Under Biden Administration, Charter Schools Face Threats at Multiple Levels


As the Biden administration gets into gear, many parents worry about possible new anti-charter-school policies coming out of Washington.  Such policies would add to recent anti-charter actions by state and local governments that have curtailed educational choice at exactly the time when children need more learning options.

In his campaign, Joe Biden harshly criticized charter schools, which are publicly funded schools independent of school districts and which have greater flexibility to innovate.  He supported banning certain types of charters. For those remaining, he wants to increase regulations and give school boards greater power to block them.

Besides Biden’s opposition to charters, it is important to note that much anti-charter activity has already been percolating in state capitols and local school districts.

According to a just-released Pacific Research Institute report on emerging obstacles facing charters, there are three main assaults being waged by charter-school opponents.

First, some states are erecting barriers to the establishment of charter schools or enacting laws that hinder their operation.

When West Virginia passed legislation in 2019 that established charter schools, the new law capped the number of new charters. Out of the 44 states that allow charter schools, 21 states include cap provisions.

In California, which had been a charter-friendly state until teacher-union-endorsed Gavin Newsom became governor, a 2019 law allowed school boards to deny the establishment or continued operation of charter schools for a variety of vague, subjective, and open-ended reasons such as charters supposedly not serving community interests or duplicating existing programs regardless of whether regular public schools are implementing those programs well.

Second, some states have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to defund charter schools.

In Michigan, a new funding formula was enacted that effectively limited the funding to growing charter schools. Similarly, California is not fully funding growing charter schools and is not funding any enrollment growth at virtual online charter schools.

Finally, teacher unions have used strikes to push states and local school boards to adopt anti-charter positions.

Local unions in Los Angeles and Oakland, for instance, went on strike in 2019, not just to push for increased wages and benefits, but also to force their local school boards to pass resolutions advocating a moratorium on new charter schools.  In both cases, the unions succeeded.

In Oakland, the teachers union also succeeded in electing most of its slate of candidates for the local school board in 2020. According to one leftist publication, “the union ended up endorsing four candidates who ran on pro-public school, pro-union, and anti-charter school platforms,” including a Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed, anti-charter-school activist who won his race.

The anti-charter atmosphere created in Oakland has had a devastating impact on parents and their children.

Take, for example, the Aspire ERES Academy charter school, which is one of Oakland’s top-performing schools and which has a long waiting list of families. Instead of helping ERES expand to meet this community demand, the Oakland school board blocked the school’s expansion plans.

The district and the school board have used bureaucratic-process tactics that have caused the school to announce its closure this coming summer, thus eliminating the only quality-education alternative for hundreds of children.

Further, there is a push within the school board to remove charter schools from the district’s online enrollment platform, which means that families searching the platform would not see any charter options. Charters would be canceled.

The irony is that such anti-charter-school actions are taking place despite recent research showing that charter schools increase the achievement of low-income minority students when compared to regular public schools.

Lakisha Young, leader of the Oakland parent group REACH, recently urged the Oakland school board to “listen to parent voices and invest in quality choices.” That is advice that all policymakers should heed. More than ever, anyone who cares about America’s children must work to protect charter schools and the ability of parents to choose them.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.  He is the author of the new PRI report “New and Emerging Obstacles Facing Charter Schools.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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