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Cory Booker’s School Choice Legacy Could Be His 2020 Undoing.

February 10, 2019

Former Newark, New Jersey, mayor and current New Jersey senator, Cory Booker, is running for president in 2020.


Cory Booker

Booker is a Democrat who will find it difficult to separate himself from Republicans when it comes to school choice. And a major, sustained push it was.

For example, it is unlikely that Newark has forgotten Booker’s school choice efforts, including accepting $100M from Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in 2010 (an effort that also involved then-NJ Republican gov, Chris Christie), to advance school choice– a decision that Newark parents learned by watching Booker announce it on Oprah. From a 2015 NPR interview with author, Dale Russakoff, on the Booker-Zuckerberg-Christie blindside:

[NPR host, Terry] GROSS: So right from the start, there’s a problem. Booker and Zuckerberg announce this gift of a hundred million dollars to reform the Newark schools. They announce it on “Oprah.”


GROSS: Which is great, but they hadn’t told the community yet. So parents and teachers learn about this big reform movement that’s about to hit them from Oprah’s show. How did that play in the community?

RUSSAKOFF: Well, it played disastrously in the community because, immediately, nobody understood why do we have to turn on “Oprah” at 4 o’clock to find out what’s going on in our own city? And if you want to save the schools for the benefit of our children, why weren’t we told? And, by the way, there’s a very large consensus on the ground in Newark at this time that the schools really need change, that the schools are failing in unacceptable ways. And so there wasn’t really, you know, a roadmap for how to do that, but there were a lot of people, including some very skilled, experienced teachers, who deeply understood the needs of the children in Newark who would have been eager to be part of that conversation. And not only were they insulted that they were left out, there was an agenda that was crafted that didn’t have the benefit of their really important insights into what was needed in Newark.

As Chalkbeat notes in February 2019, Booker’s most notable legacy as Newark’s mayor may well be his promoting charter schools.

Then there’s Booker’s established connection to Republican right, school choice extremist, controversial US ed sec, Betsy DeVos, and her American Federation for Children (AFC). In February 09, 2017, the NTK (“Need to Know”) Network details Booker’s pro-DeVos-anti-DeVos conundrum– and his apparent desire as early as 2017 to run for president in 2020:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) spared no ill words about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during her confirmation process, but some have pointed out in recent days that Booker attended the policy summit for DeVos’ organization on two separate occasions.

Booker’s initial statement after DeVos’ hearing, in January 2017, was critical but cautious: “I still have serious concerns,” and “there are a number of departures between Mrs. DeVos[‘] policy beliefs and mine.”

As the partisan rancor over DeVos’ confirmation ramped up, Booker took a harder line in a 45-minute speech during the Senate Democrats’ all-nighter on DeVos: “We need someone who will defend the civil rights of our students.”

But some have pointed out on Twitter that Booker spoke at a policy summit – on school choice, no less – at the American Federation for Children (AFC), the organization DeVos chaired for eight years, in 2012:

In the speech, Booker said, on school choice, “I’m going to fight for the freedom and the liberty and the choice and the options of my people.” He criticized politicians who oppose school choice but send their own kids to private schools.

Indeed, Booker is listed among several elected officials speaking at AFC’s third policy summit in 2012.

He also spoke at AFC’s summit more recently: last year. Just a few months ago, he called AFC an “incredible organization.”

Booker also noted in the 2016 speech he’s “proud to work with Democrats and Republicans about expanding educational opportunity, and I will continue that fight where I am.”

Something must have changed in the last eight months. Among them, Booker’s not-so-secret positioning to run for president in 2020.

Indeed, Booker is running for president. The question is whether Booker 2020 can run from his established connection to what is increasingly becoming a more Republican-embraced– and a more Democratic-shunned– school choice agenda.

A major part of Booker’s problem is that charter school expansion appears to be his single, notable mark as Newark mayor. Nothing else he did comes close.

