Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to reverse course on charter schools during Saturday’s MSNBC Public Education Forum 2020 in Pittsburgh.
“If I’m president, Betsy DeVos’s whole notion, from charter schools to this, are gone,” Biden said during the event (see the 4:48:35 mark of this video).
Charter schools are privately managed and operated public schools, authorized by state and local governments. Recent estimates suggest that charter schools make up seven percent of all K-12 public schools. Advocates say students who attend charter schools, on average, have superior academic results to students of similar backgrounds who attend publicly managed public schools.
In his comment on Saturday, Biden appeared to move from his official campaign position announced as part of his education policy in May that he would oppose federal funding for for-profit charter schools to aggressively moving to end the existence of all charter schools.
Subsequent to Biden’s comment, his campaign offered no further clarification to either confirm or deny that the former vice president has now moved to aggressively seek the end of charter schools.
The practical elements of how he might accomplish such a draconian objective, however, remain unclear, since public schools are directly operated under the authority of state and local governments, rather than the federal government. About 48 percent of funding for K-12 public schools comes from state governments, with 44 percent coming from local governments and just eight percent coming from the federal government.
Biden made it very clear on Saturday, however, that he opposes Secretary of Education DeVos’s support for the growth of charter schools.
In October, DeVos “announced a new initiative to promote the creation and expansion of high-quality public charter schools in Opportunity Zones across the United States,” in this statement released by the Department of Education:
Currently, more than 70% of Opportunity Zones do not have a public charter school option available to students. One-fifth of Opportunity Zone residents lack a high school diploma. By creating and expanding high-quality public charter schools in Opportunity Zones, more families living in economically distressed communities will have access to additional education options that might better meet their child’s needs.
“Access to high-quality, innovative education options is fundamental to the long-term success of not only students but also entire communities,” said Secretary DeVos. “The focus on opening charter schools in designated Opportunity Zones will have a long-lasting impact, and I’m looking forward to seeing how charter school leaders, nonprofit organizations, and others utilize the Qualified Opportunity Fund to invest in students and improve outcomes.”
In 2019, the Department of Education awarded more than $3.8 million in new funding to applicants serving Qualified Opportunity Zones.
Biden’s position on charter schools has evolved significantly over the past two decades.
In 2001, while serving in the United States Senate, Biden supported federal funding for all charter schools, contingent upon their providing “comparable education” to other public schools.
In May of this year, when he unveiled his education plan for his 2020 presidential campaign, the New York Times reported he opposed federal funding “for for-profit charter schools”:
His campaign’s written proposal did not touch the issue of charter schools, a fraught question in the Democratic primary. But asked about for-profit charter schools by an attendee at Tuesday’s town hall event, Mr. Biden replied that he did not support federal funding “for for-profit charter schools, period.”
By July, that position had evolved to “no federal funding for any charter schools,” as he told National Education Association President Lily Eskelen García in this interview:
There will be no federal dollars–I’m not Betsy Devos nor will my Secretary of Education be anything like her and her attitudes about public schools. No privately funded charter schools would receive a penny of federal money. None.
Biden went on to assert that “a lot of these charter schools are significantly under performing.”
Recent polls indicate that charter schools have high levels of support among the black and Hispanic voters.