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A Democrat's Reasons For Supporting School Choice

Harvey Santana earns endorsement of education choice group


When Michigan House Democrats held a press conference last week to announce legislation to put a moratorium on the creation of new charter public schools, the Great Lakes Education Project researched which Democrats had signed on as co-sponsors.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of GLEP, said his initial findings were that 47 of the 50 House Democrats had done so.

That highlights the issue GLEP has as a non-partisan organization that endorses political candidates but finds one party overwhelmingly voting against its most important issue — school choice.

In the upcoming general election, GLEP has endorsed 58 candidates, only one of which is a Democrat. Naeyaert said the problem is finding a Democrat who supports charter public schools, which he called the “litmus test issue” of a GLEP endorsement.

“It’s very difficult to find a Dem candidate who supports school choice, considering that the party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the MEA,” Naeyaert said. “And those that do buck the MEA get beat down pretty hard. But we’ll keep trying!”

GLEP did endorse eight Democrats in the primary elections, but only one was victorious — State Rep. Harvey Santana of Detroit. Naeyaert said Rep. Santana was one of the three Democrats who didn’t co-sponsor the moratorium on charters.

Santana has a record of not voting lock-step with the Democrats and earned the lone GLEP endorsement of a Democrat in the general election over Republican James Stephens.

In 2011, Rep. Santana voted in favor of Republican-backed House bill that would have required school districts be the policy holder for health insurance benefits.

Naeyaert called Rep. Santana a recent “convert” to the issue of school choice.

“Rep. Harvey Santana votes the needs of his constituents over special interests, and for that reason he has earned our support,” Naeyaert said.

In an email, Santana said his beliefs have traditionally aligned with the values and principles of his party.

“As an elected official I represent a district that is more than 90% Democrat and my voting record clearly reflects that,” Santana said. “With that said, I think it is fair to say that, since my arrival in Lansing nearly four years ago, my political philosophy has become much more independent.  As a Democrat in an environment dominated by Republicans I have learned that the only way to prosper is to seek common ground and work across the aisle for the good of all Michiganders.”

Rep. Santana said GLEP took note of him when he voted in support of the Education Achievement Authority, which Democrats have criticized.

“Having a Detroit Democrat earn the endorsement of GLEP (an organization that traditionally supports Republicans) illustrates that a member of the minority party can be relevant,” Rep. Santana said. “By voting my conscience rather than following the predictable patterns of party politics I feel I am paving the way for a new generation of leaders in Michigan. This new generation will focus on results rather than partisanship to make Michigan a better place for us all.”


See also:

Democrats Call For Moratorium on Charter Public Schools

From Detroit to the Ivy League: One Students Journey

Michigan Lifts Charter School Cap