Ask most Democrats and they will claim that it is their party that represents marginalized Americans, and specifically lower-income black and Hispanic voters.
This makes the Democratic Party’s near abandonment of charter schools, and the mostly minority voters who need them, one of the most politically perplexing shifts in recent memory.
This movement away from choice, and the interests of the Democratic base, is not a new phenomenon in the party that lives or dies by the votes and campaign contributions of organized labor. But it is now bubbling to the surface, most notably during the recent Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta.
There, Democratic candidates were confronted by “black and Latino charter school parents and supporters,” whose children could be denied the opportunity of a better education, to the benefit of the established teachers unions.
Prior to the debate, one such mother asked liberal doyenne Elizabeth Warren why she shouldn’t have the same choice in schooling as the senator did for her kids. Warren responded with a classic move from the politician’s repertoire: she misled, claiming that her children attended public schools. Her son attended the Haverford School while she was a professor at Penn — not West Philly High.
Warren’s odious distortion obscured the more subtle, but more pervasive lie of the Democratic elite: that they can claim to be the sole defenders of black and brown interests, while blatantly ignoring the policies many of these voters hold dear. Because black voters particularly view charter schools as a way up and out of the terrible schools that are often their only option in educating their children.
For Democrats, choosing teachers unions over minority voters is not just a national phenomenon.
In our state Capitol, Gov. Wolf recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed for scholarships for poor students at no cost to the taxpayer, saying it “distracts from … educating every child through our public school system.”
Wolf himself attended a prestigious private school growing up. It must be nice to have options.
In Philadelphia, our School Reform Commission, which recently shifted back to local control after years as a state-run entity, rejected each of the three applications for charter schools seeking to open in the city this year, even as thousands of families were stranded on charter waitlists.
Yet not a peep was heard from Philadelphia’s elected leaders, who are so quick to drone on about “fair funding” and “educational equity,” but cannot be bothered to advocate for their voters when it comes to a choice in education.
There are rare exceptions in today’s Democratic Party, most notably from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is seen as warm to charters. Closer to home, State Sen. Anthony Williams has not been shy about ruffling feathers — in supporting charters as well as in his opposition to the soda tax.
But the paucity of Democratic elected officials who publicly support charter schools shows just how far the party has veered from its voters.
Hypocrisy corrodes movements from the inside out. Just ask the Republican Party, which for years had abdicated its immigration policy to corporate interests favoring cheap labor over the desires of its voters — only to be subject to a very hostile takeover by now-President Trump.
Will the Democratic Party face a similar meltdown due to their school choice hypocrisy in 2020?
That outcome is not clear to me. What I do know is, in this era of uncivil politics, the varnish has been stripped off of the pleasant façade each party establishment has presented to its voters. Constituencies can swing faster than institutions react.
The Democrats’ school choice hypocrisy will exact its cost, sooner or later.
Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based political consultant. He formerly served as the communications director for the Philadelphia Republican Party and is a founder of Broad + Liberty. @albydelphia