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The American Federation of Teachers sent questionnaires to all the candidates for the Presidency. Three candidates responded: Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders.
Candidate questionnaire: Martin O’Malley
Today, almost 50 million students attend our nation’s public schools. Along with their parents, communities, teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees, these students have been forced to live under test—and-punish policies that include sanctions and school closings, high-stakes assessments, and federalized teacher evaluations that are counterproductive and have taken the joy out of teaching and learning.
Q. What is your view of the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act)? What changes, if any, would you make to the law, and why? Please include positions on:
• The federal government’s role in ensuring equity and access to resources for all children;
• The role of standards, assessments and accountability in public education;
• Ensuring that all students have access to a broad curriculum that includes art and music,
as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM);
• Professional development for school staff; and
• Community schools.
MO’M: I support the reauthorization of the ESEA. The Senate HELP Committee has preserved the integrity of the bill while avoiding the most extreme Republican amendment attempts. I urge the House to maintain that integrity and to reject any changes that would radically undermine our nation’s public education system.
Though I support the reauthorization of ESEA, there are a number of areas where the law needs improvements – most notably, a requirement for turning around our lowest-performing schools. This legislation must acknowledge that equitable allocation of resources for our most vulnerable kids is not the same as equal allocation of resources. As a nation, we must commit to concentrating federal dollars where the need is greatest, including in the communities with the most underperforming schools and students. As our well-performing suburban schools find new and innovative ways to connect a child’s learning experience with their real-world environment, our lower-income urban schools can’t be left behind.
Our children, regardless of their circumstances, deserve a well-rounded education, including training in the arts, that will prepare them for the needs of the modern workforce and economy. During my time as Governor, we increased the number of students enrolled in STEM or related CTE programs by nearly 400%.
While the federal government plays an important role in education, that role does not include the determination of standards or curriculum in the classroom. However, in order to grow a strong workforce for tomorrow, we need an accurate way of evaluating how we’re building students’ potential today. I support performance-based assessments, which allow students the flexibility to show their learning in ways that meet their strengths and interests – and allow professional teachers to adjust in real-time so student achievement accelerates.
Test score data should not be used as a hammer at the end of a teacher’s evaluation, it should be used from the start to begin an instructional improvement process. To shift test scores from a punitive measure into a supportive one, we must make additional investments in professional development for our teachers. We also need to offer adequate training for new initiatives, and engage the educator community in virtually all systemic decision-making in our schools. I’m all for modernizing and improving education for all kids, but we should be doing so in partnership with our educators, not at their expense.
Q. Do you support any of the current reauthorization proposals under consideration in the 114th Congress?
MO’M: I support the ESEA reauthorization currently on its way to the Senate floor, but would encourage the improvements noted above.
Q. What role do you think the federal government can play in providing access to early childhood education? What specific policy proposals would your administration pursue?
MO’M: The federal government plays a fundamental role providing access to early childhood education. This is one of the strengths of the current ESEA reauthorization. I support and applaud Senator Murray’s amendment creating grants to help states boost quality and access in early learning. Further, I support using federal funds, in partnership with states, to make pre-K universal.
Q. What are your views on private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter school accountability and transparency?
MO’M: I support the strengthening of our public education system, not only as a way for all children to prepare themselves for economic success, but as a way to stronger neighborhoods, healthier communities, and a more engaged citizenry and informed electorate. I oppose vouchers for private schools, and the expanded use of tax credits to support private school tuition. I am concerned about the rapid proliferation of unaccountable charter schools. Providing excellent and innovative education should be the goal of charter schools – not expansion for the sake of profit. We need strong standards, oversight, and transparency to ensure that charters are acting in the best interest of our kids – and are serving the goals of our education system as a whole.
Q. Escalating tuition and fees are leading to a growing number of students leaving college with overwhelming debt from student loans. This burden of rising costs and rising debt makes access to higher education increasingly difficult for many students and their families. What is the role of the federal government in ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible?
MO’M: The federal government plays an essential role in making higher education affordable and accessible. While states like Maryland have worked hard to hold the line on the cost of college tuition, we cannot make college truly affordable for families unless the federal government provides leadership. This is especially true when it comes to student debt: Congress helped create the student debt crisis by setting high, fixed interest rates on student loans. My administration would fight to win student borrowers the right to refinance their loans, and would make income- based repayment the default for all borrowers. The ultimate goal must be to make college debt-free for all students.
