The New York Times highlights a national schism in the Democratic Party over public education that bears watching, given the state takeover of the Little Rock School District and the temporarily dormant campaign for wholesale privatization of distressed Arkansas schools.
Hillary Clinton is “being pulled in opposite directions” on the issue, the article says. On one side are teachers’ unions and their allies in traditional public schools. On the other, wealthy donors who support charter schools, merit pay and other “choice”-based reforms to education.
What’s easy to forget for us in Arkansas is that many of those folks are themselves Democrats. The contemporary incarnation of choice-based school reform is at least as much a project of what the New Republic called “boardroom progressivism” as it is the market-driven sensibilities of Republican reformers like Jeb Bush.
Remember, the LRSD takeover was made possible only by the vote of State Board of Education chairman Sam Ledbetter, a progressive voice. He’s not alone among Democrats in thinking struggling districts need shock therapy to improve. Although the now-shelved HB 1733 was a bold move, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is laps behind Chicago mayor and former Obama adviser Rahm Emmanuel in the race to privatize public education.
Or, for that matter, in many ways, Obama himself.
But back to Hillary. Certainly, she’ll try to find a middle path in the debate — triangulation! — but the NYT points out the political perils for her on both sides of the issue:
Mr. Petry [a New York hedge fund manager and supporter of charters] said there were many other political contests where wealthy Democrats who favor sweeping changes to education — including a more businesslike approach, and tying teacher tenure to performance as measured by student scores — could focus their resources next year instead, including congressional, state and local races.
Some progressives already view Mrs. Clinton as overly cozy with Wall Street. And should she align herself with the elite donors who favor an education overhaul, many of them heavyweights in the investment world, it could inflame the liberal Democratic base.
Of course, Republicans have their own serious internal divisions when it comes to schools. At a time when partisanship rules every issue, it’s interesting that intra-party rifts over public education are broadening on both sides of the aisle.