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Nina Turner: Charter School Advocate

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The biggest detriment for me in supporting Bernie Sanders’ run is his horrific campaign team. Jeff Weaver is the lefty version of Mark Penn. Many of his top advisers are nothing more than internet trolls from 2016 and open Jill Stein voters that same year. And then there’s the hire of David Sirota, for which I have no words. One of his leading people is Nina Turner, as awful on Twitter as Sirota and the others. And, as Rachel Cohen writes, it turns out that she has all sorts of ties to the charter school industry.

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.


Given that it is Cory Booker’s embrace of the charter scam that most makes me not want to vote for him in 2020, I’d say this is pretty dang bad. Now, people have the right to evolve, even if it is for cynical reasons. After all, I don’t really care what is in a politician’s heart. I care what that they do what I want them to do, like it or not. And people do change. The problem is this: Nina Turner hasn’t actually done so, even if she says it.

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.

One of the hallmarks of the worst kind of Bernie online supporter, which sadly does reflect the campaign team if not the excellent policy teams, is to go after Elizabeth Warren or whoever because of past sins such as being a Republican several decades ago. Those are cheap shots. And if you are going to play a purity politics, you’d better be pure yourself. As it turns out, Nina Turner is just another union-busting charter grifter. It’s not Bernie Sanders of course. But you have to question Bernie’s judgment in who he surrounds himself with, which matters because if he becomes president, these people are heading to the White House with him.

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