Elizabeth Warren: Baby Got The Wrong Back

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“Zip codes should not act as barbed-wire fences to keep out children whose parents cannot afford homes in that district” - Elizabeth Warren

She’s known as the darling of the American left but Labor Day celebrations have again left us wondering if Elizabeth Warren is really just a Darling of America’s teachers’ unions. Once known as a fierce supporter of school choice and universal vouchers, Warren has fallen totally silent on the issue and chosen instead to acquiesce to the very powerful unions who pour money into her coffers as long as she pretends to forget who she really is.

Or was.

So Who Was She?

Elizabeth Warren used to scoff at the idea that we even refer to schools in affluent zip codes as public schools.

According to a recent piece in Commonwealth Magazine that took a look back at the book she and her daughter co-authored in 2003, Elizabeth Warren would have made the perfect surrogate for the current push in Massachusetts to lift the arbitrary cap on charter schools being decided via ballot question this November. In fact, Elizabeth Warren, well the 1.0 version, would have likely traveled all over the state convincing her constituents, the public, that the current zip code system is hurting families and denying poor children access to quality schools.

She mocks the idea of even calling schools in more affluent communities truly public, since they are only open to the families with the financial means to live there, with poorer families locked out.

In fact, she was even more radical than any mere charter cap lift could ever be. She called for an all-choice system.

An all-voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out might be just what the system needs,” she writes. Over time, the whole concept of ‘the Beverly Hills schools’ or ‘Newton schools’ would die out.

Is the Glass Half Empty?

Speaking at a podium awash in “Vote No on 2” signs, Warren sure had a lot of love for the audience at a Labor Day breakfast hosted by the Greater Boston Labor Council.

With one of the signs serving as the stage’s backdrop, Warren took to the podium saying she owes a “huge thank you” to several union officials she said have “my back when I’m down in Washington.”

“I want you to know,” she said, “I do my best to have your back, too.” -Boston Herald, 9-6-16

Wow. Even Massachusetts pols usually at least pretend they have the people’s backs. But in a moment of political stagecraft, Warren actually admitted where her allegiance now lies. Perhaps those zip codes that act as barbed wire fences for poor kids have simply fallen through the cracks of her broken foundation where principles have given way to power and money and special interest. Adult interest in this case.

It’s actually hard to imagine the disgust that low income parents, especially black and brown ones, must feel that their world famous Senator, their fighter for the “little guy,” has now lost interest in that proverbial “little guy”.

Maybe she didn’t really mean it when she said this in an interview with Commonwealth Magazine in 2003:

[Parents’] confidence in the public school system is in shambles. It’s crumbled. So parents are trying to pick among the ruins to find the school districts they believe represent a decent chance for their children to make it safely through school …. But as it becomes harder and harder to find good school districts, the prices in those particular zip codes keep going up. (from The Two Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi)

Or this:

Decouple school assignment and zip code … then the economic pressure on families would be released almost immediately. (from The Two Income Trap)

Oh, That Hair on the Back of my Neck

Elizabeth Warren doesn’t like outside money? Well that should be breaking news to everyone considering that she gets most of her campaign contributions from out of state. In fact, she ranks 3rd for incumbent senators who receive money from outside their states, trailing only Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. 60 percent of her campaign contributions in 2016 have come from outside of Massachusetts. (A staffer probably should have told her that before she said the following over the weekend):

There are people out there who are spending a lot of money, and it seems to be a lot of people not from Massachusetts are spending a lot of money to push through some of these ballot initiatives.

And boy, I don’t know about you, she told reporters, but that kind of raises the hair on the back of my neck.

People can be for or against outside money on principal but the hypocrisy on the issue has reached a fever pitch in Massachusetts in recent days. The “No on Question 2” camp has been decrying any and all outside money (and commentary!) favorable to the other side while they themselves enjoy a windfall from both local and national entities. The outrage is selective and impossible to take seriously.

Or Is the Glass Half Full?

The experienced cynic in me certainly felt, at least initially, that Warren’s comments during the Labor Day celebration were awful. Indefensible. A sign that she had already been bought and sold and poor families be damned.

But there just may be some hope. If ever there were the perfect moment for Senator Elizabeth Warren to come out against Question 2, it would have been at a podium, flanked by Vote No on 2 signs, and in front of an audience of union members. Talk about a standing ovation, a million tweets from @massteacher, and huge high fives from Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, and Jennifer Berkshire (aka Edushyster.) It would have been a Labor Day gift for the history books and a very public nod that she is indeed on the same team as all the union heavy hitters who proudly work hard with other people’s money to block better school options for poor children.

But she punted. She hedged. She actually said nothing.

Maybe it was meant to be a feel good event without any substance because she doesn’t plan to come out against Question 2. Maybe, in her quietest moments of self reflection, she knows that one can’t be against lifting the charter cap and still call themselves ‘a progressive.’ Maybe she knows she can’t take back everything she used to say about zip codes being like barbed wire fences that keep poor children out of good schools.

That would be good.

Let’s hope the glass is half full on this one.

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