Public Opposition to Charter Schools Steadily Growing

Over the years, as more problems with charter schools have been exposed, analyzed, and critiqued, more people have come to see the need for opposing them and for defending public education and the public interest. Criticism and rejection of these privately-operated schools has become more mainstream in recent years and it is safe to say that opposition to charter schools will keep growing so long as neoliberals and privatizers impose more charter schools on society.

Public school boards and many different education advocacy groups, along with more legislators, former charter school teachers, many public school teachers, countless teacher educators and teacher education students, teacher unions, and myriad rights and justice groups are just some of the forces that are increasingly speaking out and taking action against charter schools. Many others have also heard of charter schools, and even with little or no investigation, they tend to approach charter schools with some skepticism. The days when charter schools were blindly embraced and investigation was deemed unnecessary are gradually fading. More people are doing their homework and learning about the numerous problems these segregated contract schools create.

Recent Actions

In April 2021, the Buffalo Public School Board voted to close two Buffalo charter schools that have been failing for years. There is also a legal push to pass a moratorium on charter schools for the next three years in the city. And in the past year even the New York State legislature has also become a little less supportive of charter schools.

In recent months and years, many more public school boards across the country have also rejected charter school applications or been less hesitant to close failing or corrupt charter schools. For example, the Leon County School Board in Florida recently denied the application of a proposed new charter school. In 2020, the Lee County School Board shut down a charter school in Fort Myers (Florida). In March 2021, the Philadelphia school board unanimously denied five new charter schools. Also in March of this year, the Escondido Union School District (EUSD) board in California unanimously rejected a five-year renewal for Epiphany Prep Charter School. And in January 2021, the Montgomery County Board of Education in Alabama rejected a charter school application. In late 2019, parents and community members called for closing of a Memphis, Tennessee charter school under investigation. Reasons for rejection or closing a charter school usually include poorly-written and poorly-conceived charter school applications, a long record of mismanagement, and/or years of poor academic performance. Such actions are becoming more commonplace from coast to coast. These examples represent a small fraction of public actions against non-profit and for-profit charter schools.

In Oklahoma, about 200 public school districts have consciously banded together recently to legally challenge the funneling of public school dollars to privately-operated charter schools.

In New Jersey there is a new court case challenging the expansion of charter schools in that state. And in Pennsylvania, by a margin of 3-1, hundreds of Propel Charter School staff recently voted to form a union to defend their rights because they are routinely violated by their charter school operator. Late last month, 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, and various other officials requesting a significant reduction in funding for the federal Charter School Program (CSP) as well as a commitment to ensuring better oversight of charter schools to minimize chronic waste and fraud.

Many other examples of opposition to charter schools and their practices could be given.

It should be noted that charter schools, which are run by unelected individuals and are heavily focused on revenue and profit, have been controversial and mired in scandal, corruption, and controversy for 30 years. Thousands have closed since 1992. And collectively, charter schools have deprived public schools of tens of billions of public dollars, leaving them, the economy, and society worse off. With such a record, and given their very nature, it is no surprise that there are even some divisions and conflicts within the crisis-prone charter school sector itself (e.g., brick-and-mortar charter schools versus cyber charter schools).

The main issue is that social consciousness about the harms of school privatization is growing and that individuals and organizations are increasingly combining action with analysis to oppose school privatization and defend the public interest.

More actions against charter schools and in favor of public schools is slowly activating and galvanizing the human factor and the social consciousness needed to change the direction of education and society to benefit the public interest. Over time, more possibilities to unite and collaborate against school privatization will present themselves and enable people to resolve problems in a manner that favors them instead of narrow private interests who strive to deprive the public of enormous sums of public wealth.

The public does not benefit from the ongoing multiplication of charter schools. These contract schools only create more headaches for public schools and for charter schools themselves.

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