What a slap in the face!
In California, 30,000 Los Angeles teachers are on strike because charter schools are gobbling up their funding without providing the same level of quality services or accountability.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, Sen. Cory Booker is giving the keynote address at a charter school rally.
That wouldn’t be surprising if Booker was a Republican.
Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a big time champion of school privatization over public schools.
But like LA Superintendent Austin Beutner, Booker – a New Jersey lawmaker – is supposed to be a Democrat.
The party is supposed to stand for social goods, doing what’s best for everyone not just the few.
However, when Booker gave the keynote address at the “Project LIVE & Achieve” Rally for Excellence today, he made it clear whose side he’s on. And it’s not parents, children or communities.
Organizers estimate 5,000 students from more than 20 city charter schools attended the rally instead of attending their classes.
Traditional public schools aren’t allowed to spend tax dollars or waste class time by forcing students to attend political rallies. But since charter schools like all of New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina don’t have to follow the same rules, this is your tax dollars at work.
The rally was hosted by InspireNOLA Charter Schools and U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat.
The charter network’s Website describes the rally as part of InspireNOLA’s celebration of Martin Luther King weekend.
What a disgrace!
Dr. Yohuru Williams, a professor of history at Fairfield University in Connecticut and an MLK scholar, has written extensively about how school privatization and high stakes testing are in direct contradiction with Dr. King’s writings and speeches.
“While it seeks to claim the mantle of the [civil rights] movement and Dr. King’s legacy, corporate education reform is rooted in fear, fired by competition and driven by division,” says Williams. “It seeks to undermine community rather than build it and, for this reason, it is the ultimate betrayal of the goals and values of the movement.”
Dr. King certainly wouldn’t have approved of today’s rally. After all, King said:
“To save man from the morass of propaganda is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”
Forcing children to go to a political rally and then pretending their mandatory presence is somehow a show of support is exactly the kind of propaganda King was railing against.
“The function of education,” King explained in 1947, “is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”
Booker, who clearly has ambitions of a Presidential run, has violated those principles time and again.
Before he became a U.S. Senator, he was Newark mayor. In that position he accepted a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to implement a series of drastic reforms in city schools.
The people of Newark only found out about it on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show when Booker was a guest and announce the grant. Almost all of that money went to charter schools, according to the New Republic.
Such publicity stunts and mugging for the cameras may be why The Gaurdian even described Booker as a “neoliberal egomaniac.”
While numerous corporate Democrats like Booker share his love of charter schools, his positions go even further to the right. Like DeVos, with whom he sat on the board of pro-privatization Alliance for School Choice, he also is a proponent of school vouchers. This despite any credible evidence that voucher programs actually create better educational outcomes for students.
And Devos isn’t the only radical right privatization-monger in Booker’s circle. Michelle Rhee, the former DC schools chancellor known for union busting and a series of reforms that resulted in a citywide cheating scandal, is someone Booker calls “a friend of mine”
Though as a Senator, Booker held the party line and voted against his long-time friend DeVos’ nomination as Education Secretary, he told CNN that he hadn’t changed his position on school privatization:
“When it comes to my record of supporting what I believe that any child born in any zip code in America should have a high quality school and I don’t care if that’s a charter school or a traditional district school. If it’s a bad school I’m going to fight against it just like I supported charter school closures in Newark that weren’t serving the genius of my kids. So I haven’t changed one iota.”
Yet his record flies in the face of his rhetoric.
As Newark Mayor he privileged charter schools and helped them spread throughout the city while underfunding traditional public schools. And though he continually brings up the “amazing” academic record of Newark’s charter schools, he strangely omits the a cheating scandal they experienced similar to Rhee’s.
According to a report by the state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, testing documents were not secured at these schools. State investigators flagged at least 15 charter schools for further inquiry because some tests had unusually high rates of wrong-to-right erasure marks. One school had rates more than three times greater than the state average.
Charter schools are often run by appointed officials and not elected school boards. They meet behind closed doors and never have to explain how and why they’re spending taxpayer dollars. Though much hand wringing has been done over charters that are explicitly run for a profit, even those designated “not for profit” can cut students services and pocket the difference. There are a multitude of ways these schools can cheat students out of the resources and educations they deserve while protecting the administrators and business people making a buck off them.
In LA, administrators like Buetner – who has no experience with education but is a millionaire investor in school privatization – actually sabotage the public schools in order to feed the profit-making machine of charters.
And now the opposition to these shenanigans is spilling into the streets in both red and blue states. There have been seven major teacher protests in the last year in states like Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and now California.
It’s past time for Democrats to take a stand along with them and oppose school privatization in all of its forms.
Yet when The Intercept asked all 47 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to weigh in on the LA Teacher strike and charter school proliferation, only 7 responded.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. have made no bones about the connection. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also expressed support for striking teachers, even tweeting a link to a Jacobin article about school privatization. Though didn’t mention charter’s directly, he has spoken out about school privatization before, including last year when Puerto Rico announced its plans to open charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The problem is that many Democrats won’t go that far. They’ll say they support LA Teachers but won’t admit that school privatization is the cause of their woes. They refuse to take a stand against the billionaire backers of the industry and side with the grassroots parents and children fighting for fully public schools.
However, few go as far as Booker to openly champion the industry.
At least, few Democrats.
Still can’t get enough Gadfly? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!