National Education Association gives President Obama an early endorsement

July 5, 2011

By Tara Malone, Chicago Tribune

The nation’s largest teachers union voted Monday in Chicago to support PresidentBarack Obama‘s 2012 re-election bid despite discord between rank-and-file teachers and the administration over key education reforms.

Seventy-two percent of the National Education Association’s representative assembly voted to support Obama, marking the group’s earliest endorsement ever, and one that comes before the Republican field has narrowed to a single candidate.

The vote allows the union to urge its 3.2 million members to help re-elect the president.

“(The president) has always talked about the importance of education from preschool to the graduate level,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “So, I don’t mind fighting on how to get to that shared vision. … I believe out of that discussion may come ideas that neither one of us thought about and may be better.”

NEA officials said the vote was 5,414 members in favor of endorsement while 2,102 members voted no.

The vote came a day after Vice President Joe Bidenfired up the teachers with a speech intended to smooth over past discord and draw a contrast between the president’s education policies and those espoused by several Republican governors who have sought to curb collective bargaining rights.

The Obama administration has lauded efforts that would tie a teacher’s evaluation to student learning and make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. It also has promoted charter schools that often compete with traditional public schools.

Still, the president and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Chicago’s former schools chief, also sought to forestall educator layoffs and classroom cuts with increased funding for public schools.

Biden pledged during his speech on Sunday to “fight alongside of you.”

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