With the Help of Teachers Unions, the Climate Strikes Could Be Moving Into Phase 2

Originally published in In These Times on November 4, 2019.

As young people across the country join the global movement to mobilize school strikes to demand climate action, one group is starting to think more seriously about how to best support those efforts: their teachers.

Educators, like those in the California Federation of Teachers and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), are beginning to leverage their power both as teachers and union members to push the bounds of climate activism.

Kurt Ostrow, a high school English teacher in Fall River, Mass., has helped lead his union to the forefront of the climate movement over the last few years.

“Climate to me has always been the major crisis that needs to be addressed, and even though in the classroom I really try to prioritize it, it just doesn’t feel always enough,” he says. “So I have been trying to use the leverage that we have a as union of 110,000 people to support the movement.”

In his first year of teaching five years ago, Ostrow went as a delegate to MTA’s annual meeting, where the union’s social justice caucus—Educators for a Democratic Union—sought a teacher to introduce a resolution (known as a “New Business Item”) recommending the divestment of state pension plans from coal. Ostrow’s college friends had been leaders in the campus divestment movement, and he had always participated in their actions as an ally, so he was happy to volunteer to introduce it.

“We lost a quorum, so we weren’t able to take a vote on it, but the next year we did it again and it passed,” he said. “That was really how I first dipped my toes in.”

When the youth climate strikes took off last year, Ostrow, who now serves on the board of his statewide union, began thinking harder about how teachers could help them. At its March board meeting, he decided to introduce a resolution that the MTA would support the youth climate strike scheduled for March 15. It passed unanimously.

At the union’s next annual meeting, held in May two months later, leaders of the social justice caucus deliberated over what environmental resolutions they should introduce to best support the Green New Deal.

“I knew we could put forward a resolution that said MTA supports the Green New Deal, and I think that would have passed easily, but I really wanted to create a decision point, like a ‘which side are you on’ moment that would really force teachers to confront their own conscience,” he told In These Times. “So I decided to go radical, and I put forward a New Business Item calling for the MTA to propose a national teachers strike in support of the Green New Deal.”

It’s illegal for teachers to strike in Massachusetts, and following Ostrow’s impassioned speech at the conference, there was some heated debate. In the end, though, it passed.

Ostrow was pleasantly surprised. “I’m a member of the Sunrise Movement, and my dream is to try and coordinate our efforts with Sunrise’s long-term vision of striking for a Green New Deal,” he said. “So I was just trying to plant the seeds in members’ brains, but to be honest I hadn’t done any organizing around it. I wasn’t calling other locals and saying, ‘hey there will be this NBI and will you support it?’”

At the National Education Association’s (NEA) annual meeting in July, an MTA delegate introduced a resolution for the national union to also call for striking in support of the Green New Deal. It failed, with too many members nervous about the legality of such a move.

The next month, two high school students who were organizing for the September 20 global youth climate strike came out to the MTA’s August board meeting and asked the union to pass something backing their efforts.

The union did, and also upped its engagement in the weeks leading up to September 20.

“For the March strike, we just endorsed it, issued a press statement, and Max Page [the union’s vice president] spoke at a rally,” said Ostrow. “There wasn’t a lot of coordinated effort.”

Leading up to this strike, explained MTA’s president Merrie Najimy, the union did more outreach, and organized a statewide conference call with members to discuss how to get involved. “Our legal department wrote an advisory where the gist was to say you have this right to participate, and as an organizer you can push your principal, your superintendent, to make this a field trip day,” she said. “You have the right to take a personal day.”

On the day of the strike, Ostrow took his students down to a climate rally as part of a class field trip. He knows he was fortunate: In New York City, the school district, despite saying students could receive excused absences for participating in the climate strike, issued an order that barred teachers from going. The city’s education department decided that any employee participation, including class field trips or even staging walkouts on school property, would violate rules of ensuring a “politically neutral learning environment.”

The MTA’s work has continued since the strike. Last month at its latest board meeting, the union officially endorsed the Green New Deal, and a new member-driven climate crisis team is holding its first meeting in November. “Our goal will be to figure out how we can push the MTA to take more and more radical actions in support of the Green New Deal,” Ostrow said. One possible tactic is taking collective sick days. “If you can take off to take care of your kids, well the fact is Mother Earth is sick,” he said.

MTA is not the first teacher union to endorse the Green New Deal. In March, the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers passed a resolution in support of it, and was actually the first statewide labor organization in the country to adopt a climate justice agenda in 2016. That agenda includes support for fossil fuel divestment, for enacting climate legislation, and for educating members and students about the crisis.

Looking nationally

So far the national teacher unions have been more guarded.

AFT president Randi Weingarten marched with union members in New York City during the September 20 strike, but the statement she issued did not commit her labor organization to any real political action beyond educating children about the issues. “If we can help students learn about the science of climate change, help them understand free speech and citizen advocacy as part of civic education, and encourage their belief in themselves, we’ve done our job in helping the next generation secure their future,” Weingarten said.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA, has taken a similar approach. In a statement provided to In These Times, García said, “Educators around the nation are proud that their students are leading on climate change because they know it is an urgent threat. We teach our kids to be leaders in the classroom and their communities, so it is inspiring to watch them speaking up to demand action on the climate crisis from elected leaders.”

The NEA provides educators with resources to teach about climate change, and while delegates voted down the proposed resolution for a national strike at its most recent annual meeting, delegates did pass two less controversial measures—to encourage locals to compost, and to recommend schools incorporate the causes, effects, and solutions to climate change in their science curriculums.

Najimy, the MTA president, is more optimistic about growing activism from teacher unions. She pointed to a new working group on climate justice that’s forming with the national Bargaining for the Common Good network, a coalition of labor and grassroots organizations dedicated to leveraging union contracts for social justice. “When we go back to the bargaining table, we can use our power in labor to negotiate new ways of acting for the climate,” she said.

College faculty, like their K-12 counterparts, are also starting to organize in support of their students.

Leading up to September’s climate strike, a small group of professors organized an open letter calling on fellow educators to cancel classes and strike. Almost 830 people signed it. Two of the organizers, Jonathan Isham, an economics and environmental policy professor at Middlebury, and Lee Smithey, a peace and conflict studies professor at Swarthmore, co-authored Guardian op-ed in late August urging the same thing. “We risk losing credibility with an entire generation of students if we cannot take action in support of the defining cause of their generation,” they wrote.

Isham works at Middlebury with environmental activist Bill McKibben, and he taught McKibben’s seven 350.org co-founders back when they were college students. In an interview, Isham said he understands it can be easier in some ways for college faculty to take off compared to public school teachers. He praised his university’s HR department for being supportive of faculty who wanted to cancel classes for the strike, as professors were given the option to take a personal day off. Isham doesn’t even teach on Fridays, so it was especially easy for him to participate in Middlebury’s rally that day.

“I think the number-one thing educators can do is educate, and share what we know about the climate crisis and climate instability with our students,” he said. “That is our primary job, but I like to say the classroom has porous walls, and I think it’s important to also get out in the world and stand up as a citizen.”

Why Labor Unions Are Looking to 26-Year-Old Jessica Cisneros

Originally published in The Intercept on November 1, 2019.

EVER SINCE 26-YEAR-OLD Jessica Cisneros announced that she would be challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar in the primary for Texas’s 28th District with the support of Justice Democrats, the primary unfolded about as well as Cisneros could have expected. The Cuellar campaign dismissed her as an out-of-touch leftist with few roots in her community. Cisneros plowed ahead, swore off corporate PAC and lobbyist money, and began putting together her volunteer operation. The national press, perpetually on the hunt for “the next AOC,” breathed life into her campaign. Local media, not wanting to miss the upset, took her seriously too. Fundraising was robust.

But then the race took an unusual turn: On October 23, Cisneros picked up a key union endorsement, Communication Workers of America District 6, and on Saturday, she’ll be speaking in Austin at a political rally hosted by AFSCME Local 1624. The event is being held to gin up excitement for 2020, and Cuellar was not invited.

“Personally, I just think it’s time for change, and I want to see younger, fresher blood running for public office, who I can relate to, who can relate to our workers, and who honestly look like everyday common folks,” said Yvonne Flores, president of AFSCME Local 1624. “For me, that’s like, hell yeah, let’s get Jessica on stage and hear her talk.”

Organized labor, which typically allies with the party establishment in the face of ongoing insurgency, has company in opposing the incumbent Democrat. Cisneros has scored endorsements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren; the Working Families Party; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; and even EMILY’s List, all betting that the deep-blue district, which went for Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points, is tired of an anti-choice Democrat who often votes with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Cisneros stunned when she announced a fundraising haul of $310,000 in the third quarter, and her campaign confirmed that Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement in October has fueled even more small-dollar donors.

Unions have good reason to be interested in this race. While Cuellar is more commonly known for voting to support a 20-week abortion ban and funding a Mexican border wall in his own southern Texas district, his record on labor issues has driven worker advocates crazy for years.

In May, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill that would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts.

The bill has 214 Democratic co-sponsors, and Cuellar is not among them.

“It’s something his staff is monitoring to see how the bill evolves and changes, and then he’ll make a decision,” Colin Strother, Cuellar’s campaign spokesperson, told The Intercept. “Three out of four jobs in our district are created by small businesses, so he always has an eye toward how something will impact small business.”