Q. There has been a nationwide pattern of disinvestment in public higher education such that per-student funding dropped 26.1 percent between 1990 and 2010. What would your administration do to remedy this?
MO’M: My administration would restore investments in higher education. First, I would provide additional aid to states to cover the cost of tuition at public and community college and universities, tied to states also investing more. Second, I would tie the receipt of federal aid to states and schools taking steps to reduce the underlying costs of college. This includes increasing AP and dual-enrollment courses, easing the transfer of credits from community colleges, expanding quality online learning, and making sure that aid is reaching the students who need it most.
Q. Career and technical education programs help ensure that postsecondary credentials and skills are accessible to all – necessary in today’s economy. In your view, what is the role of the federal government in supporting high-quality CTE programs?
MO’M: As Governor, my administration increased the number of students enrolled in STEM or related CTE programs in Maryland by nearly 400%. However, while the federal government plays a critical role supporting these efforts, the taken modest steps we have taken as a country to expand STEM or related CTE education are far from sufficient.
My administration would launch a new, comprehensive national program for CTE, starting in high schools, and in partnership with community colleges and employers. This builds on successful efforts launched by the Obama Administration, where
schools partner with employers – who also provide financial support – to train students and workers for the positions they need to fill now. Our program will require greater federal investment, but we will see far greater returns – in good jobs created and filled, and in reduced spending on higher education. CTE training is an equal alternative to a four-year college degree, and we must treat it as such.
Q. What is the federal government’s role in requiring appropriate transparency and accountability of for-profit institutions?
MO’M: I support the Protections And Regulations For Our Students Act and its efforts to protect students from the predatory practices that are too prevalent in the for-profit college sector. The federal government should not only play a strong role in cracking down on such fraudulent behavior, it should proactively seek out these bad players and cancel the federal debt incurred by students who were sold a bad deal.
Q. What are your views of the Affordable Care Act? What changes would you make, if any, to the ACA, including the excise tax on high-cost plans and the provisions on shared responsibility for employers?
MO’M: I agree that a high quality healthcare system is a “moral imperative, an economic necessity, and a fundamental right for all.” The Affordable Care Act is an important step in realizing that goal. My administration would build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act while being ready, as always, to support smart changes that can better provide high quality coverage and control costs. Our guiding principle would always be the triple aim: better patient experience, lower costs, and improved outcomes.
For example, to promote creative solutions to healthcare challenges around the country, I support flexibility for states to pursue innovations in health care delivery and payment with the potential for shared savings, such as through the State Innovation Model program at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. One underappreciated aspect of the Affordable Care Act is its support for innovative models of health care delivery in payment. In Maryland, we adopted a creative approach with our unique hospital rate setting commission: We obtained approval to put our hospitals on global budgets covering all payers, creating a strong incentive to reduce preventable admissions and keep patients and communities healthy.
Q. Do you support initiatives designed to move health insurance coverage away from an employer-based model? If so, what would you propose as an alternative to the current system for covering working adults?
MO’M: I support a public option, which should have been included in the Affordable Care Act.
Q. Many licensed healthcare professionals, particularly RNs, are leaving hospital service because of difficult working conditions, including excessive and unsafe workloads, understaffing, and mandatory overtime. What would you do to address these problems and to improve recruitment and retention of nurses and other healthcare professionals?
MO’M: Maryland has long prohibited mandatory overtime for nurses, with some exceptions, and I support such bans.
More broadly, my administration would make securing reforms to our nation’s overtime rules a priority – including raising the overtime salary threshold to 1,000 a week, limiting exemptions, and enforcing the law. Wage law violations are unacceptable and far too prevalent in the healthcare industry. My administration would invest the resources necessary to hold all employers accountable for wage theft, overtime violations, and other failures to comply with labor laws.
My administration would also vocally support efforts to organize healthcare professionals, including in hospitals and among home healthcare workers. Expanding and protecting collective bargaining rights is a critical step to securing better working conditions in the healthcare industry. I applaud AFT’s efforts to organize nurses and other healthcare professionals, winning these workers a greater role in shaping the U.S. healthcare system to better meet the needs of the people they serve.
Finally, my administration would proactively invest in our healthcare workforce. As we continue to transform our healthcare system and the settings and methods used to deliver care continue to evolve, it is critical that our healthcare workforce is trained and prepared for the transitions ahead. At the same time, the reforms we’re making within the healthcare system will align to help improve working conditions for healthcare professionals. Offering greater rewards for prevention and fewer avoidable admissions, for example, can reduce the burnout that results from a system that historically rewarded volume rather than value.
