Democrats long ago tied their fate to public school. They need each other more than ever.

said Jorge Elorza, CEO of Democrats for Education Reform. .

Political forces from both the left and the right have put pressure on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who has campaigned for public schools and hopes to stick around if Biden wins a second term.

“If you destroy the education sector or defund private schools, what are you doing to the students in local schools? I haven’t seen a plan yet,” Cardona told POLITICO about the conservative plans while visiting schools across the Midwest and Great Plains. “We have a plan.”

Nevertheless, despite the mileage, the secretary visits the classroom and urges party loyalists to “Get back on offense,” Cardona’s allies call for a more comprehensive reinvention of public education and a more robust response to the school culture wars.

“Secretary Cardona is a wonderful, kind, sweet man. He is an educator,” said Keri Rodriguez, president National Parents Association and a member of the Massachusetts State Democratic Committee. “But it’s a brutal political moment we’re going through right now, and what our children and American families need is someone with a specific vision for how we reshape our American public school system.”

Public schools face significant post-Covid challenges Enrollment changes For private and home schools. Policies that give students access to school options beyond their traditional neighborhood campus are popular. This has allowed Cardona to defend the school citadel, navigate long-standing disagreements between labor unions and liberal education reform groups, and advance a uniquely Democratic vision of education that appeals to families and voters.

“We shouldn’t be promoting private schools because our neighborhood schools aren’t producing quality,” Cardona said as she walked from a suburban Minnesota technical college to an inner-city dual-language elementary school. “We need to make sure we’re working to support our neighborhood schools to make the grades.”

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Here’s the thing. Personal selection begins – and fast.

Republican governors in Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere are now presiding over major expansions of programs that provide public subsidies to families for private school tuition and other educational costs. Oklahoma officials are leading a campaign to open openly religious public schools, which some church leaders and conservative advocates see as a giant leap for school choice and religious freedom.

Meanwhile, public school enrollment fell by 3 percent in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. About 1.4 million students. There are also signs that the Liberals have failed to regain the broad trust in education that voters once held.

“Neither the administration nor the left has offered an alternative to the private school choice options offered by Republicans,” said Elorza, a former mayor of Providence, RI, who supported then-Gov. Gina Raimondo made headlines when she announced a state takeover bid for her city’s troubled school system and her family. Their young son was not sent to public schools in the city.

Democrats trail or basically tie with Republicans among voters in four battleground states on which party is trusted to ensure public schools prepare students for life after graduation, according to the poll. The Elorza Committee was appointed Mid-July in North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. About half of voters and parents in those states said their schools are the same or worse than before the pandemic.

“What’s going to happen if we don’t have a partisan election, the polls show us, we’re going to lose Republican voters on this issue,” Elorza said. “We are going to lose the election because of this issue. In principle, we are going to end their version of choice – which is private school choice.

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Elorza points to battleground voters’ support for public charter schools, vocational academies and magnet schools — and their preference for public options over private schools and voucher programs. He said Democrats should also embrace open enrollment policies that allow students to transfer more easily within or between school districts.

The head of the nation’s second-largest teachers union disagrees with the general idea.

After all, American Federation of Teachers president Randy Weingarten said in an interview that an idea like building a large regional career-technical education center would require new interdistrict student transfer policies.

“We need to engage in a robust discussion about how we provide those kinds of choices for kids within the public system,” Weingarten said. Still, old debates, including unions’ differences with Democrats who want school models to embrace market-based policies, are hard to quell.

“Saying competition and markets doesn’t work when you’re talking about educating all children,” Weingarten said.

Focusing on conflicts between traditional schools, charters or other public preferences “misses the absolute moment and misses where parents are,” Rodriguez said.

“Instead of clinging to this antiquated neighborhood model, we are at a moment when Democrats must embrace school choice as a tool for equity and empowerment,” Rodriguez said.

Part of the Democrats’ response to conservatives was embodied in the stops during Cardona’s barnstorming, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said. They include a community public high school that distributes toiletries and clothing to students in Rochester, the Mayo Clinic’s hometown, and the sprawling Dakota County Technical College campus an hour’s drive north in Rosemount, Minn.

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“The second part of that is not to shy away from understanding that we need to really rethink in some ways how public education should work,” Smith told Politico. “We have a public education system that is traditionally organized and designed to prepare students for a four-year college education. It’s not the best option for every person.”

Cardona, who graduated from a technical high school instead of his assigned neighborhood campus, says he was a chosen beneficiary. But expanding options shouldn’t come at the expense of neighborhood schools, which are still responsible for educating millions of children, he said.

“We should not encourage choice while ignoring nearby schools that still need support,” the secretary said.

“Family choice is key,” he added. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a position against it. I think if we’re talking about how we fund it, we want to make sure that it’s not done off the back of the funding of the neighboring school.

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