Rachel M. Cohen writes that the two most progressive candidates in the Democratic primary race have both called for reining in the charter school movement and the relentless undermining of the public school system
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN RELEASED a wide-ranging education plan Monday, pledging to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into public schools if she wins the presidency, paid in part through her proposed two-cent tax on wealth over $50 million. Warren’s plan is infused with her broader campaign themes of reducing corruption and fraud; she backs measures like new taxes on education lobbying, limiting the profiteering of tech companies that sell digital products to schools, and curbing self-dealing within charter schools.
And it builds on some of her earlier campaign proposals, like pledging to appoint a former public school teacher as education secretary, supporting schools in teaching Native American history and culture, and expanding early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers.
In May, fellow Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders’s own education plan sent shockwaves when he endorsed the NAACP’s call for banning for-profit charter schools and holding nonprofit charters to the same transparency and accountability standards as traditional public schools. In her new plan, Warren joins Sanders in embracing these positions.
Warren goes further than Sanders in calling not only for a for-profit charter school ban, but also extending the ban to any nonprofit charter that “actually serve[s] for-profit interests.” Warren said she would even direct the IRS to investigate nonprofit charters for potential tax status abuse and recommends referring “cases to the Tax Fraud Division of the Department of Justice when appropriate.”
Public schools are the bedrock of a democratic society. Initially, the ruling classes saw it as a means of turning out obedient cogs to work in the factories springing up as a result of the industrial revolution and focused on rote learning and drilling as the teaching mode that would create these docile workers. But despite that kind of stultifying education, when people began to learn to read and write and calculate, they also began to be aware of the fact that they were being exploited and started demanding better pay and working conditions. Over time, the progressive ideas of people like John Dewey changed the thinking of educators who began to see public education as the main mechanism by which we can achieve social and economic mobility and inculcate democratic values and achieve social justice. But people who value democracy and justice are dangerous and that is why, of course, the wealthy now hate public schools and have for decades been trying to kill them off. (I discuss this in detail in my 2005 book The Achievement Gap in US Education.)
I hope that, like the way that equality for the LGBT community, universal health care, and the right to choose are now considered standard platforms that all Democratic candidates must endorse, support for a well-funded, well-run public school system also becomes an essential, non-negotiable, element of their platforms.
In addition, Sanders has also said that he would stop the terrible practice of prosecuting whistleblowers under the draconian Espionage Act, so heavily used by Barack Obama and of course by Donald Trump.
The Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917 to suppress opposition to World War I and now considers leakers to effectively be spies, makes a fair trial impossible, as relevant evidence is classified and kept from the defense, and the bar for conviction is low. The law also comes with stiffer criminal penalties and longer sentences than more obvious charges that might be leveled, such as mishandling classified intelligence.
I hope that other candidates will promise to stop using it too.