Q. Merger and acquisition activity continues to consolidate the U.S. healthcare system into the hands of a few corporations, many of which are for- profit. What would you do to ensure competition in the healthcare industry is fair and protects the American consumer?
MO’M: My administration’s strategy would be two-fold. First, I would continue to embrace proven strategies for coordinating care. In Maryland we not only put hospitals on global budgets, we established a statewide information system for patients that allows doctors and nurses to securely access patients’ health data from every hospital across the state. Even before the ACA took full effect, we used this big data approach to providing smarter health care to reduce avoidable hospital admissions by 10% in a single year.
While this greater coordination is critical to providing more targeted and thus less costly care, I am concerned about consolidation that does not further these aims. Far too often, mergers and acquisitions within the health care industry are used not to achieve savings through reduced fragmentation, but to drive up prices for patients and consumers – at the cost of providing better care. That is why my administration would aggressively enforce our nation’s antitrust laws, and why I will continue to champion the need to restore competition to the U.S. economy throughout my campaign.
Q. What would you do to ensure that communities have access to public health services?
MO’M: My administration would look to the innovative steps we took in Maryland to expand access to public health services. For instance, we used the statewide health information system described above to pinpoint clusters of patients and diagnose public health concerns. We then used this information to charge community-level care managers with improving wellness at a neighborhood-level. We did this most importantly through the Health Enterprise Zones we stood up to improve health care access and quality, and reduce health disparities, in underserved communities. We also encouraged the development of more comprehensive women’s health centers, to provide screenings and referrals for Medicaid eligibility, WIC nutrition, substance abuse and mental health treatment alongside reproductive health care.
Beyond these important steps, my administration would protect and build on the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to promote good health and prevent chronic disease. I would protect the mandatory funding stream the ACA obligated for these efforts, which has wrongly been reallocated for other purposes, and develop better metrics for measuring the effectiveness of prevention-related efforts.
Q. What are your priorities for revitalizing the economy, strengthening the middle class, creating jobs, and ensuring fair taxation? How would your plan help restore funding for education, healthcare, transportation, public safety, and many other services provided to our citizens?
MO’M: My administration would focus first and foremost on raising wages: by increasing the minimum wage and the salary threshold for overtime pay; restoring and strengthening collective bargaining power; and supporting families by expanding access to paid leave and safe and affordable childcare. My administration would also restore investments in the common good and future of our nation, including in infrastructure and innovation, and most of all in education. We cannot revitalize our economy without creating an education system that empowers each and every child to reach their full potential, starting with pre-k and all the way through college.
We can restore funding for these better choices and investments by rebalancing our tax system so that the wealthiest Americans – not just middle class families – pay their fair share. This includes setting higher marginal rates, taxing capital gains and income at the same rate, corporate tax reform, and other long-overdue reforms. We must also restore accountability to our financial markets, to reverse the failed policies of deregulation and wealth accumulation that gutted funding for key priorities while costing millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and retirements. That’s why I have called for real structural and accountability reforms, including reinstating Glass-Steagall, charging regulators with holding law-breakers accountable, and breaking up big banks before they break us. These steps must be an explicit part of any agenda to revitalize the economy and make it work for all families.
Q. The United States has a 3.2 trillion infrastructure deficit according to the American Society of Civil Engineers and that’s just for repairs. What are the mechanisms (e.g., public, private, infrastructure bank) through which we can fund the rebuilding of this country, including necessary renovation and modernization of our public schools, hospitals, and public buildings?
MO’M: Repairing, upgrading, and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure will require an historic investment—one that can only be made using both public programs and other financing tools. My administration would restore the Highway Trust Fund, while redoubling successful competitive grant programs. But I would also look to credit and loan guarantee programs; to bonding programs, for both transportation infrastructure and building construction and retrofits; and to other programs that support public-private partnerships, including an infrastructure bank. However, whenever we leverage private dollars to build public projects, I would make protecting high-road labor standards a priority, as we did in Maryland. We cannot look for cost efficiencies on the backs of American workers.
Q. What would your administration do to build and strengthen retirement security for all working men and women, including protecting employees’ pensions? What is your plan for sustaining and strengthening Social Security and Medicare?
MO’M: My administration would expand Social Security benefits, not cut them. We are the most prosperous country the world has ever seen. In an economy that is increasingly out of balance towards the most privileged, expanding Social Security so seniors can retire with dignity—not cutting benefits, not privatization, not raising the retirement age, not means testing, not eating into their economic security—should be a top priority, and an achievable one.
