For Democratic politicians and America’s charter school families, it’s a case of “that was then, this is now.”
Just four years ago, President Barack Obama issued a National Charter Schools Week proclamation praising charter schools as innovative and critical to the success of students who don’t do well in traditional public schools.
“Charter schools have been at the forefront of innovation,” Obama said. “Over the past seven years, my administration’s commitment of resources to the growth of charter schools has enabled a significant expansion of educational opportunity, enabling tens of thousands of children to attend high-quality public charter schools.”
The 2012 Democratic Party platform included charter schools on its list of tools the party would use “to strengthen all our schools and work to expand public school options for low-income youth.”
The same four years later, when the 2016 Democratic platform declared: “We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators.”
That was then.
Now, the Democratic Party has turned on charter schools, teaming up with teachers unions targeting them for destruction. Unlike his old boss, former vice president Joe Biden said in May that if he’s elected president, charter schools “are gone.”
That would close more than 7,500 public charter schools serving more than 3 million American children. While rich kids will always have education choices, defunding charter schools would close the schoolhouse doors on low-income families with few options.
After the Trump campaign called out Biden’s threat to charter schools, his campaign released a statement to factcheck.org that appeared to reverse course. It said the campaign “does not oppose districts letting parents choose to send their children to … high-performing public charters.”
Unfortunately, factcheck.org didn’t catch the dagger to the throat of charter schools hidden in the campaign’s clever wording. Biden caveats his support on two conditions — that districts “let parents choose” and that the schools must be “high-performing.”
Local school districts are typically hostile to charter schools, viewing them as competition. That’s why states usually let charter schools be authorized at the state level or even sometimes by nonprofit groups.
For example, when New Hampshire passed its charter school law in 1995, local districts were the only bodies allowed to authorize charter schools. Not surprisingly, local schools weren’t thrilled with the idea of increased competition, and few charter schools were authorized. State lawmakers responded by changing the law to let the state Board of Education authorize charter schools. As a result, all but one of the 31 charter schools operating in New Hampshire today were authorized by the Board of Education.
And under the Biden standard, all of those state-approved schools would be closed if they don’t get the backing of local education bureaucrats.
That’s stated clearly in the 2020 Democratic Party platform, which singles out charter schools for attack. The Democratic Party would withhold federal funding from charter schools until the local school district conducts a “review of whether the charter school will systematically underserve the neediest students.”
This requirement doesn’t mandate an objective outside analysis of charter school performance. It simply requires a local district to “review,” not verify, the service to needy students, giving local districts an arbitrary veto over any charter school competitor.
And because many charter schools are open specifically to serve struggling students, their population is disproportionately likely to perform poorly on standardized tests. Even if a charter school helps these kids make strong academic gains, their overall scores could show up lower because these students started so far behind.
Under the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform, traditional public schools will get millions more in federal funding without any improvement in performance, while charter school funding will be tied to both performance and approval from local districts.
This is a plan with one goal in mind — pump federal money to unionized public schools while taking it away from public schools that aren’t unionized. If it were really about performance, the unionized schools would have to meet performance targets too. They aren’t.
The attack on charter schools is a thinly veiled effort to move more federal money into the hands of the party’s union allies, at the expense of disadvantaged children thriving in these non-traditional schools. If the Democrats get their way, the unions will get their money and many charter schools will get closed down.
Perhaps someone should ask Joe Biden: What will these children get?