BerniePDX: PPS Charter School Proponents Do Not Honor Sanders' Values or Public Schools

By Dat Nguyen of Portland, Oregon. Dat is the media coordinator for BerniePDX. [Editor's note: The following is a statement from the BerniePDX board regarding an earlier post here on BlueOregon.]

BerniePDX in an independent, grassroots community and political organization committed to realizing the Social Democratic vision of former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. Social Democrats consider public education to be a cornerstone in the fight against racism, classism, ableism, and gender/sexual discrimination. We believe a functioning democracy depends on a robust public education system. These are the values that inform our endorsement process.

Charter schools are not a benign alternative to public education. We stand with hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents, students, and organizations across the country who understand the threat privately-managed charter schools pose to the fabric of public education in the United States.

Recently-declared candidate for Portland Public School Board, Jamila Singleton Munson, is a long-time member of the charter school movement. Munson is a former charter school principal at KIPP Charter Schools, and former senior-level official at the corporate-backed Teach for America (TFA). She continues work with TFA as a consultant. Her campaign for Portland School Board, Zone 4, has so far been funded by high-level officials at TFA and the anti-union organization Stand for Children. Munson’s support for charter schools couldn’t be more unambiguous. Despite these deep roots in the school privatization movement, Munson’s campaign website mysteriously omits her background.

As privately-managed entities, charter schools colonize public funding by diverting much-needed tax dollars out of public schools and into the coffers of private foundations and for-profit corporations. This trend is part of the wider campaign to privatize social and public programs, which is why conservative and far-right groups remain a bedrock source of private funding for charter schools and their lobbyists.

Teach for America plays a large role in this corporate education reform movement. TFA undermines educational equity by placing recent college graduates with a mere five weeks of training in schools located in low-income communities. The average time spent in these posts is two years or less, which further disrupts already struggling students. These are communities which desperately need experienced educators and support. TFA exacerbates the funding issue by pairing it with inexperienced teachers.

In addition to driving divestment of public schools, the charter school movement and Teach for America are ambitious union-busters. Senator Sanders has been emphatic about the rights of workers to form unions and the importance of unions in correcting a historic period of income inequality in America. Sadly, charter schools and TFA remain a potent enemy of unions and the wider working-class. Just this January, KIPP Charter Schools of New York unleashed a retaliation campaign designed to break their teachers’ union, after teachers complained about horrid working conditions and poor educational outcomes for students.

Earlier this year, President Trump named KIPP Baltimore Charter School founder Jason Botel to a senior advisor education position inside the White House. At a time when public education and workers face unprecedented attacks from President Trump, we must take a firm stand for the rights of working teachers and student educational equity.

Public education faces a coordinated, Walton Family Foundation-funded assault at all levels of government. According to The New York Times, the Walmart founders have spent $1 billion driving the school privatization movement. At BerniePDX, we cannot help but wonder what good that money could have done for public education.

BerniePDX harbors serious concerns about Munson’s candidacy for PPS School Board due to her history with and current involvement in the school privatization movement, as well as some of her campaign donors (as identified on ORESTAR). However, we are happy that her candidacy has motivated Portlanders to engage in a serious conversation about the future of charter schools and their impact in our city. We cannot in good conscience consider candidates for endorsement who advocate views that contradict Social Democratic values and vision.

In solidarity,

The BerniePDX Board

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