Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff (White House photo)
Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff visited Pennsylvania on Thursday to participate in the Biden administration’s “Road to Success School Bus Tour,” making stops in Allentown and Philadelphia. He joined U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for the visits.
The tour, which was intended to highlight the White House’s commitment to public education, also comes as many school districts grapple with teacher and school bus driver shortages — among other post-pandemic issues.
Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, spoke with the Capital-Star on Thursday after the Philadelphia event about those challenges, and the steps the administration is taking to address them.
The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk. How did the Philadelphia event go, and what did you talk with your audience about?
Emhoff: It was great. We had two events. Philadelphia was the second one. This one was about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program [a loan forgiveness program intended to encourage people to enter public service]. It was part of a longer program to explain the nitty-gritty of how to fill out the paperwork, and how get the benefit of an amazing program. If you are in public service, if you are a teacher or a firefighter … and if you work … 10 years and make your payments in a timely fashion, you will get the remainder [of your debt] canceled. People do not go into public service to get wealthy. They go into public service because they want to help people. It’s a great way to help people, and to help recruit people for public service.
Q: This outreach comes as many districts are grappling with teacher shortages, and teachers, for a number of reasons, are leaving the profession ahead of schedule. Do you think this will be encouragement for some of them to stay?
Emhoff: We need to help the teachers we have. We need more teachers. We need more teachers around the country. They’re critical for the strength of our nation. The so-called leaders around the country who are pushing laws that prevent our teachers from teaching, and [who are] preventing our students from reading books, and are looking over their shoulders — it’s unacceptable, and it has to stop. We need to let teachers know that we have their backs. We need them to know we will support them, and give them the resources that they need.
Q: In Allentown, you were there to talk about learning loss from the pandemic. What did you hear there?
Emhoff: In Allentown, that was to honor the collaboration … [the] community advocates coming together to help teachers and students and parents. I’ve been able to see that in my travels through the country. I’ve seen communities come together with public-private partnerships. We made a list of the things we can do to help. I tell them that I live with the vice president. And tonight, when I get home, we’re going to talk about it.
Q: What were they telling you they needed?
Emhoff: They don’t have any school buses, the transportation, just getting to school. They want more counselors. We’re helping kids getting out of COVID, and the mental health crisis that this country is going through … It’s a variety of things like that, that I will take back, and we will be talking about.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the day? The one thing that you learned that surprised you? Or that you didn’t expect to hear?
Emhoff: The biggest takeaway — when you take all the politics out of it — is that you see a bunch of people who care about their communities, and care about their teachers, and who care about their country — all coming together to make the world a better place. That’s why I love being second gentleman, and love doing public service. It’s all about helping people. And I really got to experience that firsthand today.
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