Biden defends record on busing at Chicago’s Rainbow PUSH convention

Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden on Friday defended his position on using busing to desegregate schools, saying at a labor luncheon in Chicago that he “never ever opposed voluntary busing” — but didn’t mention his opposition to court-ordered busing.  

Biden spoke about his record supporting civil rights and his ideas for education after a heated exchange at Thursday’s debate among 10 Democratic presidential candidates. Fellow candidate Kamala Harris, who previously had criticized him for touting his ability to work with pro-segregation senators earlier in his career, accused him of opposing school busing, a program that had benefited Harris. 

Biden indignantly denied that. He followed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and longtime civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson on the stage during Rainbow PUSH’s annual convention, which kicked off Friday at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters.

The former vice president advocated tripling federal funds awarded schools serving poor children, raising teacher salaries and making pre-kindergarten mandatory.

“Every single child in America has enormous potential but it means you have to have good schools in every neighborhood,” said Biden, whose wife Jill used to be a school teacher.

In contrast, Lightfoot all but ignored education in her talk — even as the current contract with the Chicago Teachers Union expires at midnight Sunday and negotiations over the next contract remain in limbo. 

As she stepped to the podium, Lightfoot said, “I am honored to be here in the house that Karen built,” referring to the expansive headquarters built under the leadership of former union chief Karen Lewis, who retired last year amid a battle with cancer. 

Instead, Lightfoot focused on the need for increased investment in the South and West sides. 

“It’s been 400 years since the first African reached our nation’s shores in chains,” she said, noting the theme of the convention, which was the “repairing the damage” of the hundreds of years of African-American history in the U.S. 

The answer, Lightfoot told the crowd, which included members of some of the city’s biggest public unions, is a plan for a comprehensive urban investment program.
“We cannot look away from the needs of people in our neighborhoods,” she said. “If we want to be a truly global city we need to look south of Roosevelt and West of Ashland. This is not a challenge, but an opportunity.”  

The teachers union long has demanded more resources for South and West side schools, affordable housing and wage hikes. 

Since Lightfoot took office in May, negotiations with the teachers union have moved slowly. Lightfoot’s team has said it is still weeks away from sharing a full contract proposal. 

The union, meanwhile, has argued that Lightfoot and the district are not negotiating in good faith. “We are still negotiating with Rahm’s bargaining team and proposals,” Ronnie Reese, the union’s communications manager, said, referring to previous Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The two  sides are expected to continue bargaining, and teachers could return to school in the fall without a contract.