Will Public Education Survive the 2020 Presidential Election?

Walter C. Farrell, PhD, Guest Columnist

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Whether they are Republicans or Democrats, the 2020 presidential election will test the will of teachers and other supporters of public education to hold the candidates accountable. In 2018, teachers, in a bipartisan effort, rebelled against Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures in several Red states–Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and West Virginia—forcing increases in teachers’ salaries and in funding for public education.

Now the challenge will be whether teachers will hold the 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates accountable for the current bottom-up push that is demanding that K-12 public education be revitalized and enhanced. These politicians and other Democratic political operatives have been quietly, and sometimes publicly, preying on teachers and other groups who make up the Democratic base.
Although a number of these Democratic candidates have released plans to overhaul K-12 public schools, a careful review of their records reveals that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Former Vice President Joe Biden has made no mention of his central role and advocacy for the historic Race to the Top (RTTT) legislation, spearheaded by the Obama Administration that exponentially boosted the number of charter schools throughout the nation. And nearly all of his fellow candidates endorsed it.

Thus it is paradoxical that these same individuals championed an educational policy—charter schools– that spurred the above-mentioned teacher strikes and protests and that mobilized teachers to vote for Democrats during the 2018 midterms. Sen. Cory Booker, perhaps the foremost surrogate for the school choice and public-sector privatization Cartel, along with Sen. Michael Bennett, continues to champion charter schools despite these contemporary political realities. Both have issued a resolution celebrating charter schools within the past month.

A casual look at Booker’s and Bennett’s campaign finance reports exposes the large number of Cartel members’ contributions to their respective political races. But the facts of the matter reveal that it has spread its money around to other 2020 contenders: Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders; Reps. John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Beto O’Rourke, Eric Swalwell, Seth Moulton, and Tim Ryan; Mayors Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Wayne Messam, and Bill de Blasio; and Govs. John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and Steve Bullock.

All have promoted charter schools and/or have flirted with other forms of public school privatization.
After reflecting on his past attitudes toward K-12 public education, gauging its contemporary support, and desiring to attract more teachers and voters of color to support his campaign, Sen. Sanders has put forth the most comprehensive plan, of any of his 2020 opponents, for investing in public education. He has been joined in his blueprint by Sen. Warren who has issued a number of policy papers that have impressed growing numbers of voters.

Included in the Sanders’ proposal are promises to: raise teacher pay to $60,000 annually, establish a national per-pupil spending floor, adopt school desegregation measures to combat rising segregation, equalize funding for poor and indigenous schools and those in Puerto Rico, triple Title I funding for districts with high numbers of poor students, invest billions in community schools and after school programs, make school meals free and universal, and to rebuild school infrastructure.

Therefore, teachers and other educators have a big decision to make. Will they forgive these political transgressions or will they narrow the field based on these findings? Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has already signaled that she is somewhat willing to give Cory Booker another chance, despite his assault on the Newark Teachers Union during his term as Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. However, she should remember that Booker conspired with then Republican Gov. Chris Christie in an attempt to destroy AFT’s largest New Jersey local.

In addition, the Cartel is backing a number of Democratic political consultants and elected officials who collaborate with and distribute money for its members to undermine other Democrats. It has created a number of organizations headed by majority and minority agents to undercut teachers and Democrats in general.

One of its beachheads is Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin which is widely considered the mecca of school choice and private-sector privatization. Modern day school choice—vouchers, charters, etc.—were piloted in Milwaukee and Wisconsin during the early 1990s and were diffused to other states.

The billion dollar Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, a key affiliate of the Cartel, was the primary financial backer of these initiatives in concert with Racine, Wisconsin billionaire Republican businesswoman, Diane Hendricks. She prompted Wisconsin’s former Republican Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate collective bargaining agreements for teachers early in his first term which she brought to his attention during his inauguration.

The Cartel and its associates recruited African American, white, and Hispanic politicians, activists, and clergy to carry its agenda. They have been so successful that Thad Nation, one of its white erstwhile surrogates and a Democrat, has secured the Host contract for the 2020 Democratic National Convention that will be held in Milwaukee. More recently, Nation attempted to install one of his lackeys as chair of Wisconsin’s State Democratic Party. He will be in a prime position to gather intelligence on Democrats’ 2020 political strategies.

Before securing the Host agreement, he collaborated with Wisconsin’s black state Sen. Lena Taylor and Hispanic state Rep. Pedro Colon to draft legislation (Wisconsin Senate Bill 405) to give Milwaukee’s Mayor Control of the Milwaukee Public Schools. Although that effort failed, Nation and Taylor succeeded in getting Castle Doctrine legislation passed in 2011which was modelled on Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law.

It justified George Zimmerman’s murder of a teenage African American male, Trayvon Martin, in Florida in 2012, and Wisconsin’s Castle Doctrine excused the killing of Bo Morrison, a black male, in Madison, Wisconsin that same year. Taylor has been a minority legislative lead sponsor and advocate for numerous right-wing bills for which she has been handsomely rewarded with political contributions from the Cartel and its allies. An examination of her campaign finance reports shows contributions from the Koch Bros. and other Cartel leaders.

Nation has been joined by former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, Joe Williams, whom the Cartel installed as Chair of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Education Reform Now (ERN) to lobby Democrats running for office to support school choice and public-sector privatization. DFER subsidized their campaigns across the country.

Williams has been lately replaced by Shavar Jeffries, a Cory Booker African American protégé, as chair of DFER. Jeffries was defeated in the election to succeed Booker as Newark, New Jersey’s Mayor in 2014. He was selected for two reasons: to make the organization’s overseer look less like a plantation master and more like the Democratic base and to give him a job and promote him again for future elective office.

This is what public education is facing as we head toward the 2020 presidential election. Again, if teachers and public education supporters do not take a strong hand in pruning the ‘DemoPublicans’ from the 2020 field, it will not matter whether a Democrat or Trump wins the White House. Either way, public education will likely be doomed to even more privatization and possibly dismantlement.