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Est. April 5, 2002
April 11, 2019 - Issue 784

Public Education
2020 Dem Presidential Candidates

"The signature efforts to advance publicly-funded
private school vouchers, corporate charter schools,
and other public school privatization initiatives
occurred while Democrats were in control of the
House, the Senate, and/or the U.S. Presidency."

K-12 Public Education is slowly becoming a factor in the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination contest. Sen. Kamala Harris has made the biggest splash with her proposal for a massive raise for teachers, universal preschool, and debt free college education. But the Democratic Party has long been engaged in an awkward political balancing act between the charter schools and labor movements, who fund its candidates but who war with each other over public school privatization. Other 2020 presidential candidates—Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders have also attempted to wrap themselves with the cloak of public education.

Past Democratic candidates have done the two-step in their attempts to play both sides against each other. Sen. Gillibrand, a political chameleon, has been on all sides at once: from a lapdog for Bill and Hillary Clinton to retrospectively stating that Bill should have resigned his Presidency during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; from an NRA supporter to one of its fiercest rivals; and from a charter school supporter to an opponent. But her political grifting appears to have run into a wall after she led the effort to force the resignation of former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) after a #Me Too accusation while turning a blind eye to ongoing sexual harassment in her Senate office.

Public education is emerging as a signature issue as the Democratic base is skewing progressive since its 2018 retaking of the House. Currently, teacher and labor unions seem to be carefully assessing the 2020 candidates as there have been few moves to jump on board early with a candidate after the 2016 Hillary fiasco, with the possible exception of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who is urging Joe Biden to enter the race. Teachers are under immense pressure from Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s recently proposed $5 billion tax credit for school choice, which would fund private and religious schools, and her failed efforts to slash funding for special education and the Special Olympics.

The unions are also re-assessing the deployment of their political contributions as the 2020 presidential election could be the most consequential for the survival of the labor union movement. During previous Democratic victories and defeats at the presidential, Senate, and House levels, candidates have been able to stick their fundraising hands in the pockets of liberal and conservative Super PACs, Wall Street financiers, and labor unions while pushing policies that were antithetical to the stability of public education. The signature efforts to advance publicly-funded private school vouchers, corporate charter schools, and other public school privatization initiatives occurred while Democrats were in control of the House, the Senate, and/or the U.S. Presidency.

They advanced school choice to unprecedented heights, nationally and locally, and the negative results have manifested themselves in teachers’ rallies against legislatures in Republican - and Democratically-controlled states and contemporary teacher strikes in Arizona, California, Colorado, and West Virginia; walkouts in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia; and rallies in Georgia and Virginia.

Fundraising among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates has had to be recalibrated within the context of the increasingly progressive stance of the Democratic base. Thus, they have had to decline to take money from PACs conservative Wall Street banks, the oil and gas industry, and other right-wing corporate contributors. The reported first quarter fundraising totals for viable 2020 candidates, who have met the debate requirements, are: $18.2 million for Sen. Bernie Sanders, $12 million for Sen. Kamala Sanders, $9.4 million for former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, $7 million for Mayor Pete Buttigieg, $5.2 million for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and $5 million for Sen. Cory Booker.

Sen. Warren, who has eschewed big dollar and Super PAC donations, lost her longtime finance director as a result of this decision. Sen. Booker has been especially hurt by going on a fundraising diet form Wall Street and other corporate givers and Super PACs who have contributed over a billion dollars to his political campaigns since 1998. He is in a quandary because his traditional backers are also less ecstatic in in their support due to his pandering to teachers and labor unions after a career of being one of their sternest critics. He has made a career off of attacking K-12 public education, teachers and labor unions.

The aforementioned 2020 Democrats are being forced to pursue small dollar patrons as they are being closely watched by their erstwhile Democratic backers. Therefore, there is likely to be a major shakeout early on in the campaign for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. With the current makeup of the House and the Democratic Party, it is unlikely that the previous double-dealing stratagems will survive the political passions of the new Democratic constituencies as the Trump administration has launched an all-out assault on Democratic programs and policies.

The change in the Democratic paradigm will have a major impact on who is the ultimate victor in the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary. However, Democrats still need to get on the same page as to their agenda for 2020. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ citizens will be endangered by a Trump reelection, and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ receipt of the Democratic nomination offers a strong possibility for this to happen. And to date, none of the 2020 declared Democratic aspirants have distinguished themselves to be a formidable opponent to Trump.

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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