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Elizabeth Warren talks to teachers, students in first campaign stop in Pa.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5/14/2019 By Julia Terruso / Philadelphia Inquirer
Elizabeth Warren wearing a red shirt © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc.

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first presidential campaign event in Pennsylvania was spent in a Northeast Philadelphia union hall taking questions from teachers and students and rousing the crowd with the prospect of putting a former public school teacher in the White House.

The Democrat from Massachusetts spoke to about 200 educators and 100 students from Abraham Lincoln High School in Holmesburg, Pa.

The afternoon conversation, hosted by the American Federation of Teachers as part of its vetting of candidates for endorsement, was closed to the public but is available on the AFT’s Facebook page.

Ms. Warren said she knew in second grade that she wanted to be a public school teacher. “I practiced, I used to line my dollies up and teach school," she said. "I was tough but fair.” She said she wants to be president to give people more opportunity. “Teachers understand this: We invest in the future.”

Ms. Warren, a law professor who worked as a New Jersey special education teacher earlier in her career, has stumped on the need for more federal funding of public schools, universal child care and pay standards for early-childhood teachers. She has also unveiled a plan for student-debt forgiveness and free tuition to two and for-year public colleges — all topics she touched on Monday.

Hours before her appearance, Ms. Warren tweeted a promise that her Secretary of Education would have experience teaching in a public school.

“I want someone who has seen tattered textbooks or who has tried to manage when there are too many kids in a classroom ... someone who as actually been there and taught a child to read,” Ms. Warren said, to cheers.

The event comes five days before Sen. Joe Biden holds his first public event in Philadelphia on Eakins Oval on Saturday and a week ahead of a rally for President Donald Trump near Williamsport.

The AFT has had town halls recently with Democratic presidential contenders Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Tim Ryan and Sen. Kamala Harris. Union president Randi Weingarten introduced Ms. Warren as “a friend of students and educators and nurses for as long as she has been a student and an educator of all of us.”

Here’s how Ms. Warren responded to some questions she was asked:

Ms. Warren, whose mantra on the campaign trail has become “I have a plan for that,” eagerly laid out her plan to forgive 95 percent of student loan debt, paid for by a 2 percent tax on wealth of $50 million or more. It would cancel up to $50,000 of loans for 43 million students.

“This is...one of the core changes we need to make in this economy,” Ms. Warren told the crowd.

Student loan debt, she said, “is like dumping rocks,” on students, particularly minorities. “No great country builds a future by crushing people who are trying to get an education.”

She said the plan would reduce high teacher turnover, which in some cases stems from younger teachers unable to pay off student loans on public school salaries.

One educator, who is a registered independent, asked Ms. Warren how she would bridge the partisan divide to appeal to independents or even some conservatives.

Ms. Warren, a leader of the Democrat’s liberal wing, has at times faced skepticism over her ability to win, compared with a candidate seen as more moderate, like Mr. Biden.

She told the crowd that her economic justice policies, such as student debt forgiveness, are popular across party lines. She mentioned her own family: Only one of three brothers is a Democrat.

“Imagine our Thanksgivings,” she said, joking. "But the point is, on the core values we’re all there.” All of her brothers support access to affordable health care, pre-K education and affordable college, she said. "They want to see an America that’s opening opportunities, so I think we can do this.”

Asked how she’d empower women, Ms. Warren recalled the way she overcame being written off in her bid for her Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Her mantra became “I’m running for Senate, because that’s what girls do.”

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