There are also Booker’s ties– over and over again– to Betsy DeVos– ties which the February 2019 New Yorker notes might even eclipse ties Booker has to Wall Street:

New Jersey senator Cory Booker is still a fresh face with an unclear identity. But for progressives and labor activists with long memories, he’s got some issues, too.

He might be able to explain away his reputation for being a reliable friend of Wall Street as a matter of virtual constituent services given the financial industry’s importance to New Jersey and to the city of Newark where he served as mayor for seven years. But a more concrete problem involves his long history of support for any and every kind of school choice, including not just the charter public schools the Clinton and Obama administrations supported, but the private-school vouchers that most Democrats stridently oppose. What makes this history a fresh concern is the fact that Booker was once a close ally of the DeVos family, the Michigan gazillionaires and education privatization champions who gave the world Donald Trump’s secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. …

Booker did begin to talk a lot less about vouchers and more about charter schools as mayor and as senator, and ultimately voted against DeVos’s confirmation as Education Secretary. But he has never entirely turned the page on this issue.

“Never entirely turned the page….” 

For Booker 2020, any DeVos-distancing page-turning might be too late.



Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.


  1. Fuller Hunt permalink

    Booker is a disgusting opportunist. Why anyone would vote for him is beyond me.

  2. LisaM permalink

    Look up the definition of colorism and it describes Cory Booker “to a T”. I certainly hope that NAACP and the Teacher’s Unions do NOT endorse this man.

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    He is unfit, a pawn, Teflon, finger in the wind decision maker, unworthy of being president.

  4. Gary Gray permalink

    Booker’s stand on choice will destroy his climb to the presidency. I invite everyone to check out the failures of school choice in Indiana. It has allowed more parents to have their children run away from real world experiences. Many here in Indiana call it discrimination at its highest level.

  5. Lance Hill permalink

    Booker plays Faust to Zuckerberg’s Devil. In some not so distant primary, Booker will be left to himself in a dark room at the Days Inn, to speak his soliloquy: “Curst be the parents that engender’d me. No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer That hath depriv’d thee of the joys of heaven.”
    Curse the Billionaires.

  6. Edd Doerr permalink

    Booker’s links to the despicable enemy of public schools Betsy DeVos should rule him out as a serious Democratic candidate.

  7. DanG! permalink

    My sentiments have been much more eloquently stated in the comments above. However, as Democrats let us resolve to cast our vote on whoever wins the primary, be it Cory Booker or Jerry Lewis. The malignancy in Washington must be excised! And a curse on Super Delegates! DOWN WITH THE REPTILES!

  8. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    “Should be” his undoing!!

    • WILL be his undoing…. (how truly, MINDBOGGLINGLY terrible if one day I find myself having to choose between Booker and a repub. pres. candidate…)

  9. Considering that he grew up in a beautiful, leafy NYC suburb with fantastic, well-resourced public schools, the children of Newark would have been better off if he had strived to provide that experience in NPS.

    • Stephen Ronan permalink

      As you may know, Julie, as Mayor of Newark there wasn’t much he could do at first to benefit the district schools as they were not under local control. Later, after some wheeling and dealing, he brought in some private money for Newark schools, the largest portion of which went to district school teachers… e.g,, as per The Prize: Union president Joe Del Grosso “said he was proud of the contract because it treated educators as professionals. He emphasized that it won teachers the right of peer review, to weigh in on colleagues’ evaluations–a critical protection, as he saw it, in an age of tightening accountability. But his strongest argument, to which he returned again and again, was that teachers would collect $31 million in back pay, courtesy of Zuckerberg. With New Jersey stuck in economic doldrums, Del Grosso said, more than one hundred other locals had been forced to settle for no back pay at all.”
      As for Booker’s hugely controversial approach to leafiness:
      How we gonna drain the swamp if Booker’s out there planting mangroves? Eh?
      Not to worry, he doesn’t stand a chance once people learn that he arranged for teachers to be paid more while extending the school day….

  10. We need an oak tree for president, not a little rotten branch.

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