From the September-October 2015 issue of News & Letters
New York City—More than two million students attend charter schools in the U.S. Los Angeles and Detroit have at least 70,000 students each in charters. Washington, D.C.’s charters account for 58% of its public school students. The Louisiana Legislature used the Hurricane Katrina disaster to take over New Orleans public schools and de-unionize them. Now 61% of the city’s students are in charters.
During the Clinton administration, Congress approved big tax credits for banks and investment funds to invest in charter schools. The Bush and Obama administrations have allocated billions more. New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez wrote that with tax credits, investors will “virtually double their money in seven years…No one knows who are the people making these huge windfall profits.”
After New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to limit new charters and require them to pay rent for space in public school buildings, tens of millions of dollars were spent in opposition, on TV ads and to send busloads of students and parents to Albany. The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo just passed legislation requiring de Blasio to approve unlimited expansion of charters and rent-free co-location.
The claim is that charters offer a better education to children in problematic inner-city schools. Statistics do not bear this out.
Charters do not adequately serve those who need the most help—very few have even minimal programs for students with special needs, including students whose first language is not English. Furthermore, they can get rid of problem and underperforming students. Despite this, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2006 that charter school students performed worse than public school students in math and reading.
According to a 2009 Stanford University study, students in more than 83% of charters surveyed in 15 states performed no better than those in traditional public schools. In 2014, The New York Times reported that the overall graduation rate in New York City was 64% but only 47% for charters.
Why have some teachers’ unions not completely opposed charters? They are a grave threat to teacher contracts, yet the United Federation of Teachers actually ran two charters. They say they are inevitable. Teachers’ unions should come out clearly against charters; or are they too connected with the Democratic Party whose leadership supports them? Only the Green Party is resolute in opposing charters.
As public expenditures are cut, public education and the rest of the public sector is being turned over to the private sector. In Europe this is called austerity. In the U.S., it’s called “reform.”
—Tom Siracuse, retired teacher
Secretary, Manhattan Green Party