Education policy had its moment when seven Democratic presidential primary contenders gathered on Tuesday night for another debate in Charleston, South Carolina.
While most presidential hopefuls remained mostly unchanged on their positions on education, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a step back when asked if he would support the expansion of charter schools across the United States, saying that he was “not sure” whether promoting charters could be a universal solution or not.
During the debate, moderator Bill Whitaker noted the poor academic performance of students in South Carolina’s schools, citing last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress report, which was described by the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as “devastating.”
“A key element of your response to failing schools in New York City was a dramatic increase in public charter schools,” Whitaker told Bloomberg, who has a well-recorded history of enthusiastically supporting charter schools. “As president, would you pursue that same strategy and seek to expand charter schools nationwide?”
“I’m not sure they’re appropriate every place,” Bloomberg replied, adding that charters “provided parents with an alternative,” and that both charters and traditional public schools “helped each other” and were “mixed in with each other.” He also emphasized that New York City’s charter schools are also public schools.
Bloomberg’s remark draws a contrast with what he said last year. During a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he expressed much confidence that what has succeeded in New York could also succeed elsewhere in America. “In New York, we showed that when charters are granted carefully and overseen rigorously, the results can be incredibly impressive among millions of kids, giving them the opportunity to succeed in life and pursue their dreams,” he said. “And that model can work nationally.”
To Whitaker’s question, the remaining candidates mostly answered that they would rather spend tax money on failing traditional public schools than financing charters, a point some of them have repeatedly made along the campaign trail.
“My secretary of education will be someone who has taught in public school,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), likely expressing her disapproval of Betsy DeVos, who has no teaching experience in public school classrooms. “My secretary of education will be someone who believes in public education. And my secretary of education will believe that public dollars should stay in public schools.”
“I’ve got a plan to put $800 billion new federal dollars into our public schools,” she said. “Education is not free. We must invest in the future of our children.”
Warren promised last month during an Iowa rally that her nominee for secretary of education would have to first be approved by a 9-year-old transgender boy, in order to make sure that nominee is “absolutely committed to creating a welcoming environment, a safe environment, and a full educational curriculum for everyone.”