President Biden took aim at GOP education policies during a Monday event at the White House celebrating 2023 Teacher of the Year Rebecka Peterson.
Peterson, a calculus teacher at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., was celebrated at the White House with speeches from Biden, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and first lady Jill Biden.
Biden celebrated Peterson, a Swedish-Iranian immigrant who came to the U.S. when she was a child, and her accomplishments, including raising the pass rate in her classroom from 50 percent to 87 percent.
“Her students tell her, even after they graduated, they hold on to the lesson she taught them not only about integrals and derivatives but about community connections, about how all of us belong,” Biden said. “Rebecka put a teacher’s creed into words when she said there’s no such thing as someone else’s child.”
The president used the opportunity to call for teacher raises and more gun control in the face of recent school shootings, while hitting at Republicans ahead of his expected reelection campaign launch later this week.
Among his concerns were book bans, which have been found by the American Library Association (ALA) to have increased by 38 percent between 2021 and 2022.
“Let’s be clear, let’s stand with teachers and parents against politicians [who] try to score political points by banning books,” Biden said. “I never thought, as a student of history, I never thought I’d be a president who was fighting against elected officials trying to ban and banning books.”
The increase in laws in Republican states regarding the content of books in classrooms led to 2,571 unique titles getting censored in 2022, according to the ALA.
The president also commented on the ongoing congressional debt ceiling negotiations, where he slammed Republicans proposing school funding cuts.
“Last week, we saw the Speaker of the House and MAGA Republicans in Congress want to cut funding for schools by 22 percent. If that were to pass, it would mean cutting up to 60,000 teaching jobs, affecting 25 million” students, Biden said. “They’re introducing it on, I believe, tomorrow or Wednesday, affecting 25 million children. Cuts in education is the last thing this country needs.”
In her own speech at the White House, Peterson ended by introducing Biden as someone who understands teachers and the message of belonging she spreads to her students.
“I’m pleased to introduce a president who honors the good news that teachers bring. He knows we can belong to each other and be different. We can belong to each other and disagree,” Peterson said before Biden spoke. “This is a president who knows we can belong to each other the way our students have taught us we can. It’s now my honor to introduce the proud husband of an educator, President Biden.”