Stories from the Field

Building a Bright Future for Public Education: Five Questions for Mickey Ibarra

Building a Bright Future for Public Education: Five Questions for Mickey Ibarra


Mickey Ibarra is a longtime public education advocate, president of the Ibarra Strategy Group in Washington, DC, and chairman of Latino Leaders Network. He served as assistant to the president and director of The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Clinton Administration. Previously he spent 13 years at National Education Association headquarters serving in political affairs and government relations. Mr. Ibarra believes strongly in the importance of public education and supporting educators. Reflecting those beliefs, he is also a new legacy donor to The NEA Foundation.

You’ve had many different jobs working in public education – including at NEA and in the White House – and began your career as an educator. What drew you to working in the classroom?

I became interested in teaching and public service after learning about civic engagement and government in high school. My high school teacher, Mr. Steinberg, taught me about the importance of being involved in community life. And so, I attended local school board and city council meetings. And then I saw (Democratic presidential candidate) Hubert Humphrey speak in 1968. Those experiences inspired me to pursue a career of service, so I started my career as a teacher in Spanish Fork, Utah. My experience teaching in a high school for at-risk students there helped give me an important foundation for a career spent serving others.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned in your professional life advocating for public education and educators?
It’s never enough to be right – believing you are doing the best thing for educators and to be on the side of justice and equity is insufficient to create change. We must continue to advocate and help others to advocate for public education. It takes all of us standing up for access to a quality education for all students, standing up for teachers to receive the compensation and resources they deserve, and for others to have the opportunities to lead and contribute as I’ve had.

Public education is the pathway to success for so many. Because of public education, I was able to have experiences in life that I never would have dreamed possible when I was growing up in Utah foster care for most of the first 15 years of my life. Working for a president and on behalf of millions of educators is just not something that I saw as a realistic or attainable goal.

Why is it important that The NEA Foundation continue to serve educators and the cause of public education?
So much has changed in public education since I started my career serving as a college intern at NEA nearly 50 years ago. What hasn’t changed is that outstanding educators need to be celebrated as the valued public servants they are and need to be supported to ensure they have access to the essential resources they need to succeed. The NEA Foundation helps play that critical role in our society.

What inspired you to become a donor to The NEA Foundation?
The Foundation’s commitment to serving and uplifting educators makes a big difference. I like being a part of and contributing to an organization that shines a light on educators, provides important resources to them, and helps educators to learn together and from one another. That’s why I’ve been a steadfast supporter of the Salute to Excellence in Education—and that’s why I’ve made a gift through my will to benefit The NEA Foundation. Through my legacy gift, I am paying it forward for a new generation of educators.

Why should other supporters of public education consider making a gift to The NEA Foundation?
The NEA Foundation’s work to help ensure a quality education for all speaks to me and my life experiences. Without public education, I would not have had any of the opportunities in life that I’ve been fortunate to have – working at NEA and at The White House as a senior aide to the president of the United States. I want to give to an organization that is truly making an impact. That’s why I am so proud to be able to make a gift through my will to benefit The NEA Foundation. It’s a very meaningful investment to me and will help further the Foundation’s excellent work. People like me, people who are passionate about public education, should consider investing in its future to help ensure it’s a bright future. I encourage everyone to support the work of The NEA Foundation. Together, we make the difference.

To learn more about making a legacy gift to The NEA Foundation, click here or contact Kate Gibney at 202.822.7623 or via email at