Democratic POTUS candidates must choose between parents and unions

By Larry Sand
December 3, 2019

Sanders stands firm on the issues; Warren and Booker are chameleon-like; Biden is meh.

As I wrote in May, several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls were tripping over each other in an effort to secure the endorsement of the teachers unions. These candidates were most pointed in criticizing any form of school choice. Bernie Sanders assured us that charter schools “are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.” Elizabeth Warren, also ignoring the fact that charters are public schools, exclaimed, “Money for public schools should stay in public schools; it should not go anywhere else.” Cory Booker, while still mildly pro-charter insisted that he had turned against vouchers when he became mayor of Newark in 2006.

But minorities, the greatest beneficiaries of school choice are fighting back. Most recently, while talking about racism at a stump speech in Atlanta, Elizabeth Warren was thrown for a loop when a group wearing t-shirts reading “Powerful Parent Network” stood up in the bleachers and chanted “Our children, our choice,” to protest her plan to end federal funding for charter schools. Apparently rattled, the senator from Massachusetts veered off into a pro-reparation pitch in an attempt to placate the crowd. Additionally, unable to dance away when later confronted by charter school parent-activist Sarah Carpenter over her plans to defund charters, Warren sniffed that her plan “may need improvement.”

Warren should have known better. While she is busy trying to secure the endorsement from the teachers unions, she is alienating many who might normally vote for her. A recent Democrats for Education Reform poll revealed that 58 percent of black Democratic voters view charters favorably, while just 31 percent oppose, and 52 percent of Hispanics are in favor with just 30 percent against. An Education Next poll came up with similar numbers.

In addition to Warren’s flip-flopping, her serial lying is not helping her. After being outed as a Caucasian, (not the Cherokee she swore she was), she was recently caught fibbing about where she sent her kids to school. She maintained that both went to public schools, which is a half-truth at best. They did go to public schools…except when they didn’t. A recent exposé by Cato Institute scholar Corey DeAngelis showed that Warren sent her son Alex to an expensive private school in the 1980s. Warren also used to be ardently pro-school choice. “Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools,” Warren wrote in her 2004 book, “The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke.”

Cory Booker is no better. As a sop to the unions, he began hedging on charters in May, and railed against vouchers in an interview with The Washington Post in September. In fact, as Newark mayor Booker was famously pro-charter. Moreover, but he once served with union bête noire Betsy DeVos on the board of her pro-voucher group, the American Federation for Children, which he deemed an “incredible organization.”

So maybe he evolved, right? Well, not exactly. He is currently a co-sponsor of a Senate bill to reauthorize Washington D.C.’s school voucher program, legislation he signed onto in February after announcing his bid for president. Are you dizzy yet?

The unions could, of course, turn to Bernie Sanders, whose stand on parental choice hasn’t wavered and his Medicare for All scheme has been a union favorite, but there is an issue with the latter. In August, Sanders was asked if his Medicare plan would take away workers’ rights to bargain for medical benefits. Sanders shot back, “Yeah absolutely it would!” and added “It’s not a bad thing.”

In fact, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten certainly thinks it’s a bad thing. She maintains that there still should be a private option, but Sanders ain’t budging. A game changer? Maybe not. It didn’t stop the socialist leaders in the L.A. teachers union from endorsing Comrade Bernie a few weeks ago.

At the end of the day, Democrats are risking a lot by courting the teachers unions. Sure, they will get tons of cash, free ads and an army of teachers ready to hit the streets. But they will lose the support of many minority parents who don’t want to surrender their ability to choose where to send their kids to school. And parents are becoming more organized. Groups like the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, started by longtime school-choice warrior Howard Fuller, are popping up.

The candidates would do well to remember what happened in Florida in 2018. Republican pro-choice candidate Ron DeSantis defeated Andrew Gillum who, if elected, promised to try to eliminate Florida’s wildly popular tax credit scholarship program. It was a very close race, and as The James Madison Institute’s William Mattox wrote, about 100,000 African-American women unexpectedly chose DeSantis over the black Democratic candidate. In a close election, “school choice moms” apparently gave the Republican a narrow victory.

Joe Biden, who has laid low on school choice issues, remains the Democrat frontrunner, according to the latest polling. As Obama’s vice-president, he was strongly identified as being pro-charter, but now he is pretty much MIA on the issue. It remains to be seen which side he will lean toward when pressed to do so.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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