The Trump administration’s education policy has focused on the expansion of school choice or the idea that public funds should be used to support alternative schools. One of the most popular examples of an alternative school choice, one which has quickly begun popping up around the nation, are charter schools.
Charter schools, defined by National Public Radio, are “independent, publicly funded and privately run schools that were designed to give parents an option to send kids to a non-traditional school.” Charter schools open their doors to all students, tuition-free while running on limited contracts which are reinstated based on academic performance . U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ championship of charter schools, as well as school choice, has garnered substantial political backlash from those on the Left who have previously been on the fence over support.
Since charter schools aren’t publicly regulated by government officials and can enforce their own private agendas, school choice is being equated with the privatization of education. In 2015, President Obama reinstated a policy that was a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which also supports school choice and the growth of charter schools  . The ESSA had substantial support on both sides of the aisle — so what is different now ?
The vendetta here lies between the quality of traditional public schools vs. quantity of school choices for parents. Those who are against school choice believe that funding for traditional public schools, which serve all types of students, will deplete as public funds go towards schools like charter schools-citing murky evidence that they create healthy competition . Those in favor of school choice believe that parents get the opportunity to send their kids to an alternative school where low-income and minority students can benefit the most . The performance of low-income and minority students in the country is of the greatest concern.
EdVoice, a pro-school choice non-profit, finds that Californian low-income students, specifically of Black and Latino descent, are performing the lowest in math and reading comprehension levels. This is despite the state earning more money per student, and questions how well the traditional model serves its’ students.
Those who stand firmly against school choice argue:
- Charter school aren’t monitored by the state or federal authorities so they can operate with a hidden agenda — not allowing teachers to unionize, slacking on quality of food and resources, pushing for high test performance rather than learning, etc. .
- Research on how school choice affects public schools remains wildly inconsistent. Michigan public schools are performing worse since the introduction of school choice, versus in Florida where public schools got better .
- While low-income and minority students tend to perform better at alternative schools thanks to school choice, they are also disciplined at a higher rate, leading to negative consequences. Students may feel unequipped to navigate the freedom of college settings. According to a study on Boston public and charter schools, suspension rates at charter schools skyrocketed compared to traditional school counterparts.
Those who support school choice and the expansion of charter schools standby:
- Alternative schools (like charter schools) are held to the same, if not higher, standards of their traditional public counterparts, owned and chartered by non-profits or government agencies, and have the autonomy to “pursue specific educational objective” .
- Charter schools are “are often hotbeds of innovation with an unwavering focus on results” and create healthy competition between public and charter schools. Public schools want to get better because of how well-performing charter schools are, and re-invest into their own schools. Secretary DeVos often points to Florida and Arizona, where an “increase in charter-school enrollment and big gains in proficiency in the state’s public schools” .
- School choice benefits low-income and minority students, who are overwhelmingly served by charter schools. They are also shown to close the achievement gap between white and minority students .
Fiscally, pro charter organizations believe that charter schools are more cost-effective. They point to a University of Arkansas study that students who attended charter schools for 1 year were projected to have a 3% increase in economic gains for those students while attending a charter for 6 years meant a 19% increase — despite less money per student . However, a study in a North Carolina district shows that there was $500-700 less to spend on its remaining students that were not enrolled in a charter school . Researchers of the study, Helen Ladd, and John Singleton, believe that charters “may expand choice for some students while imposing costs on taxpayers and students that remain in district schools,” .
Earlier this year, Republicans celebrated a narrow win with the expansion of the 529 college savings plan, a policy which is a “tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs” . This expansion will cover religious, private, and public schools in order to coincide with school choice goals.
A proposed solution which could gain bipartisan support is more funding and investing in the traditional public school system, the same system that resulted in the creation of alternative education. While some alternative schools, in certain regions, solve some of the problems which weaken traditional schools, it’s clear that public schools are still not up to speed nationally. At the national level, federal funds should trickle down to the states to fund traditional education initiatives that can ensure quality to traditional schools while charter schools grow.
Splitting resources for an already underfunded system will only cause more conflict and tension amongst the different types of schools that arise. However, since traditional schools are more plentiful and serve more kids nationally than alternative school models, funds should be appropriated for them to make necessary changes which help alternative school models succeed.
- If you want to learn more about the arguments for school choice and facts about the Californian education system specifically, make sure to check out EdVoice (edvoice.org), a non-profit that advocates for school equity in California.
- Watch this informative video about the battle between charter schools and traditional schools in Florida: https://youtu.be/p2ssV4QjqjI
- This video tackles the question of charter schools monopolizing public resources in New York City: https://youtu.be/cxJZpSUOAjE
- Sanchez, C. (2017, March 01). Just What IS A Charter School, Anyway? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/03/01/511446388/just-what-is-a-charter-school-anyway
- Davis, J. H. (2017, December 21). President Obama Signs Into Law a Rewrite of No Child Left Behind. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/politics/president-obama-signs-into-law-a-rewrite-of-no-child-left-behind.html
- Russell, J., & Solis, R. V. (2015, December 09). How will the Every Student Succeeds Act affect school choice? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/how-will-the-every-student-succeeds-act-affect-school-choice
- Charter Schools Bring Parties Together. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2015-12-15/every-student-succeeds-act-reflects-bipartisan-support-for-charter-schools
- Pelto, J. (2017, February 10). Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/318948-beware-of-trump-and-devos-grand-plan-to-privatize-public
- California Facts | Education | See The Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cafacts.org/
- Charter School FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publiccharters.org/about-charter-schools/charter-school-faq
- Bump, P. (2018, March 12). Analysis | Why it was so easy for ’60 Minutes’ to rebut Betsy DeVos’s charter-school arguments. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/03/12/why-it-was-so-easy-for-60-minutes-to-rebut-betsy-devoss-charter-school-arguments/?utm_term=.bae1dd619216
- Report Finds Public Charter Schools More Cost Effective Than Traditional Public School Counterparts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publiccharters.org/press/report-finds-public-charter-schools-cost-effective-traditional-public-school-counterparts
- The cost of charter growth: New research estimates the price tag for districts. (2018, January 10). Retrieved from https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/01/09/the-cost-of-charter-growth-new-research-estimates-the-price-tag-for-districts/
- L., F., H., S., & D., J. (2017, December 06). The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3082968
- An Introduction to 529 Plans. (2018, May 29). Retrieved from https://www.sec.gov/reportspubs/investor-publications/investorpubsintro529htm.html