With less than a week before the North Carolina Democratic Primary, the second Civitas Poll shows Joe Biden (27 percent) leading former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (19 percent) and Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders (16 percent). Four other candidates split 25 percent of the vote, while 15 percent of voters remain undecided. The poll was conducted February 26 and 27th.
School choice remains one of the major issues facing candidates. Democrats nationally remain divided on the issue of school choice with many minority and rank and file Democrats voicing specific support for charters and vouchers while Democrats from higher incomes oppose charters and vouchers. Democrats in North Carolina seem more supportive of choice than many of their fellow Democrats elsewhere. A January 2020 Civitas Poll found 67 percent of Democrats support a state program to provide vouchers to low-income children to attend private school (Overall 67 percent of respondents support the program; 22 percent oppose it). In addition, 53 percent of Democrats support charter schools, compared to a 58/31 split in the general population.
Where Do Democratic Presidential candidates stand on the issue of charter schools and vouchers? A review of the candidate’s positions is revealing:
- In the 1990s, Biden made an impassioned case for school choice on the Senate floor, “Is it not possible that giving poor kids a way out will force the public schools to improve and result in more people coming back?”
- Opposed DC Scholarship Voucher 1997
- Supported Tax free Education Savings Accounts in 2000
- Biden was a strong supporter of charter schools during his time as Vice President during the Obama Administration
- Sent children to Catholic schools
- No federal dollars for charter schools. “And any charter school that is in fact worthy of being in education would have to be accountable to the same exact school boards, the same exact mechanisms that a public school is accountable to, across the board. There has to be transparency. A lot of these charter schools are significantly underperforming, significantly. … If you’re going to have a charter school, it cannot come at the expense of a public school.”
- Joe Biden opposes federally funding charter schools. He said at a campaign event, “I do not support any federal money … for for-profit charter schools — period. … The bottom line is it siphons off money from public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”
- When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system. We’ve got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot,” That’s why I oppose vouchers.” Joe Biden Tweet, January 23, 2020
- Has opposed using public money for vouchers.
- At times (2016), he has supported the concept of public charters, but not if it takes money away from public schools.
- In his sweeping education proposal, Sanders seeks to ban charter schools from being run by for-profit entities. He would impose a moratorium on charter school expansion pending an “audit” of existing charter schools. His plan also calls for charter schools to have the same “oversight” as traditional public schools, and for at least half of each charter school management board to consist of parents and teachers. Sanders does not detail how he would federally impose such requirements on charters, which are largely governed by state and local policies. (Education Week: Candidates and Education: A Guide for 2020)
- “I am strongly opposed to any voucher system that would re-direct public education dollars to private schools, including through the use of tax credits. In addition, I believe charter schools should be held to the same standards of transparency as public schools, and that these standards should also apply to the non-profit and for-profit entities that organize charter schools.”(American Federation for Teachers Questionnaire)
- Senator Warren had a lengthy record of working to expand school choice for working families.
- Senator Warren has expressed support for charter schools.
- Once lauded Massachusetts charter sector as “successful, thoughtful and innovative.” As a law professor at Harvard University, Warren co-authored a book that supported inter-district public school transfers as a part of a voucher program.
- Sent her son to private school when she was a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.
- Warren opposed a 2016 state ballot initiative in Massachusetts to lift a cap on the number of charter schools permitted there, and she has criticized charters run by for-profit entities as a “real problem.” Warren “does not support private school vouchers and never has.” In her 2020 campaign platform, she called for an end to federal support for charter expansion, a ban on “for-profit” charters (those that contract with for-profit entities), and to allow only local school districts to authorize charters.
- Warren’s education plan calls to end the diversion of tax dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers and voucher-like tax credits. A campaign spokesperson clarified that this means both working to stop the expansion of voucher programs and working toward ending existing ones.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (campaign suspended as of March 1, 2020)
- Charter schools can be like a “laboratory” where successful learning practices can be developed then replicated. “But I’m skeptical that we’re going to gain a lot through expansion of charter schools when we still have such severely underfunded traditional public education,” he told Education Week in an interview. “Pete’s priority is strengthening and investing in public schools to ensure that they have the capacity to best serve students,” his education plan says. “Because the profit motive distorts priorities in K-12 education, Pete will ban for-profit charter schools.” Buttigieg also pledges to “promote comparable levels of accountability and transparency between charter and traditional public schools” by requiring states to report annually on charter authorizers and holding low performers accountable. (Education Week: Candidates and Education: A Guide for 2020).
- “Unfortunately, [private school] voucher programs tend to come at the expense of quality public education. They take dollars out of our public schools at the time when we know the schools don’t have enough resources going into them to begin with,” (June 11, 2019 speech at Indiana University)
- History of championing and supporting school choice. Over past 10 years donated $1.8 million to ballot measures and PACs focused on school choice.
- As Mayor of New York, Bloomberg expanded size of charter schools by 1,000 percent.
- “Charters around the country often receive less money than traditional public schools, but in New York, at least, they often performed at the very highest levels. And that’s why we created 173 of them, to go along with the hundreds of non-charter public schools we created. Now that is not to say that charter schools are the end-all and be-all. Some states have done a poor job holding charters accountable for their performance,” Bloomberg said in a July 2019 NAACP speech.“In New York, we showed that when charters are granted carefully, and overseen rigorously, the results can be incredibly impressive among millions of kids, giving them the opportunity to succeed in life and pursue their dreams. And that model can work nationally.” (Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Education, Washington Post)
- Bloomberg has been more guarded about vouchers. He did not answer a Washington Post Questionnaire on the subject. However, a 2008 interview asked Bloomberg about the possibility of vouchers for parents in New York City who send their child to a private school. Bloomberg said:
I think the basic answer to your question, why we don’t have vouchers, is politically, it is not popular,” he said. “Even if you think it is a great idea it would not get through the Legislature. The State Legislature would have to pass it. It is also–there is a question as to whether or not it is a good idea. It diverts money from the public schools, and some people say that it would just go to people who could afford to send their kids to private schools, anyway.”….He went on to say, “From a fairness point of view, you can certainly make the case that, you know, if you send your kids to private schools, the public doesn’t have to pay to educate them, and you should get a credit for it. Politically, it is just not going to happen in this state, is a fair ways to phrase it.”
- Voted against DC Scholarship
- During an American Federation of Teachers Town Hall, Klobuchar said that charter schools meet the definition of public schools “only if they meet high standards.” In a December interview with the National Education Association, she said charter schools “have got to have more accountability. We have to have better standards for charter schools. And, as you know, that has not always been the case, by any means. … And, we have to be sure we have an ability to organize and have unions.” (From Education Week: Candidates and Education: A Guide for 2020).
- Amy Klobuchar’s campaign published a plan for her First 100 days in office which says she will, “stand firmly with our public schools and end discussions of Secretary Betsy DeVos’s $50 billion proposal to fund private school vouchers.”
- Klobuchar does not support using public money for private or religious education, (Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Education, Washington Post).
A few candidates have altered their positions on school choice after making the decision to run for President; moving from moderately supportive of school choice to opposed to school choice programs. Of the five candidates Michael Bloomberg has been the most consistent supporter of school choice. How much will school choice factor into voter decisions? That’s a question we’re all waiting to have answered.