It’s certainly not the first time Cuellar has cited protecting small businesses as a reason to avoid pro-worker legislation. He was one of the few Democrats not to co-sponsor the $15 minimum wage bill the House passed this summer, and while he ultimately voted for its passage, he also voted for an unsuccessful amendment that would have exempted millions of workers from the law.

Cuellar has also criticized many of the signature labor reforms of the Obama era — including expanding overtime pay to 4 million workers and holding corporations liable for the violations of their franchisees. He’s one of just three Democrats to co-sponsor legislation restricting the definition of a joint employer, which would make it harder for workers at franchised companies to unionize and hold large corporations accountable.

Cisneros told The Intercept that she can be counted on to support the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and supporting the broader joint-employer standard outlined by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015. “I look forward to being a true champion for the working people of our district,” she said. “This can’t be done without strong labor laws that allow workers to negotiate for proper pay, good working conditions, and the benefits they deserve.”

Strother argued that since Cisneros has never run for office or been in politics, her positions at this stage amount to “fairy tales.” Her stated priorities of a Green New Deal and Medicare for All, he insisted, “would be devastating to the labor movement in this country” and make her “the most anti-labor Democrat that’s run in this district since Henry’s been elected.”

On trade, Cuellar has similarly stood out from his Democratic colleagues in the House and has made no secret that he’s doing all he can to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump’s renegotiated version of NAFTA. In October, he told Politico that he’s ready to approve the deal, describing it as “an easy vote.” Unions have repeatedly said the deal is not ready to come to the floor, as its provisions around labor, the environment, drug pricing, and enforcement are not yet strong enough.

“He’s OK with a race to the bottom to allow companies to compete where they can find the cheapest labor market,” said Harrison Hiner, a spokesperson for CWA District 6.

Cisneros pointed to her hometown of Laredo, the largest trade port in the country. “Our trade partnership with Mexico affects the lives of everyday workers in our district and is critical to our economy, yet unlike my opponent, I oppose trade agreements that fail to include enforceable labor standards,” she said. “I would not support legislation to authorize ‘fast-track’ procedures to approve trade agreements without sufficient congressional approval and oversight.” A main concern is that a weak trade deal would drive down U.S. wages and further exploit Mexican workers.

Strother, Cuellar’s campaign spokesperson, contested the idea that the trade pact is being rushed through, pointing out that lawmakers have been working on it for years. When The Intercept asked if Cuellar was working with labor on the trade deal, Strother said, “I wouldn’t characterize it like that,” but said that Cuellar will listen to anyone who raises concerns to try and build consensus.

The CWA hasn’t endorsed Cuellar since he first ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002. “We try to work with both sides of the aisle, but Democrats usually pitch themselves as representing working-class people,” Hiner said. “On a number of issues, he has broken ranks with workers, and that’s putting it nicely.”

Krissy O’Brien, an organizer with AFSCME Local 1624, told The Intercept that the national attention Cisneros has received has really helped galvanize activists back in Texas, which is partly why she was invited to speak at the union’s upcoming event. Nina Turner, a co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, will be the rally’s keynote speaker.

“The conference is to ignite the base in Texas, especially our membership,” said O’Brien. “We want to talk about what’s at stake, the flippable congressional seats, the chance to take back the Texas House, redistricting — there’s just all these things we want to make sure everyone is aware of. We want to get our members excited, engaged, and ready to rock.”

Given Cuellar’s record, one might ask why he’s faced no serious challenger before. A former Democratic lawmaker in the Texas legislature chalked it up to the fact that labor is fairly weak in Cuellar’s district, so unions weren’t really able to focus their attention on House primaries. “But since someone is now making a very serious run and has proven herself as a serious fundraiser, they’re paying attention,” they said.

Hiner agrees. “I think all the national attention, and the fact that she’s proved she can raise money, has made her a viable alternative to folks who really haven’t had that before,” he said. “And sometimes other good options just never step forward.”

While the unions may not all be flush with cash, they can provide formidable boots on the ground, especially from big cities across the state. Other progressive groups in Texas, like the Texas chapter of the Working Families Party, are already planning to get involved in the race.

Cuellar’s campaign, for its part, is trying to argue that the CWA’s endorsement is illegitimate. The congressman has “always been supportive of labor,” said his spokesperson, “and in fact, the CWA endorsement was really a farce. We didn’t even get a chance to sit for an interview.”

Cuellar’s record, Hiner responded, spoke for itself.

Harvard Grad Students Are Taking on the Trump Administration and Their Own School

Originally published in VICE on October 30, 2019.

More than 90 percent of graduate student union members at Harvard voted to authorize a strike last week, a signal of frustration as efforts to negotiate the elite university’s first collective bargaining contract with these workers drag on. While no strike date has yet been scheduled, union leaders now have the ability to call for a labor stoppage if they deem it necessary. A strike could mean students who also work as teachers and teaching assistants cancel their classes and office hours, refuse to grade papers and problem sets, and that research assistants also refrain from doing their jobs.

In other words, it would represent a public and stark demonstration of class conflict at one of the most rarefied institutions in the United States.

“Undergraduate and graduate student workers do much of the work that makes this campus run,” said Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a third-year law-school student and member of the union’s bargaining committee. “We do the research that brings in the grants and gives them the fame and glory. We do the teaching that lets people get an education here.”

Sandalow-Ash herself works as a research assistant and said she earns $12 an hour, the state’s minimum wage. It’s a wage that’s too low, she stressed, to properly tackle rising tuition and student loan debt.

Harvard’s wouldn’t be the first grad students to go on strike, and in fact are poised to join a growing movement of labor unrest among white-collar workers in industries like tech and journalism, and an increasing number of students at private colleges in particular. In June, University of Chicago students went on strike for three days to pressure their school to voluntarily recognize their union. In April 2018, the same month Harvard graduate students voted to form their union, hundreds of students at Columbia University went on strike over their stalled contract negotiations.

But in addition to battling their university, Harvard grad students also have the Trump administration to worry about. It’s just the latest example of an increasingly class-conscious generation butting heads with a reflexively pro-business White House.

In September, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is dominated by anti-union Trump appointees, announced a new rule that would effectively strip union rights from teaching and research assistants at private universities. If it passed, the rule would likely face a court challenge. The federal labor board has said ending the employer-employee relationship would help protect the educational experience of students, and better preserve academic freedoms.

The proposed rule is open for public comment until mid-December, and Jonathan Swain, a spokesman for Harvard, said the school was reviewing it. Among other things, the NLRB stance appeared to be that graduate students at private universities shouldn’t have union rights because they would be negotiating over academic matters that differ from the ones facing traditional workers.

It is true that for student workers, employment and academia sometimes overlap. In Harvard’s case, graduate students are seeking the right to fight what they described as potential classroom retaliation.

“Oftentimes our work supervisors are the same people who grade us academically, which means that retaliation can take an academic form,” Sandalow-Ash explained. “For instance, say that a lab researcher reports his/her principal investigator for sexual harassment on the job. That supervisor would likely be upset about this report, and might seek to retaliate against the student”—either by giving them a poor job evaluation, failing them on an exam, or kicking them out of the lab altogether.

Still, Charlotte Garden, a labor law expert at the Seattle University School of Law, said the fact that students were also bargaining over issues like dental insurance, parental leave, and non-discrimination procedures seemed to undermine the NLRB’s case. These “bread-and-butter issues are core concerns for employees no matter what kind of work they do,” Garden said. She suspected the NLRB would vote to undermine graduate student unions regardless of what happens at Harvard, though she also said “it is definitely possible that the Board will discuss the Harvard strike in its decision accompanying its final rulemaking.”

The graduate student union and Harvard have reached some agreements so far, most recently around immigrant and international student rights. Under the proposed agreement, international student workers would be afforded paid leave to attend court hearings and work through other visa issues, and immigration attorneys would visit Harvard each semester to consult with students.

“We also got guarantees that if someone is forced to leave the country for some immigration reason, Harvard will make its best efforts to keep employing them remotely,” Sandalow-Ash said.

The two sides were set to meet for more bargaining on Wednesday. The main sticking points in the negotiations have been around wages, healthcare, and protections against discrimination and sexual assault.

Swain, the Harvard spokesperson, told VICE that the University “believes that calls for a strike are unwarranted.” He emphasized that the University “continues to approach these negotiations in good faith, and has offered substantive proposals on compensation and benefits, as well as other areas of concern” raised by the union.

For her part, Ege Yumusak, a Harvard graduate student in philosophy and a member of the bargaining committee, said she was motivated to join the union because she saw how the school “systematically failed” survivors of sexual assault as an undergraduate. The union wants to give its members the option to address sexual harassment grievances using independent arbitration. In that scenario, an ostensibly neutral third party holds the decision-making power, rather than Harvard Title IX coordinators (named after the law banning sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funds).

“What frustrates me the most is Harvard’s denial of these common sense, basic protections against harassment and discrimination,” Yumusak said. “We talk a lot about gender and racial equity in academia—well, that is not only an admissions issue. We do not have much diversity because people are not supported once they’re here.”

A recent survey administered by the Association of American Universities found a third of undergraduate women at Harvard reported they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact, a figure that is somewhat higher than average among the 21 schools surveyed nationally in both 2015 and 2019.

Harvard has resisted the demand to allow for third-party arbitration, citing concerns that giving some students an option to resolve complaints not afforded to all students would run afoul of federal Title IX regulation.

