Democrats Long-time Supporters of Charter Schools

There is a rapidly-growing body of scholarly and popular literature exposing, analyzing, and rejecting charter schools. While the analytical rigor and overall quality of this expanding content is steadily improving, it remains riddled with conceptual, ideological, and theoretical shortcomings that undermine the public interest.

One of the most stubborn themes in this regard is the notion, espoused frequently by many charter school critics, that charter schools are promoted mainly by conservatives, republicans, right-wingers, or libertarians. The implication is that democrats, lefties, or progressives are not really major promoters of charter schools and that the real problem is conservatives, republicans, etc.

Prominent democrats who have supported or continue to support these privately-operated contract schools run by unelected individuals include the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of California Gavin Newsom, President Joe Biden, and former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton also supports charter schools. Even so-called “more lefty” democrats like senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have not really come out and resolutely opposed charter schools. Corey Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, and a long list of other democrats also fall into this retrogressive camp. And for their part, Democratic candidates in New York City’s 2021 mayoral race are openly and proudly boasting about their warm embrace of crisis-prone charter schools. It is as if voluminous research and extensive experience exposing endless problems with deregulated charter schools do not even exist; both are instantly wiped out by anti-consciousness.

If one were to examine the record of the country’s 50 governors, 50 state legislatures, all members of Congress, and the mayors of many cities, they would easily find a very large number of democrats who support charter schools or do not put up any serious opposition to them. This pleases the millionaires and billionaires behind charter schools.

Segregated, unaccountable, deunionized charter schools with high teacher turnover rates have always had bipartisan support; they have never been only a republican, conservative, or right-wing phenomenon. Other destructive policies like high-stakes standardized tests and various teacher evaluation systems have also had reliable support from a large number of democrats coast to coast. Democrats at all levels of government have also long supported cuts to education funding and healthcare funding while voting for funding for various wars and imperialist aggression. To be sure, over the decades numerous democrats at all levels of government have supported many different antisocial ideas, policies, and arrangements.

It should be recalled that charter schools are segregated, plagued by corruption, run by unelected individuals, largely deunionized, and unaccountable. Hardly a week goes by without news of someone being arrested in the charter school sector, which represents barely seven percent of all schools. Charter schools also spend lots of money on advertising, act like private entities, dodge transparency, violate open meeting laws, and have more inexperienced teachers and fewer nurses than public schools. They have been known to greatly inflate their student waitlists as well. Hundreds of charter schools close every year for financial malfeasance, mismanagement, or poor academic performance. Many charter schools do not even offer transportation for students, siphon enormous sums of money from under-funded public schools, over-test students, and routinely engage in discriminatory enrollment practices as well. Other problems could be cited.

It is critical to make a clean break from the unaccountable cartel party system of government and come to terms with the demise of liberalism and liberal institutions. Neither can open the path of progress to society. The outdated two parties of the rich have no prosocial solutions and refuse to modernize politics so as to empower the people to be sovereign decision-makers who decide the aim and direction of education and all the other affairs of society. People are under no obligation to “work with” an anachronistic setup that perpetuates the privilege of narrow private interests. People do not want to spend all their time humiliatingly begging politicians to serve the public interest.

Thinking, analyzing, and acting independently and speaking up in our own name is necessary at this time. All the old arrangements are obsolete and cannot open a path forward. The existing liberal democratic political institutions are blocking social progress. In this sense, it is an exciting time to think “outside the box,” to think independently, to think anew, and give rise to a new politics and outlook that rejects the historically superfluous rich and their political representatives. It can be done. In the hands of the people, power can be wielded quickly and decisively to accomplish great things that should have been attained long ago.

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