Charter Schools Are Promoted Heavily by the Left, Not Just the Right

One of the main criticisms of charter schools is that they are terrible because right wingers are behind them.

Many right wingers are indeed behind charter schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a textbook example of right-wing support for charter schools. The billionaire Koch brothers are another example of right-wing support for charter schools. Many others could be cited.

But this does not tell the full story of charter schools and who else strongly supports and promotes them.

In reality, charter schools started out nearly 30 years ago with heavy support from democrats, and were, in fact, initiated and organized specifically by democrats (and so-called “centrists”).

Democrats have also consistently supported charter schools through the widely-rejected No Child Left Behind Act that plagued the nation for many years, and is still injuring the nation through its reincarnation as the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015).

It is worth recalling as well that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both so-called democrats, enthusiastically supported charter schools when they were in power. And to this day, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have never firmly opposed the existence and expansion of charter schools.

In addition, democrats in many state legislatures have repeatedly turned out in large numbers to energetically support the existence and expansion of charter schools. There is no shortage of such democrats.

The notion that charter schools are supported mainly by right wingers is inaccurate and misleading. It defines the foes of the public interest in a narrow way, instead of depicting their true scope, breadth, and nature. Charter schools have always been much more than a right wing, republican, or conservative phenomenon.

While some on the left and right do not support charter schools, many on both sides do. This is why so many top-down, antisocial, neoliberal education policies have “bipartisan support.”

The public should reject charter schools no matter who is behind them. There is no justification for their existence, let alone their expansion. Their track record is very unimpressive and rife with fraud, corruption, and racketeering. Arrests and scandals surround so many charter schools. Watching charter schools operate and implode is like watching a blood sport. A toxic, anarchic, and surreal ethos prevails in the charter school sector.

The nonsense that deunionized and deregulated charter schools run by private organizations are needed because public schools are “failing” ignores how and why public schools are actively set-up to fail, and the real political and economic relations behind the rise and expansion of pay-the-rich schemes such as charter schools.

The public should also reject the false left-right divide because the  neoliberal agenda remains strong across this diversionary political divide.

The public interest cannot be served by bypassing grass-roots forces and relying on the rich and their political representatives, whether they are on the so-called “right” or “left.” The issues confronting the broad polity go beyond these false and unprincipled divisions. Capital-centered ideas, policies, and arrangements harm the public interest regardless of who supports or promotes them.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.