Among the many names swirling about as potential picks for the next education secretary are several Democrats, prompting a prominent Democratic education advocacy group to issue a warning to fellow party members: Don’t work for President-elect Donald Trump.
A Democrat who agreed to become Trump’s education secretary “would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation’s most vulnerable kids,” Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, said in a statement Thursday.
Democrats whose names have circulated as possible picks for education secretary include Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. Council member who is a prominent national advocate for private school vouchers; Michelle Rhee, who rose to fame as the controversial chancellor of D.C. Public Schools from 2007 to 2010; and Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City Council member and founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools.
Moskowitz met with Trump on Wednesday but then took herself out of the running. Speaking at an unrelated news conference on Thursday morning, she said she was committed to continuing to lead her schools in New York, according to the New York Daily News.
Chavous is a former member of the advisory board for Democrats for Education Reform, whereas Rhee’s onetime boss — former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty — sits on the advisory board, according to the organization’s website. Both Chavous and Rhee support taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, contrary to the Democratic Party’s position. Trump has said he wants to use billions of federal dollars to encourage the expansion of vouchers and charter schools nationwide.
In an interview, Jeffries said his message was not meant for an individual but any Democrat considering the education secretary post under Trump.
“We wouldn’t encourage any Democrat to lend the credibility of that brand to this agenda, which contravenes our most fundamental values on, really, every level,” he said.
The problem is not just with Trump’s statements about education, including his desire to shrink or eliminate the Education Department — and with it, presumably, the federal role in holding schools accountable. DFER also opposes a wide range of other policies that Trump favors, including mass deportations, stop-and-frisk police tactics, and tax policies that would “basically squeeze out funding for domestic policies, from food stamps to job-training programs to other social services,” Jeffries said.
And he said Democrats should not lend their brand to a president-elect who has endorsed the “most pernicious racial, ethnic and gender-based stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our kids.”
Democrats for Education Reform was an early backer of President Obama and represents one wing of a party that has been divided over education issues. DFER, like Obama, has pushed for the expansion of charter schools and for an emphasis on holding teachers and schools accountable for student achievement as measured by standardized tests.
Trump has said that he, too, wants to expand charter schools. But Jeffries said Democrats should not trade away their other values in exchange for a bump — or even a big jump — in federal funding for charter schools.
“No Democrat should accept appointment as secretary of education unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on,” he said.