Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was caught making a false statement on video last week at an event in Atlanta when she was questioned by Sarah Carpenter, a black woman who supports charter schools.
As Chalk Beat reported:
In the conversation with Warren, Carpenter emphasized her personal experience. “Charter schools saved my grandbaby because every school in my community was failing,” she said.
At one point, Carpenter said that she had heard that Warren sent her own children to private school, perhaps alluding to a recent article in the New York Post. Warren responded, “No, my children went to public schools.”
Asked to clarify, a campaign aide said, “Elizabeth’s daughter went to public school. Her son went to public school until 5th grade.”
This appears to align with the Post article, which found evidence that Warren’s son attended a Texas private school in 5th grade.
While the headlines focused on the fact Sen. Warren was caught making yet another false statement about her past, the confrontation highlighted another big political problem for Warren, who last month announced an education plan that attacks the expansion of charter schools, which are very popular among black and Hispanic voters.
“Sen. Elizabeth Warren took aim at charter schools on Monday as she rolled out her presidential bid’s much-anticipated K-12 education plan, which seeks hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal funding for traditional public schools,” Politico reported in October:
The plan calls for banning for-profit charter schools and ending the main source of federal funding for all types of charter schools.
Charter schools have been under fire and an issue in teacher strikes that have roiled the nation, including a walkout in Chicago that on Monday canceled schools there for a third day. National teachers unions have not yet endorsed a 2020 candidate, though the president of the National Education Association has said charter school support won’t be an issue in that union’s 2020 endorsement.
“To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools,” Warren wrote in a Medium post, adding that the charter schools “strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color.”
Warren said that existing charter schools should face more aggressive oversight and be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools.
But Warren’s attack on the expansion of charter schools is not likely to improve her popularity among black and Hispanic voters, especially since she had earlier in her career been a supporter.
“Charter schools educate disproportionately large shares of black and Hispanic children. Support for charters looks reasonably strong and stable among black and Hispanic Democrats, but it looks weak and is plummeting among white Democrats. The result, I argue, is a risk that growing ideological opposition to charters among white Democrats will have tangible, unwelcome consequences for families of color,” John Valance, a fellow at the Brown Center for Education Policy, wrote in an article published at the Brookings Institute:
New poll results from Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy organization that supports charter schools, show a stark contrast between the attitudes of white Democrats on one side, and black and Hispanic Democrats, on the other. Among white Democratic voters, 26% expressed favorable opinions toward charters, while 62% had unfavorable opinions. The results were essentially flipped for black (58% favorable, 31% unfavorable) and Hispanic (52% favorable, 30% unfavorable) Democratic voters.
In response, EdNext examined its own data for an intraparty split. They, too, found such a split—along with evidence that it opened recently and quickly. Using EdNext data, Chalkbeat depicted an extraordinary drop in support from white Democrats from 2016 to 2018 without an accompanying drop from black or Hispanic Democrats.
A recent poll of African-American parents in the Atlanta area found high levels of support for charter schools, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week:
The poll was commissioned by Education Reform Now Advocacy, which is affiliated with the pro-charter school group Democrats for Education Reform.
The group released the poll this week, timed for the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Atlanta on Wednesday. The poll of 329 African-American voters in Atlanta found that 83% supported providing “more choice in the public school system” including charter and magnet schools and career academies. Just over half of the respondents said they viewed Atlanta’s charter schools favorably, while 20% said their opinion was unfavorable and 26% said they were not sure.
A majority of respondents also said that access to charter schools should be expanded but it should come with “tougher accountability rules.”
Atlanta Public Schools authorizes 18 charter schools. Those schools enrolled 9,467 students as of October, 2018, or about 18% of the district’s total enrollment.
Chalk Beat reported the details of Warren’s meeting last week in Atlanta with charter supporters:
The Democratic presidential candidate argued that her plan seeks only to put charter schools on an even playing field with district schools.
“Nothing in my plan says we’re going to close any existing charter schools,” she told the activists, including longtime school choice supporter Howard Fuller and Sarah Carpenter of the Memphis Lift. “Nothing says that we’re going to end charter schools if they’re meeting the same standards.”
And while Warren did not make specific promises, she appeared to leave some room for change. “If I don’t have the pieces right, I’m going to go back and read it,” she said of her plan. “I’m going to make sure I got it right.”
A growing number of rank and file Democrats who support charter schools are increasingly unhappy with the Democratic presidential candidates who are opposigint the expansion of charter schools, as The Free Beacon reported on Tuesday:
Fortune School of Education president Margaret Fortune, a lifelong Democrat whose group operates seven California charters, asked why Democrats are telling families to return to failing schools.
“What would be happening in a fair society is we would be asked for our opinions, rather than having candidates saying, ‘I have a plan for you—to shepherd you into the very schools that you left on purpose,'” Fortune said.
The most potent opposition to charters comes from teachers’ unions, which have long been among the largest donors to Democratic politicians and have handsomely supported Warren. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the 2020 Democrats oppose charters because they are smart enough to see they are not a “panacea.”
Opposition to charter schools by Warren and other Democratic presidential candidates has created yet another opening for President Trump, who backs charter schools, to increase his support among black and Hispanic voters, which according to recent polls, is already moving up.