Cory Booker

Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is casting himself as a progressive in his newly announced presidential bid, but he’ll have some explaining to do to primary voters.

And, according to the New York Times, Sen. Booker, who is African American, is also casting himself as a champion of the African American community, announcing his campaign on the first day of Black History Month and granting the first interviews of his campaign to black and Latinx radio hosts. He’s also asking the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse his run for the White House.

However, Sen. Booker’s outspoken support for charter schools may end up hurting his support among black and Latinx voters and working-class families, who make up the core of the Democratic Party base. In 2012, when he was still mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker spoke at an event hosted by the American Federation for Children (AFC) — which was chaired by current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos until 2016.

And in 2013, when Cory Booker won the Democratic primary for New Jersey’s U.S. Senate election — virtually guaranteeing him a general election victory — the AFC issued a public statement congratulating him based on his support for charter schools.

“Cory Booker is a strong advocate for commonsense education reform and ensuring children have access to high-quality educational options,” AFC spokesperson Kevin P. Chavous stated. “On behalf of our board at the American Federation for Children and students across the nation in need of quality educational options, we congratulate our good friend Cory on his primary win.”

While the concept of “school choice” sounds innocent enough, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch explained in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed that the charter school movement — largely funded by wealthy corporate executives like the Walton Family (of Walmart) — essentially serves as a means of bankrupting and eventually privatizing public education.

Charters are publicly funded but privately managed. They call themselves public schools, but a federal court ruling in 2010 declared they are “not state actors.” The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 that charters are private corporations, not public schools. As private corporations, they are not subject to the same laws as public schools.

The anti-union Walton Family Foundation  is the biggest private financier of charters. The foundation in 2016 unveiled a plan to spend $200 million annually over five years for charter schools, and the organization claims credit for opening one of every four charters in the nation. The Waltons and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, using both public and private funds, are pouring hundreds of millions annually into what amounts to a joint effort to privatize public education.

Another argument in favor of charter schools is that, if children end up getting a better education in the long run, then it shouldn’t make any difference whether the schools are public institutions or for-profit charters. But empirical data suggests that there’s little difference between a charter school education and a public school education, and, if anything, charter school students fare worse academically.

In 2009, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) conducted a study of student performance in both public and charter schools in 15 states and Washington, DC. Stanford researchers found that overall, 37 percent of charter school students’ state math assessment scores were worse than their public school counterparts, and 46 percent of charter students’ math scores were indistinguishable from students educated in public schools. Charter-educated kids were found to be twice as likely to post math scores significantly worse than public school students.

Moreover, the vast bulk of students enrolled in charter schools are from minority communities, according to a 2017 Brookings Institution report that claimed charters were “prolonging segregation.” Researcher Andre M. Perry wrote that in New Orleans — where all public schools were eventually replaced by charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — there is stark inequality in the level of education black charter school students receive compared to their white counterparts:

A recent Associated Press analysis of national school enrollment data found that “as of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

…In the all-charter district of New Orleans … virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating. But 77 percent of white students are enrolled in “A-” and “B-” rated schools, according to a new report by non-profit advocacy group Urban League of Louisiana. It is unthinkable that this situation would be tolerated if the students’ races were reversed. It is clear that segregation, and who gets a quality choice, matters.

While Booker’s full-throated support of a system that defunds public education and upholds a system of racial hierarchy might be forgiven by primary voters if he abandoned that ideology long ago, Booker is still just as supportive of the charter school movement today. On January 18, Cory Booker headlined a pro-charter rally in New Orleans — the same day that public school teachers in Los Angeles were on strike in protest of a system that diverted public money to for-profit charters.

Cory Booker is just the latest entry into an already crowded Democratic primary field. His bid for the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus competes with that of Senator Kamala Harris (D-California), who has emerged as an early frontrunner, capturing the most support of any candidate and potential candidate in Daily Kos’ second straw poll.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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