There is an interesting dispute developing among Democrats both at the local and national levels. A new study from Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that generally supports charter schools, shows a widening gap between white Democrats and black and Hispanic Democrats on the issue of charter schools. They report 26 percent of whites had favorable opinions toward charters, 58 percent of blacks were favorable, 31 percent were unfavorable. Among Hispanic Democratic voters, the results were 52 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable. This is a huge gap.
In the middle of this release, Bernie Sanders who struggled mightily with getting black Democrats to support him the 2016 presidential race, proposed a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on funding for public-charter-school expansion. In response, CNN reported that Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter schools, said, “Sander’s call is out of touch -- as usual -- with what African-Americans want.” She added, “More disturbing, the senator -- for personal political gain -- would literally lock African-American students into schools that have failed them for generations.”
Locally, in the sole mayoral debate in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney, when asked whether there should be more, fewer, or the same in the number of charter schools, answered, “Fewer.”
At a rally called because of Kenney’s position Amy Hollister, CEO of Northwood Academy Charter School said, “We are under attack.” She said 4,000 children applied to Northwood this year and were turned away because of a lack of seats.
How would Kenney, Sanders and other white progressives respond to these desperate parents seeking the best education for their kids? They often resort to saying charter schools just drain resources from public school funding.
I think they are really telling parents not to trust their eyes and gut instincts. They are arrogantly patronizing these parents. They are demanding that they ignore years of evidence that many Philadelphia public schools are not effective.
My observation is that many of these local people opposing charter schools are the same people who support the soda tax. Their mindset is that they know better and that too many drink too much soda in Philadelphia, and that it’s good that the ruling class has intervened to punish this ignorance. The charter schools are like more empty calories, and it’s their duty to put a stop to this extremely unhealthy choice.
Will this strategy work both nationally and locally? Will black and Hispanic parents continue to vote and support those political leaders who support their educational choices? We will start to see some of this play out in the upcoming struggle between City Council members Alan Domb and Helen Gym when it comes time to succeed Kenney after his anticipated second term.
Domb favors charters, and Gym is probably is the biggest opponent imaginable. In the recent primary, Gym won more than 100,000 votes, which was 40,000 more than the next candidate for Council. She is arguably the most progressive elected official in the city. However, if she is a candidate for mayor, there will be a lot more scrutiny of her charter school opposition.
On both the local and national levels, supporters of charters often talk about parents’ choice as one of the key civil rights of our times. I deeply support that belief. For that support as white male conservative, I’ll be seen as someone trying to undermine the public schools and somehow benefit corporate interests. I accept that crazy talk as a badge of honor.
In every area of our society, we see that competition works. Charter schools provide competition to the status quo. Chris Stewart, writing in The Hill recently, said it best:” Across America, some 7,000 charter schools in 44 states educate approximately 3 million kids. They have become safe have become safe havens for black, Hispanic and poor students stuck in our country’s shameful education deserts. While not all of them are academic powerhouses, solid research shows that the best of them dramatically outperform traditional public schools serving similar populations.”