Democratic contenders attempt to lock in teacher union endorsements to the detriment of taxpayers and the neediest students.
A full year before the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. This infuriated many teachers who preferred Bernie Sanders, rightfully feeling they had no role in the decision. So this time around, in order to get the AFT endorsement, a candidate will be subjected to strict scrutiny on the issues. The National Education Association will also vet the contenders thoroughly before it makes a decision on whom to support.
The unions’ choice will be the candidate who promises to throw the most money at education and who’ll do their best to eliminate competition from charter schools and other forms of school choice. The last factor would seem to shove Cory Booker off the bus. The former Newark mayor praised vouchers while speaking at the conservative Manhattan Institute in 2001. Even worse, he subsequently served with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on the board of directors of the Alliance for School Choice. He also spoke at events in 2012 and 2016 held by the American Federation for Children, an organization chaired by DeVos.
Joe Biden, despite being the current Democrat frontrunner, doesn’t have much union juice. His views on unions are more old-world and not geared to the more radical public employee sectors.
When Amy Klobuchar was grilled by AFT honchos, she told them that charter schools were okay if they meet high standards but she would focus her energies on improving (i.e. throwing more money at) traditional public schools. Tepid.
The Dems’ favorite blue-eyed Native American has focused on Betsy-bashing. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts referred to DeVos as “the worst Secretary of Education we’ve seen.” Then she offered that her successor should be someone who has worked as a school teacher. (Hmm. Both national teacher union presidents are former teachers. Ugly thought, I know.) In any event, I’m sure AFT president Randi Weingarten took note of Warren’s denigration of DeVos. Recently the union boss and DeVos wound up in Michigan together. Weingarten felt that, for some reason, DeVos had no right to be there at the same time, cruelly opining, “I know she’s stupid, but I can’t imagine she would be this stupid.”
Kamala Harris has been saying some very radical things, and given the times, should be considered a serious contender. In March, she claimed the U.S. is facing a teacher pay crisis, using the bogus claim that public school teachers earn “11 percent less than professionals with similar educations.” To address the situation, which Harris asserts is “creating disastrous consequences,” she is proposing to provide the average teacher with a $13,500 raise with states being forced to add $1 to the pot for every $3 the feds throw in. Then she warmed the cockles of every unionista heart in April when she said that, if elected, she would use her “executive authority” to ban right-to-work laws. This is especially wonderful news for the teachers unions because in Janus v AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that teachers and other public employees did not have to pay a union as a condition of employment. So it seems that Harris plans to turn SCOTUS into a subsidiary of the executive branch. To further expose her totalitarian tendencies, she has also promised to roll back the Second Amendment, thus negating part of the Constitution by fiat.
And then there is Bernie Sanders, the aforementioned favorite of many teachers in 2016. The senescent millionaire socialist from the nation’s whitest state has come up with the misnamed Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education. The screed hits all the typical teacher union talking points with a bulls-eye. He disses billionaires and hedge fund executives who support charter schools, which Sanders claims “are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.” His proposed charter moratorium, would anger the 58 percent of black Democratic voters who view charters favorably. Sanders won’t win too many taxpayer accolades either. As Carolyn Phenicie writes in The 74, his extravagant plan would add $74 billion a year to current federal education spending totals, more than doubling its current outlay of $71 billion a year. Additionally, to prove his bona fides as a member in good standing of the Betsy-bashing brigade, Sanders called DeVos “the worst Secretary of Education in the modern history of our country.”
Sanders’ authoritarian instincts have never been more on display, which earned him a thumbs-up from Randi Weingarten, who called his plan “inspiring.” Others were not so generous, however. Amy Wilkins, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says, “Sanders’s call is out of touch – as usual – with what African Americans want. More disturbing, the senator – for personal political gain – would literally lock African-American students into schools that have failed them for generations.”
Wilkins is correct, of course. As The Wall St. Journal’s Jason Riley notes, it is the traditional public school system, not the charters or other schools of choice, that disproportionately hurt minority students. “Black and brown kids are assigned to the most violent schools with the least effective teachers and staff, while the unions and their political allies repeatedly call for – and receive – more funding and little accountability.”
So while Sanders, Harris and the other ring-kissers are going after the union vote, they are alienating minorities, taxpayers, Constitutionalists and all freedom-loving people. And with the 2020 Democratic convention still over a year away, the race to the left has just begun.
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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.