Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All

Saturday, December 14, 2019 from 9 a.m. at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

7 CANDIDATES: Bennet, Booker, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren.
*Booker canceled because of the flu.

Background: This forum ran for almost six hours.  It sought to provide "candid conversations with the candidates about education justice" including "school investment, student services, special education, student debt and teaching conditions, as well as key education equity and justice issues facing America’s students and public schools."

The Schott Foundation

The Schott Foundation and eleven other public education groups, including community groups, education unions, and civil rights organizations, are hosting top Democratic presidential candidates at the “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All” on Saturday, Dec. 14, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. MSNBC will moderate and exclusively livestream the forum focused on public education issues.

Schott President Dr. John. H. Jackson, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools Executive Director Keron Blair, One Pennsylvania's Western PA Organizing Directo Angel Gober, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Espisito-Visgitus, and SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry will be among whose open the program and set the stage for candid conversations with the candidates about education justice.

Currently, eight major Democratic candidates who qualified for the October debate or who are currently elected to statewide office have confirmed participation: Sen. Michael Bennet, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Topics to be discussed will include school investment, student services, special education, student debt and teaching conditions, as well as key education equity and justice issues facing America’s students and public schools.

The forum will welcome more than 1,000 educators, students, parents and community members to a discussion with the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates about their plans for K-12 and higher education. Each candidate will provide opening remarks and then answer questions from moderators, forum attendees and others from across the country who submitted questions.
Forum sponsors include: Per MSNBC's agreement, all presidential candidates who either previously qualified for the October debate or currently hold statewide office were invited to attend.

National Education Association

Educators Energized After Hearing From Top 2020 Candidates At Public Education Forum 2020

PITTSBURGH - December 14, 2019 - After hearing from seven of the leading Democratic candidates for president at the “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Opportunity for All” in Pittsburgh today, educators, students, and parents emerged energized to play a pivotal role in choosing the next president.

At the forum, hosted by National Education Association and 10 public education groups, including civil rights organizations and community groups, the candidates laid out their visions for America’s public schools, while answering questions from educators, parents, students, and moderators Ali Velshi of MSNBC and Rehema Ellis of NBC News.

“For more than two years, educators have been demonstrating their power in actions across the country as they joined with parents and students to fight for stronger neighborhood public schools as part of the #RedForEd movement. Together, they have reshaped the political landscape by advocating for stronger public schools and expanding opportunity for all students in public education. Now, as the nation’s largest union, our 3 million members are taking this activism and ground game to the 2020 campaign where they will play a vital role in electing the next president,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We appreciate the candidates showing up to answer NEA members’ questions and tell us how they will work to make sure all students have the tools, resources and opportunities they need to succeed.”

The eight candidates who participated in the forum included: Sen. Michael Bennet, Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Topics discussed included school investment, student services, special education, student debt and teaching conditions, as well as key education equity and justice issues facing America’s students and public schools.

Going into the forum, NEA invited its members from across the country to submit questions for the candidates through its Strong Public Schools website, which formed the basis of the questions to the candidates asked by NEA members. Additionally, NEA released its Strong Public Schools 2020 candidate interviews, as the nation’s largest union moves towards the next phase of its primary recommendation process.


American Federation of Teachers
For Release: 
Friday, December 13, 2019
Contact: Oriana Korin

Education, Civil Rights and Community Groups Respond to News of Planned Protest at Democratic Presidential Forum in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH—Several leaders of the 11 organizations co-hosting a forum on public education with eight Democratic presidential candidates this weekend—who, combined, represent more than 7 million people, including the Alliance for Educational Justice, the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Journey for Justice Alliance, the NAACP, the Network for Public Education, OnePA and the Opportunity to Learn Action Fund—issued the following statement:

Alliance for Educational Justice National Director Jonathan Stith said:

“The mandate of black and brown students in the Alliance for Educational Justice is to end the school-to-prison pipeline wherever it rears itself.  We stand with those who stand with us against the prisonization and privatization of our schools. Students of color are in a crisis wherever they attend class. Our schools are over-policed and under-resourced, and we have no rights the federal government feels bound to protect. Our fight is for sustainable community schools that don't need police, where Black and Brown students and their parents are respected and are able to determine the education we deserve.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said:
“We are so excited that there are candidates for president who believe in public education and want to engage with the students who go to our public schools, the parents who rely on our public schools, the allies who advocate for our public schools, and the educators who work in our public schools. After all, public schools are the foundation of our democracy. That’s why Saturday’s education forum will be all about engagement—engagement around the issues that matter to all of us. We are united behind a single goal: to engage the candidates in a wide-ranging, important conversation about public education in our country and how we can best meet the needs of the people who work and learn in them.

