With President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos driving the public dialogue toward their far-right, for-profit privatization agenda, an alien from another planet could be forgiven for landing here and assuming that “school choice” is the priority of only the Republican Party — or that Democrats are in retreat when it comes to expanding options for improved public education for all students.
That would be a nearsighted and incorrect view. As distinct from for-profit private schools with a flimsy track record of success, it was national progressive leaders from labor and civil rights who laid the foundation for public charter schools. These equity-focused leaders include Al Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers; the past two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; the late liberal icon Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone; and former Vermont governor and head of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean. Minnesota Democratic state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge authored the nation’s first charter school law, and big-city mayors like Cory Booker, Antonio Villaraigosa, Adrian Fenty, Mitch Landrieu, and the late Tom Menino succeeded in creating some of the most vibrant and high-performing charter sectors in the country.