Joe Biden

Remarks at the National Education Association Annual Meeting

July 02, 2021

The President. Hello, everyone. They tell me there are a few people out there watching. [Laughter]

National Education Association President Rebecca S. Pringle. A couple thousand.

The President. A couple thousand.

But look, before I begin my formal comments, as Jill and your president spoke, it reminded me of two things. One is that because of your help, because we were able to pass the American Rescue Plan, we're able to get millions of shots in people's arms and provide vaccines around the world and change the circumstances.

This week—this Friday—they announced the new employment figures. Another 800-and-some-thousand jobs created this week. We've now created more jobs since you got me sworn in than any President in American history in the same timeframe.

We are in a situation where we are doing things that I think are going to fundamentally change the trajectory of this country. I told you a long time ago: It's not just the NEA and unions, it's about building America from the middle up and the middle out, not trickling down. There's a lot—a lot—we can do. A lot more we can do.

And, folks, you know, the projected growth rate, before we started—I just was doing this earlier this morning—was to be half of what it is now. It's expected to be over 7.2 percent the economy is going to grow this year. That means thousands and thousands and thousands and millions of jobs. And we're just getting started.

So I want to thank you, Madam President, and congratulate you on your first representative assembly at—of the NEA. [Applause] Thank you. And Jill and I wanted to congratulate you all on the hundredth anniversary of this convening. And notwithstanding rumors, I was not at the first convening. [Laughter]

The NEA is one of America's indispensable organizations. I'm not just saying that because the First Lady is a member. And by the way, I noticed—I noticed—that what you all—I knew what you all were going through. Jill taught fulltime this semester—fulltime. I watched Jill getting ready to teach her classes.

And going back to school herself, learning how to work online—and rapidly work online—and to teach online, it gave me an appreciation firsthand that I thought I had, but I wouldn't have had had I not seen it. And then going out and teaching—she was working 4 or 5 hours a day, getting ready to teach, putting her lesson plans together a different—a different way. And you all went through that. All of you went through that.

And again, I'm not saying this because of something Jill—you know, I would—the truth: If I didn't support the NEA, I'd be sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom alone. But—and that's not where we sleep. We don't sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. [Laughter] I'd be sent down to it. [Laughter]

But you know, look, as Jill always says: Teaching is not what she does, it's who she is. It's who all of you are. Our children are the kite strings upon which our national ambitions are lifted aloft. And your profession—your profession—helps them believe they can do anything. For that, and so much more, we just wanted to thank you. Thank you all for what you do and what you continue to do.

And, President Pringle, you and I have something in common: We both took our current roles at a time of incredible challenge and incredible opportunity. Over the last year, the entire country has witnessed the extraordinary dedication and resolve of the NEA members: teachers, professionals, who had to be not just educators, but tech support, social workers, often while trying to take care of their own children.

Other public employees who kept vital services up and running. I saw the bus drivers dropping off meals instead of picking up kids; support staff had to become sanitation experts, making sure school buildings were safe; and tech experts making sure everyone could connect to the internet from home.

You know, there's been so much heroic work to help children stay connected to school and to each other. The American people saw it. They get it. And they understand what you've been saying for years: that you are professionals, all of you. All of you. All of us have a responsibility to make sure that you have what you need to educate our children safely, equitably, and well.

That's why I made it a priority to get educators vaccinated and reopen schools as quickly as possible. Nationwide, 84 percent of K-through-12 educators and school staff are fully vaccinated, and they were by the end of May. Even more have gotten the vaccination since—the vaccine since. But as I've said many times, it's not enough just to get back to normal. We have to build back better than ever, especially our education system.

That's why the American Rescue Plan made such historic investments. It was $1.9 trillion, and people said we could never get it passed. With your help, we did, and we transformed the country—began to transform the country—providing funding for State and local Governors and school districts to make sure schools are safe and to keep you on the job and in the classrooms. Funding for summer learning and tutoring programs and hiring nurses and counselors.

Now we have an opportunity to make the game-changing investments for educators, students, and families and make it even better. We're in a competition in the 21st century—a worldwide competition. And as Jill says often, "Any country that outeducates us is going to outcompete us." We have to build for the 21st century, because the rest of the world is not sitting around and waiting.

The bipartisan infrastructure agreement we just reached is going to deliver reliable high-speed internet to every American—every single American. And they're going to be affordable, in rural and in urban areas. Of the many things—of the many tough images this past year were children sitting in cars in fast-food parking lots because it was the only place they could get a Wi-Fi connection for remote schooling. If we didn't know—if we didn't know it before, we do now: high-speed internet is essential like electric and clean air—like electricity and clean water.

And speaking of clean water, this agreement that we put together will put Americans to work in good-paying union jobs, replacing 100 percent of lead water pipes in this country. One hundred percent. Right now there are 400,000 schools—and some of you teach in them—400,000 schools and childcare centers with lead pipes. We know even that low levels of lead can cause behavior and learning problems in children, impairing their growth.

This deal contains the largest investment in clean drinking water in American history. It would end the threat of lead-contamination—contaminated water once and for all.

My American Families Plan—which we're now trying to get done as well—calls for an historic investment in human infrastructure; guaranteeing 4 additional years of public education for everyone, starting as early as we can; universal high-quality preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, and all the data shows how that increases their prospect, no matter what environment they come from, to do better and make it through school; 2 years of free community college; and high-quality, affordable childcare for working families.

It would no longer cost—excuse me, it would lower the cost of lower income—for lower income students going to school—the Pell grants. We'd provide an additional nearly 1.5—$1,500 in Pell grants. It will also make a $9 billion investment in educators so we can address teacher shortages, diversify our pipeline of teachers, and improve teacher training and teacher mentoring. And, critically, it would extend and expand the child tax credit, which will significantly benefit working families.