I would expand Social Security benefits by lifting the payroll tax cap for the highest earners, starting at 250,000. Right now, millionaires are essentially done paying into Social Security by mid-February. Those in that upper income range can afford to contribute more to expand one of our most cherished programs. I would also modify the formula that determines the level of benefits that seniors receive, including so that increased benefits are targeted towards lower and middle-income beneficiaries.
These are critical steps, because we know for a fact that 401(k)s won’t leave enough for many seniors to live on in retirement. The recession took its toll on families’ ability to save and plan adequately, and further weakened state pension systems, including the one I inherited in Maryland. As a result, we had to implement balanced reforms that brought the pension system back on the path to fiscal health, while protecting the collective bargaining rights and retirement security of state employees. This was tremendously difficult, but we got it done not by demonizing teachers and state workers, as other states have, but by bringing them to the table. I have always fought to ensure the rights and benefits of Maryland workers, and my administration would do the same for all public employees.
Q. What are your views on the privatization and contracting out of public services, including school services and state and local government services?
MO’M: We should not privatize or contract out school services. Teachers are our partners in educating our students. We should invest more, not less, to train and equip teachers—not engage in a race to the bottom.
Q. Current federal laws and policies encourage and promote collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Act. What are your views on collective bargaining for the private and public sectors? What is your view regarding agency fee and so-called right-to-work laws?
MO’M: I believe that we must make it easier, not harder, for workers to organize – by tearing down barriers to collective bargaining, while embracing new and expanded organizing models, and reversing the nearly unprecedented consolidation of corporate power. As Governor, I expanded public sector collective bargaining rights to thousands of additional state workers, and to home health aides and child care workers whose pay is subsidized by the state. I signed a Fair Share Act so that unions can do their job representing the voices of their members. And I created a Public School Labor Relations Board, as well as legislation requiring prevailing wages to be paid on public school projects.
There is no question that the decline of unionization over the last 30 years has fueled growing inequality and stagnating wages, and that the steps states are taking to wipe out unions—especially those attacking teachers’ unions—are failed choices. I reject right-to-work laws that weaken the bargaining power of workers and drive down wages, as well as misguided efforts to roll back public sector bargaining rights. Chasing cheaper labor will not grow our economy or more it more competitive.
Q. As president, what would you do to: (a) prevent employers from intimidating and harassing workers who support union representation, (b) ensure that workers are free to organize and bargain the workplace, and (c) protect the rights of American workers?
MO’M: My administration would do everything in its power to protect and strengthen the rights of American workers. I would support efforts to make it easier to join a union by streamlining the process and reducing employers’ ability to interfere with elections. This includes the rule NLRB has moved forward to speed up union elections, which I believe is an important first step. I also support the board’s efforts to hold companies jointly responsible when their franchisees violate labor laws. We’ve allowed large corporations to largely shed their responsibilities for managing their employees and to consolidate power over markets, and we’ve seen poorer working conditions and stagnating wages as a result. I would aggressively enforce our nation’s anti-trust laws to reverse this concentration of corporate power and give workers a louder voice. Finally, I would strongly support efforts to expand collective bargaining rights to more people, including home care workers, as we did in Maryland – and to continue upgrading these jobs by fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. I applaud labor’s efforts continue organizing and engaging new and existing members even in light of what I agree was a bad decision in Harris v. Quinn. We have to use every tool at our disposal to continue making progress.
Q. The federal government has direct responsibility for setting labor standards. There has been a growing call for changes to those standards, including paid sick days, paid family leave, and higher minimum wages. What changes, if any, would you prioritize?
MO’M: I would make changing these labor standards my first priority as president. I would call for a 15 federal minimum wage, and—if DOL does not first complete its rule—would use executive authority to raise the threshold for overtime pay to 1,000 a week. I would fight for laws that guarantee all workers access to paid maternity leave and paternity leave, and expand access to safe and affordable childcare. I have helped lead the call for these higher standards, including in Maryland, and will continue to make these issues a central issue in my campaign.
Q. More than 8 million public employees in 25 states currently have no OSHA protection or entitlement to a safe and healthful workplace. Do you support universal OSHA coverage for all public employees?
MO’M: Yes, and more. The gaps in the enforcement of our labor laws should be unacceptable to everyone. Beyond health and safety, millions of people, including some of our most vulnerable workers, are victims of wage theft every year. Our enforcement agencies must be able to hold employers accountable, and to prevent these blatant violations in the first place. My administration would dedicate the energy and resources necessary to fully enforce the law.
