Experts: Bernie Sanders’ Education Plan Could Hurt Low-Income Students He Wants to Help

Black Kids in Charter School
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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his education plan for American K-12 schools, including banning all charter schools. It is a proposal that education experts and others have said could hurt the low-income students he claims he wants to help.

It also reverses the education platform from his 2016 presidential campaign when Sanders said he supported public charter schools but not private charter schools.

New York Magazine reported: 

Bernie Sanders today is announcing the foundation of his K-12 education plan, which is to crack down on public charter schools. If enacted, the Sanders plan would snuff out one of the most successful social policy innovations in decades, and close off a lifeline of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of poor urban children.

The charter-school sector varies enormously from state to state, but on average, charter schools yield better outcomes for urban students (though not for other students). States with the worst-regulated systems fare no better than traditional neighborhood schools. But the best-managed charter systems produce dramatically better outcomes for low-income urban children than the same students receive in neighborhood schools.

The public charter models with the highest success are the most exciting and deserving of replication. Rather than learn what they’re doing right, Sanders would choke them off.

The magazine report stated it is a good thing, however, for Sanders’ platform to ban for-profit charter schools, but noted that more than 80 percent of charter school students attend non-profit schools.

“Charter opponents have erroneously convinced many people that all charters are for profit, when in fact only a small minority are,”  the magazine reported.

Sanders’ plan is designed to please the teachers union, the magazine report stated, because charter schools don’t use union employment contracts but instead employ a merit-based benefits system.

“Rather than pay teachers based on seniority, requiring the most recently hired teachers be fired first, and making it all but impossible to fire ineffective teachers, charters allow schools to pay teachers based on performance and replace the ones who can’t do a good job,” the magazine reported.

“Sanders said he would ‘call for a moratorium on the funding of all public charter school expansion until a national audit on the schools has been completed and ‘halt the use of public funds to underwrite all new charter schools if he is elected president,'” the magazine reported. 

Sanders’ plan could hurt his support among blacks, a demographic he has already had trouble getting in his corner. New York Magazine noted blacks represent 26 percent of charter school students.

“Black and Hispanic Democrats favor charters — not surprisingly, given that their children benefit from them disproportionately — while white Democrats oppose them overwhelmingly,” the magazine reported.

Sanders claims his plan is to fight segregation, but it may do the opposite.

“Neither traditional neighborhood schools nor charters do anything to reduce segregation,” the magazine stated. “What charters do instead is offer poor urban children a better education. And the results at the best models are remarkable. No-excuses charter schools eliminate the achievement gap between white and black children. This is a staggering triumph of progressive social policy that should be spread and emulated.”

Sanders’ plan also is a flip flop from his 2016 education platform, according to an Education Writers Association 2016 report:

“I believe in public education, and I believe in public charter schools,” Sanders said at a Democrat town hall in Columbus, Ohio. “ I do not believe in private — privately controlled charter schools.”

Here are the facts: More than 40 states allow charter schools, which are publicly funded campuses that are supposed to operate more independently when it comes to staffing, scheduling, and programming than traditional public schools. (In some states, charter school governing boards are allowed to hire for-profit companies to manage their schools or provide services like transportation. Other states, such as New York, prohibit any charter contracts with for-profit companies.)

While that seems fairly straightforward, Sanders — elected from Vermont and a self-described “democratic socialist” — isn’t the only presidential candidate to misstate what charter schools are. And there’s plenty of confusion among the broader public, as well.

In a 2014 Gallup poll on education issues, nearly half of respondents said they believed charter schools weren’t public, and that teaching religion was an option. Additionally, 57 percent of respondents said charter schools could charge tuition, and another 68 percent believed schools could practice selective admission. None of these things, at least as far as state laws go, are true.

In the 2020 cycle, a leftwing teachers union lauded Sanders’ plan.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in the CNN report:

For the last several decades, the unregulated growth of private charter schools has siphoned off money from public schools, with little protection against fraud, and little attention paid to equity or quality when it comes to educating kids. The senator’s plan takes tangible steps toward making the charter school industry accountable to parents and the public.

“Those who operate these schools feel differently. Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, points out that three California branches of the NAACP broke with the national organization’s call for a moratorium on funding,” CNN reported. “She noted that there was evidence that charter schools have helped thousands of children in at-risk situations.”

“Sanders’ call is out of touch — as usual — with what African Americans want,” Wilkins said in a statement to CNN. “More disturbing, the senator — for personal political gain — would literally lock African American students into schools that have failed them for generations.”

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