News and Commentary

RUPTURE: Democrats’ Top Contenders Split From Blacks, Latinos Over Charter Schools
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (L), former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) participate in the Democratic Presidential Debate at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

According to The New York Times, a wedge issue between Democrat presidential candidates on the one side and black and Hispanic communities has reared its head: a demand for charter schools.

The Times notes of the four leading Democratic candidates, who are actively looking for union support:

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the two leading liberals, have vowed to curb charter school growth if elected. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., have raised questions about the role of charters and make no mention of the schools in their education platforms.

Biden has stated, “I do not support any federal money for for-profit charter schools, period.” Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, commented, “If you’re a parent who wants to understand where the former vice president is on charters, what he said yesterday, it wasn’t clear enough,” according to Huffington Post.

In August, Buttigieg told Education Week:

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, especially when you also see a risk that often the development of charters comes at the expense of the very traditional systems that we’re trying to build up and support. That’s also the reason why I believe that we need to move away from for-profit charter schools altogether …  I do think that we need to take steps to stop the expansion of for-profit [charter] schools.

The Times points out that over three million students attend charter schools, many of which are not unionized. Adding, “charter schools that serve mostly low-income children of color in large cities tend to excel academically.”

Richard Buery, the chief of policy at KIPP, the nation’s largest charter network, slammed the Democratic candidates, snapping that their positions are “a reflection more broadly of the lack of respect for black voters in the party. These are folks that should be champions of black children and allies of black educators.”

Last week, over 300 people demonstrated outside the Democratic debate in Atlanta; when Senator Elizabeth tried to mollify black and Latino charter school parents the next day, she infuriated some people when she allowed that her children attended public schools.

Predictably, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, defended the Democratic candidates who have criticized charter schools, saying they “looked at the evidence, which shows that charters are not a panacea for what people said they were started for.”

Conversely, Ricardo Mireles, the founder of the Academia Avance charter school in Los Angeles, argued, “If we wait around for them to address these things, we’re writing off years, if not generations, of kids.”

The Times notes, “Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders appear likely to cut or kill the 25-year-old federal Charter Schools Program, created to jump-start new charters and funded at $440 million this fiscal year.”

The Times writes, “Since 2016, public polling has shown a widening divide on charter schools between white Democrats and their black and Latino peers. White Democrats’ approval of charter schools dropped to 27 percent from 43 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a poll conducted by Education Next, a journal based at Harvard that is generally supportive of charters. Black and Latino approval for the schools remained basically steady at about 47 percent for each group.”