Keynote speaker Attorney General Kamala Harris told Convention delegates she wouldn’t be standing there if not for her first grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, who attended her graduation from law school.
“It’s not a job, it’s a calling,” Harris told the delegates. “You’re raising our leaders and educating our community and our state and our nation.”
Harris went on to talk about her focus on elementary school attendance and how her career as a prosecutor taught her about the need for accountability. “A child going without an education is tantamount to a crime,” she said. “They’re not just children of the parents or the school, they’re children of the community.”
Pointing out that California’s constitution mandates a right to an education for all children, Harris said she commissioned her office to do a report on truancy in public schools. She called the findings — that over one million truant students a year cost the state in a variety of ways — stark and unsurprising. If a third-grader is not reading at grade level, it’s four times as likely that student will drop out of high school, statistics show. That leads to millions of dollars in lost income and lost taxes, as well as more spent on the criminal justice system and public health costs.
“It’s not only an issue of babies going without education — it’s wasted potential and wasted dollars,” Harris said. “We need to get these kids to school so you can teach them and they can learn.”
Supporting teachers in doing their jobs and fulfilling the promise of California’s constitution is her priority, Harris added. She pledged to collaborate with the CFT and state legislators to make sure teachers and school staff have that support, and she talked about a collection of bills in Sacramento prioritizing truancy and absenteeism. Harris said she backs the CFT’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds campaign, which would provide extended library hours, mental health professionals and nurses to schools with the greatest need.
“There are a whole lot of kids not in school because of asthma or dental problems,” she said. “These children are capable of doing anything if we support what you need to do to educate them.”
Harris also pointed out the direct connection between education and public safety and how dropouts lead to higher crime rates.
“The best way to address crime is through prevention,” she said. “If we’re dealing with it in the emergency room or the prison system, it’s far too late and much too expensive.”
Harris ended her speech by saying California was still a leader in the nation — for example, in fighting back to retain rights to collective bargaining.
“The country still looks to us to see what change looks like,” she said. “The only way we will stay true to that is by making sure we prioritize the education of our children.”
“It’s not only an issue of babies going without education — it’s wasted potential and wasted dollars. We need to get these kids to school so you can teach them and they can learn.”