As a life-long Democrat, I’m so disappointed in my current presidential candidates, each of whom declined an invitation from Campbell Brown to attend an education summit in Iowa this month. Brown even offered to reschedule at a more convenient date to accommodate Hillary Clinton’s schedule, but no dice. Why?
“What happened here is very clear: The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told POLITICO. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind. … President [Barack] Obama certainly never cowered to the unions. Even if they disagree with the president’s reforms, you would think these candidates would at least have the courage to make the case.”
This interpretation of events – that pressure from AFT and NEA (who have both endorsed Hillary Clinton despite dissension from the rank and file) led to the boycott of the forum – was confirmed by AFT chief Randi Weingarten, a close friend of Clinton. (Weingarten is also a board member of Priorities USA, a super-PAC that supports Clinton’s campaign, and attends meetings of the Clinton Foundation, which receives regular contributions from AFT.)
“Campbell Brown is entitled to her opinion about public education, but the Democrats running for president — along with American voters — have a different vision,” Weingarten said. “Americans want great public schools for our kids and believe the way to get there is less testing, smaller class sizes, more funding, stronger curriculum, and recruiting, retaining and supporting great teachers. The ‘test, punish, and privatize’ strategy that Campbell backs hasn’t worked.”
Weingarten must have a pretty narrow view of “Americans.” She certainly doesn’t include in her inventory the thousands of children and parents (almost entirely minority) who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday to protest NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s regressive approach towards school choice, or the overwhelming preference among Newark families (almost entirely minority) who chose charter schools over traditional neighborhood district schools.
American Federation for Children executive counsel Kevin Chavous told Politico, “I see no difference between their strong-arm tactics on the Democrats and the gun lobby’s tactics on Republicans. And for the candidates to refuse even to discuss these issues, I think it’s insulting to the Democratic base of black and brown voters.”
How insulted are they? That’s the question that Richard Whitmire asked in his piece yesterday in USA Today regarding a potential (he thinks it’s pending) split among Democrats: suburban white upper-income voters who opt out of Common Core-aligned assessments because they don’t match their “perceived educational self-interests” and urban minority families who “want better school options.”
There’s grounds for this concern. Just recently in Los Angeles, Whitmire notes,
Charter co-founder Ref Rodriquez recently won a seat on the L.A. Unified board in what had to be the priciest and most bitter school board race in history.
In that race, the affluent white neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Los Feliz went for Rodriguez’s union-blessed opponent, the incumbent, while the Latino neighborhoods of the southeast cities, like Huntington Park and Bell, won the race for Rodriguez.
It was mostly about charter schools: Upper-income whites likely thought charter schools that mostly benefited Latinos were not in their interest.
How beholden is Clinton to AFT and NEA? Is she willing to embrace the priorities of minorities, who form a critical piece of her constituency?
“This is the stuff of class warfare,” Whitmire writes, “which again prompts that same presidential question: Would the parents in Huntington Park and Bell [the districts that voted for Rodriquez] hold their noses on objectionable Republican immigration positions and vote for better schools?
My hunch: Parents reliably vote for their kids’ future.
Democratic candidates ignore the escalating demand for school choice among minority voters at their own peril. One first step towards inclusiveness – maybe even toward victory — would be to attend Campbell Brown’s education forum.