The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, says charter schools “have a place” as “a laboratory for techniques that can be replicated.”
Buttigieg, who is one of a large field of Democratic candidates for president, made his remarks in response to a question from Education Next during an appearance on Wednesday in Boston at Northeastern University.
Buttigieg called on me to ask the first question during a small session with reporters in advance of an appearance before an overflow crowd in a 992-seat auditorium.
I noted that his husband is a teacher and asked what Buttigieg thought of the proposal by another presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, to raise teacher pay. I also asked him what he thought of charter schools.
Buttigieg replied that it was a “source of frustration” in his family that even after earning a masters degree, Chasten was earning less as a teacher than he could make as a bartender. The website of Montessori Academy at Edison Lakes in Mishawaka, Indiana, lists Chasten Glezman, Buttigieg’s husband, as a junior high humanities teacher at that private school. It also says he has worked as a substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools and as a drama teacher.
The candidate said that his own version of a federal teacher pay increase plan would differ from that of Harris because he would focus more narrowly on raising wages for teachers in “Title I schools,” a reference to the part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that directs federal funding to school districts serving high concentrations of low-income families. Even so, it would affect many schools; Title I schools were 62% of all regular and elementary schools in 2014-2015, according to a federal Education Department report released last year.
Buttigieg initially dodged the charter school part of the question, but a columnist of the Boston Globe, Scot Lehigh, followed up, generating the “have a place” language. Buttigieg’s complete answer fell short of an enthusiastic charter endorsement, but neither was it a wholesale condemnation. Buttigieg said he was “concerned” about “disinvestment” from public schools. “I don’t think they can excuse us,” he said of charters. In the Democratic primary, teachers unions hostile to charters are a more influential and better organized force than parents or donors who favor charter schools, so education reform is a bit of a delicate issue to navigate for candidates who don’t want to alienate either faction.
He also fielded a question about the affordability of higher education. “Chasten and I are living with six-figure student debt,” he said, calling for expanding existing loan-forgiveness programs for teachers and public servants. He said policymakers should look at making it easier to refinance student loan debt at lower interest rates. And he said it was a mistake to convey to people the idea that “you have to go to college.”
In the larger session that followed the interaction with reporters, Buttigieg described education as a national security issue. He also acknowledged, to a largely student audience, that declining to endorse “free college” was “stopping short of what I’m sure is the right answer politically for this room.” He pointed out, though, that college graduates earn more than some of the non-college-graduates who would be taxed more to subsidize a free college scheme. He said he found that hard to square with his “progressive” outlook.
Ira Stoll is managing editor of Education Next.