Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker dusted off his charter school credentials to show his support for school choice in an op-ed at The New York Times.
Of course, he has to first frame it as an attack on the Republican Party, because he's running for office, but nevertheless, Booker on Monday called for the Democrats to be more friendly to letting parents decide how their children would best be educated:
It is largely up to Democrats—especially those of us in this presidential primary race—to have a better discussion about practical K-12 solutions to ensure that every child in our country can go to a great public school. That discussion needs to include high-achieving public charter schools when local communities call for them.
Many public charter schools have proved to be an effective, targeted tool to give children with few other options a chance to succeed.
For-profit charter school schemes and the anti-public education agenda of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are hurting teachers, students and their families. Of course, we must fight back against these misguided and harmful forces. But we shouldn't let the worst actors distort this crucial debate, as they have in recent years.
Yes, he's still very much, like the other Democrats, attempting to make for-profit charter schools into some sort of educational whipping boy. It is true that some for-profit charters have been run as scams, but unlike public schools, parents can respond by yanking their kids out and local governments can even shut them down entirely. You won't see that happen with bad public schools.
The big point here, noted in the subhead of Booker's op-ed, is that the senator is calling out powerful interests within the Democratic Party itself who are trying to snatch school choice away from lower income parents. It's not DeVos who is stopping low-income city kids from attending the schools they want. As Booker writes:
As Democrats, we can't continue to fall into the trap of dismissing good ideas because they don't fit into neat ideological boxes or don't personally affect some of the louder, more privileged voices in the party. These are not abstract issues for many low-to-middle-income families, and we should have a stronger sense of urgency, and a more courageous empathy, about their plight.
Especially at this moment of crisis for our country, we must be the party of real solutions, not one that threatens schools that work for millions of families who previously lacked good educational options.
It's somewhat disappointing that Booker doesn't actually name names here. The "louder, more privileged voices in the party" are entrenched public education interests and unions who want to control where the money goes. When students go to charter schools, even public ones, the money that would go to establishment schools follows them. The fight against charter schools has never truly been about children's educations at all. It's about who gets to control the massive amounts of money that gets spent on education—the parents or the education unions. Booker is making it clear that parents are specifically not the "more privileged" voices in the party.
Booker could have been more courageous. His failure to actually call anybody in particular out shows just how much power the public education establishment has over the Democratic Party. Candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) know this and directly pander to the education unions by promising crackdowns on charter schools, even against the desires of parents to send their kids there.