You have to hand it to the Washington Post editorial board: They might publish solely bad takes, but at least they’re consistent.
On May 18, Sen. Bernie Sanders rolled out his 10-point presidential plan for public education. Among his proposals was a call to end charter schools. Naturally, the socially liberal, fiscally conservative crowd (along with the just straight-up conservatives) had a field day. The latest mainstream outraged take arrived Monday night, courtesy of the lovely right-wingers and libs populating Post editorial board.
The column isn’t especially long or insightful; its core argument is contained in the following three sentences:
Charter schools are not a replacement for traditional schools, and not all charter schools are good. Bad ones should not be tolerated. But blanket calls to curtail charter schools are wrongheaded. There is a reason that parents line up on waiting lists for coveted high-quality charter schools.
The Post’s editorial board then pointed out the very obvious “reason”: Nobody wants to send their kid to a public school, if they can help it. What the editorial board and other charter school defenders failed to do is consider why that is.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that conservative legislatures across the country have done a couple things in the past two decades as it relates to public education. First, they started lifting their caps on charter schools, leading to a massive influx. And second, they have—especially since the recession—been starving public schools of proper funding. This has resulted in numerous teacher strikes and marches and some subsequent half-measure budget compromises.
For some reason, folks like those at the Post seem to have a hard time understanding that those two items are directly connected.
By nature, charter schools take local control out of the picture, and are thus able to wield an imbalanced amount of financial power. In North Carolina—and Louisiana, and Tennessee, and Michigan—the state legislatures instituted “turnaround” districts, which were low-performing school districts that the state handed over to private charter companies. In the Tar Heel State, they called them Innovative School Districts. In Durham, NC, where over a dozen charters have cropped up over the last 15 years, the average amount of state funding spent per public school student was $500; charter school kids, however, were allotted $3,600 per child. In rural counties, where resources are even more scarce, some schools were forced to close entirely, to be replaced by charters operated by out-of-state owners.
Los Angeles teachers, including those at Accelerated Charter Schools, took their school district leaders to task over the same issue when they went on strike in January—as a part of their negotiations, the L.A. Board of Education passed a non-binding resolution placing a moratorium on new charter schools. (It’s a little in the weeds, but the basic issue there, and in effect everywhere else, was that Los Angeles United School District funding comes through based on total student enrollment; because charter schools sapped 100,000 kids from their system but still pull from the same state coffers, LAUD’s ability to adequately scale its teacher salaries and classroom funding was disrupted.)
The WaPo board, just like Fox News, dismissed these complaints, claiming teachers’ unions strongly oppose charters “for reasons having nothing to do with the welfare of children,” as though concerns about cutting jobs, salaries, and entire school programs should not be considered in the equation.
And whereas the WaPo editorial board classified charters as being “among the more promising efforts” to combat inequality in the classrooms, in reality, studies have shown that while some may be more effective in their teaching methods, the initial fears of charters operating as white flight havens have slowly but surely been proven true. But given the alternative, it makes sense, then, that minority populations ultimately poll as being supportive of charters—when the only other option is a segregated school system using 10-year-old textbooks in an un-air conditioned room, parents will take the faint hope of “choice” for their kids every time.
Charter schools are a half-measure, an attempt at providing the have-nots of the world an appetizing taste of what it means to be almost rub shoulders with the private school crowd, many of whom will continue on to private universities. What charters do, for themselves more than for the communities they serve, is provide the illusion of “choice” to a select or random few, and then use those testimonials to drive up interest in those left to attend public schools.
The political result is the same, regardless of where you land on the map: More funding is diverted from public schools, those schools regress as teachers are forced to pick up second and third jobs, and inevitable strikes leave room for one enemy, which in most cases is a GOP-dominated legislature.