Sanders misses point on education reform

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Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders has called for a moratorium on federal funding for all charter schools and a ban on for-profit charters. Photo credit: Nick Solari/Wikimedia Commons

When Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for president, recently revealed his education plan, most of the ensuing news coverage focused on his criticism of charter schools and his call for a moratorium on their expansion.

Cue the usual op-eds and pundits booing him, attacking socialism and railing against infringements on a “competitive free market.”

I’m here in Florida booing the usual pundits.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a longtime Sanders supporter who was disappointed in his attacks on a movement bringing equity to public education.

He’s misguided and misinformed.

His opinion is baffling coming from someone who values “Medicare for All.” A single-payer system would allow patients to spend health care dollars on public or private hospitals and doctors of their own choosing.

He doesn’t see how funding for health care and education could be similar, allowing patients and students a level of freedom and equity of care they can’t get any other way.

Like I said, he’s misguided.

But I don’t blame him.

To those who want to roast Bernie Sanders: My Nana used to say, when you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointed right back at you.

Bernie Sanders is listening to one viewpoint regarding education choice because one viewpoint is all he can hear.

This isn’t his fault.

Those who support education choice don’t have a singular, strong, compelling voice. Most of the arguments for choice focus on conservative values. Free markets. Competition. Anti-union.

Not exactly a bipartisan point of view.

Choice supporters don’t have a central organization or rallying cry on a national scale, like the NEA or AFT, with a network in every state responding to attacks with a coordinated strategy.

We show up at rallies with coordinated shirts.

That’s all we’ve got.  

No national organizing model.

No national mobilizing model.

Armies of parents and advocates scattered throughout the country with little or no direction.

Little or no united front.

What is our big picture goal?

Our opponents respond to strength. Our strength is in the sheer numbers of parents and teachers who understand that the current system fails children in need.

And yet we underutilize them at every turn.

We allow the teachers union, which does little to help actual teachers, to act as the compelling voice on this issue.

We allow President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to be the face of our movement, rather than the hundreds of thousands of families benefiting from choice.

We get together at annual summits and conferences and praise lawmakers — mostly white, mostly conservative, mostly male — and then wonder over expensive wine and cocktails why the left isn’t catching on.

We look the other way when Democrats and other liberal mouthpieces send their own children to private or elite schools, rather than shame them for denying low-income families that same privilege.

We’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves, allowing opponents to pit us against one another. Charter supporters opposing voucher supporters. Non-profits fighting for-profit management companies. Scholarship supporters railing against home or virtual schools.

We write mealy-mouthed editorials, all the while hoping that our opponents will like us if we ingratiate ourselves enough.

What does that really do?

It weakens support for and among all of us.

It tells parents, “You can choose, but only from this list of preferred options.”

It shouts, “We trust parents…to a point.”

Progressives like Bernie Sanders see themselves as rebels. The ones who support redefining everything from health care, drug laws, and college tuition costs to reforming prisons, campaign finance and gun control.

Yet only in education reform are the rebels and reformers deemed conservative.

Unreal.

And we continue to allow it.  

We don’t cultivate leaders to run for office or give them proper political cover to take on the status quo.

We allow the message to be, “We don’t need two school systems,” when anyone with open eyes – and an open mind — knows there are already two systems:  one for those with means, and one for those without.

Opponents run with the nonsense that we “drain money from public schools.” We don’t raise our voices just as high to declare it’s cruel to allow the current system to thrive.

We aren’t bold.

We aren’t loud.

We aren’t compelling.

Blame Bernie all you want.

We’re the ones hiding meekly in the corner. In our absence the opposing arguments thrive.

If we fix that, Bernie – and all our misguided opponents – will finally understand the issue. And then figure out where they stand.  

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