Dear Commons Community,
Education Week has an article (sent to me by Maryann Polesinelli) speculating on whether Donald Trump will help or hurt the school choice movement and especially charter schools. While he is a major proponent of charter schools, his campaign comments and put-downs of minorities, women, and people with special needs have him in the crosshairs of most urban Democrats, some of whom such as Andrew Cuomo, support charter schools. Here is an excerpt:
“School choice advocates are waffling between excitement for potentially unprecedented new opportunities under a Donald Trump administration, and concern that the president-elect could also dramatically undermine the school choice movement.
Trump’s promise on the campaign trail to spend $20 billion on school vouchers for low-income students could herald a massive expansion of school choice—especially with his selection of an ardent school choice activist as his new education secretary. But the election’s polarizing outcome and Trump’s comments on race could also prove corrosive to the school choice movement’s increasingly tenuous claim to bipartisan support—in particular for charter schools.
More than half of the nearly 6 million students enrolled in the nation’s charter schools are black and Latino.
“It seems highly likely that there might be some increase for the federal [charter school] program. … We would applaud that. The problem is almost everything else,” said Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports charter schools and teacher merit pay.
Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos, a Republican mega-donor with a long record of championing vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and charter schools, also brought mixed reaction from the school choice community.
Jeffries expressed guarded optimism because of DeVos’ record of support on charter schools, but called on her to “push the President-elect to disavow” the bigoted and offensive rhetoric he used on the campaign trail toward racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.
“If charter school policy becomes primarily identified with Trump and his agenda, that could undermine the political viability of charter school policy with progressives and people of color for a generation,” Jeffries said….
But while Trump’s support may lead to major investments in school choice, some of his other policies, such as a nationwide stop and frisk program, and his comments on ethnic and religious minorities, could also poison the idea among key groups of charter school supporters and some Democrats.
This is an especially sensitive issue for charter school advocates, who carefully guard the movement’s status as a bipartisan issue.
“I think it feeds a narrative that choice is about privatization and conservative values,” said Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.
She’s concerned that while promoting his school choice plan, Trump was too harsh in describing traditional schools in urban districts.
“The support for charter schools relies on bipartisan support especially in big cities where choice is probably most needed,” Lake said “The people we work with are always treading a careful political and rhetorical line.”
It’s an issue charter advocates have had to wrestle with a lot lately, as the sector has taken some hard political hits.”
It remains to be seen how this evolves but money ($20 billion) may “trump” urban Democratic loyalties.