- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday released an $800 billion public education plan that would zero out federal funding for new charter schools, amid a rift on the issue with black and Hispanic activists who say Democrats are abandoning them by denying school choice.

Government support of charter schools has become a lightning rod for Democrats in recent years, pitting key party constituencies — minorities and teachers unions — against each other in many cases.

At an event In Iowa, Ms. Warren vowed to appoint an education secretary who would “make sure that black students, that Latinx students, that Native American students, that all students are getting a first-rate education in this country.”

“Public education is for everyone, and I believe in it,” said Ms. Warren, a senator from Massachusetts whose proposals for big spending on new benefits for Americans has made her a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Critics say key elements in the plan give a clear nod to the wishes of powerful’ unions like the American Federation of Teachers, which have criticized the expansion of charter schools.

The plan also would ban for-profit charter schools, tighten transparency and accountability requirements for existing charter schools, and direct the IRS to investigate “nonprofit” schools that might be violating their statutory requirements.

Steve Perry, a prominent charter school advocate, said Ms. Warren was sympathizing more with “the overwhelmingly white and largely female teaching profession.”

“She doesn’t identify with the poor, minority mothers who need access to school choice,” said Mr. Perry, who holds a doctorate in education. “Especially black people, in particular, you are damning their life. And she’s saying, ‘Yep, that’s what I’m going to do. But my sisters will be able to keep their jobs, and we’ll make sure that we get you $15 an hour and we’ll make sure that when you do go to prison, we’ll work to decrease their sentence time.’”

Ms. Warren vowed that as president she would combat desegregation and end discrimination in schools based on income level and race.

Her plan would quadruple Title I funding for high-poverty schools by providing an additional $450 billion over the next 10 years. She would pay for that and other priorities through her “wealth tax” on assets worth more than $50 billion.

States could use funds to “promote residential and public school integration, including through the use of public magnet schools,” according to the proposal.

Ms. Warren also promised to strengthen the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban racial discrimination in programs that receive federal funding and impose additional scrutiny on wealthier, whiter “breakaway” school districts that attempt to separate from minority-heavy districts.

But her position on charter schools puts her at odds with public opinion on the issue, said John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group.

“It’s clearly a litmus test for the teachers unions to be opposed to school choice,” Mr. Schilling said.

“Essentially, if charters are to exist, she wants them to be clones of the traditional public schools that those families seek to escape,” he said. “Latinos and African-Americans — and millennials — are overwhelmingly supportive of educational options.”

In her 2004 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” Ms. Warren voiced support for a publicly funded voucher program that would let low- and middle-income families choose schools for their children rather than get trapped in a failing system.

Her team said she supported the idea of letting children attend different public schools and never supported the kinds of private school vouchers that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and others have advocated.

Still, Ms. Warren talked up some charter schools as recently as 2016, though she did oppose a ballot item in Massachusetts that would have expanded charter schools in the state, said Charles Barone, chief policy officer at the group Democrats for Education Reform.

“It’s super disappointing, particularly for a politician who’s trying to sell herself based on authenticity and being principled,” Mr. Barone said. It “may get blowback from parents of color who are disproportionately represented among those who choose to send their kids to public charter schools.”

Ms. Warren also would push to ban the use of “high stakes” standardized testing as a primary factor in determining whether to close a school or fire a teacher. That stance is likely to be popular with teachers groups that oppose tying test scores to performance evaluations.

The National Education Association and AFT, the two leading teachers unions in the U.S., lauded the overall plan.

“It categorically rejects the DeVos agenda to divert much-needed resources from our public schools by rejecting for-profit charters and vouchers of any form,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten has said charter schools aren’t as popular as some would believe. She cited polling from PDK International, an educators group, which showed close to 80% of parents wanted their tax dollars spent on public schools and not alternatives.

The AFT, NEA and other education groups have not endorsed any candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, though the political arms of each group have spent at least $10,000 on Ms. Warren’s behalf in the past, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ms. Warren and her rivals are intensely courting the support of teachers unions, whose longtime support for Democratic candidates is often felt more in organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts at election time than it is through direct financial contributions.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont called for an end to for-profit charter schools in his K-12 education plan, which also included a halt to federal funding for new charter schools.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, whose K-12 plan didn’t specifically touch on charter schools, supported the Obama administration’s efforts on expanding them. But he condemned charter schools at a recent event with Ms. Weingarten.

“The bottom line is it siphons off money for our public schools, which are already in enough trouble,” he said.

Mr. Schilling said the candidates might be trying to make up ground after Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California released a $315 billion education plan in March intended to give the average teacher a $13,500 raise. Ms. Warren’s plan also gave a nod to increased pay for teachers.

“That was a mighty large opening shot, and I think the others may be trying to catch up,” Mr. Schilling said.

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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