The rainbow coalition that is the education choice movement would like to welcome its newest member: Randi Weingarten!
Yes, that Randi Weingarten. President of the American Federation for Teachers.
In a fresh interview with The New York Times, Weingarten sounded like Betsy DeVos. She noted she has friends and family who have, according to the Times’s paraphrasing, “pulled their own children out of public schools because remote learning was not working for them.”
“They have a right,” she said in a direct quote, “to look out for their individual children.”
Yes, they do!
And don’t they all?
Choice enthusiasts of all stripes have been saying that for a half century. They’ve also been working to ensure all parents, particularly those whose children are disadvantaged by poverty or disability, have the power to do what Ms. Weingarten’s friends and family just did. That is, to choose the learning options they know are best for their children, instead of being stuck with what the state assigns. Like Ms. Weingarten’s friends and family, they need those options now more than ever.
Teachers unions, of course, have been the big roadblock on the drive to equity. But in her moment of candor, Ms. Weingarten got sucked into the zeitgeist. Poll after poll shows the pandemic has boosted school choice support to new heights, in part because of teachers union resistance to re-opening schools. That growing support includes white, left-leaning, suburban parents who, in terms of choice opposition, are one of the few dominos left to fall.
I appreciate Ms. Weingarten’s timing. Lawmakers in at least 14 states are considering bills to start or expand vouchers, tax credit scholarships and/or education savings accounts. Florida is among them.
SB 48 would simplify the Sunshine State’s patchwork of choice scholarships, merging five into two, and converting four into education savings accounts. (The fifth, the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs, is already an ESA. And full disclosure: four of those programs are administered by Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that hosts this blog.) The bottom line is even more parents would have the flexibility they need “to look out for their individual children.”
I never thought I’d see the day when Randi Weingarten would be on the same page, even rhetorically, with choice folks. But truth be told, the choice movement has always had a big tent. I suspect that politically, she’d feel at home with many of the hundreds of thousands of parents, most of them black and Hispanic, whose children use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Or the 1,400+ among them who are school district employees, including teachers like this one.
For what it’s worth, Ms. Weingarten wouldn’t be the first labor leader to embrace choice, either. Cesar Chavez, the legendary founder of the American Farm Workers, was a strong supporter of a Chicano freedom school that bloomed in the California desert in the 1970s – and, more broadly, for alternatives to district schools. Dozens of local union leaders in New York backed a school choice scholarship proposal in that state just a few years ago.
Closer to home, our president here at Step Up, Doug Tuthill, is a liberal Democrat and former president of two local teachers unions. Ms. Weingarten, if you’d ever like to chat about choice and equity and the future of teachers unions, I’m sure Doug would be game. 😊
In the meantime, thanks for what you told The New York Times. It’s spot on.