Wishing that fellow progressives stop fighting education choice

David Hudson Tuthill
florida democratic party

Andrew Gillum lost the Florida gubernatorial election by roughly 32,000 votes. There are over 300,000 students on choice scholarships and in charter schools in Florida.

For my education wish this holiday season, I would like to participate in a storied tradition older than the Bolsheviks themselves – progressives going after their own.

I am on my hands and knees begging fellow self-styled progressives to stop denying educational autonomy to working class and minority families – quite literally the base of our movement.

The 2018 Florida gubernatorial election was a once-in-a-generation moment. Andrew Gillum emerged from the splintered Democratic primary without the backing of the leadership of teacher unions, the groups who routinely pump the false narrative into education discourse that (and I’m paraphrasing here, but only a little) “giving the poor freedom to choose the best educational environment for their children that the affluent will always have is bad and drains money from districts.”

Purveyors of that phony rhetoric backed their longtime ally Gwen Graham. Andrew Gillum owed those people nothing.

It was a moment for the Florida Democratic Party to finally have a mea culpa on an issue we are blatantly on the wrong side of. An opportunity to call for peace, to unify under a new definition of public education – a definition that places the real power in the hands of education’s most important stakeholders – teachers, parents, and students.

So what did the Gillum campaign do with that generational opportunity?

In September, Mayor Gillum stood before the media and called for bringing the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship – a program where two-thirds of the scholarship recipients are Black or Hispanic, where half of the students are in a single-parent household – “to a conclusion.”

He spent the rest of the campaign demonizing education choice, primarily charter schools.

When the Gillum campaign realized this position had the potential to hemorrhage base voters, what did it do to change course?


Its political brain trust falsely assumed its turnout models were correct, and it could ignore the hundreds of thousands of impoverished, working class, and minority voters who use the FTC scholarship, send their children to charter schools, or elect to make other education choices for their children that Florida makes available by settled law.

Internally, the Gillum campaign sent signals that its anti-choice rhetoric on the trail did not match any actual plans when they assumed office. But it refused to move off the wrong side of the issue publicly.

They paid a harsh price for that.

The campaign had no reason not to course correct. Did it think teacher union leadership was going to drop its endorsement of the first Black gubernatorial candidate of a major party in Florida history in the middle of a general election? Drop the most engaging and popular Democrat to come out of the state of Florida since Lawton Chiles?

It was an utter dereliction of political duty.

The results speak for themselves. In the biggest nationwide midterm election wave towards the Democratic Party since Watergate washed away the Nixon crime syndicate and its Congressional enablers, Florida Democrats lost the Governor’s mansion, both chambers of the Florida Legislature remain firmly in Republican control, and three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court will be appointed by Gov.-elect DeSantis, tilting the balance of the court towards revanchist conservatism for a generation, its echoes to reverberate through our way of life far longer.

According to a CNN exit poll, 18 percent of black women voted for DeSantis. We can twist in the wind all day about the reliability of exit polls, but here’s the bottom line – Mayor Gillum was on record telling single mothers, working class people, and the Black and Hispanic communities that, as governor, he would rip away choices those families had already decided their children needed. Period.

When the next Florida gubernatorial campaign rolls around in 2022, there will be untold thousands more students across the state utilizing different forms of choice and customization in their education. Their parents will be heavily invested in keeping those options available to their families, just as parents were this election cycle.

I don’t need to say again what the demographics and political affiliations of most of those families are going to look like.

My fellow progressives – you do not know what’s better for the children of families happily empowered and making education choices than those families do themselves.

And you never will.

This fight is over. The tipping point has passed. Progressives clinging to a 19th century factory-style model of educating every student the exact same way is not only failing children, it’s now failing our politics.

Think about everything else that is on the line. Please. I’m begging you.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts where various members of the education choice world share an #edchoice wish. For yesterday’s post by national advocate Virginia Walden Ford, CLICK HERE. This column references the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. The scholarship is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.

COMING MONDAY: Director of Latino Outreach for the American Federation for Children Hergit “Coco” Llenas imagines an education world 30 years in the future, and hopes that we don’t have to wait that long. 

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1 comment

Matthew Smith January 2, 2019 - 7:55 am

Bravo, David! As an employee of a private school system and a progressive, I believe your words ring true. Democrats need to focus on a balanced approach to education. The present system is not working for the vast majority of public students. The choice to attend a small, focused, caring environment is no longer a privilege but a choice. All though I deeply support unions to protect people from abuse, I also believe that unions need to step up and make their members more accountable. We need to stop fighting each other and start looking at common points of interest and success. Let’s take your message further and teach the Democratic politicians that there is another way.

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