Charter Schools Haunt More Election Races

The intensely controversial nature of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools in the U.S., due in no small part to endless news about the infinite problems plaguing them, is increasingly a major issue in local, state, and federal election campaigns. It is hard to find a political race today where a candidate, especially a school board candidate, is not expected to have some position, hopefully well-worked out, but usually not, on charter schools. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent in some places based almost entirely on whether a candidate supports or opposes charter schools (e.g., California recently). This point is especially critical to appreciate as the tide against charter schools steadily rises. The last thing charter school advocates want is to open the door to disciplined investigation and serious discussion on charter schools. For them, disinformation and propaganda must have the upper hand. Informed, conscious, and oriented people do not serve their agenda.

Currently, more than a dozen individuals are vying for the position of Mayor of Chicago, a powerful position in one of the country’s largest cities, not to mention home to about 125 charter schools and the place from whence education privatizer and former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, sprung. Elections will be held on February 26, 2019. Incumbent Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is not seeking reelection.

A December 28, 2018 Chicago Sun-Times article titled, “Where 14 candidates for mayor stand on charter schools — their full responses,” exposes the extreme confusion that has traumatized the public and distorted the “great charter school debate” for decades.

The first paragraph of the Chicago Sun-Times article reads: “Fourteen of the candidates for mayor responded to our question about the future of charter schools in Chicago. We asked: What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?”

Revealing its bias, the Chicago Sun-Times automatically assumes that charter schools not only have a role, but an  “appropriate role,” and one “within the Chicago Public Schools system.” The newspaper could just have easily asked something like: “is there any justification for the existence of charter schools?” But it cannot do this because this is not its reference point, this is not its starting point for discussion. The paper thus begins with the acceptance of charter schools.

Predictably, candidates who support charter schools—the vast majority—tend to rely on the outdated ideologies of choice, consumerism, individualism, and competition to express their support for charter schools. This is often accompanied by the self-serving misuse of the concept of “parent power” to “justify” charter schools. The conclusion that education is a basic human right that cannot be given or taken away and that government must provide such a right with a guarantee in practice, is nowhere to be found in the discourse of charter school supporters. From their narrow perspective, everyone simply fends for themselves when it comes to getting into a good school, while hoping that the “free market” will not fail them as it has in every other sphere of life. Education is nothing more than a commodity. This old outlook also steadfastly maintains a no-facts, no-analysis, and no-discussion orientation when it comes to investigating and exposing why the rich and their state actively mandate school failure, particularly in urban communities, in the first place.

Supporters and Opponents

It is clear from the breakdown of supporters and opponents of charter schools (see below) that the corporate school reformers have the upper hand in Chicago and are determined to continue to ravage the third largest public school system in the country.

Students, teachers, parents, and others defending the public interest have their work cut out for them and will have to step up their efforts to combat the onslaught of disinformation coming from charter school supporters and their wealthy backers (e.g., the Walton family). Only one candidate appears to be reliably opposed to charter schools.

Mayoral candidates who support charter schools: Lori Lightfoot, Dorothy Brown, John Kenneth Kozlar, Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, La Shawn Ford, Jerry Joyce, Susana Mendoza, Bob Fioretti, Bill Daley, and Garry McCarthy.

Mayoral candidates who oppose charter schools: Toni Preckwinkle.

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia provided perhaps one of the more useful critiques of charter schools but did not openly state whether she supports or opposes them. Another candidate,  Willie Wilson, also failed to clarify his position on charter schools. Candidates who fit this profile usually do not oppose charter schools firmly and unequivocally. Like many in the charter school supporter column, they will offer some convoluted, fence-riding, “balanced view” that, in effect, represents concrete support for charter schools; they just don’t wish to appear too unabashed and raw in their support of charter schools so that they appear to be “measured” in their comments on charter schools.

Taking Up Our Social Responsibility

Charter schools are on the agenda in the U.S. like never before, and they will continue to come to the fore in more forceful ways in the months ahead, thereby expanding the space for opponents of privatization and supporters of social responsibility to reverse the destructive neoliberal direction of education and society. People no longer want to see their public schools looted by wealthy private interests concerned only with building their private empires at any cost to society.

People are increasingly realizing that those in power have no solutions and are unfit to govern. They are depriving society and its members of solutions to major problems, causing misery for millions. Experience repeatedly confirms that relying on the politicians and experts doesn’t work, and that if things are going to move in a pro-social human-centered direction, then it is up to the people alone to independently forge a path of progress free of illusions, amnesia, disinformation, and a brutal financial oligarchy that will do anything to satisfy its unlimited greed.

People have more power than they realize. It is a power that oftentimes lies latent, waiting to be activated in order to usher in exciting progress for humanity and an end to the devastation wrought by the rich and their outdated economic system.

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