In the video announcing her run for president, Hillary Clinton declares, "Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.” To make that campaign slogan credible, Clinton needs to take a clear position defending public schools.
All over the country, a growing movement of parents, teachers and students is rising up against overtesting, school closings and shady schemes that channel public funds into private schools.
A recent front-page article in The New York Times described Clinton’s dilemma on the issue.
On one side, charter school operators and hedge fund managers are urging her to adopt their union-bashing, pro-privatization agenda. On the other side, communities all over the country are experiencing education “reform” as a major threat to their local public schools.
Outrage over school closures in Chicago drove the campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a chief proponent of the corporate education reform agenda. Emanuel kept his seat, but only after being forced into a runoff by a relatively unknown grassroots candidate.
In Little Rock, Ark., community groups are using a nationwide petition drive to drum up support for their fight against the state Legislature, which, backed by the largest business interests in the state, voted to dissolve the elected school board and to replace neighborhood public schools with for-profit, corporate-owned schools. In the petition, Arkansas Community Organizations points out the historic integration of Little Rock Central High that exposed the injustice of “separate but equal” education. Today, school privatization poses a new threat to the basic, democratic promise of public education.
It’s an issue that puts Clinton in a difficult position, pitting some of her big Wall Street supporters against the ”everyday Americans” whose votes she is courting.
School choice lobbyists have spent enormous sums of money around the country to promote the idea that public schools have “failed” and to support privatization. But the data don’t back up their claims. National research shows that charter and voucher schools perform no better, on average, than traditional public schools. To offer a fair shot at success to all students, public schools need more resources, not punitive, test-and-punish ”reforms” or dubious school privatization schemes.
I recently attended a forum in tiny Reedsburg, Wis., where community members packed an elementary school gym to talk about school budget cuts and the expansion of voucher and charter school programs that will drain desperately needed money away from their local public schools. These citizens do not want to see their local public schools destroyed or their tax dollars go to pay private school tuition for families whose children have never even attended public school, which has happened under Gov. Scott Walker’s school voucher expansion in Wisconsin.
As she campaigns for president, Clinton should pay close attention to what ”everyday Americans” who support their public schools are trying to tell her.
Ruth Conniff is the editor-in-chief of The Progressive.
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