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Est. April 5, 2002
February 14, 2019 - Issue 776

Teachers Have to Examine
Public Education Credibility
2020 Democratic Candidates

"Prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidates appear
to be lukewarm allies of teachers and other progressive issues. 
Educators will have to take their measure as they have a year
before voting in the Democratic primaries begins."

The number of 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates is growing like weeds, with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren having formally entered the race since last week. Several others are on their way. Of those who have announced, or are on the verge of doing so, let’s examine a few more on their public education and progressive street cred.

Sen Kirsten Gillibrand has reinvented herself from a center-right leaning Democrat who had previously received a 100% ranking from the National Rifle Association (NRA). She functioned as a surrogate of the Clintons while running for Congress and angling for her appointment to the U.S. Senate, and like the Clintons, Gillibrand played footsie with the charter school lobby. Originally against same-sex marriage, she evolved to embrace it as Democrats and the nation began to move toward approval. Gillibrand has kept her finger continually in the air to follow the winds of political change.

After the Democratic Party’s turn to the left during the Kavanaugh hearings and before the 2018 midterms, she denounced Bill Clinton, saying he should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Gillibrand was then born again as an advocate for gun control after having been an avid public sponsor of gun rights. She then started to promote criminal justice reform and other progressive issues. Gillibrand quickly pledged her backing to Denver, Colorado teachers who went on strike earlier this week. It is ironic that one of the key issues driving the walkout was their opposition to the increase in charter schools.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been a low key backer of charter schools and national standardized testing, which the vast majority of teachers resist, while expressing her overall endorsement of public education since her mother was an elementary school teacher. She is also an avid champion of STEM education. In 2017, Klobuchar went to the floor of the Senate to argue against the nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education taking a stand in concert with teachers.

Like Sen. Cory Booker, she used this opportunity to endear herself to teachers in an effort to expand her base of support while she contemplated a run for president. Klobuchar has walked a tightrope on charter schools in Minnesota which was one of the cradles for their development and expansion.

In California, Sen. Kamala Harris announced her run for president at a huge rally of more than 25,000 people more than a week ago. She has expressed her support for teachers, chronicled her fight against charter schools, and has advocated higher pay for teachers. But she has been silent on her aggressive anti-truancy policy that she implemented during her term as California’s Attorney General. The policy fined parents for their children’s excessive school absences that had a particularly harsh impact on poor parents, leading to it being rescinded.

No such program had been implemented at the state level since Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson spearheaded a ‘learnfare initiative’ in Wisconsin during the early 1990s as part of his welfare reform package. But her sternest challenge may be explaining her contributions to mass incarceration of minority males with her support of draconian prosecutions and three strikes sentencing reforms. In addition, she refused to acknowledge a prosecutor’s manufacture of evidence in a highly controversial trial and conviction.

Harris has to be fearful of noted criminal justice professor, columnist, and mass incarceration expert, Michelle Alexander. Alexander’s revealing essays and public statements on Hillary Clinton’s labeling of young black males as super-predators, and her support of President Clinton’s Crime Bill, depressed black male turnout and votes for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2016, contributing to Hillary’s narrow losses in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin which made Trump president. If Atty. Alexander critically examines Sen. Harris’s complete record as California Attorney General and as District Attorney of San Francisco, enthusiasm for her campaign may be dampened.

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is likely to announce his presidential candidacy in the very near future, has spoken eloquently about the need for additional funding for K-12 public education and the professionalization of teachers. Yet he has been strangely silent about public charter schools. His wife Amy, an ardent charter school advocate, has served as superintendent of a public charter school in El Paso, Texas.

In the meantime, Beto has steadfastly avoided taking public positions on charters while Amy has “… showcase(d) El Paso to charter school networks that might consider the region for expansion.” Amy and Beto apparently share the same fondness for charter schools as does his 2018 opponent for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. They seemingly have dual allegiances—to the Cartel of private-sector education reformers and the national teachers unions. Will they continue to work the public and private sides of the educational aisle if he runs for President of the United States?

Thus far, prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidates appear to be lukewarm allies of teachers and other progressive issues. Educators will have to take their measure as they have a year before voting in the Democratic primaries begins.

With the aggressive assaults on teachers by public school privatization advocates at the state and federal levels, it is imperative that teachers carefully vet the contestants. If they choose unwisely, then they will aid and abet their own professional and economic destruction. Teachers need to pay close attention to contenders’ records on public education and progressive matters before making their final choice. They will be the linchpins as to whether a Democrat can retake the White House.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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