Biden pledges to pick a public school teacher for education secretary

Former Vice President Joe Biden pledged Friday that if elected president he will nominate a public school teacher for education secretary.

“First thing, as president of United States — not a joke — first thing I will do is make sure that the secretary of education is not Betsy DeVos, it is a teacher,” the Democratic presidential front-runner said, to cheers and loud applause, at a National Education Association forum for presidential candidates in Houston. “A teacher. Promise.”

Ten presidential candidates gathered in Houston on Friday at the first-ever National Education Association candidate forum, making their cases on education policy to about 7,000 association members and guests. Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia acted as moderator, conducting interviews with each of the candidates one-on-one.

Biden joked, though, that he would not name his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, a public school teacher, as education secretary.

“Number two, folks — and so the press doesn’t get confused — I promise I’m not gonna appoint my wife, OK,” he said as the crowd, including Jill Biden, who was sitting in the front row, laughed. “Press, I can hear it now: ‘Biden says he is going to appoint his wife to secretary of education,’ but it — she’d be a good one.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was the first candidate to make this pledge, in an email to supporters in May. “I’ll just be blunt: Betsy DeVos is the worst Secretary of Education we’ve seen,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote. “So I’m making this pledge to you: In my administration, the Secretary of Education will be a former public school teacher who is committed to public education.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the pledge at Friday’s forum, saying, “I’ve got a radical idea I hope you are all ready for: The next secretary of education should be an educator. I have named two school’s chancellors in New York City, largest school system in the country. And I said when I did there’s no way in hell on naming anyone but a career educator to those roles, and we did it.”

Democrats have long criticized DeVos for her education policies, particularly her support for charter schools. Prior to her confirmation as education secretary, Democrats decried her nomination, pointing specifically to her lack of public school education experience.

Sen. Kamala Harris promised to nominate someone who comes from public schools.

“Under a Harris administration, I promise you that the person who was nominated will be someone who comes from public schools,” the California Democrat said at the forum. “I also promise you that you will be at the table to help me make that decision.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who was also at the forum, made a similar comment Friday evening on CNN.

“Sure, but I would think that anyone that has a substantial education background would be very good in that job. Our current governor, Tim Walz, was a teacher, and he’s doing a great job in the state of Minnesota,” she told Brianna Keilar on “The Situation Room.” “I think it’s important to have someone with a policy background in education. A teacher is a great idea. But I can tell you what I won’t have: What I won’t have is Betsy DeVos.”

Klobuchar, along with Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, unveiled an education plan Friday ahead of participating in the summit.

Among other proposals, Klobuchar is for increasing teacher salaries through a federal funding match and fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She would also end a school choice tax credit, which has been championed by the Trump administration.

Inslee’s proposal included a piece on climate change, the focus of his campaign and a point he made during his turn at the Houston forum. He said he supports giving federal funds to districts that switch to zero-emission buses, along with investing in climate change education and STEM programs at K-12 schools and historically black colleges and universities.

CNN’s Devan Cole and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.