Union leaders say these fears are unfounded, and that the university should take the opportunity to negotiate a gold-standard contract or risk inviting something resembling class war on campus—especially with federal labor rules potentially changing soon.

“With a $40 billion endowment, this is the wealthiest university in the world,” Yumusak said. “We can have the strongest contract, too.”

Elizabeth Warren Releases An Education Plan

Originally published in The Intercept on October 21, 2019.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN RELEASED a wide-ranging education plan Monday, pledging to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into public schools if she wins the presidency, paid in part through her proposed two-cent tax on wealth over $50 million. Warren’s plan is infused with her broader campaign themes of reducing corruption and fraud; she backs measures like new taxes on education lobbying, limiting the profiteering of tech companies that sell digital products to schools, and curbing self-dealing within charter schools.

And it builds on some of her earlier campaign proposals, like pledging to appoint a former public school teacher as education secretary, supporting schools in teaching Native American history and culture, and expanding early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers.

In May, fellow Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders’s own education plan sent shockwaves when he endorsed the NAACP’s call for banning for-profit charter schools and holding nonprofit charters to the same transparency and accountability standards as traditional public schools. In her new plan, Warren joins Sanders in embracing these positions.

Warren goes further than Sanders in calling not only for a for-profit charter school ban, but also extending the ban to any nonprofit charter that “actually serve[s] for-profit interests.” Warren said she would even direct the IRS to investigate nonprofit charters for potential tax status abuse and recommends referring “cases to the Tax Fraud Division of the Department of Justice when appropriate.”

Sanders has faced some pressure from the left over his narrower focus on for-profit charters. A Jacobin piece from July said while Sanders’s education plan went further than any other candidate, limiting his critique to for-profit charter schools means his “policy fails to get to the root of the issue.” (Warren does not call for an outright ban on nonprofit charters, as the Jacobin piece urges.)

WARREN’S PLAN EMBRACES some of the other bold ideas endorsed by her top rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, and in some cases goes further than what they have proposed. For example, both Sanders and Biden pledge to triple the amount of federal funding for high-poverty schools, known as Title I, from $15 billion to $45 billion. Warren’s plan commits to quadrupling Title I funding, and says she will use this new investment to press states to reform their own inequitable school funding formulas.

In her plan, Warren acknowledges that school systems which heavily rely on local property tax can shortchange students living in low-income areas. As of 2015, she highlights, only 11 states had adopted progressive school funding formulas, meaning those states allocate more money to students in high-poverty school districts than to students in affluent ones. The other 39 states either all gave students the same flat rate per pupil, or students in high-poverty districts actually received less state support than their more affluent peers.


Warren says she would condition access to her new Title I investments on states increasing their own school funding contributions, adopting progressive state funding formulas, and implementing those formulas with fidelity. From a political perspective, the plan is likely to draw fire from the types of wealthy suburbs that have leaned toward Warren’s candidacy, and which she would likely need in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to win the general election.

While Sanders’s Thurgood Marshall for Education Plan notes that school districts funded by local property tax can result in “unconscionable inequalities,” his plan only proposes to “rethink the link” between property tax and school funding. He calls for “establish[ing] a national per-pupil spending floor” but doesn’t say what that floor should be. This is in contrast to Sanders’s teacher pay proposal, which commits to a minimum salary floor of $60,000.

On the subject of school infrastructure, Warren also goes beyond her two top rivals in outlining how she would improve aging facilities.

Sanders’s plan pledges to “fully close the gap in school infrastructure funding to renovate, modernize, and green the nation’s schools” but doesn’t offer details. Biden pledges to include funding for school buildings in a larger federal infrastructure bill, but doesn’t estimate how much that investment should be. (Republican Sen. Susan Collins managed to defeat a measure to boost federal investment in school buildings last time the nation authorized significant infrastructure spending through the 2009 stimulus.)

Warren’s education plan commits to at least $50 billion in additional school facility funding, and notes that some of her other plans include funds for school modernization and repair, like the lead abatement grant program in her environmental justice package, and money for retrofitting and upgrading buildings in her clean energy plan. The need for school infrastructure investment is substantial: A 2016 report estimated the nation underfunds school facility needs by $46 billion each year.

WHEN IT COMES to issues around education reform, Warren — like most Democratic presidential candidates — has continued to back away from the charter school movement.

Up to this point, Warren has faced some heat over her positioning on charter schools. In a 2018 Senate hearing, she praised the academic results of Boston charter schools — considered the highest-performing in the nation — and she has in the past said it’s the unregulated, unchecked growth of charters that she opposes. In 2016, Warren came out against a high-profile ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would have allowed charter schools to expand much more quickly in her state.

“Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,” Warren said at the time. “But after hearing more from both sides, I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

This past January, when Los Angeles teachers went on strike partly over charter schools, her spokesperson told me that Warren “believes rapid charter school expansion can pose a threat to the financial health of traditional public school districts.” Sanders has adopted a largely similar stance: His presidential education plan criticizes the damage wrought by “unregulated charter school growth.”

Warren has also faced criticism over the fact that one of her Senate education staffers, Josh Delaney, is a Teach for America alumnus. As The Intercept first reported last week, two of Sanders’s recent education advisers are also Teach for America alumni. Research suggests none of this might be as revealing as critics think: A recent study found that Teach for America alumni are 12 percentage points less likely to support the “expansion of high-quality charter schools” compared to similar nonparticipants — suggesting an ideological gap between Teach for America management and its teachers.

Details aside, Warren’s new education plan sends a strong signal of how her administration would think about not only charter schools but also other forms of school privatization.

Her plan calls to end the diversion of tax dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers and voucher-like tax credits. A campaign spokesperson clarified that this means both working to stop the expansion of voucher programs and working toward ending existing ones.

Biden’s and Sanders’s plans do not mention vouchers or tuition tax credits, though Sanders told the Washington Post that he would not support using public money in the form of vouchers or tax credits for private or religious school education, which he has a long record of opposing. Biden did not answer the same question when he was asked.

In her plan, Warren frames her opposition to the 2016 charter school ballot initiative as an example of “fight[ing] back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools.” She pledges to “go further” and now calls for eliminating a federal grant program used to promote new charter schools. She pledges to see if there are any other federal programs that subsidize new charters and would “seek to limit the use of those programs for that purpose.”

Both Warren and Sanders support helping charter teachers unionize, requiring that charter school boards include teachers and parents, and that charters be subject to greater oversight.

(Biden’s education plan makes no mention of charters, but he said at a campaign town hall that he wouldn’t support federal funds for for-profit charters, and he also criticized some charters for siphoning money from traditional public schools.)

ANOTHER MAJOR PLANK of Warren’s new education platform is around school desegregation, an area in which she again joins her top two rivals. She says school integration matters both because research shows it improves educational outcomes for students of all races, and because the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection demands it.

Warren flags her own law review article, published in 1975, that criticized a Supreme Court ruling which made it harder to bus students for school desegregation. If that was a dig at Biden, there’s also one that appears subtly aimed at Sen. Kamala Harris’s record of criminalizing parents for student truancy: Warren’s plan pledges to “address chronic absenteeism without punishing parents or children.”

Part of her new plan to integrate schools involves tackling housing segregation, and her previously released housing plan incentivizes eliminating zoning laws that perpetuate residential segregation. Warren says some of her additional Title I investment can also be used to incentivize voluntary school integration.

Beyond incentives, Warren says she’d strengthen Title VI enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, and like Sanders, she’d expand the federal Office for Civil Rights’ capacity to investigate discrimination and appoint federal judges committed to civil rights precedent.

Notably, Warren calls out the generally whiter and wealthier districts that have attempted to secede from their more racially diverse school districts over the last two decades. “Under my leadership, the Department of Education and the Justice Department will subject any attempt to create a breakaway district to careful scrutiny and bring appropriate Title VI enforcement actions,” her plan states.

To tackle school segregation, Sanders’s plan backs increased federal funding for “community-driven strategies” to desegregate, for school transportation, and for magnet schools. Biden, who has come under fire this campaign season for his work undermining school integration in the 1970s, has said he would provide grants to school districts to diversify schools and reinstate an Obama-era guidance that supported schools in pursuing desegregation.

Lastly, Warren, Biden, and Sanders all make calls to increase the federal government’s commitment to funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law which mandates services be provided to students with special needs. When the federal government passed IDEA in 1975, Congress pledged to finance 40 percent of its cost. But in practice, federal spending has hovered just under 15 percent, putting immense strain on states and local districts to support students with disabilities. Biden promised to “live up to our commitment” — meaning the 40 percent target — within 10 years. Sanders said he would provide mandatory funding covering “at least 50 percent” of the IDEA costs, and Warren in her new plan promises to meet the federal government’s 40 percent target, while also expanding IDEA’s investment to cover 3- to 5-year-olds, and early interventions for toddlers and infants.

D.C. Schools Battle Requests to Release Information About Sex Misconduct

Originally published in Washington City Paper on October 2017

Paul Kihn, D.C.’s deputy mayor for education, announced on Aug. 8 that DC Public Schools received six “substantiated” complaints of sexual misconduct involving school staff since January 2018. But when parents, led by Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Denise Krepp, asked to learn which six schools those were, Kihn declined to share the information, citing concern for the past victims, and a potential chilling effect on future victims coming forward. “We do not believe we have heard a compelling argument to release such an aggregated list, i.e. how this list will help keep students safe,” Kihn wrote to Krepp on Aug. 20.