Q. What policies would your administration pursue to ensure that all people—regardless of who they are, where they live, or where they come from—are able to climb the ladder of opportunity and participate fully in our economy and democracy?
MO’M: My administration would be committed to ensuring that Americans, regardless of their background and status, would have the opportunity to succeed by investing in education, raising wages, supporting families, securing immigration reform, expanding health care, and protecting the dignity of retirement. These are the better choices our national interest demands. I have also called for a new agenda for opportunity and justice in America’s cities and communities, built on investments to connect poverty to opportunity: guaranteeing every family access to affordable housing near good schools and jobs, building and upgrading infrastructure to connect poverty to opportunity, committing to reduce poverty and eradicate child hunger, and—most importantly—creating new jobs and equipping students and workers with the skills needed to secure them.
Q. In your opinion, what are the elements of comprehensive immigration reform? How would your administration’s stance on immigration reform fight back against inequality, promote economic justice, and increase wages for all workers?
MO’M: As Governor I urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and I would forcefully do the same as president. Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows will grow the economy, create new jobs, and expand our tax base – benefiting the country as a whole. It will help all our workers, especially our most vulnerable workers, by lifting wages, and helping to drive improved labor standards. I know this from personal experience, from what we’ve done in Maryland, even without federal action—passing the DREAM Act, expanding access to drivers’ licenses, launching the New Americans Commission, and providing refuge for more migrant children per capita than any other state.
That’s why, while we continue to advocate for and will achieve comprehensive reform, we can’t wait for Congress to act. My administration would also use executive action to the fullest extent of our authority: to expand deferred arrival programs to more people, including the parents of Dreamers; to end detention, especially for families and children; and to make prosecutorial discretion meaningful, by individually examining cases to assess whether people are eligible to remain in the U.S. and contribute to their family and community.
Q. What are your views on campaign finance reform? Do you support a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision?
MO’M: I support a constitutional amendment to overturning Citizens United. But I also recognize that we can’t afford to wish and wait for a Constitutional amendment to restore our democracy. We can bring greater transparency to our elections: by updating the rules governing disclosure to ensure that big special interest spending is reported, and charging and empowering federal regulators to block unlawful outside spending. Even more important, we must return to a government where all voters’ voices are heard. Runaway election spending forces candidates to listen to big money donors over the voters they claim to represent. We should embrace citizen-funded elections, giving candidates the opportunity to raise a larger number of smaller contributions from people back home.
Q. What would your administration do to ensure that voting in elections is free, fair, and available to all Americans? Do you oppose policies that restrict access to voting and voter registration?
MO’M: Our democracy depends on greater participation, yet in recent years we have sharply limited access to our most fundamental right. My administration would push to restore the Voting Rights Act and tear down barriers to voting, like ID requirements. And we would work to modernize voting and voter registration to make it easier for more people to vote. We did this in Maryland, establishing on-site early voting and same-day registration, as well as online voter registration. We also restored voting rights to more than 50,000 people with criminal records, and made it easier for young people to vote.
Q. What do you think this nation’s priorities should be during the next decade? How would your presidency advance those priorities?
MO’M: The most important thing that we as a people need to get done is to restore the truth of the American dream: that when people work hard, they should be able to get ahead. That dream is in danger of becoming a lie for the vast majority of Americans who see their families slipping further behind. Making it true again will require us to return to the better choices we long made as a country – and to fundamentally rebalance our economy so that it works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. My administration would focus first and foremost on raising wages, not only by increasing the minimum wage, but by strengthening collective bargaining and securing comprehensive immigration reform. At the same time, my administration would hold Wall Street accountable, ending the decades of deregulation that wrecked our economy and accumulated wealth at the top like almost never before. By asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, I would restore investments in the future of our country – most especially in our students, teachers, and schools.
These choices require better leadership and the ability to get things done. I have 15 years of executive experience, and I have never backed down from a fight. I fought to make these better choices in Maryland, where we put the goal of a stronger middle class at the center of every decision we made. And as a result, we made Maryland one of the top states for upward mobility for families, with the highest median income in the nation, and – since the depths of the recession – a faster rate of job creation than our neighbors in Virginia or Maryland who were mostly trying to cut their way to prosperity. These are the goals we should be setting for our nation, and I believe that with will and leadership we can achieve them.
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