It is an eerie, almost nauseous feeling for me when I find myself nodding and agreeing and even saying “Amen” in response to words coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth. But alas, that’s what happened to me late last week during his long awaited education speech. He championed school choice and charter schools and expressed a commitment to ensuring that every child living in poverty have the option to attend a quality school of their parents’ choosing.
“As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.”
I do not like the messenger but I sure as heck like the message. And God knows it’s long overdue that one of our current presidential candidates says it. But why did it have to be him?
She’s Just Not ‘All In’ Anymore
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton (a long time champion of school choice) has undergone a depressing transformation on the issue of K-12 education; rather than champion charter schools and parent choice like she used to, she has begun inserting union talking points into every speech that touches on education. She certainly deserves credit for telling an audience of teachers at a union in event in New York that schools should be learning from charters’ best practices (and was booed for it) but no one can deny that she’s been uncharacteristically guarded on an issue that used to be passion for her.
She was in a sense trying to have it both ways and walk a fine line. What I mean by both ways: She was trying to certainly agree with those of us who believe in charters…she has already been in support of charters…but at the same time she was trying to recognize the support that she has from teachers unions. She was trying to walk that very fine line. – Roland Martin in The 74
Randi Weingarten’s fingerprints are all over this new watered down and talking-point-heavy version of Hillary Clinton. And that is a damn shame.
It’s a shame because unlike Donald Trump, Hillary knows education. She is smart on the issue and when she isn’t campaigning for president, she has been unequivocal about her support for children having access to all kinds of quality school options.
She probably wishes she could say what he said.
Well, I think she can. And she should.
You Picked the Wrong School, Donald
Trump doesn’t know the first thing about education. (His Vice president, Mike Pence, certainly does.) But it doesn’t bode well for anyone that of all the places his campaign could have chosen for the speech, they chose a poorly performing for-profit charter school in Ohio. The most recent state report card gives the school an ‘F.
Seriously. He spoke from a podium inside a school that many charter supporters, myself included, would potentially support closing down. For-profit charters hurt the sector and they create a disincentive for high performing non-profit charters to come to town. Who wants to be upstaged by a non-profit achieving far better results for kids? Oversight and authorization is often bad, accountability nonexistent, priorities misplaced, and outcomes for kids are weak. The strongest charter sectors are in states that have passed laws prohibiting for profit charter schools to open; Massachusetts is a prime example. Michigan on the other hand is a mess in large part because its charter sector is dominated by for-profit entities.
Detroit is the poster child for why strong accountability systems are essential when it comes to educating children. And they are a strong argument for why for-profit charter schools do not belong in the education space. (Detroit Schools Rock, 8/2/16)
So while Donald said lots of the right things, he doesn’t have any real depth of understanding. Hillary does.
And that’s the saddest part. She gets it but won’t say it. He doesn’t get it but is saying it.
And that is frustrating.
They’re in the Bag
While conventional wisdom knows that union endorsements rarely come without strings attached, this presidential campaign is anything but conventional. Does anyone actually think that the AFT or NEA are going to throw their support to Donald Trump? And the primary is over. What’s the danger in Hillary countering Trump’s unapologetic enthusiasm for school choice with something equally bold and appealing not only to parents but also to Republican and Independent voters who are already considering throwing their support to her? Or to the black community where support for school choice is overwhelming, currently polling at 70 percent? Or to millennial voters where support reaches over 80 percent among Democrats in some states?
A move closer to her former education self would also appeal to people like me who are Independents, vote largely on education issues, and would never consider casting a ballot for Donald Trump. I understand the concern that she’d lose union support but I reject the notion that union members or leaders will break for Trump for any reason in November. She’s in the safe zone on that.
It’s high time that Hillary Clinton shake off the union shackles on this issue and regain her prominence as a leader in education, a supporter of parent choice, and a believer in high expectations in every classroom.
She can do this. She can go all in.
It’s a Trend
Hillary isn’t alone. There is a trend of Democrats tying themselves up in knots on the issue of school choice. We have watched far too many elected leaders literally become shells of their former selves because they’ve allowed the unions’ promises of money and votes to compromise their long-held principles. And their integrity.
If there’s one reason to respect and admire President Barack Obama and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, it is their unwavering courage in defying union influence and standing strong on the side of low-income children and their parents when it comes to education.
So, this is my plea to Hillary Clinton, who has shown herself to be the only candidate running for president who is informed on issues and can behave like an adult consistently:
Don’t let him upstage you on education. Don’t let him appeal to parents desperate for better school options. Don’t let Randi Weingarten boss you around.
We know you agree with him on the importance of parents having choices.
So say it. Say it louder and better and smarter.
America will be better for it and you’ll still get Randi’s vote.