Three days later, the D.C. Open Government Coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn the names of the six schools. The FOIA, addressed to the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office, said it was not seeking “any record of any charge, investigation, conclusions or related personnel action.” All it sought, the request said, was where the incidents happened. (The transparency coalition filed a similar request with D.C. Public Schools on Sept. 24.)

To bolster its case, the author of the FOIAs, board member Fritz Mulhauser, pointed to Kihn’s Aug. 20 letter, where he told Krepp that it’s DC Public Schools policy that “school communities are informed of such incidents as they occur.” In other words, Mulhauser said, since hundreds of students, staff, and parents at those schools were presumably informed of the incidents, per school district policy, the rest of the city is entitled to access that information, too. The courts, he added, have held that “records with information that is already public may not be withheld.”

The effort to learn this information was prompted by an incident, reported by WAMU in June, that an adult working in an after-school program at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan was arrested and charged with allegedly having sexual contact with a 13-year-old student between January and May. Parents were alarmed that they learned of the allegations a month after they were first filed, and D.C. Public Schools soon learned that the after-school program, Springboard, had not conducted a proper background check on the employee. In August, following an internal review, DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee shared that more than 30 percent of school district employees had expired background checks, and DCPS would work to improve its safety protocols going forward.

The Deputy Mayor for Education’s office doesn’t track comparable information for charter schools, which educate roughly 47,000 students in the city and are not subject to FOIA.

On Sept. 23, Gina Toppin, the FOIA Officer for the Deputy Mayor for Education, informed Mulhauser that his request for information had been denied, “because the DME does not maintain the requested records” and Mulhauser did not “name any specific individual records or key words.” On Oct. 11, Eboni Govan, the FOIA Officer for D.C. Public Schools, likewise told Mulhauser, “DCPS does not have documents that are responsive to this request.”

In other words, despite receiving 27 complaints of sexual misconduct between Jan. 1, 2018 and this past August, and concluding that six of those allegations were “substantiated,” the Deputy Mayor for Education and D.C. Public Schools said they have no records that contain the names of the schools where the aforementioned incidents took place.

“Given that the six schools have supposedly been the subject of an accusation, an investigation, and a finding that something of concern did happen, the DME’s response lacks credibility,” Mulhauser tells City Paper.

City Paper reached out to the Deputy for Mayor for Education to ask how it is possible that there are no records available with this information, and if he wants to respond to Mulhauser’s concern that despite the risks it may estimate releasing school names to the public might create, the law says the government cannot withhold information from the wider public if some people have already reviewed it.

In emailed responses, Kihn reiterated that his office “does not maintain such records” and contested the idea that the information has already been released publicly, saying, “The District has not disclosed specific names of the schools or names of any employee accused of sexual misconduct.” He did not clarify how this response aligns with his prior statement that “school communities are informed of such incidents as they occur.”

When asked to comment on his rationale for keeping the school names private, Kihn wrote that “while we are committed to being transparent in keeping families and community members informed of incidents that have been reported, we are respectful of victims’ feelings and rights, as well as of due process and employee confidentiality.”

Kihn went further, saying that they feel “a public list of schools could easily fan flames in those communities and put people on the spot. Rumors in such cases are often much worse than the substantiated claims, and we don’t feel right contributing in any way to circumstances that might negatively impact victims, o[r] lead to speculation and gossip that could be generally harmful to school communities.” Moreover, he added, “such a list might chill future complaints by victims if indeed such a spotlight is shone on schools, and creates unhelpful speculation and gossip about both victims and perpetrators.”

He referenced a 2017 order from Mayor Muriel Bowser that sexual harassment complaints and investigations be kept as confidential as possible for these reasons, among others, and says “we want to honor the spirit of the Order.”

“It’s disappointing that public officials don’t trust the public as deserving to know the facts on important subjects like student safety in school,” says Mulhauser, adding that access to public records in D.C. is governed by the Freedom of Information Act, not by individual officials using a personal risk-benefit calculus.

Danica Petroshius, a Capitol Hill Montessori parent who has been leading efforts since June to improve policies on school sexual misconduct, contends the lack of transparency not only “breeds distrust” but also sends a friendly signal to predators.

“The lack of adequate data and sharing means that predators know we have a weak system,” she wrote in a letter to Kihn, dated Sept. 7. “Data and transparency are a key part of a strong preventative system.”

In an interview with City Paper, Petroshius says she believes taking proactive, transparent steps does not inherently conflict with protecting student privacy.

“I don’t believe it at all when [Kihn] says it’s about the victims,” she says. “It’s that they don’t want to be transparent, they want to protect from lawsuits, they want to shield information because they’re terrified.”

Petroshius is now serving on a newly formed D.C. Public Schools Student Safety Task Force. It had one meeting in September, and has two more scheduled for this fall. “I do think DCPS is trying to fix this. I wouldn’t be involved if I didn’t think we could actually move forward,” she says. “I really worry for all of our charter parents, and I think we should have one citywide policy to cover all our kids.”

Mulhauser says the D.C. Open Government Coalition will appeal their two FOIA responses, and ask the mayor to do a more rigorous records search. “Appeals of incorrect or limited searches are among the most common topics of litigation in public records issues around the country,” he adds, suggesting that could be an option for them down the line.

Bernie Sanders Stood Up To Teach For America When Congress Wouldn’t

Originally published in The Intercept on October 16, 2019.

IN HIS EXPANSIVE presidential education platform, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lays out commitments to raising teacher pay, expanding teacher-training programs, and addressing the shortage in special education teacher recruitment.

His plan, though critical of many staples of education reform — like the proliferation of charter schools and tying federal funds to standardized tests — steers clear of some other controversial education topics, like Teach For America, the national organization that recruits recent college graduates and places them in public schools for two-year stints.

Sanders has a notable history on this issue, however, in that he stood up to the powerful organization when virtually no one else in Congress would.

While he has said in the past that he is a “strong supporter of programs like Teach For America” and several of his education advisers were alumni of the program, Sanders was also the sole member of the Democratic caucus to take on the group in a 2011 fight about the role noncertified teachers play in the U.S. public school system.

The senator’s fight was rooted in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which included a provision that said all students are entitled to “Highly Qualified Teachers” — a goal to ensure all educators were sufficiently prepared before running their own classroom. Under the law, teachers in core subjects were required to have bachelor’s degrees, demonstrate content knowledge, and obtain state teaching certificates or pass state licensing exams.

These rules posed a problem for Teach for America, since its uncredentialed recruits did not meet those standards, but the organization had built its reputation on the idea that its participants were ready to start immediately leading classrooms. Over several years, Teach for America lobbied to have its program participants recognized as “highly qualified” — a proposition that rankled Sanders, as well as a broad coalition of education and civil rights groups. Research showed uncertified teachers worked disproportionately in high-poverty schools, and in some states, were concentrated with English-language learners and students with disabilities.

“When we have highly qualified teachers, we don’t want all of those teachers being in upper-middle-class neighborhoods educating kids to go to Harvard and Yale,” Sanders said in 2011. “We want that, but we also want to make sure that schools that have serious problems, where kids are dropping out, kids have a lot of disabilities, we want to make sure that those schools get their fair share, an equitable distribution of ‘highly qualified’ teachers.”

Sanders ultimately lost the fight — waged at a time when Teach for America not only commanded strong allies in Congress but also had the backing of Barack Obama’s Education Department. While the relevant portion of the law was eliminated in 2015, the episode is worth examining closely as a lesser-known example of Sanders’s willingness to challenge his party and the Washington consensus.

The Sanders campaign declined to comment for this story. Joe Walsh, a spokesperson for Teach for America, told The Intercept over email that “this was an old debate about a law that does not exist anymore … [but] back when this was in place, there was overwhelming bipartisan support, in both two different Administrations and in Congress, for the highly qualified teacher rules. The law back then included those teachers who entered the teaching profession through high-quality alternative preparation programs. We supported that, as did many other education organizations. Our teachers always met the standard of highly qualified teacher.”

FEW EDUCATION GROUPS wield more political power on Capitol Hill than Teach for America. It has been a bipartisan sweetheart for more than two decades, and consequently has landed tens of millions of dollars in federal grants and earmarks. As is common in Washington, the organization’s strength with the federal government has enabled it to shape law in its favor.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, the group was enmeshed in a dispute over teacher credentialing under the No Child Left Behind Act that demonstrated its ability to marshal influence in D.C. Under the law, a school district was permitted to hire educators who did not meet the “highly qualified” bar if there were teacher shortages. Schools that did so, however, had to then inform parents if their child was taught by such a teacher, publicly disclose how many teachers in the entire school were not highly qualified, and develop a plan to reach 100 percent highly qualified teachers. The law also barred schools from disproportionately concentrating inexperienced and uncertified teachers in classrooms with low-income students and students of color. In other words, if noncertified teachers had to be hired, they also had to be fairly distributed across schools.

Teach for America and its allies in the education reform community lobbied the government, and in 2002, the Department of Education issued a regulation that said “highly qualified” teachers could now also include unlicensed teachers for up to three years if they were making progress toward their certification. This effectively resolved the problem for Teach For America, as most program recruits planned to leave the classroom at the end of their assignment anyway.

