Recently, Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan to revitalize America’s K-12 education system. The problem? Her proposal replicates the exact policy model that precipitated American education’s historical decline.
Warren’s [education] proposal reflects the ever-widening disconnect between the Democratic Party and its crucial African American voting base.
It begins pretty simply: boost local education by funneling billions of dollars of funding from the federal level to states. The added kicker, however, is that Warren proposes to eliminate the Federal Charter School Program—a program created to incentivize new charter schools and support high-performance schools already in existence.
Warren’s proposal reflects the ever-widening disconnect between the Democratic Party and its crucial African American voting base. The data is irrefutable: black voters have consistently shown support for alternatives to public schools for over the past two decades. And this makes sense, given how failing public schools disproportionately affect minority communities.
As a graduate of Inglewood High School, in Southern California, I’ve experienced this first hand. Thankfully, my little sister didn’t have to attend the high school I did; a charter school opened up around the block. If Elizabeth Warren and the Democrats have their way, however, the same option will not exist in the future for families concerned about their child’s education.
THE DNC, UNION POLITICS, AND HOW BLACK KIDS GET LEFT BEHIND
Even with a solid track record of support among minorities, the charter school movement has never received much love from Democrats. This unwillingness to support alternative schooling can be attributed to the usual culprits: powerful Washington lobbies.
The dearth of support for parental choice at the national level is the result of lobbying by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). These, the two public sector teachers’ unions, have been long-standing opponents of standards and accountability measures that ensure tenured teachers are doing their jobs in the classroom. They staunchly opposed many of the reforms proposed by Obama when he threw his support behind Common Core and appointed Education Department Secretaries who were widely perceived as ‘reformists.’ Obama’s cautious reform efforts were the only time in recent history when national Democrats attempted to counter the NEA/AFT coalition.
Given the paucity of support for school choice among the Democratic nominees, it is an open question whether charter school supporters in the black community will continue to vote for Democrats.
The DNC’s capitulation to teachers unions over the issue of alternative schooling has generally gone unchecked. But when Elizabeth Warren announced her support for abolishing charter schools, many of those directly impacted by the proposal responded with fervor. Even Warren’s friends in the media have had to admit that the backlash is real. The Center for Education Reform released a statement blasting the presidential hopeful, saying, “this week is seeing Elizabeth Warren’s education stances go from disastrous to downright awful… She released a plan filled with failed policies of the past that puts narrow special interests over parents’ rights and student’s opportunities to succeed.”
Still, Black organizations known to back parental choice have yet to comment on Warren’s proposal—and their silence is deafening. In writing this story, I reached out to several well known ‘pro-school choice’ black organizations and public figures; none were willing to go on record with me to blast the plan. This includes DNC-friendly and black media figure, Roland Martin. I reached out to Roland because historically, he’s been a strong proponent of alternative schooling options given the empirically proven benefit for black students. But Martin refused to buck the DNC and defend school choice. These organizations and public figures may fear reprisal from the DNC for speaking out against Warren, but they’re equally fearful of angering unions.
Since the aftermath of Janus v. AFSCME, which weakened public-sector unions (even in non-right to work states) by requiring that employees represented by unions be given a choice before they are enrolled into the union, unions like the SEIU and AFSCME have demanded a harder line from political candidates to receive their endorsement. The NEA and AFT are very much part of that political cabal, and the candidates have responded to their demands with deference.
Of the highest-polling Democratic candidates, none are currently backing the charter school movement. Only Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard, both regarded as contrarian and unconventional figures by the left, have offered even a modicum of support: Yang wants good schools, of any kind, and Gabbard stopped short of supporting vouchers. Other candidates who previously supported charter schools—like Booker, Buttigieg, and Warren—have reversed their original position to appease the unions.
To many of his old supporters, Booker’s pullback has been particularly galling as a third of Newark school children are still enrolled in charter schools he helped establish. Unsurprisingly, these schools are performing better than the local public schools. Sanders, meanwhile, continues to be an opponent to charter schools and announced his plan to freeze funding for new charter schools in May. In an effort to eclipse him, Warren has gone the furthest by decrying her past support and calling for an end to funding for vouchers or any new charter schools, the elimination of tax credits for private schools, and the elimination of the Federal Charter School Program.
Given the paucity of support for school choice among the Democratic nominees, it is an open question whether charter school supporters in the black community will continue to vote for Democrats. If used to good advantage, this rift between black voters and Democrats could provide an opening for President Trump and the GOP to make inroads into a community that has not traditionally voted for them.
CONVERTING SUPPORT FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS INTO SUPPORT FOR TRUMP 2020
Many in think tanks are suggesting that after the primary, Democrats may shift to a more moderate position on parental choice and charter school programs. But, given the increasing radicalism among Democratic candidates, many of us aren’t so confident of that. The growing power of the left-wing Democrats has only emboldened their union allies to pursue more extreme demands—to repeal state right-to-work laws, increase pensions, and fight any efforts to demand accountability from teachers.
Millions have noticed the improvements offered by the charter school system, and want to protect and foster these schools. This is especially true for black families who do not want to see these gains jeopardized at the hands of politicians who have made deals with the teachers’ unions
Data from multiple states show that the expansion of charter schools is popular and positive, especially within minority communities. In California, over 650,000 children are enrolled in charter schools—that’s about 10.5% of all students in the state. According to an in-depth study from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), lower-income black students enrolled at charter schools gained an average of 36 additional days of learning in literacy and 43 extra days of learning in math versus those in traditional public schools. The data for Latino students showed 22 extra days of literacy and 29 additional days of math. Overall, minority students attending charter schools performed stronger than those attending the failing public school in the area.
In North Carolina, Black students are equally likely to attend charter schools as they are traditional public schools, but charters have about 35% more black teachers. This is according to a new study by Seth Gershenson, an associate professor of public affairs at American University in Washington. Parents being able to match their students with a black teacher is extremely sought after in the black community, and the little priority the Democratic Party gives this fact will not be without consequence.
Millions have noticed the improvements offered by the charter school system, and want to protect and foster these schools. This is especially true for black families who do not want to see these gains jeopardized at the hands of politicians who have made deals with the teachers’ unions to preserve the status quo.
This may be why many traditionally Democratic black voters have shown support for Republican candidates in recent races where they otherwise might not. For example, Ron DeSantis was able to win the Governorship of Florida by explicitly supporting a school choice agenda, winning the support of a significant number of black women against a black Democratic candidate. We’re seeing a similar revolution in Louisiana, where explicitly pro-school choice candidates have repeatedly won a majority on the State Board of Education, across the racial divide—a trend that will likely continue into the runoff.
MAKING CHILDREN-FIRST THE GOP 2020 PLATFORM
When reached for comment, Diante Johnson, President of the Black Conservative Federation, noted that “black parents who want the ability to choose an education would be remiss not to elect Republicans who empirically side with parents over teachers union.” He went on to add, “Besides criminal justice reform, education reforms have been the only other issue that has had bi-partisan support in the Trump era, but the nationalization of all issues have made the likelihood of that cooperation enduring much more fraught.”
The Democrats’ strategy of antagonizing school choice supporters to placate teacher unions provides a golden opportunity for the GOP and President Trump in 2020. More importantly, it demonstrates how the Democratic Party is out of touch with the millions of black voters who loyally turned up to vote for them, election after election. Their failure on the issue of school choice may be what fractures that loyalty once and for all.
Because believe it or not, parents—black or white—will put the interests of their children first.