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Pro-Charter School Protestors Disrupt Elizabeth Warren’s Event

By Evie Blad — November 21, 2019 4 min read
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Supporters of charter schools interrupted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Atlanta event Thursday to protest the positions on charters she detailed in the education plan she released as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The group wore t-shirts that read “Powerful Parent Network,” and yelled “Our voice. Our choice,” Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.

They stopped chanting after the Warren campaign agreed to meet with them after the event. In that meeting, they told Warren they feared her policies would limit education options for families. They also confronted her about reports she’d sent one of her own children to private school, which she initially denied.

Among Warren’s plans: Ending federal funding for charter school expansion and banning charter schools operated by for-profit organizations. Her plan doesn’t outline how she would accomplish such a ban at a federal level. The idea may be improbable because charters are largely governed by state and local policy.

In a video of Warren’s meeting with the protesters, posted below, she says she wants charters “to be held to the same standard as any other school.”

Warren’s education plan pledges that her administration “will crack down on union-busting and discriminatory enrollment, suspension, and expulsion practices in charter schools, and require boards to be made up of parents and members of the public, not just founders, family members, or profit-seeking service providers.”

Protesters included noted Milwaukee school choice advocate Howard Fuller, a Marquette University professor, and other pro-charter groups.

As we noted recently, Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have taken the most aggressive positions on charters of all of the 2020 candidates. We annotated their platforms to help explain their plans.

Since Warren released her education plan, some advocates for charter schools and private school vouchers have researched the school choices she made for her own two children, surfacing records that appeared to show her son attended a private school for part of his education. Warren initially told the charter school supporters that her children “went to public school,” a video of their conversation shows. But Warren’s campaign later confirmed to the conservative Washington Free Beacon that her son attended a private school after elementary school.

“Elizabeth’s daughter went to public school. Her son went to public school until 5th grade,” Warren communications director Kristen Orthman told the Washington Free Beacon. “Elizabeth wants every kid to get a great education regardless of where they live, which is why her plan makes a historic investment in our public schools. Every public school should be a great school. Her plan does not affect funding for existing non-profit charter schools, but she believes we should not put public dollars behind a further expansion of charters until they are subject to the same accountability requirements as public schools.”

Education Week wrote about where all of the candidates went to school, and the choices they made for their own children, in May. Several other candidates also chose private schools for their children, we reported. At the time, Warren’s campaign was among those that didn’t respond to questions about her children’s education. Is it hypocritical for a candidate to oppose vouchers if they benefited from private schools? Andrew Ujifusa covered that question in this follow-up post.

Democrats and Charter Schools

The Democratic party has traditionally supported charters, though its platform has gradually called for more accountability, transparency, and efforts to ensure the racial makeup of charter school enrollment matches surrounding traditional public schools.

“Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources,” the party platform said in 2016. “We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools.”

Some 2020 candidates have a different approach to charters, and many haven’t mentioned them in their plans. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who has a history of involvement with various forms of school choice, recently wrote a New York Times opinion piece calling on Democrats to support “well-regulated” charters.

One of the demonstrators shared this video of the meeting with Warren in response to a reporter from The Intercept, who tweeted that a protest organizer appeared to be affiliated with an organization that receives money from the Walton Family Foundation. (The Walton Family Foundation supports coverage of parent empowerment in Education Week, which retains full editorial control over the content of the articles.)

Pro-charter groups have also protested outside of Democratic debates.

Click here to see our 2020 election guide on the candidates and where they stand on education.

Photo: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in 2018. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

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