Democrats Take Sharp Turn Against Charter Schools

The Democratic Party’s platform has been revised to include decidedly anti-charter school language, even though the alternative public schools are increasingly popular, particularly in lower income communities. The news took many in the educational reform and charter school movement by surprise, given many Democrats embrace of non-traditional public school options as a way to ensure that all children have access to a high quality education.

The Democratic Party platform committee amended the old language, which supported public charter schools, with the following:

“We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.”

But according to Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the change is the direct result of pressure from the American Federation for Teachers (AFT), a powerful teachers union that steadfastly opposes public charter schools.

Now around for a quarter of a century, charter schools are public schools that operate with greater freedom in order to advance high student academic achievement. Because they operate outside of the traditional public school model, there is much confusion and misinformation. Charter schools are open to all children, do not charge tuition and do not have any special entrance test requirements.

This approach has been generally successful and has led to the creation of charter schools in many parts of the country, particularly in struggling school districts failing to close chronic racial achievement gaps. Research also finds that students enrolled in public charter schools outperform their traditional public school peers in academic assessments, with the most pronounced improvement occurring among minority students.

Until recently, former Secretary of State and the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton expressed her support for charter schools saying:

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America… Rather than starting from ideology, let’s start from what’s best for our kids,” said the former Secretary of State in prepared remarks to the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher union in the country.

But as the Washington Post and other outlets reported, Clinton’s support for charter schools was not well received by the crowd generally dismissive of educational options outside of the traditional public school model.

In an email to supporters regarding the changes to the Democratic Party’s platform, Rees wrote: “We are confident that these views do not reflect the views of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.” In a media release, Rees added: “We urge Secretary Clinton to reiterate her support for high-quality charter public schools, so that party activists with an anti-charter bias cannot hijack the platform to undermine her position.”

These sentiments are shared by other reform organizations, including the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform. In a release, DER President Shavar Jeffries said, “President Obama has made clear that the best way to strengthen our system is not just with more resources, but reforms that ensure our children are progressing. Our party’s platform should build upon that legacy.”

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega