For The Record

Presidential candidate Warren goes after charter school industry

By: - October 22, 2019 9:01 am

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is one of the Democratic presidential frontrunners, is going after controversial charters schools that have been blossoming nationwide and enjoy significant legislative support in Georgia — as part of a broad education plan released Monday.

The plan titled, A Great Public School Education for Every Student, would end federal funding for expanding charter schools, ban “for-profit” charter schools and resist efforts to divert public funds from traditional public schools.

“I believe in America’s public schools,” Warren wrote in the plan. But she also made clear she wants to “stop the privatization and corruption of our public education system” — and that includes some of the nation’s charter schools.

Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2012 to create a State Charter Schools Commission, which gives the state the power to create charter schools. They are public schools, but they’re run by private entities.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp campaigned on expanding the state’s charter school options and touted his track record of early support for charter school legislation.

And in last year’s Georgia General Assembly, a bill narrowly fell short that would have redirected about $50 million from public schools in its first year to a family’s educational costs, including private school tuition. The change would eventually siphon off up to $500 million in a decade, which led to its defeat last spring – although it remains alive for next session.

Numerous Republican Georgia lawmakers support charter schools as a way to give choices to families who eschew traditional public schools.

But there’s still a lot of controversy about the charter movement. Many educators and teacher unions nationwide believe taxpayer dollars have been siphoned from traditional schools to finance charters.

“More than half of the states allow public schools to be run by for-profit companies, and corporations are leveraging their market power and schools’ desire to keep pace with rapidly changing technology to extract profits at the expense of vulnerable students,” the plan states.

“This is wrong. We have a responsibility to provide great neighborhood schools for every student. We should stop the diversion of public dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits – which are vouchers by another name. We should fight back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools.”

The Federal Charter School Program – federal grants to promote new charters – “has been an abject failure,” the plan states. “A recent report showed that the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never even opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.”

Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said, “More than 3.2 million students already attend charter schools and 5 million more would choose a charter school if one could open near them. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to starve charter schools of funding would destroy the dreams of a quality education for the families who need it most.”

The latest U.S. Department of Education report on enrollment show that 47.3 million students attended traditional public grade schools and high schools nationwide in fall 2016, compared to about 3 million students in public charter schools.

The charter enrollment has risen dramatically compared to fall 2000, but again, the increases fall far below the number of students in traditional schools.

In addition, the report called School Choice in the United States: 2019, revealed no “measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores” between students in traditional public schools and kids in public charter schools when it came to performance on major federal tests for 4th and 8th graders in 2017.

Florida Phoenix Editor Diane Rado contributed to this report

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John McCosh
John McCosh

John McCosh, Editor-in-Chief, is a seasoned writer and editor with decades of experience in journalism and government public affairs. His skills were forged in Georgia newsrooms, where he was a business and investigative reporter, editor and bureau chief, and expanded his experience during years in nonprofit and corporate communications roles. For more than a decade at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McCosh investigated state and local government officials and operations. He also tracked regional growth and development with a focus on metro Atlanta’s population-related problems, including traffic congestion, air pollution and water quality. He first learned the power of public records to unlock information when he was a commercial real estate reporter at the Atlanta Business Chronicle. McCosh is a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and active in the Georgia State Signal Alumni Group, which advises student journalists.