What that means: Instead of deducting $2,000 per child off the bottom line of your taxes—which doesn't do too much for families who don't have a big tax bill to begin with—pretty soon, before this month is out, families are going to get a significant check. For every child under the age of 6, you'll get $3,600 per child. For every child 6 to 17, you'll get $3,000—not as a credit against your taxes that a lot of educators and school staff aren't really going to feel. You'll get cash. Cash.

Starting the middle of this month, you'll start to get monthly payments between now and the end of the year. For example, if you have one child, and you're going to get—you're going to get $3,600. Between now and January, you'll get $1,800 of that on a monthly basis between now and January. And between January and December, you'll get the other $1,800. Folks, this is a major tax break for working families, and my family plan will extend it for 5 years. The very—this year's plan is estimated to cut child poverty in half—in half. The child tax care [credit].*

So look, folks—I'm also working with Congress to support $100 billion in school infrastructure investments, making sure that our schools are safe, that you have the technology you need to prepare for students of the future, something that I've always cared deeply about.

My budget invests $20 billion more in title I schools. No student—no student's education should depend on their ZIP Code. It would represent a historic effort to close the funding gap between rich and poor districts. And one of the first things that funding will be used for is to help educators in those schools get the raises they deserve and the resources they need.

And by the way, if I'd note, this isn't just—it's not that I'm trying to be nice. This is absolutely necessary—necessary if we're going to compete in the 21st century. Think about it: The idea that we have a large portion of our student population living in ZIP Codes where they cannot afford the kind of education and can't pay the teachers enough in those schools to educate them, it makes no sense. The people that are going to benefit the most from this is corporate America and businesses because they're going to have a better educated public, better educated students.

Your union and teachers' protests across the country made it clear that you deserve more than praise. You deserve a raise, not just praise. And, folks, every parent in this country who spent the last year helping educate their children at home understand you deserve a raise. They figured it out. No, I'm serious. Think about it. Think about it. It was the ultimate education of the public going through this pandemic.

My budget would also allow us to invest more in counselors, social workers, community schools, nutrition support, and a whole lot more.

I have a lot more to say, but I'm going to get the hook from Jill if I keep talking. [Laughter]

No, but let's—so let me close with this: On Sunday, we'll celebrate our independence as a Nation, as well as our progress against the virus. In the days ahead, we have a chance to make another beginning—the beginning of a stronger, fairer education system. But it can't be done—it can't be done with you. We can't do it alone. We need to keep getting the word out about the opportunities that lies ahead for us.

So let's make this happen together. I really mean this. This is a campaign in and of itself. Jill and I are proud of you. We're grateful to you. And I really mean that.

You know, I think about it: Why would a kid like me, from Scranton and Claymont, Delaware, be standing here as your President of the United States of America, were it not for the people who educated me, the teachers I had? It made a difference. They took a stuttering kid who couldn't—couldn't—couldn't speak very well in school, was scared to death to be called on to read out loud.

And they nurtured me: "Joey—you're a very smart boy, Joey. Just take your time. Don't let that get in your way, Joey." I'm serious. I think what you all underestimate, beyond the teaching of reading and writing, adding and subtracting: You give so many kids confidence.

You let them believe in themselves. I'm not joking. Think about yourself, your own—you can name the teachers who helped change your life. You can name them. I can still name them. I know who the—the people who made a difference in my life, made me believe I could do anything. When, if you looked at the background, there's no reason why, coming from my circumstance. We weren't—it wasn't poverty, just—just making it. But you did it, and don't forget it. Don't forget how much difference you make.

Those of you who've been teaching a while, you have experiences like Jill has. People will come up to Jill and say, "Mrs. Biden, you had—I had your English class. I can't thank you"— "What are you doing now?" "Well, I have my doctorate, and I'm teaching at such and such." Or a fireman putting out a fire in our home: "Mrs. Biden"—as his gear coming out of a house that almost burned down—"Mrs. Biden, you had me. You had me as a teacher, and you taught me English." Think of the people's lives you change.

You know, I'm supposed to stop but I'm going to say a couple more things—[laughter]—because I really don't think you understand or you appreciate just how important you are. I really mean it. I genuinely mean it from the bottom of my heart.

I was overseas at what they call the G-7—the biggest economies in the world—and then with the NATO people, and then I met with Putin. And in the process of doing all of this, I was asked at one point, "Can you define America for me?" And I give you my word to this. I said, "Yes"—and I believe this, and I repeated it again today as I swore in new citizens, young people in the White House. I said, "I can define America"—and I mean it from the bottom of my heart—"in one word: possibilities." It's the only nation in the world where we think we can do anything.

Now, why do we think that? Not a joke. Why do we think that? Why do we think anything is possible? It's not just the system. It's the people who look out for us.

I've said a hundred times, you control—you, the teachers, determine what this country is going to look like. You are the people who take our children and nurture them. As I said many times, they're the kite string—you're the kite strings upon which we lift our national ambitions aloft. So have—understand how important you are.

And by the way, understand how important that cafeteria worker is who looks at that kid who's a little bit ashamed that they have no food at home and says: "Honey, here. Here is a little more. Take some more." Or packs a little bag without telling them after they have lunch and slips it to them. You provide their dignity. You give them dignity.

So I really mean it: I think you're the single most important component of America's future. So don't give up on yourselves, and I know you won't. Don't give up on these kids. Give them hope. Make them believe in themselves. And make sure when they're much older, and they say, "How'd you get here?"—"Because Mrs. Jones or Mr. Williams," or whomever. Because it will be done. It will be done.

Thank you. Thank you for all you do, all you give and all that you are to your students and to the Nation. You know you affect your students, but it's to the Nation.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you so much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:19 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the National Education Association Annual Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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