Charter Schools Divide Democratic Candidates and Voters

After years of support from prominent Democrats, charter schools are coming under scrutiny from several of the 2020 presidential candidates — a move that seems to be rattling African American and Latino voters.

Throughout the campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), former Vice President Joe Biden, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have all raised concerns about the value of charter schools and pledged to take a critical look at them if elected. 

These candidates argue that charter schools have the potential to cause more harm than good for students and would rather see federal dollars spent on improving the public education system. 

“I think that the promise of charter schools has been that ideas can be piloted there that will then benefit the overall system and find their way into traditional public schools,” Buttigieg told Education Week. “But I’m skeptical that we’re going to gain a lot through expansion of charter schools when we still have such severely underfunded traditional public education. And that’s where the focus of our efforts is going to be.”

Both Sanders and Warren have pledged to ban for-profit charter schools and end federal funding for the Federal Charter School Program, which provides grant funding to support new charter schools.

Biden, who supported George W. Bush’s plan to expand charter schools, now supports eliminating them.

Some of the resistance to charter schools is likely a reaction to Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s focus on charter schools and expanding school choice away from public education. Charter schools are now seen as a Republican issue in a way that they were not even during the Obama administration.

The stance against charter schools is frustrating Democratic voters who have seen their children thrive in charter environments while public schools in cities continue to suffer.

“We look at it as a burning ship going down with thousands of kids in it, and we’re trying to get kids on lifeboats,” said Tariq Abdullah, who plans to open a charter school in Atlanta next year to give children an alternative to what he describes as failing public schools.

One potential opportunity for middle ground might lie in the NAACP’s charter school action plan. The plan calls for a moratorium on charter school expansion while overarching issues in the public education system are addressed.

The NAACP’s recommendations also include more equitable funding for schools serving students of color and investing in low-performing public schools as a means of closing the achievement gap — rather than turning to for-profit charter schools to close the gap. Like the presidential candidates, the NAACP recommends eliminating for-profit charter schools, citing a history of misconduct and conflicts of interest.

“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” said Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP Board of Directors. “Our decision today is driven by a long-held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Yan Berthemy on Unsplash

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