Q&A: The Education Stakes in Election 2016
A conversation with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on what 2016 means for K-12 education.
Last October, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, gave Hillary Clinton one of her earliest organized labor endorsements. Since then, the powerful group has been one of Clinton’s most vocal supporters. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have spent much time discussing public K-12 education issues during the primary season. But recently, elementary and secondary education topics have attracted more attention. Clinton began articulating her education policy ideas at union conventions this month and Republican leaders championed school choice at their national convention last week.
The American Prospect’s Rachel Cohen sat down in Philadelphia with Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the three million-member NEA, to discuss the upcoming election, and what’s at stake for teachers and students. What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of that conversation.
Rachel Cohen: I’ve been paying close attention to the Clinton campaign’s public statements surrounding charter schools, including her adviser Ann O’Leary’s remarks at the Democrats for Education Reform’s forum Monday. Hillary says she opposes for-profit charters, but supports high-quality ones. What does the NEA want to see specifically from Clinton on the charter school issue?
Lily Eskelsen García: When we talk about charter schools, there’s been an evolution from what [former American Federation of Teachers president] Al Shanker once said, that we should be able to have these innovative incubators of great, creative ideas that can inform the whole system and that we should try them in some places before we explode them all over a system.
We now have franchised for-profit charter schools, the big chains. Those are the ones that say we’re proprietary, we’re copyrighted, we’re here to make money, and we’re not here to inform anybody. Sometimes even the nonprofit ones have proprietary suppliers with owners on their charter board—so there are conflicts of interest. [These schools] have nothing whatsoever to do with improving the system.
Hillary Clinton is on the exact same page as we are, [she] says there are some innovative charter schools that were designed to impact the system, to try something creative. But if a charter has any other reason for existing, like making someone money, then she does not support those, and neither do we. I don’t care if they call it a for-profit or if it’s technically a nonprofit.
There’s been a renewed national discussion around school integration since the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education two years ago. School Q&A: The Education Stakes in Election 2016 | Alternet: