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Donna Shalala

November 4, 2018

On the Democratic side is Donna Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and one-time Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. She spoke recently with highlights about her campaign and the issues she would champion if elected.

Education is mostly handled at the state and local levels, but what would you try to do to bolster public education and make it better for students and teachers?

The federal government does have monies. It has been switching away from city schools to charter schools. So it’s been taking money away from public schools, and particularly from low-income kids, and giving it to charter schools. So it’s been literally taking federal money and privatizing it, so we have to stop that. We need a lot more subsidies for kids that want to go to college. There’s no question about that. Particularly for people who want to go to public colleges, there ought to be a lot more subsidies. And we’ve got to stop all these fly-by-night schools that rip students off and by which they acquire a huge amount of debt and don’t get a good degree. In fact, they never finish their degree.”

Would you support something like what we have here in Florida, Bright Futures, on the federal level?

“Sure, I would support Bright Futures on the federal level, but first the states have to fulfill their responsibility. States like Florida have been pulling money out of higher education. So the states have to do their fair share before we expect federal tax payers to put a lot more money in.”

Do you think there should be equal allocation of funding for different majors? I know that on the state level we have a governor and administration which is more toward the STEM and not favoring so much the humanities. On the federal level, should there be equal representation?

“There absolutely should be equal representation. Look, when I ask CEOs of major corporations of America what they majored in, most of them weren’t in STEM. They were in anthropology or history or psychology, and then they went and got a graduate degree of some kind. So we’ve got to be extremely careful that we teach people how to learn. That’s far more important than anything else we can do.”

What would you do about gun safety and making schools safer and preventing the kind of tragedy that happened in Parkland?

“We can’t make them safer by giving guns to teachers. We don’t hire teachers because they have skills in terms of protecting students by learning how to shoot. That’s not the characteristics of a great teacher. I am opposed to arming civilians. I am in favor of arming law enforcement officers.”

What is your position on teacher pay?

“I would double every teacher’s salary in the country. We really do not pay teachers enough and we don’t pay them enough to be competitive in terms of attracting great teachers in the future, so we need to do much better. The average teacher’s salary in this country is under $50,000. That is ridiculous. If we paid teachers more, there’d be a number of changes, including our ability to keep teachers so they wouldn’t retire so early. We’ve got to lift teachers out of poverty into the middle class. That requires that we seriously think about doubling their salaries.”

Why do you think this race in District 27 is so important?

“It’s a race about life and death because it involves whether we’re going to get healthcare for everyone. It’s a race about the quality of education because we have Republicans who would take money away from public education where the vast majority of students are and give it to charter schools, to businesses. Basically, they’re taking money from public schools and giving it to businesses and that just shouldn’t happen. And it’s a race about climate change and whether we’re going to make decisions in this country based on scientific evidence and whether we’re going to make investments in our infrastructure to control sea level rise. Those things are really fundamental to what Democrats believe, and Republicans are on the other side. And it’s also about immigration reform. I saw my opponent the other day. She said she’d give them a piece of paper so they could work and pay taxes, but they could never be voting citizens. That’s outrageous. There’s got to be a pathway for citizenship for people. If you work in this country and you pay taxes for years and years, you ought to become a citizen. And she refuses to think about either the DACA kids or their parents, the people that are here who work hard and get up every day, they ought to be able to get citizenship.”

What concrete actions do you think Congress should be taking with regard to immigration that you would champion?

“First of all, we have to get an immigration bill. Second, we have to change the culture and leadership of ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. But to do that, we probably have to change the presidency, and that will take a couple of years. But the most important thing is to change the policies and not to fund terrible policies, like taking kids away from their parents.”

What would you do on the federal level to make sure the government is not allowing businesses to pollute our air? Would you support going back to the Paris Climate Agreement?

“I certainly support going back to the Paris Climate Agreement. More importantly, EPA [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has become anti-everything-that-has-to-do-with-science. And we need to follow the science. More importantly for our community, we need to get a big infrastructure bill that will help us to build the walls, raise the streets, get the pumps, and we need to take plastics out of the water. And as a community, there are lots of things we can do, but we ought to get some of our money back. Now where is that money? We just gave it away to the rich in a tax bill. If you divide by 50 what we just gave away in the tax bill, we’d probably have 300 or 400 billion dollars to spend on infrastructure.”

What would you say to students who want to get active in politics, or just become more informed, more civically engaged even if we can’t vote yet?

“My advice is ‘Be impatient. Don’t listen to older people.’ The only way you’re going to make change is to be impatient and keep pushing.”

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