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Public Education Loses Friend With Passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy

Kennedy was tireless proponent of public education, health care and organized labor.

By Kevin Hart

August 26, 2009 – The National Education Association joined Americans everywhere today in mourning the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy, the “lion of the Senate” and a staunch advocate for public education and health care. He was 77.  

Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962, and quickly established himself as a strong voice in the civil rights movement. He believed all Americans deserved equal access to quality education, health care, and good jobs with decent wages.

“Sen. Ted Kennedy was a strong, courageous leader in protecting the basic right of all students to attend great public schools," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement. "He was a longtime advocate for teachers and students, and he left an indelible imprint on every major education law passed since the 1960s."


During his nearly half-century in the Senate, Kennedy authored more than 2,500 bills and ushered many more to passage as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Kennedy spearheaded efforts to remove barriers to education for women, people of color, and Americans with disabilities, supporting legislation to combat discrimination and create greater access to financial assistance for higher education.

Kennedy was a key supporter of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created Head Start. Over the past 45 years, 25 million children have participated in Head Start programs. Early Head Start, sponsored by Kennedy in 1994, serves infants and toddlers in low-income families, helping ensure they will be ready for success in school.

Kennedy led several reauthorizations and changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and sponsored the Star Schools Program Assistance Act in 1987, to increase investment in math and science.

Kennedy was also a major supporter of the Pell Grants program and direct federal lending to help students pay for college.

At its 2000 Representative Assembly, the National Education Association named Kennedy the recipient of its annual Friend of Education award.

One of Kennedy’s signature issues was health care, and he spent his career fighting to ensure all people had access to quality care, regardless of income. Kennedy sponsored health care reform bills such as the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act of 1986 and the Children’s Health Insurance Program of 1997.

In 1996, Kennedy sponsored the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which ensures access to health care coverage for an estimated 25 million Americans who move from one job to another, are self-employed or have pre-existing medical conditions.

Despite his illness, Kennedy continued to push this year for a bill that would ensure access to quality health care for all, a concept supported by the NEA.

"His leadership and lifetime of experience are needed now more than ever, and he will be greatly missed,” Van Roekel said.



Sen. Ted Kennedy Speaks at Workers Rights Rally

Sen. Ted Kennedy Speaks at Workers Rights Rally
NEA joined Sen. Kennedy and other union activists in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which protects workers rights to organize and join a union without harassment or retaliation from employers. December 2006



  • anc_dyn_linksNEA: Kennedy was a friend to children and public education
  • anc_dyn_linksNEA Supports the Kennedy-Dodd Health Care Reform Bill
  • anc_dyn_linksEducation Activists Rally for Health Care


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