HOUSTON — Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden made his inaugural trip to Texas as a 2020 candidate Tuesday, using an event here with teachers to promote a new education plan, his campaign’s first major policy announcement.
Appearing at a town hall organized by the American Federation of Teachers, the former vice president highlighted the plan's call to nearly triple Title I funding, which helps schools with high percentages of students from low-income families. The money would be used to boost teacher pay, provide pre-K to all 3- and 4-year-olds, and ensure all schools can offer advanced coursework.
"Everybody’s gonna tell you how much they value education," Biden told a crowd of AFT members at an electrical workers union hall. "Well, I got an expression I use: Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value."
The town hall marked the beginning of a two-day swing through Texas by Biden. After the AFT town hall, he was headed to a campaign fundraiser in Houston, followed by another one Wednesday in Dallas.
Biden's Texas visit was his first time on the campaign trail since President Donald Trump took the remarkable position of siding with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in deriding Biden as a "low IQ individual." As Biden headed to Houston on Tuesday, his campaign issued a statement calling Trump's comments "beneath the dignity of the office."
Biden himself did not respond to reporters' questions about the spat as he left the AFT town hall, during which Trump fired off another tweet on the subject. At the fundraiser afterward, though, Biden sought to distance himself from Trump's attacks.
"I’m not going to get down in the mud wrestling with this fella," Biden said, according to a pool report. "I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to get into it. Everybody already knows who he is.”
Tickets for the fundraisers started at $1,000, according to invitations, and the events were being hosted by some of the state's biggest Democratic donors, including prominent trial lawyers John Eddie Williams and Lisa Blue Baron. The Houston event drew at least three prominent local elected officials: Mayor Sylvester Turner as well as U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Sheila Jackson Lee, both of whom also attended the AFT town hall.
The town hall was a significant event for Biden after a hiatus on the campaign trail. His wife — Jill Biden, a longtime educator — joined him in Houston, where they met with Houston ISD students and teachers at a barbecue restaurant prior to the town hall. His campaign unveiled the education proposal shortly before he took the stage.
Biden was the latest 2020 contender to participate in an event with AFT as part of its endorsement process. While the influential union has not picked a candidate yet, its president, Randi Weingarten, delivered a glowing introduction of Biden.
"Vice President Joe Biden was our north star in the last administration," Weingarten told teachers. "You all know we didn’t always get along with the Obama administration positions on education, but we had a go-to guy who always listened to us, who always brought our message to the White House, to the Oval Office, and I trusted that that message would get through."
Biden continued to find himself in friendly company as he fielded questions from the audience, including one on charter schools, which have long had a contentious relationship with unions.
"I do not support any federal money ... for for-profit charter schools — period," Biden said to applause. "The bottom line is it siphons off money from public schools, which are already in enough trouble."
Disclosure: Lisa Blue Baron and John Eddie Williams have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.