In the first draft of this article, I called Sonya Mehta a “Charter School Lobbyist” in the title. On further examination of the facts, I realize this is unfair. She was a charter school TEACHER. I apologize to Ms. Mehta and truly regret any harm I have done her. I have changed the title to better reflect the facts. However, be advised that the text of the article, itself, has remained almost completely unchanged. Everything in the article is true to the best of my knowledge and backed up with sources that the reader can see by following the links in the text. My concern remains centered on Warren and what exactly her intentions are via education policy.
The biggest news from Elizabeth Warren’s rally in Oakland, California, on Friday wasn’t what she said.
It was who introduced her and what that says about Warren and her 2020 Presidential campaign.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Warren was introduced by Sonya Mehta, a former Oakland schoolteacher.”
However, this characterization is inaccurate.
Mehta was not an authentic public school teacher. She taught in a non-union charter school called “Learning Without Limits.” She also was a policy fellow at GO Public Schools Oakland, which is a toxic charter promoter focused around that city.
In her introduction, Mehta didn’t explicitly advocate for school privatization. She promoted Warren’s early education and free college policies (Her speech can be seen here beginning at 57:30). But why would Warren, one of the smartest and most knowledgeable candidates in the race for the White House, let herself be associated with such a divisive and toxic legacy?
Only 6% of all U.S. students attend charter schools, yet with little accountability, selective enrollment, and the ability to pocket taxpayer money as profit, they cannibalize the funding necessary for the 90% that attend authentic public schools.
Warren should know better than this. Along with Bernie Sanders, Warren sits on the Senate Education Committee (HELP – Health, Education, Labor, Pensions).
So the question is this: was this a mistake made by her campaign staff or is this indicative of where Warren is on education policy?
She has said some very positive things in this campaign, not the least of which is that if elected, she would nominate someone with teaching experience as Secretary of Education.
But if Mehta is what she thinks an authentic teacher looks like, we are in big trouble.
We don’t need another Betsy Devos or Arne Duncan clone who just so happens to have taught at a regressive charter school. In fact, we already had that, too, in John King.
Sadly, that’s not even where the story ends.
Warren’s senior education policy advisor is Josh Delaney, a Teach for America temp who turned a 5-week crash course in education into two years in the classroom and then a career as an “expert” on our schools.
This is simply not acceptable for anyone courting education voters.
You can’t go to Oakland, a city which just experienced a massive teacher strike caused by school privatization, and then let yourself be introduced by someone with ties to school privatization!
Go Public Schools Oakland, the organization Mehta is associated with, is the major charter organization in city battling the union.
Who knows if Warren was intending to take sides on this issue, but she certainly seems to be signaling that if she did, it might not be with parents, teachers and students. It could be with the hedge fund billionaires backing school privatization.
How can she be so strong against these same people when it comes to Wall Street and economic inequality but appear completely ignorant (at best) or disingenuous (at worst) when it comes to school policy?
A look at Warren’s stated education policies over her history in public life doesn’t exactly calm the waters, either.
According to the Network for Public Education, Warren holds some regressive views when it comes to our schools.
The non-profit gives her a C on charter schools.
She has spoken out against some of the worst excesses of the industry, but supports the concept of schools that are publicly financed but privately operated.
In 2016 Warren strongly opposed lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. In 2017, Senator Warren expressed deep concern regarding the “waste, fraud, and abuse of federal money” at the hands of for-profit charter schools and charter school management organizations.
Unfortunately, she also praised the charter industry:
“Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools.”
Warren earned a B for her stance on school vouchers.
She had the courage to criticize DeVos, but her history with the concept of using public money to finance private education is complicated.
In a 2017 letter to DeVos, prior to her confirmation as Secretary of education, Senator Warren said the evidence on private school vouchers is “mixed at best” and called them “expensive and dangerous failures that cost taxpayers billions of dollars while destroying public education systems.”
However, back in 2003, she seems to have thought differently. She wrote a book with her daughter called “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke.” In it, she makes a case for a universal school voucher program. She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial. This would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”
Later she said she never meant those vouchers to be used at private schools, but that is unclear from the text.
However, as spotty as Warren’s history is on school privatization, it is much worse when it comes to high stakes testing.
The Network for Public Education gives her a F on this issue.
In 2015, as Congress debated rolling back high stakes testing requirements that have unfairly assessed students for decades and used test scores as an excuse to deny poor and minority students the resources they need to succeed, Warren demanded testing stay in place. Along with three Democratic senators endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a lobbyist organization for the testing and school privatization industry, she insisted on stronger accountability measures based on testing to gain their support for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Let me be clear: none of this is intended to be a purity test.
If the only candidate we can support is a perfect one, we will never find any politician to support.
But Warren has to make a decision whose side she is on.
At very least, she needs to come out and make a public statement clarifying her views here. She needs to say that she does not support charter schools or vouchers. Shouldn’t every Democratic candidate who wants the votes of educators do that?
Watch the whole rally here. Mehta’s introduction begins at 57:30.
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