“As to the announced protest, we are wondering why the groups didn’t simply ask any of the conveners whether they could join in the forum. Many of the organizations involved in the forum work with charter schools, many support them, and some represent educators who work in them. We’ve worked for months with partners to accommodate all inquiries from groups that requested participation in the forum. We’d encourage these groups to talk to candidates about their education platforms and proposals, or to consider holding their own forum, instead of staging a protest at the last minute at other groups’ events.

“Notably—and sadly—what we have discovered is that the group behind this protest is tied directly to a Republican campaign firm with connections to President Trump, whose track record, starting with the appointment of Betsy DeVos, the most anti-public school secretary of education in history, certainly speaks for itself.”

Center for Popular Democracy Director of Education Justice Campaigns Dmitri Holtzman said:
"This forum is an important opportunity for young people and allies to speak directly to presidential candidates about the issues that matter most to them and their futures. Education justice centers on the strengthening and uplifting of public education. That's why the Youth Mandate for Presidential Candidates(link is external)—which has been endorsed by over 150-plus youth-led organizations and allies—calls for an end to federal funding for charter schools and a moratorium on charter expansion. We stand firm in this fight and look forward to discussing these issues with presidential candidates at the forum. Any attempts to protest and disrupt this event undermine democratic and civic engagement about the future of public education."

Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance said:
“We are excited to have Democratic presidential hopefuls speak to the breadth of the education justice movement: parents, educators and students. We know and live through the harm caused by inequities in public education and how the illusion of ‘school choice’ intensifies those inequities. To be clear, we will not be pitted against black and brown parents who support charters.  J4J is not anti-charter school as centers of innovation in our communities. We are, however, firmly anti-charter industry which has advocated for school closings, produced mediocre academic results and done harm by destabilizing education in our communities. We don't have failing schools—as a public we've been failed.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen-García said:
“All students should have access to a quality public education no matter what ZIP code they were born, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make. But sadly, for too long, astroturf groups have pushed privatization schemes including charters and vouchers, that divert already scarce money from the public schools that 90 percent of students attend. Despite the fact that these efforts have failed to improve education outcomes for students, Betsy DeVos and her allies continue to support efforts to privatize our public schools. Over the past two years, educators, parents and students across the country have come together in the #RedforEd movement to say enough is enough. It’s time to get serious about student success. Our elected leaders need to focus on the proven steps to ensure every student has access to a quality public school education. That means fully funding our public schools so students have the support and wraparound services they need, more one-on-one attention, inviting classrooms, and a well-rounded curriculum.”

Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris said:
“The Network for Public Education Action believes that public schools are the pillar of our democracy and therefore parents have a right to elect those who govern their schools. Our nation’s most vulnerable children deserve public schools that have the resources to meet their needs. Well-resourced schools are undermined when funds go to privatized alternatives. Privatized choice with charters and vouchers is a means by which to distract the public from the need to equitably fund and support our public schools.”

OnePA leader and Pittsburgh parent Angel Gober said:
“When we win for the most vulnerable and underserved children, we win for all children. Charter schools are not the way.  As a black mother, what I have seen is other families choosing charter schools only to be disappointed by big promises. The lack of special education supports, the lack of innovative curriculum, and the harsh zero-tolerance policies find children right back in their public schools. We cannot continue to fund two separate education systems, especially one that leaves children with disabilities behind.”

Opportunity to Learn Action Fund Director John Jackson said:
“Today’s presidential candidates’ forum is significant because simply having an election doesn’t make a democracy, and after decades of inequities and injustices not only is our democracy on trial, but, by parents, students and educators engaging the candidates, they are placing justice on the ballot.”

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