That’s exactly what the Clinton camp would like to hear. But Clinton, who boarded Air Force One with the president for a campaign stop in North Carolina immediately after her speech, also disappointed some of the union’s three million members when she said that as president, she would look to both charter schools and traditional public schools for models of what is working in education. “Let’s sit at one table,” she said. “We’ve got no time for all these education wars.” The line didn’t go over so well. The Obama administration has been viewed by many union members as too cozy with charter schools, and Clinton’s comments seemed to do little to allay the fear that she would continue that pattern. Just after Clinton’s remarks, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the union’s president, sought to explain the negative reaction to the charter comments by telling several reporters that “the anger comes from...for-profit charters,” which the union has accused of sucking badly needed funding from neighborhood schools.
While Cahill and a number of other NEA members said they were ultimately eager to back Clinton, she hasn’t won over others, including a science teacher from Seattle named Noam Gundle. The high-school biology instructor said he supported Bernie Sanders over Clinton because of the senator’s “progressive” education beliefs and ability to organize. He distrusted Clinton’s relationship with various education foundations, he said, and was upset with the NEA for backing Clinton prematurely.
Gundle isn’t an anomaly. Clinton earned the union’s endorsement last fall in a move that prompted some chapters to refuse outright to support the endorsement and fueled accusations that the union didn’t adequately consult its members ahead of time. But other members said the NEA’s failure to endorse a candidate in the 2008 presidential primary was a cautionary lesson. That decision, they argued, allowed the Obama administration to expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. Eskelsen Garcia said Tuesday in response to a question about the early endorsement that the decision “passed overwhelmingly.”
While Gundle, who called Trump the “biggest danger to our country in 100 years,” said he will cast a ballot for Clinton in November, he won’t be doing so eagerly. “I think that we ought to be holding their feet to the fire,” he said of the candidates. The lack of enthusiasm for Clinton among teachers who had high hopes for a Sanders nomination could make mobilizing the union’s 3 million members a serious challenge. But Jaim Foster, a kindergarten teacher in Arlington, Virginia, said it was time for union members to put aside their differences and come together to elect Clinton. The union in his area has been going door-to-door and waging a social-media campaign to rally members behind the candidate, he said. Nikki Woodward, an early-childhood educator from Gaithersburg, Maryland, said local members have been organizing “phone parties” to call colleagues and urge them to vote.