” said John Wilson, NEA’s executive director. “But when you have choices, you have to choose the best choice, or there are consequences, and I think for the first time, our members see consequences because of the Republican governors that have overreached.”

Instead of endorsing Obama at the last minute, as the NEA did in 2008, they will take this extra campaigning time to reach out to their Republican members as well as to members who are displeased with Obama’s performance.

In addition to focusing on Obama’s successes in education, the NEA hopes to stress that the GOP’s track record in education policy makes supporting a Republican candidate a risky decision. This may not prove too difficult, as strong antiunion rhetoric from Republicans like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio have made them unfavourable among many teachers’ unions.

“A lot of them in Ohio are saying that ‘the Republican Party has left me,’ ” said Wilson. “We think we’ll be able to move a lot of our members no matter what their party affiliation to understand that there is no better person for our issues —particularly for labour and civil rights —than this president.”

The NEA will vote at the end of June whether or not to officially support Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. 

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