In 2007, the civil rights law firm Public Advocates filed a suit against the Department of Education over this regulation. In effect, the lawyers argued, it created an exemption that condoned the assignment of novice, inexperienced teachers to students in high-poverty schools, which are disproportionately nonwhite and low-income.

“It seemed pretty simple to us all along that you can’t have a law that requires ‘full state certification’ for teachers to be highly qualified and also say that people who are in the process of getting their certification meet that designation,” said John Affeldt, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Those are two different states of being.”

Affedlt said there was little question as to why the 2002 regulation came about. “Teach for America applied pressure because they saw the original statute as threatening to their model and to the growth of their organization,” he said. “At some point between its founding and the mid-2000s, Teach for America had changed its belief system from ‘Every student needs fully qualified, highly effective teachers’ to ‘Every student needs us.’ TFA’s model depends on being able to concentrate their people in low-income, high-minority schools, and they thought that was a good thing. And if the law incentivized districts to hire other types of teachers ahead of TFA, well, they didn’t want that. They wanted to be seen on the same level, and some in leadership truly believe that TFA’s teachers-in-training are as good or even better qualified than certified teachers who might apply.”

Teach for America and its education allies fought back against the 2007 lawsuit. In November 2008, Teach for America lawyers submitted an amicus brief arguing that overturning the regulation would “have devastating consequences for our nation’s poorest and most at-risk students.” (The lead counsel was Jenner & Block attorney, Donald Verrelli, who would go on to become solicitor general in the Obama administration.) The brief made a number of unfounded claims, like that school districts could be forced to fire tens of thousands of teachers-in-training and replace them with substitutes. “Whatever Appellant’s motives, the relief they seek would gravely harm the public school students most in need of assistance,” the lawyers argued.

In a response brief, Affeldt and his colleagues argued that “TFA’s illogical doomsday scenario” will not come to pass if the plaintiffs prevail, as school districts will still have the right to hire noncertified teachers. They “will simply have to be reported—accurately—as non-‘highly qualified,’” the lawyers wrote. “And rather than artificially papering over the shortage, states and districts will have to make good faith efforts to provide 100% of students with teachers who are fully-prepared and to distribute equitably teachers who are not.”

While Teach for America and the defendants tried to cast the lawsuit as a referendum on alternative teacher certification programs, the judges recognized that was not what was going on, and in September 2010, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the regulation, finding that it conflicted with the requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind.

REBUFFED BY THE courts, Teach for America instead turned to Congress, setting up a battle between the group and a vast majority of Democrats on one side, and Sanders on the other.

In December 2010, in the lame-duck session of the Democratic-controlled Congress, lawmakers inserted a rider into an unrelated spending bill that effectively nullified the Ninth Circuit ruling for at least another 2 1/2 years. Congress did this with no public debate, and legislators later claimed they were trying to prevent schools from facing major disruptions. “It has now become more important to maintain the status quo of using poor and minority schools as the training grounds for interns than enforcing teacher equity as NCLB called for and as parents are demanding,” Affeldt argued at the time.

Civil rights groups were furious about the shady rider, and in response launched the Coalition for Teaching Quality, representing more than 80 local, state, and national civil rights, disability rights, and education groups. Their mission was to get it overturned.

Jane West, an education consultant and one of the leaders of the coalition, approached Sanders, who sat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, seeking his help.

“We all knew Jessica Cardichon” — Sanders’s education counsel — “who everyone thought was fabulously and eminently thoughtful and reasonable, and we thought that Bernie Sanders was one of the few Democrats on the education committee who didn’t go around waving the flag for Teach for America,” West said. “So for that reason, we thought that would be the right office to approach.”

Cardichon herself was a Teach for America alumni, as was Sanders’s subsequent education staffer, Michael DiNapoli Jr., who worked for Sanders between November 2015 and June 2017. Both Cardichon and DiNapoli Jr. now work at the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank.

In a joint interview, they explained how their experiences in Teach for America helped inform their ideas about improving teacher quality, training, and mentorship.

“I taught for seven years and did TFA, and it did not prepare me well,” said Cardichon, who worked in a public school in the Bronx.

“I was also TFA, and felt similarly where I didn’t feel adequately prepared,” said DiNapoli Jr., who taught special education for one year in New York City.

Sanders understood these concerns, and in October 2011, he introduced two amendments, known collectively as the Assuring Successful Students through Effective Teaching Act, to address the problem. The measures would clarify that a “highly qualified” teacher would be someone who has completed their traditional or alternative teacher preparation program, and if they had not yet completed it, then parents had to be notified, and the teachers would need to be given additional supervision, guidance, and support.

In a Senate HELP committee hearing, Sanders emphasized that his amendments would not conflict with the goal of attracting new, bright teachers to the classroom, and said he is “a strong supporter of programs like Teach for America and other efforts to attract young people into education.” But, he stressed, it is wrong to characterize someone starting in the classroom two months after college graduation as already highly prepared.

“I think most of the people around this table would agree that doesn’t make any sense,” Sanders said. “That doesn’t make that person not a good teacher, not an inspired teacher; it simply does not make that teacher ‘highly qualified.’”

“If you had a heart condition, and you were going to go to a surgeon, you would go to a surgeon who has many surgeries successfully done,” he added. “And while another surgeon may be wonderful, a young surgeon who hasn’t yet performed his first surgery, you would probably go to the experienced [surgeon] who has already achieved a certain level of accomplishment.”

But Sanders faced great pushback in the committee from Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who had been appointed to his seat in 2009. Bennet, who had previously served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, was one of the most education-reform friendly members of Congress, and echoed Teach for America’s talking points in the committee. (Bennet is now one of Sanders’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for president, where he is polling at 1 percent.)

“I strongly object to this amendment,” Bennet said after Sanders finished speaking. “If this amendment were to pass, the federal government would in one fell swoop basically dismantle alternative certification programs, render it impossible for local districts and schools to hire alternatively-licensed teachers that they want to hire. … Adoption of this amendment would kill Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, and any other alternative certification constructs built on the idea that a program participant is a teacher of record while participating.”

Both amendments failed by large margins, though Sanders’s office continued to promote the issue and held a federal briefing on teacher quality the next month.

Cardichon, Sanders’s former education counsel, said despite their best efforts to show that this wasn’t some thinly veiled attack on Teach for America or alternative certification programs, opponents successfully leveraged their power to frame it that way. “TFA’s concern was that schools wouldn’t want to have to notify parents if teachers weren’t highly qualified, so there would be less of an incentive to hire them,” she said. “But you don’t then make them something they’re not to address that concern.”

Many on the HELP committee simply deferred to Bennet, given his experience as a superintendent, and other senators and senate staff were just sympathetic to TFA, seeing it as harmless at worst. Teach for America had also landed a $50 million federal Education Department grant to scale up its operations only a year earlier.

The Coalition for Teaching Quality continued its fight to overturn the 2010 rider, but it did so in the face of strong lobbying resistance from education reform organizations, even as more studies emerged showing that low-income students and students of color were more likely to be taught by uncertified teachers.

In 2012, over the coalition’s objections, a House subcommittee voted to allow teachers-in-training to still be considered “highly qualified” until the end of the 2013-2014 school year. The House members were lobbied not only by Teach for America, but also by a number of other powerful education groups and donors. In one letter sent to House of Representative leaders, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, the vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, prominent charter school networks like the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and others joined Teach for America in arguing falsely that if the highly qualified loophole were not extended then “hundreds of thousands of tremendously gifted teachers who have a significant impact on students will not be able to continue to teach.”

That same year, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, in response to advocacy by the Coalition for Teaching Quality, got Congress to ask the U.S. Department of Education to study how many students with disabilities, English-language learners, rural students, and low-income students are taught by teachers who have not yet completed their alternative certification programs. The study, whose results were released in June 2015, looked at data for the 2013-14 school year reported by 49 states and jurisdictions, and estimated over 800,000 students were taught by teachers-in-training. The findings confirmed advocates’ fears about the inequitable distribution of not-yet-certified teachers.

When Congress reauthorized No Child Left Behind, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, in December 2015, lawmakers scrapped the “highly qualified teacher” designation altogether. Few Democrats wanted to fight for it, and some Republicans, particularly Sen. Lamar Alexander, actively sought to reduce as much federal control over education as possible. Now it’s up to states to determine teacher certification and licensure requirements, though they still have to report to the federal government how they are working to ensure that low-income and minority students are not served disproportionately by “ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.”

“The mood with ESSA was we’re going to undo the controls and the tight dictates of No Child Left Behind,” said Affeldt, the civil rights attorney. “It was essentially a Republican approach of looser standards.”

West, one of the leaders of the civil rights coalition, said the teacher quality situation has grown even more dire since ESSA was passed, noting that it’s no longer federal law for teachers to even hold bachelor’s degrees.

Education reform organizations were less concerned. One leading proponent for evaluating teachers based partly on student standardized test scores told Education Week in 2016, “We’re not holding a funeral over here,” about the end of the “highly qualified” designation.

“Each state has teacher certification and licensure policies to determine who is qualified to teach in their schools, and they make the determination as to who is qualified to teach in classrooms in their state, as was the case for all the years prior to NCLB,” Walsh from Teach for America said in an email. “Our teachers continue to meet those standards.”

But to West, the entire controversy just “boiled down to politics.”

