Sanders or Biden? Miami-Dade teachers just want better pay (photo gallery included)

Today’s vote in Michigan will define the candidate that will most likely carry the nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate. The state’s union voters have yet to endorse either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders ahead of the primary. Much is speculated about who they will support.

Back in 2016 Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary in an upset. Whether this will repeat is unclear. In last week’s Super Tuesday vote, Biden gained endorsements among Retail, Wholesale, Department Store union members in six states. If this is any indicator of what will happen in the Michigan primaries, Sanders won’t notch another win.

As Florida gears up for its primary next week on March 17, educators throughout the state are preparing to choose a Democratic presidential nominee they hope will highlight their struggles in and outside the classroom.

Both Sanders and Biden are calling for massive increases in federal spending, including tripling Title 1 funding, which provides aid to disadvantaged students. Biden has suggested doubling school support personnel as well. Sanders has suggested a minimum $60,000 annual salary, though not how to pay for it.

This past weekend thousands of teachers across Miami-Dade County who are a part of United Teachers of Dade County (UTD) gathered for a presidential preference picnic. The event was organized by UTD and the South Florida AFL-CIO. Many teachers and their families shared a barbecue meal. They were provided with various voting materials by several political organizations and free souvenir items as they awaited the arrival of guest speaker Jill Biden.

Sanders supporters manned tents and sold regalia to show their support. Mitchell Stolberg, the legislative committee chair of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, highlighted Sanders’ history with unions: “I am here supporting Bernie, who has been supporting the unions for the past 40 years. He not only talks the talk — he walks the walk. He’s been on picket lines with the unions, standing side by side with our brothers and sisters of the union. I can’t say that for any other candidate.”

Bernie Sanders and Progressive Democrats of America tent. (Bianca Marcof/SFMN)

Biden supporters didn’t push their candidate as hard. But there were more of them.

“Our society doesn’t treat teachers right,” said teacher Bob Remmen. “They’re like rock stars but they get paid nothing and I hope we can convince our legislators to give them the respect in the financial remuneration they actually deserve. My twin sister was a teacher for 30 years.”

The common theme was lack of funding. Last year Governor Ron DeSantis submitted a proposal to raise teachers’ salaries in Florida to a minimum of $47,500. The current pay for those in Miami-Dade County who teach a full school year with a bachelor’s degree is minimum $41,000 per year. The county throws in a few thousand more if the educator has a higher degree.

G.W. Carver Middle School teacher Ingrid Robledo is frustrated with that. “We got together to send a message that public education is the bridge to prosperity for this community and that politicians need to understand that we’re the builders of that bridge,” she said. “We need their support. We need to stop the charter school, magnets and private businesses and support public education.”

Ingrid Robledo, G.W. Carver Middle School teacher. (Bianca Marcof/SFMN)

Public funds that are redirected toward private and charter schools angered the teachers. In 2019, bill 7070 allowed for up to 18,000 new private school vouchers. Antonio White, first vice president of the United Teachers of Dade, mentioned union frustration with those subsidies. “There are no accountability measures,” he said. “When you talk about public schools and public education, we have rules and regulations we have to follow, but [the state] is giving our tax dollars to institutions that don’t follow the same rules and regulations and we don’t know what happens with that money.”

This graph details a portion of financing for schools in Florida. (Rosa Elera/SFMN)

When she finally took the stage, Jill Biden, a former teacher and professor, addressed the same issues. She also criticized the Trump administration’s Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. “Television anchors aren’t talking about how frustrated our communities are when educators have to teach to the test,” she said, adding that when her husband is elected and the “new secretary of education takes the stage, it won’t be the head of some special interest group, instead it will be an educator who knows what it’s like to be in a public school.”

Brian Wheeler, an AP Government teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High School, said Biden will be the best option for the Democratic nomination.  

“Well frankly while given the choice between the two of them, I don’t support Sander,” he said. “I think out of those two, Biden would be better, but I would hope Biden would push for a lot of the things that Sanders is pushing for. Figuring out a way to relieve college debt, Medicare for All, is obviously the ultimate goal. I think Biden is right, we’re not going to get it next year and he’s recognizing that, but that has to be the ultimate goal.”

Wheeler also mentioned how low teacher pay has affected his passion for teaching. “I’ve been teaching for 23 years now, something like that, and my biggest regret is making the decision to become a teacher,” he said. “I doomed myself to poverty. You know they have to figure out a way to pay teachers more.”  

Bianca Marcof is a journalism major at Florida International University. She is interested in multimedia reporting, but her favorite thing to do is write.

Rosa Elera is a 24-year-old political science major with an interest in global media affairs. Born in the U.S. and of Peruvian descent, she enjoys learning more about different cultures, art, music and food.