Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, accompanied by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten, speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on May 22, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
May 22, 2018 5:39 PM EDT

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a $100 billion plan to boost teacher pay and funding for school resources, while on the same day a House committee grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on what she would say to the thousands of teachers across the country who have protested for better pay and more education funding this year.

“We’re here today because teachers are marching on state capitols across the country, demanding higher pay, better working conditions and more resources,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday, referencing the wave of recent teacher walkouts in states from West Virginia to Arizona. “They’re not just fighting for themselves, they’re fighting for the future of America.”

The plan, also backed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, would allocate $50 billion to states and school districts to increase teacher pay and help recruit and retain teachers over the next 10 years. Another $50 billion would be used to fund school infrastructure and resources, including updated technology.

Lawmakers said they would pay for the proposal by reversing tax cuts for the wealthy that were part of the tax plan signed into law by President Trump last year. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center in December found that Americans with the highest income would receive the largest tax breaks under the new law, with the top 1% of earners claiming nearly 83% of the benefit.

Separately, when asked about recent teacher protests while testifying before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday, DeVos said teachers should be paid more, but defended budget cuts to professional development programs for teachers. She was previously critical of the walkouts, saying that teachers should keep “adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”

“I think great teachers need to be supported. I think they should be better compensated, and I think they should be treated as professionals. And I contend that the system, as it exists today, doesn’t treat them really as professionals,” DeVos said at Tuesday’s hearing. “I think that’s an area that really we need to rethink when it comes to education — is honoring and respecting great teachers and treating them as the professionals they are.”

But nearby, at Schumer and Pelosi’s press conference, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized DeVos for “empty rhetoric.”

“I’m tired of hearing Betsy DeVos, one more time, say platitudes about how teachers are important,” Weingarten said. “If they’re important, don’t propose solutions like you did in Michigan, in Florida. Support what Leader Pelosi and Leader Schumer are doing right now.”

A spokesperson for the Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Democratic plan to boost teacher pay. But an effort to change the tax plan is unlikely to be supported by Republicans and Trump Administration officials who celebrated its passage as a victory.

Despite the fact that Republicans hold control of both chambers of Congress, Schumer said he thinks Democrats have a shot at passing their proposal “in the next several years.”

“The American people realize that teachers are so important and believe they should be paid more. The demonstrations and walkouts around the country got huge support from the American people,” he said. “I think our day is going to come sooner than you think.”

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