On November 8, Massachusetts voters will have an opportunity to make available more charter schools in the state through an item on the ballot known as Question 2.
Voting "yes" means that up to twelve new charter schools could be established, while voting "no" maintains the status quo. Since charter schools are a lifeline to many kids whose parents can't afford tuition for private schools, many families are anxiously awaiting the results.
Like Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was before charter schools before she decided to favor the no campaign against charter schools. In Clinton's case, the endorsement of the powerful, cash-rich, and fiercely anti-charter National Education Association cannot be regarded as entirely coincidental.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Petrilli, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that Senator Warren, much-lionized for her political purity, has received financial backing from the Massachusetts teacher union, which also opposes charter school expansion.
To find a possible reason for Warren's change of heart, Petrilli quotes at length from an interview she gave to Bill Moyers about the effect of campaign contributions when then-Senator Hillary Clinton switched to support a bankruptcy bill that as first lady she had opposed. When Moyers asked about the middle class people who see the impact of big money in politics, Warren said that this was "the scary part about democracy today.
This raises an obvious question: Does Sen. Warren regard the wealthy teachers unions as her own “constituency?” One that counts more than the middle-class and low-income families who are desperate for the high-quality education that Massachusetts charter schools offer?
It’s not hard to imagine. According to the OpenSecrets website, during Ms. Warren’s Senate campaign in 2012, the Massachusetts Teachers Association spent over $128,000 helping her, and the American Federation of Teachers spent $76,000. That may be in addition to some in-kind services the teachers unions provided, such as knocking on doors for candidate Warren.
Observe that those are the same unions leading the charge against Question 2. Partly that’s because charter schools in Massachusetts, as elsewhere, don’t hire unionized teachers and so union leaders don’t want any more of them. Bay State charters are also embarrassing to the union leaders and their school-establishment counterparts because the charters do so much better than corresponding district schools on every known measure of student performance.
It sure appears that Ms. Warren is now “beholden to the powerful interests that undermine the middle class.” Ms. Warren’s office denied repeated requests for comment on her changed schools stance. Elsewhere, she has declared that her opposition to Question 2 is because of specific concerns about its impact on “tight budgets.” Yet that argument has been debunked again and again.
If Sen. Warren doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite—like the kind of beholden politician she often rails against—she has a choice. She can change her mind on Question 2. Or she can return the $204,000 in union help. That would be a strong signal that she is standing on the strength of her convictions, rather than doing the bidding of powerful interests.
Meanwhile, Thomas Birmingham and Mark Roosevelt urged a "yes" in a Boston Globe opinion piece so that charter schools can continue to offer educational opportunities for low-income and minority kids that they might not otherwise enjoy. Unfortunately, these kids don't make campaign contributions.