Ohio Progressive Morgan Harper Raised $323,000 In First Quarter of House Race

Originally published in The Intercept on October 9, 2019.

MORGAN HARPER, the 36-year-old progressive running for Congress in Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District raised a remarkable $323,000 during the first quarter of her campaign, setting her up for a potent primary challenge to 69-year-old Rep. Joyce Beatty, a four-term incumbent.

Harper, a first-time candidate, is running on the idea that Congress needs a new generation of leaders and is coming at Beatty from the left. Her platform consists of universal child care, tuition-free public college, Medicare for All, reparations, affordable housing, and a Green New Deal. In July, she told The Intercept that she sees freshman lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib as role models. “I most closely identify with the women who are pushing for the bold policies that we’re going to need to make sure people are OK, and we build a United States that works for everyone,” she said.

Beatty, a longtime official with Ohio State University, entered politics in 1999, taking over her husband’s seat in the Ohio state House, where he had served the previous two decades. There she became Democratic leader and the first woman to hold that position in the chamber’s history. She was then elected to Congress in 2012, serving on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, often aligning herself with financial interests.

Harper’s first-quarter haul came from approximately 2,670 individual donors from all 50 states, though the majority came from Ohio, according to figures provided by her campaign. Residents of 90 percent of the ZIP codes represented in the Ohio district, which includes most of Columbus, were among the donors, said Harper. The average donation to the campaign was $85, with 90 percent of donations standing at $100 or less.


Like other progressive challengers, Harper has sworn off money from corporate political action committees, lobbyists, and the fossil fuel industry. Beyond that, Harper has also said she will not accept donations from payday lenders and firearms manufacturers. But Harper’s time spent working at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C., as well as her degrees from Tufts, Stanford, and Princeton, also give her a network to tap for bigger contributions than many challengers are able to muster.

Harper’s campaign has raised the fourth-largest amount of money among any first-time congressional primary challenger in the initial quarter of their campaign, according to data provided by Data for Progress. Her haul trails Tim Canova, who raised roughly $537,000 in the first quarter of his ultimately unsuccessful 2016 bid; Suraj Patel, who raised more than $525,000 his first quarter against New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney in 2018; and Ayanna Pressley, who raised $364,000 against Michael Capuano that same cycle. (Patel narrowly lost his 2018 primary bid, and he recently announced that he will be launching a second challenge. Pressley won her race and now represents Massachusetts’ 7th District.)

Harper’s campaign fundraising prowess was made possible by a strong ground operation, she told The Intercept. “We have at this point a solid group of folks who are consistently canvassing every week,” she said. “People stop in, we’re out speaking at different events and supporting different progressive movements that are underway. We are feeling very optimistic. The biggest challenge is just overcoming the privileges that come with incumbency. But once we get to people, they’re really excited.”

Three recent incidents put Harper’s campaign on the national map, giving her a boost among out-of-state donors, Harper said: an endorsement in early August from Justice Democrats, an appearance on the Young Turks, and “the Jonathan Weisman thing” — referring to a Twitter controversy initiated by then-New York Times Deputy Washington Editor Jonathan Weisman. On August 7, he noted that Justice Democrats had endorsed a challenger to Beatty, “an African-American Democrat.”

Harper then quote-tweeted Weisman, saying, “I am also black.”

Harper’s tweet went viral, elevated in part by prominent figures like Roxane Gay, who tweeted, “Any time you think you’re unqualified for a job remember that this guy, telling a black woman she isn’t black because he looked at a picture and can’t see, has one of the most prestigious jobs in America.”

The episode escalated when Weisman emailed Gay, her assistant, and her book publisher to demand Gay apologize for her tweets, arguing that she had “willfully or mistakenly” misconstrued his remarks.

The drama resulted in Weisman getting demoted, and he hasn’t tweeted since that day.

“All those things just amplified awareness nationally and really increased the number of small donors,” Harper told The Intercept.

Harper’s fundraising news comes on the heels of a successful quarter for Jessica Cisneros, a progressive challenger running against Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’s 28th District. In the last quarter, Cisnersos raised $310,000 — a significant boost, likely aided in part by Sen. Elizabeth Warren throwing her weight behind the candidate in September. Marie Newman, a progressive running against incumbent Democrat Dan Lipinski in Ilinois’s 3rd Congressional District likewise saw a successful quarter. Campaign manager Ben Hardin told The Intercept that Newman raised $350,000 in the most recent fundraising period. Newman, who came close to defeating Lipinski in a primary challenge last year, has been endorsed by Warren and Ocasio-Cortez.

Both Cisneros and Newman have also sworn off corporate PAC and lobbyist money.

“These are pretty astounding numbers,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of Data for Progress. “The fact that we are having this number of primary challengers hitting these numbers — and I suspect there will be more to come — is telling and really a sign that the idea that primary challengers are somehow abnormal or somehow malignant is wrong.”

“If I were an incumbent, I would be scared shitless,” McElwee continued. “Right now, if you were a member of Congress who thought, ‘Oh, only Capuano or Crowley or white guys in majority POC districts need to be worried,’ what candidates like Morgan Harper and Jessica Cisneros are saying is that any Democratic representing a safe Democratic district should be put on watch.”

California Allows Child Care Workers to Unionize

Originally published in The American Prospect on October 4, 2019.

This week, after a 16-year battle in California, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation granting collective-bargaining rights to more than 40,000 child care providers. California now joins 11 other states—New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island—in allowing child care providers to negotiate with the state over wages, health care, and other job protections.

“I was at the bill signing, and it was so wonderful,” says Charlotte Neal, a Sacramento-based child care provider of almost 19 years. “It’s such an awesome feeling to see the work that you put in actually happen, and happen before your eyes.”

The legislation, Assembly Bill 378, applies to the roughly 40,000 child care workers in California who provide services to families on government subsidy. The workers will now be able to bargain with California like other public employees, although they will not become state workers themselves. The legislation also allows unions to attend orientation meetings organized by the state, where they can make their case to the workers for becoming union members.

For Neal, who runs a 24-hour child care center out of her home, getting to negotiate finances with the state is her top priority. “We need to get resources for providers so we can continue to give quality care,” she says. “I know for myself we struggle just to make ends meet.”

Providers say they want to sit down with the state to talk about child care fees, quality programming, professional development, and confusing regulations. A 2018 survey of state child care providers found low wages was the top challenge to keeping centers open, with many providers saying supports like a network of substitutes, access to paid sick days, and cost-of-living increases would make their lives a lot easier.

Patricia Moran, who runs her own home-based child care in San Jose, says access to health insurance would benefit not only her but also the children she cares for. “We will have more focus on the job, and be able to have peace of mind,” she says. Moran believes providers like herself would also go to more professional-development trainings if they didn’t have to be frequently adding extra jobs to pay the bills.

Beverly Yu, assistant legislative director for the United Domestic Workers/AFSCME Local 3930, says providers have been able to share some thoughts about their jobs in quarterly meetings with the California Department of Education and the California Department of Social Services. But these meetings, Yu points out, have really been held only due to the state’s goodwill, not because state officials are required to listen to workers.

“Winning collective bargaining is truly a game changer,” she says. “Not only do providers now have a voice to cover issues like wages, they now also have the ability to negotiate a union-sponsored trust fund for health care benefits and they have tools now in front of them to be able to effectuate real change at the table.”

The majority of child care providers in California are women of color and tend to be older than women in the state workforce writ large. They are also more linguistically diverse than the California adult population, and nearly two-thirds of them work alone.

One key aspect of the new legislation is the requirement that states must give unions contact information for the tens of thousands of home care providers who work with children on subsidy. This will make it much easier for UDW/AFSCME and SEIU to reach out to workers, and potentially organize them into unions. (UDW/AFSCME and SEIU have divided up jurisdiction of the state, so child care providers in 39 counties would join the former, and those in the other 19 counties would be in SEIU. They all will be part of the same bargaining unit under the banner of Child Care Providers United, or CCPU.) Absent the years of organizing and lobbying by the unions, it’s unlikely that the child care providers could have persuaded the legislature—or any governor—to grant them collective-bargaining rights.

Union advocates are calling this both the largest current organizing effort in the country to move working women out of poverty, and the largest organizing effort going on in the country, period.

Currently about 2,500 California child care providers are union members, and according to Jono Shaffer, a California SEIU organizer who helped lead the Child Care Providers United campaign, thousands more have already signed union cards calling for an election.

“The state has never had a full list of child care providers receiving subsidy,” he tells The American Prospect. “The state knows how much it spends, and it sends money to agencies all over, and those agencies pay out to providers, but the state itself doesn’t know who the providers are. Now as part of the law the state has to develop a list.”

Moran, the San Jose child care provider, says as she went canvassing to build up support for collective bargaining, she found some providers who just were too doubtful to believe it could ever happen, based on the failure to bring about real change for so many years.

“Now skeptical providers will see it’s possible,” Moran says.

Neal agrees that finally winning collective-bargaining rights will make it a lot easier to convince those who were previously on the fence.

It’s been a long journey for California child care providers, who have been trying to win these rights for the last 16 years.

Gray Davis, a Democrat, was serving as governor in the early 2000s, and “the feeling was we’d be able to move this child care legislation and Gray would sign it,” says Shaffer. But then Davis got recalled, and he was replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who proceeded to veto the legislation repeatedly over his eight years in office.

