Beto O’Rourke will be among 20 Democratic presidential candidates debating this week in Miami. But on Tuesday night, he got the stage to himself.
The former Texas Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate participated in a town hall hosted by teachers’ union leaders at North Miami Middle School.
The event was part of a series of town halls being held by the American Federation of Teachers as part of its process for determining which candidate to endorse. The AFT is the national affiliate for the Florida Education Association, a statewide union, as well as its local counterparts, the United Teachers of Dade and Broward Teachers Union.
During the hourlong event, O’Rourke promised to appoint a federal education secretary with experience as a public school teacher, lamented the conditions of the child migrant detention facility in Homestead and said educators should get better pay.
“In this state, you ranked 45th in teacher pay last year. You now rank 46th in teacher pay in this country,” he said. “How in the world can we ask teachers to continue in this profession? How in the world can we ask high school students to choose this profession when we fail to meet our commitments and our obligations?
“As president, I want to make sure that I take your inspiration, your guidance and your lead to make sure that you know that you’re valued and that you’re respected, that your pay is commensurate with your service, that you don’t have to work a second or third job,” he said.
O'Rourke disappointed one educator in the audience who asked him to support a moratorium on charter schools, which are funded with taxpayer dollars but run by private organizations. O'Rourke said he sees a place for some charter schools in the public education landscape but said they should be unionized. (Most of them aren't.)
Beverly Thompson, a community liaison with Broward County Public Schools and a member of the local union, said she was impressed by O’Rourke’s pitch but is skeptical of all the candidates at this point.
“We hear many things while everybody’s running,” Thompson said. “I just hope that his enthusiasm continues throughout the campaign. And, if he does become our candidate, I hope that it’s more than promises.”
O’Rourke’s event took place at the same time Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, was participating in a town hall at Florida International University.
There are lots of debate watch parties, protests, panel discussions and other events happening in South Florida to mark the first 2020 presidential debates, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.