At last! At last! At last! A candidate for President of the United States has recognized that the bedrock institution of our democracy is in peril, and the same forces of greed and racism that are working to destroy other elements of our society also threaten the very foundation of our society: K-12 public education.
That presidential candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Honoring the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education, the Supreme Court case which outlawed segregation in public schools, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his education plan, a comprehensive 10-point agenda, called The Thurgood Marshall Plan for A Quality Education for All.
The bold assertion that Senator Sanders’ plan makes is that every child has the right to a quality education.
In his plan, Senator Sanders endorses the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. The NAACP calls for that moratorium because it has determined that:
- Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose to innovate and infuse new ideas into traditional public schools. There has been no carryover from charter schools to traditional public schools. Charter schools have not, in any way, been learning labs which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools.
- The education that charter schools provide is questionable. The large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute found that 17% of charter schools produced academic gains better than traditional public schools, 37% of charter schools performed worse than their traditional public schools counterparts serving similar students, 46% of the schools showed no difference. Reducing class size, not charter schools, the NAACP states, is how to improve student achievement.
- Charter schools take public tax money but are privately managed and do not tell the public how they spend the public’s money.
- Charter schools do not accept their share of children with learning issues or who do not speak English as their first language.
- Charter schools “counsel out” students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates.
- Charter schools have mostly inexperienced, short-term, uncertified teachers.
- Charter schools suspend and expel students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.
The NAACP opposes charter schools because it insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children to a quality education. Similarly, Bernie Sanders’ plan for K-12 education insists on the same fundamental right to a quality education for all children. Sanders’ plan points out that the proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color and increased school segregation– 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority, compared to 4 percent of traditional public schools. Charter schools stand in opposition to the chief tenet of Brown vs.The Board of Education: A separate education is NOT an equal education.
In addition to issues of racial equity, Senator Sanders’ plan addresses the funding of charter schools.
First of all, billionaires like DeVos and the Waltons (Walmart) together with private equity and hedge fund executives, have bankrolled charter schools and poured tens of millionst into school board and other local elections in order to privatize public schools, and, therefore, control how children are educated and make profits for themselves, such as by buying buildings and then renting out those buildings to charter schools.
Secondly, the Sanders plan points out that charter schools are led by private entities that take substantial tax money but owe no accountability as to how that money is spent. One example of unregulated and unaccountable funding in Connecticut is that heads of charter schools gave themselves salaries in excess of superintendents’ salaries in much larger public school districts and districts in wealthy communities. Tax filings for 2014 show that the two chief executive officers of Achievement First Public Charter Schools each made just over $260,000 and the executive director of Domus, which oversees two charter schools in Stamford, was paid $325,000 while tax filings from 2013 show that the school district superintendent in wealthy Greenwich was paid $235,00, and the superintendent in Hartford, a school district with 20,000 students, five times the enrollment of the Achievement First schools in Connecticut, was paid $194,000. With no oversight or accountability to taxpayers, charter school administrators are free to determine what to pay themselves.
Thirdly, the Sanders plan highlights how charter schools drain funds from public schools. Charter schools are given the per pupil funds that would have been allotted to the public schools and keep that funding even if students leave or are dismissed from the charter schools and return to traditional public schools. The public schools, of course, are minus the per pupil funding that accompanied the children who enrolled in charter schools.
Charter schools have been able to function in impoverished communities in ways that more affluent and politically savvy communities would not tolerate. Who in more affluent communities would allow their children to go to schools in which there is no accountability for how the taxpayer money is spent, inexperienced teachers who turn over every two years, racial segregation, disregard of the needs of special education learners, and students being dismissed from school or held back a grade in order to boost the school’s test scores or graduation rates? The answer is no one.
So how will Bernie Sanders stop the damage to communities caused by unregulated charter school growth? His plan states that, as President, Bernie Sanders will fight to:
- Ban for-profit charter schools and support the NAACP’s moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion until a national audit has been completed to determine the impact of charter growth in each state. That means halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.
- Invest in our public schools system. We do not need two schools systems. That said, existing charter schools must be made accountable by:
– Mandating that charter schools comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools.
– Mandating that at least half of all charter school boards are teachers and parents.
– Disclosing student attrition rates, non-public funding sources, and financial interests.
– Matching employment practices at charters with neighboring district schools, including standards set by collective bargaining agreements and restrictions on exorbitant CEO pay.
– Supporting the efforts of charter school teachers to unionize and negotiate contracts.
Bernie Sanders has done his homework. He gets it. He knows how to move education in this country forward by enforcing the perspective of those who founded our democracy. He understands what John Adams wrote:
“The Whole People must take upon themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the People themselves.”
Like John Adams, Bernie Sanders advocates a strong public school system as the foundation of our democracy. The charter school industry has taken us off course; we must invest in our public schools so that our democracy thrives.
And Bernie Sanders is showing us the way.