“Schwarzenegger would say all these nice things, and the child care providers would meet with him and he never wanted to seem like a bad guy, but then at the eleventh hour he would always veto the bill,” Shaffer explained.

Then Jerry Brown, a Democrat, was elected governor, and child care providers thought their chances looked good again, especially since one of Brown’s first acts as governor in the 1970s was to extend collective-bargaining rights to California farmworkers.

“People thought we were good, but then the bill got reintroduced and he vetoed it,” says Shaffer. Brown explained that given the state’s budget challenges, he was “reluctant to embark on a program of this magnitude and potential cost.”

“What folks have told me is that this was during the heart of the recession, the state was in deep financial trouble, and he was just unwilling to have another group of workers that would be bargaining with the state,” says Shaffer.

The big differences this time around were twofold. First, California’s macroeconomy is booming, creating a surplus of $21 billion in this year’s state budget. Second, Brown was succeeded as governor this year by fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom, who was elected in 2018 and has emphasized that boosting early child care in California would be a top priority. To that end, the 2019-2020 state budget includes a $2.3 billion increase for early-childhood programs and supports.

“Newsom is a father of young children, and I think he’s much more personally connected to these issues than past leaders,” says Shaffer, noting that former Governor Jerry Brown had no kids. “Workers need to organize, struggle, and create the environment,” he adds, but Newsom “is an example of how elected leaders can really lead. They need to be able to take risks around some of these critical pieces, and Newsom has shown he’s willing to do that.”

One thing Newsom and union advocates agree on is that making more investments in the early-childhood workforce can bring about positive changes not just for providers, but also for parents, children, and ultimately, the state’s economy.

Newsom and the legislature increased spending because they concluded that the current level was too low to meet the needs of families and too low to retain high-quality workers. Public subsidies also do not go far enough: According to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, approximately 1.6 million children in California are eligible for a subsidy but cannot obtain one.

The number of home-based child care programs has declined sharply since 2008, as California’s investments have focused on center-based care. But home-based programs can offer more flexible hours for working parents, and when there are fewer available spots for children, more parents are forced to drop out of the labor market altogether.

Advocates looked to research on Washington D.C.’s preschool expansion, which found that the increased enrollment in early-childhood education led to a 10 percentage point increase in mothers’ labor force participation. For low-income mothers, it was a 15 percentage point increase.

“An increase of this magnitude among women with young children in California could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of additional workers joining the labor force,” stated authors of a UC Berkeley Labor Center report released in May. While not all mothers want to participate in the workforce, surveys suggest many would choose to if they could afford it. One recent poll found half of all female homemakers said they would look for a job if they could secure affordable child care.

The law takes effect on January 1, and California Child Care Providers United will be filing for an election in 2020 to become a certified bargaining representative with the state. If they win, collective bargaining could start soon after that.

“I am fired up,” says Neal. “I am ready to go to the next step.”

Nina Turner, Bernie Sanders’s Campaign Chair, Led Charge for Education Reform As Ohio Legislator

Originally published in The Intercept on September 30, 2019.

IN A RECENT Facebook video, Nina Turner, co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, touted a key component of the senator’s education platform: ending the for-profit charter school industry.

“Unregulated charter school growth is damaging communities and what we are not talking about are our children with disabilities,” she said. “While the original idea of charter schools was designed to bring more equality to our system, modern-day charter schools have often been corrupted by profit motive and deep lack of accountability. Wall Street executives, Silicon Valley CEOs, and billionaires like [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos and the Walton family have been using charter schools as a way to siphon public money out of public schools, privatize the public education system, and bust teachers unions.”

Turner’s remarks represent a sharp shift for the former Ohio politician who helped build her political career by promoting education reform in Cleveland.

As an Ohio state senator in 2012, Turner played a leading role in shepherding a package of policies through the legislature to bring Cleveland schools under a more robust system of mayoral control, to expand charter schools in the city, and to weaken teacher job protections. The so-called Cleveland Plan was styled off the portfolio-model of school reform pioneered in New Orleans, Denver, and Hartford, Connecticut, and had the backing of business leaders and philanthropic organizations. Both for-profit and nonprofit charters can operate in Ohio.

Over the next several years, Turner would launch an unsuccessful bid for Ohio secretary of state and become a close political ally of the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton endorsed Turner’s 2014 race, and in early 2015, she headlined a “Ready for Hillary” fundraiser. But Turner shocked the political establishment in November of that year by endorsing Sanders, citing his positions on voting rights and wages. She became a prominent Sanders surrogate and was tapped this past February for a top position in his 2020 campaign. In that role, she helped craft Sanders’s Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, a wide-ranging set of proposals that includes ideas such as setting a $60,000 minimum teacher salary and requiring charter employment practices to match those at neighboring traditional schools. Turner told The Intercept that she’s “definitely evolved” since her time in the state Senate.

Most Democrats who embraced education reform just a decade ago have been “evolving” too, as the politics around the ideas have shifted rapidly. When Barack Obama was elected to the White House, he came in as a proud charter school supporter, and his administration pressured states to adopt reforms like tying teacher evaluations to test scores. But today, nearly all Democratic presidential candidates have distanced themselves from the charter school movement to varying degrees, a reality stemming in part from the substantial drop in support for charters among white voters and increased public support for unions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who praises Boston’s charter schools but voted against a statewide ballot initiative to expand them, has said she would not support additional federal funding for charters if elected president. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who otherwise aligns himself very closely with Obama, didn’t mention charters in his education plan, and recently criticized the schools for siphoning money from traditional public schools. Sen. Cory Booker, who supported not only charters but also private school vouchers, has also recently renounced those too. “The evidence has become clear that vouchers do not help — and in fact, hurt — the cause of educational equity,” he told the Washington Post.

Still, Turner remains proud of the Cleveland Plan, which she told The Intercept was “a way to allow the Cleveland schools to be a little more creative,” at a time when the city was in need of “transformational” changes to the school system. “We had to do some things to help guarantee that the residents would get a big change, and it was kind of hot at first, but at the end all the parties came together,” she said. “The unions were not happy at first, but everyone came together for the betterment of the children, and we ultimately succeeded.”

THE ORIGINAL VERSION of the Cleveland Plan, which Turner introduced in the state Senate, included a provision to gut existing union contracts and renegotiate everything from scratch. The “fresh start” provision, as it was known, would have also given the school district the power to unilaterally impose a contract if the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

Cleveland’s school district had been greatly struggling for years, and there were rumblings that without dramatic improvement, the Republican-controlled state legislature might just take control of the city’s schools. “We as a union were faced with a choice about whether to try to make a horrible piece of legislation less horrible, or do we just say no and let the state take us over and let the chips fall where they may?” said David Quolke, who has been president of the Cleveland Teachers Union since 2008.

Backers of the Cleveland Plan eventually dropped the polarizing “fresh start” provision but along the way pressured the union to agree to a number of other reforms like ending seniority-based layoffs and tying teacher compensation to student test scores. Teachers were “stunned” by Turner’s leadership on the Cleveland Plan, Quolke said, especially since she had played a major role in opposing a statewide bill to weaken public-sector  collective bargaining, which had been overturned by Ohio voters on the ballot only months earlier. “She tried to characterize [the Cleveland Plan] as she pulled the union together, but she wouldn’t even talk to us,” said Quolke, who described Turner as “absolutely unapologetic” and said his union has “a horrible relationship” with her to this day.

Quolke praised the Democratic House sponsor of the legislation, then-state Rep. Sandra Williams, for at least working with the teachers. “Sandra Williams was the only one of the original co-sponsors who said, I will not support the bill if it has ‘fresh start,’” he said.

Another controversial measure included in Turner’s bill was a provision to allow charter schools to share in funds raised by local school levies. As the Plain Dealer reported at the time, “In a matter of six months, state Sen. Nina Turner has evolved from a heroine of organized labor in Ohio to becoming embroiled in a bitter fight with one of the state’s largest teachers unions.” The Ohio Federation of Teachers objected to the unusual provision, which, as OFT President Melissa Cropper said, would set a “precedent of local levy money going to support charter schools.” The political fight escalated, to the point where Turner “lashed out” at the union and “accus[ed] them of threatening her political career.” The bill ended up passing with the charter measure included.

Quolke agrees with Turner that voters were unlikely to approve a new school levy without the city making some changes to its schools. Cleveland schools were in desperate need of more funds; the last time Cleveland voters had approved a school levy was in 1996, and before that, 1983.

Michael Charney, a union activist and Cleveland public school teacher who retired in 2005, spoke highly of Turner. “I think Nina’s moved really away from those [reform] positions given her being co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign and his Thurgood Marshall Plan for Education,” he said. Charney and his wife, C.J. Prentiss — who also served in the Ohio state Senate — are both Sanders supporters and served among his delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

TURNER WAS LAUDED by charter and voucher advocates for her work passing the Cleveland Plan. In June 2012, School Choice Ohio, a statewide advocacy group, gave Turner the Fannie M. Lewis Courage Award, named after a longtime city council member who helped establish Cleveland’s private school voucher program, the second of its kind in the nation. The controversial program, which allowed public dollars to flow to private and religious schools, launched in 1996 and was narrowly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002. Nearly 7,500 Cleveland students used private school vouchers in the 2018-19 school year.

