Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors
The last time she ran for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton did not have to take a position on the Common Core, Race to the Top or teacher evaluations in tenure decisions.
She won the endorsement of one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions in 2007 after deploring the use of standardized tests and the underfunding of the No Child Left Behind law by President George W. Bush’s administration.
Now, as she prepares for a likely second run at the White House, Mrs. Clinton is re-entering the fray like a Rip Van Winkle for whom the terrain on education standards has shifted markedly, with deep new fissures in the Democratic Party.
Already, she is being pulled in opposite directions on education. The pressure is from not only the teachers who supported her once and are widely expected to back her again, but also from a group of wealthy and influential Democratic financiers who staunchly support many of the same policies — charter schools and changes to teacher tenure and testing — that the teachers’ unions have resisted throughout President Obama’s two terms in office.
And the financiers say they want Mrs. Clinton to declare herself.
“This is an issue that’s important to a lot of Democratic donors,” said John Petry, a hedge fund manager who was a founder of the Harlem Success Academy, a New York charter school. “Donors want to hear where she stands.”
The growing pressure on education points out a deeper problem that Mrs. Clinton will have to contend with repeatedly, at least until the Iowa caucuses: On a number of divisive domestic issues that flared up during the Obama administration — trade pacts, regulation of Wall Street, tax policy — she will face dueling demands from centrists and the liberal base of the Democratic Party.
Her allies believe that with no strong primary opponent to force her into the open, Mrs. Clinton has plenty of time to maneuver before taking sides. But advocates will be using what leverage they possess to draw her out sooner.
Mr. Petry said there were many other political contests where wealthy Democrats who favor sweeping changes to education — including a more businesslike approach, and tying teacher tenure to performance as measured by student scores — could focus their resources next year instead, including congressional, state and local races.
Some progressives already view Mrs. Clinton as overly cozy with Wall Street. And should she align herself with the elite donors who favor an education overhaul, many of them heavyweights in the investment world, it could inflame the liberal Democratic base.
The outcome is particularly important for advocates of an overhaul, whose movement has faced growing opposition the past few years. Political crosswinds have whipped up from both the right and the left, particularly over the Common Core education standards that more than 40 states have put in place, but also over Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s program to reward school districts that improve, using measurements that union leaders often find controversial. Reform proponents include donors, but also a cross section of parents and business advocates.
Jeb Bush, a likely Republican presidential candidate, has been a staunch supporter of the Common Core, but other contenders in his party have railed against it.
And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democratic proponent of education overhaul, is battling to survive an April 7 runoff in his bid for a second term. Mr. Emanuel closed dozens of underperforming schools, many of them in predominantly black neighborhoods, and had an angry run-in with a leader of the city teachers’ union.
Not surprisingly, supporters of an education overhaul speak apprehensively about Mrs. Clinton’s longstanding friendship with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed her in 2007.
“I hope she sees this as a winning political issue,” said Whitney Tilson, manager of Kase Capital and a board member of Democrats for Education Reform, a leading left-of-center advocacy group on the subject.
But he said he was concerned: “She has had more longstanding ties to the teachers’ union, certainly, than Obama ever had. She’s thrown some bones to both sides and I think is sort of trying to triangulate on this.”
In another sign of that anxiety, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, Joe Williams, recently circulated a memo to its board members highlighting the “strong ally” the group has had in the White House over the past six years and describing the “stiff pushback” the group and its allies are now facing.
Presumably in an attempt to set the terms for a policy discussion with Mrs. Clinton and other candidates, the memo said the group had commissioned polling showing that “voters support our policies, and if candidates want to meet voters where they are, they should, too,” according to a copy obtained from a recipient.
Mr. Williams concluded, “Democratic candidates who support education reform are representative of where the American people are, and those who want to roll back progress risk becoming outliers.”
Mr. Williams noted that the polling had been conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, founded by Joel Benenson, whom Mrs. Clinton had recently retained as chief strategist. An official at the firm said research had been done before it was hired by Mrs. Clinton and had not been conducted Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors - NYTimes.com: