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EDITORIAL: Booker breaks from the pack on education policy

Updated November 26, 2019 - 11:35 pm

The crowded Democratic presidential field remains full of candidates struggling to push their poll numbers out of the low single digits. The progressive ideological conformity on display during the debates — with the exception of disagreements on “Medicare for All” — doesn’t help.

But now comes Sen. Cory Booker with a recent op-ed in The New York Times that sets him apart from other party hopefuls by telegraphing his willingness to challenge the teachers union stranglehold on the Democratic Party.

“It is largely up to Democrats — especially those of us in this presidential primary race — to have a better discussion about practical K-12 solutions to ensure that every child in our country can go to a great public school,” he wrote. “That discussion needs to include high-achieving public charter schools when local communities call for them.”

Charter schools, which are independently run public schools, are a success story in many districts, including Clark County. Yet the teachers unions aren’t eager to loosen their grip on their monopoly and have traditionally opposed such non-union alternatives, despite their popularity with parents — both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have vowed to cripple the charter school movement.

Sen. Booker’s willingness to go it alone on education policy shouldn’t be a surprise. As mayor of Newark, he approached wealthy supporters to help fund the city’s struggling parks, police department and schools. His efforts culminated in 2010 when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the cause, which was later matched by other high-profile donors.

While the approach stumbled at times due to bureaucratic intransigence, Sen. Booker’s efforts helped the citywide graduation rate rise to 77 percent in 2018 from just above 50 percent a decade ago. “Today, Newark is ranked the No. 1 city in America for ‘beat the odds’ high-poverty, high-performance schools by the Center on Reinventing Public Education,” he wrote.

Democrats and their teachers union allies claim their efforts to cap charter schools are about accountability. That’s a laugh. It’s not unusual for a struggling charter school to be shut down. When is the last time that happened to a traditional public school?

“As Democrats, we can’t continue to fall into the trap of dismissing good ideas because they don’t fit into neat ideological boxes or don’t personally affect some of the louder, more privileged voices in the party,” Sen. Booker wrote. “These are not abstract issues for many low-to-middle-income families, and we should have a … more courageous empathy about their plight.”

That Sen. Booker’s common-sense words make him a heretic in progressive circles tells you all you need to know about where families and students rank among Democratic priorities.

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