“It doesn’t matter whether our young people go to public, private, religious schools — it is all about choice, and it is all about high quality,” Turner said in her award acceptance speech. “We should demand high-quality schools, no matter how they come. … And to the parents, I want to salute you, because choice is something that God almighty has given us as human beings.”

Turner also praised the proposed school levy that had angered the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “God bless you Ohio Choice … and if you live in the city of Cleveland, you vote for this levy that we are going to have to put on the ballot and make sure the model that we are using in the city of Cleveland, thank goodness … is to make sure that high-performing charter schools are part of the equation in educating our children. We don’t run, we don’t run, we don’t run from doing the right thing in the city of Cleveland. We want to continue to be a city and not a cemetery.” (The levy passed that fall).

A few months later, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Turner participated in a panel sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, in which she talked about how she dealt with upset teachers unions as she promoted the mayor’s school reform plan. Following the event, DFER’s Washington state director, Lisa Macfarlane, published an effusive post describing Turner as her “new crush.”

“Ms. Turner is a ferocious and articulate advocate for school reform,” wrote Macfarlane. “And there was nothing I could agree with more than her prediction for the next 4 years. She thinks President Obama will be even bolder on education reform in his second term.”

The following month, in October 2012, Turner would be one of roughly 100 candidates nationwide to receive a political endorsement from the American Federation for Children, a national advocacy group that promotes private school vouchers. DeVos long funded the group and previously served as its chair until she stepped down in 2016 to join the Trump administration. The organization acknowledged Turner as “an outspoken voice for school reform in her hometown of Cleveland.”

When asked if she thought the kinds of reforms implemented under the Cleveland Plan would work elsewhere, Turner said she wasn’t sure. She defended Cleveland’s existence under mayoral control, an education reform strategy in which power is concentrated in the executive branch and generally stripped away from elected school boards. Supporters of mayoral control argue that it can increase political accountability for struggling school districts by making mayors more singularly responsible for the success or failure of schools. Turner noted that while the state placed Cleveland schools under mayoral control in 1998, residents voted to keep it that way in 2002. “So when you ask me would that work somewhere else, it depends on the uniqueness of that area and, ultimately, the residents of the city to decide,” she said. “I applaud the way that residents ultimately got to weigh in on [mayoral control] aye or nay.”

Turner would not directly answer if she still supported the Cleveland private school voucher program, but she noted that Lewis — the city council member who helped fight for the original program — had been a mentor. “The schools were failing and [Lewis] fought really, really hard, speaking to the pain that some parents were feeling,” said Turner. “There was a lot of suffering and that’s why she really bucked the system.”

Turner referred to herself as “a public schools person through and through” and said that since public schools educate the vast majority of students, that’s where political energies should be focused. But she stressed the need to understand what motivates parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to want to put their kids in different systems of schooling. “From the vantage of someone elected to serve all children, I tried my best not to minimize those concerns,” she said.

On the question of charters, Turner emphasized that the publicly funded, privately managed schools should be held accountable, and said that the current system in Cleveland is working pretty well. Outside of Cleveland, in Ohio and across the country, Turner said “the vast majority” are not working well, but she pointed to Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone as an example of school reform she does support. “That community needed to do something different, and that different thing is working for those children,” she said. “In education, you’ve got to be open to those opportunities, but you have to hold those schools accountable for learning, development, and growth.”

How a Next President Could Boost Home Care and Childcare Without Congress

Originally published in The American Prospect‘s fall 2019 magazine

A future president can leverage their executive authority to improve the working conditions of millions of home care and child care workers in the United States—low-paying, critical fields where more than 90 percent of workers are women. The easiest, and perhaps most straightforward, action the next president can take is restoring the union rights of over 800,000 home care workers. With a total of 14.7 million unionized workers in the U.S. in 2018, this single move is likely to generate a tangible increase in union density.

Home care workers provide support to elderly or ill patients in their own home. They include certified nursing assistants, personal health aides, and in some states family caregivers and companions. In addition to responsibilities like administering the proper dosage of medication, they assist with everyday tasks like bathing, meal preparation, and cleaning the home. Most of these workers are paid through their patients’ Medicaid coverage.

Home care is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand for home care workers will increase by 41 percent between 2016 and 2026 as more baby boomers head into retirement. And it’s also a notoriously low-paying profession, with median annual pay of just $24,000. Union protections can give these workers a voice on the job and bargaining leverage with states.

More than 500,000 home care workers are unionized through the Service Employees International Union. In 2014, the Obama administration facilitated this with the “Provider Payment Reassignment” rule, authorizing unions to automatically deduct dues from their Medicaid-funded wages. Automatic dues deduction—also known as dues checkoff—makes it easier for workers to be union members, as they can permit their dues to be taken out of their wages directly, rather than deal with the hassle and chaos of sending their union individual checks each month.

Republicans correctly recognize that if they can make it harder to pay union dues, fewer workers will. Indeed, they have waged a long war on this checkoff provision, first at the state and more recently at the federal level. Conservative activists have sought to nationalize what Republicans achieved in Michigan in 2013, by barring dues checkoff for home care workers in the state. Over the last six years, this has led to an 84 percent drop in SEIU Healthcare Michigan membership and a 74 percent drop in union revenue.

This attack on home care workers came on top of Michigan’s passage of right-to-work, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively expanded for all public-sector workers in 2018 in the Janus ruling. Michigan activists, led by the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy, have argued disingenuously that automatic union payments for home care workers amounts to exploitation and so-called “dues skimming.”

After successfully making home care dues checkoff illegal in Michigan, Republicans soon realized that getting other union-dense states to follow suit would be politically difficult, with their more labor-friendly lawmakers. So conservatives turned their attention to the federal government to hasten their anti-union agenda. The Koch-funded State Policy Network said their goal would be to get an administrative rule passed at Health and Human Services under Trump, and bragged on a private donor call that they were “the only group that’s driving this effort at a national level.”

In May 2019, conservatives reached their goal, as the Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new final rule barring home health care workers from automatically deducting union dues. The rule is currently being challenged in court, led by five state attorneys general and eight unionized home care workers. The plaintiffs argue that the Trump administration has illegally reinterpreted federal law “in service of anti-union objectives.” While it remains to be seen if the courts will block the rule, a next president can restore workers’ union rights.

A future president could commit to immediately reversing this highly damaging decision, by scrapping the CMS rule. Doing so is within a president’s executive power, and does not require congressional approval.

While this would not overturn Michigan’s prohibition, which would still need its own state-level fix, the stakes remain high, not only for the current home care workforce but also for the workforce of the near future. Potentially millions of home care staff would have an easier path to union membership if the Trump administration rule were eliminated, enabling workers to band together for higher pay, retirement benefits, and better working conditions.

An organized home care sector can also spur action on the looming long-term care crisis. In April, Washington state passed the nation’s first publicly funded long-term care benefit, a hard-fought victory by advocates including SEIU 775, which represents 45,000 home care workers in Washington and Montana. The law is poised to become a model for other states, but without strong labor backing, its prospects are dim.

The fight for a living wage goes right through the home care industry, and raising wages for the female-dominated profession would go a long way toward boosting pay equity nationwide. It also would be the most direct way to improve the fortunes of the labor movement, whose decline has accompanied setbacks for workers across the economy. In this sense, restoring dues checkoff for home care workers could positively impact even non-union worker wages.

A next president can also demonstrate their commitment to home care workers by using discretionary dollars from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to fund demonstration programs assessing the impact of home care aides as key members of a patient’s health care team. Robyn Stone, the senior vice president of research at LeadingAge, a membership group of 6,000 nonprofits focused on elder care services, says that despite a recognition that home care aides deliver between 60 and 80 percent of all long-term care services, evidence of their actual impact on health care outcomes is overwhelmingly scant, which then makes it easier to devalue them as professionals delivering critical care.

The lack of research evidence is largely a reflection of society’s disregard for these workers more generally. A next president could begin rectifying this wrong by funding research to build the evidence base showing the importance of high-quality home care aides for the elderly, which could help estimate home care workers’ compensation value.

Child care workers perform the critical work of caring for infants and toddlers. Many people across the country are still not well versed in the research evidence that shows the bulk of brain development happens in a child’s earliest years, and greater investments in our youngest learners can help close the achievement gap, and help more students graduate from high school and avoid the criminal justice system. A next president can use the power of the White House to elevate the issue of properly investing in young children.

In 2018, local elected officials in Washington, D.C., passed the most progressive legislation in the nation on this front. A key piece of the comprehensive bill is to raise the wages of early-childhood workers, a largely female and immigrant workforce. While a president would need Congress to pass similar legislation on the federal level, they could begin elevating the importance of the issue by championing the District’s Birth-to-Three for All DC Act.

“State leaders must embrace their youngest constituents and share in the investment if we are to address this national need,” says Patricia Cole, senior director of federal policy at ZERO TO THREE. “But federal leadership is also essential. I would call on the president to convene a summit with the nation’s governors to underscore the high stakes for our future in solving the child care conundrum.”

Lastly, a next president must commit to prioritizing the scarcity of child care in the U.S. by ensuring that all candidates and administrators for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are committed to expanding access to early-childhood learning, and by extension direct some existing federal funding streams—such as through Head Start and the Every Student Succeeds Act—to professional development for early-childhood workers. Without a strong push from the federal level, the dearth of available child care opportunities will likely grow more severe.