Fuller: Biden’s new charter school rules are an attack on the right of families of color to choose the best education for their children
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It has been evident from his presidential campaign that President Joe Biden is not a supporter of charter schools. The reason was never clear to me. Does he oppose the movement for philosophical reasons, or does he think it’s the most politically advantageous path to take? Whatever his reasons, his administration is pursuing a path to act on his disdain for charter schools. On March 11, his Department of Education introduced a new set of rules that, if passed, will cripple and possibly even kill the charter effort.
The department says the rules will improve charter schools and “hold them accountable.” But, in fact, he is proposing onerous regulations as a way to remove the ability of charter schools to support what was the very market on which the movement was founded. Specifically, the idea of freedom in exchange for responsibility. These proposed new rules are supposed to bring accountability, but what they will really do is stifle the freedom that charter schools need to succeed. This is not just a veiled effort against the charter movement, I believe it is an intentional strategy to deny low-income and working class black families access to an educational option that has been a buoy positive rescue for their children. It is clear that Biden has chosen to side with the organized special interests of the traditional public school system rather than these families. He chose to be a protector of the traditional system and not of the families he sometimes pays lip service to.
Since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991, charters have been a welcome opportunity for families who have historically been underserved by the traditional public school system. In proposing these new rules, the administration has bought into the argument that by protecting the traditional public school system, it is protecting public education. The fact is that the traditional system is not public education; it is a delivery system for public education. Biden and his administration conveniently ignore the fact that charter schools are public entities and are an important part of delivery systems aimed at achieving the goal of educating the public.
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Let me be very clear that my objection to what is being done here is not meant to be an attack on the Biden administration at large. I happen to agree with many actions that have been taken by the administration on other fronts. But this misguided effort is an attack on the right to self-determination of low-income and working-class black and brown families and communities in two ways: it attacks the rights of families who intentionally choose these schools for their children; and he attacks the brown and black people who govern and run some of these schools.
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Let me cite some of the specific concerns I have:
First, the proposed rule to require charter schools to associate with a local district is obviously intended to end their independence and force them under the control of the traditional public school system. Charters should be free to determine whether partnering with a school district is in the best interests of the students and families they serve. Historically, charter schools have thrived when independent of their local district – especially where, as is the case in many places, local districts have been hostile to charter school efforts in their area. This rule would put an end to that freedom.
Watch: A conversation about charter schools, the Biden administration and the uncertain future of parental choice
Second, the proposed “diversity” requirement, under which charter schools should have the same socioeconomic and racial makeup as the local district, is a serious problem. What if a charter school is located in a predominantly white neighborhood, but the kids who fall through the cracks are black and brown kids from low-income and working-class families? This rule would prevent a charter school from serving these students.
The Biden administration is trying to reverse the pro-charter stance of the Clinton and Obama administrations, back to the days when the interests of teachers’ unions were put before the interests of the families this administration is supposed to care about. It is crucial that the Department of Education continues to support policies on various fronts that will help families who have chosen charter schools as the best educational option for their children. I urge the administration to desist from this assault.
Dr. Howard Fuller is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Marquette University and former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.
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