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The biggest battle in the fight against privatization has been to persuade the Democratic Party that it had been hoaxed by Republicans into adopting the Republican agenda. According to this article in The Washington Post, Democratic support for charter schools has evaporated, at least among the candidates.
The title of the article is “Democrats abandon charter schools as ‘reform’ agenda falls from favor.” No one has more egg on their faces than the editorial board of the Washington Post, which loves charter schools and defends them at every turn.
Until 1993, Democrats supported equity and federal funding for public schools, while Republicans supported choice, testing, competition, and accountability.
Then Bill Clinton embraced charter schools, testing, standards, and accountability. Then came NCLB and it was endorsed by Ted Kennedy and the entire Democratic Party.
Then the Obama Race to the Top gave total support to the Bush NCLB approach of charters, testing, and harsh accountability, and Arne Duncan spent seven years parroting the Republican line that the best way to improve schools was to get tough on teachers, make tests harder, and open more charter schools.
According to the Washington Post, the Democratic love affair with charters is over.
The steady drumbeat of scandals and the vivid advocacy of Betsy DeVos have killed the Democrats’ charter love.
Suddenly, the Democratic candidates for president seem to have realized that school choice is a Republican issue. Supporting the public schools that nearly 90% of all students attend is a Democratic issue.
This is awkward for Democrats like Governor Jared Polis of Governor and Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, all fans of charters.
Democrats have long backed charter schools as a politically safe way to give kids at low-performing schools more options. Many supported merit pay for the best teachers and holding schools accountable for test scores.
The presidential contest is proof that’s no longer the case.
If the candidates say anything about charter schools, it’s negative. Education initiatives boosted by the Bush and Obama administrations are nowhere to be found in candidate platforms.
Instead, the Democratic candidates are pitching billions of dollars in new federal spending for schools and higher pay for teachers, with few of the strings attached that marked the Obama-era approach to education.
It adds up to a sea change in Democratic thinking on education, back to a more traditional Democratic approach emphasizing funding for education and support for teachers and local schools. Mostly gone is the assumption that teachers and schools are not doing enough to serve low-performing children and that government must tighten requirements and impose consequences if results do not improve.
As a senator, Joe Biden said private school vouchers might help improve public schools. As vice president, he was atop an administration that made support for charter schools a requirement to access federal grant funding. But when asked about charters — privately run, publicly funded schools — during a recent forum with the American Federation of Teachers, Biden sounded a negative note.
“The bottom line is it siphons off money for our public schools, which are already in enough trouble,” he said….
Bernie Sanders thus far is the only candidate to call for an end to federal funding of charter schools. The safe position for Democrats is to oppose “for-profit” charters, while ignoring the fact that many “nonprofit charters” are operated by for-profit management corporations.
The story continues:
It’s an unsettling development for advocates of the structural changes that have fallen out of favor, and a sharp turn from where many Democrats were just a few years ago. Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had pushed a bipartisan drive for accountability, and charter schools were the answer for Democrats who opposed private school vouchers but wanted to offer other options to children — often children of color from low-income families — assigned to low-performing schools. They were important to some civil rights leaders and became a central plank in the drive for school accountability….
The American Federation of Teachers has been hosting candidate forums throughout the country, inviting contenders to spend a day with teachers and then answering questions town hall-style.
At the town hall with Biden last month, AFT President Randi Weingarten was so warm and complimentary that it left some with the impression she was laying the groundwork for an endorsement.
“Vice President Joe Biden was our north star in the last administration,” she said. “We didn’t always get along with the Obama administration positions on education, but we had a go-to guy who always listened to us.” She added: “He’s with us because he is us.”
During the Obama administration, the National Education Association was so angry it called forEducation Secretary Arne Duncan to resign, and the other big teachers union, the AFT, came close…
The shift underway has Democrats who support charter schools and related policies nervous. Democrats for Education Reform is circulating results of a poll that show support for charter schools is higher among African American Democrats than whites. But overall, the poll found just 37 percent of Democratic primary voters have a favorable view of charters.
Some like-minded Democrats are working on something they call the Kids New Deal, hoping to find a candidate to support it. The centerpiece of the proposal is to make children a “protected class” under the law, which would make it easier for them to file lawsuits challenging, for instance, tenure for teachers, on the grounds that it hurts children.
“The goal here is to outflank the teachers unions from the left and not from the right,” said Ben Austin, a longtime education restructuring advocate.
DFER is the hedge fund managers group created to persuade Democrats to act like Republicans and support privatization. It offered big money for candidates who swallowed their line. DFER was condemned by the state Democratic Party in both California and Colorado as a front for Wall Street and corporate interests.
Ben Austin is one of California’s most aggressive charter school proponents, having run the faux Parent Revolution, whose goal was to convert public schools to charter schools. He spent millions of dollars from Gates, Waltons, and other billionaires, but converted only one or two public schools. If he is behind the “Kids New Deal,”’it is probably another billionaire-funded privatization vehicle.
The great news in this article is that those who have warned Democrats to return to their roots and stop acting like Republicans have won the debate.