Friday, February 17, 2017

Democrat Senator Corey Booker Turns His Back on Longtime School Choice Ally DeVos: Politics or Principle?

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was interviewed for the NJ Star-Ledger on a host of issues. The question that most interested me was this one:

Q. Betsy DeVos is a big supporter of charter schools, as you are. But she's resisted the kind of oversight we have in New Jersey, and charters in her home state are not doing nearly as well. Will she help the charter movement or hurt it?

I left this comment:

This is a rigged question. The basic philosophical divide in education today is government oversight based on political control versus parental oversight based on market freedom. The question assumes the first, implying that without government oversight there is no oversight. By what standards are “charters in her home state are not doing nearly as well?” Government standards? Did anyone bother to consider the parent's’ judgement as to how their children are doing in their respective charters?

School choice is not about granting parents a choice of only government-approved schools, with government as the final arbiter of whether the school of the parent’s choice is “working” for her child. It’s about switching accountability to the parents. Charters are a positive step—but only a step. I don’t know if DeVos is the best advocate for school choice. But the more flak she gets from the Left, the more I believe she is.

For the record, here is Booker’s answer to the above question and a follow-up question:

A. I worry she'll hurt the kind of school reform I've been supporting for years, the kind that has allowed Newark to build the second-highest performing charters in the country.
I say that because the toxicity of some of her views was shocking to me, her views on carrying weapons into schools, on the federal government protecting those with disabilities, her views on civil rights and bullying. If you look at our calls, people from New Jersey are finding her the most objectionable nomination, even more than Jeff Sessions.

Q. What about charters in particular?

A. President Obama did a lot to help charters. And this would have been a great chance for Trump to appoint a Democrat. And yes, I worry she could set back charter schools by inflaming the resistance.

Booker’s vote against Devos for Education Secretary is interesting. According to Jonathan D. Salant of The Star-Ledger, Booker and Devos are longtime allies for school choice, including charter schools:

As mayor of Newark, Cory Booker joined Betsy DeVos on the board of Alliance for School Choice, which advocated using taxpayer dollars for charter, private and religious schools.

He's known her for years.

But when DeVos was nominated to be U.S. secretary of education by President Donald Trump, Booker (D-N.J.) voted no.

Booker claims his reasons for turning on Devos were that “her [Senate confirmation] hearing was rushed though [sic] so she couldn't properly be questioned, and was troubled by the answers she did give.” salant also reported that “Despite their past history of working together, DeVos refused to meet with him.”

These seem more like excuses that substantive reasons, given the importance Booker attaches to school choice. Booker, a former mayor of Newark, NJ, has no friend in the teachers union—a good indication of how strong a supporter of school choice he is. As Savant reports:

Booker's advocacy of school choice put him in conflict with the Newark Teachers Union, which opposed his 2010 re-election as mayor.

Union President John Abeigon said he was "kind of surprised" that Booker voted against DeVos.

"He's a strong advocate for school choice," Abeigon said. "We never saw him much as a supporter of traditional public schools and don't see him as one now."

School choice supporters were also surprised:

"He's turned into a partisan political player," said Peter Denton, founder and a trustee of the Clark-based school choice advocacy group, Excellent Education for Everyone, which Booker worked with. "It's extraordinarily disappointing."

Why would Booker turn on school choice allies? Politics, apparently. Said Krista Jenkins, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickenson [sic] University:

There has been some backlash against Democratic senators who have not opposed nominees in the Trump administration. I would not understand this as a wholesale rejection of his embrace of vouchers. This is a broad rejection of the Trump administration and the type of people he's trying to put together in government.
In other words, politics over principle—and an important principle at that, school choice. Booker is already considered a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—the leading contender, according to a savvy political observer, Paul Mulshine. Is he already pandering to the fascist hard left base of the Democratic Party? Sad for education in America, if true. Booker that rare Democrat that I could actually seriously consider voting for. Now, maybe not.

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