Democrats fight tooth and nail against charter schools–perhaps not surprisingly, as they receive generous campaign contributions from the teachers' union, which feels threatened by competition.
So it is refreshing that Mary Landrieu, a former U.S. senator from Louisiana, has an oped in today's Wall Street Journal headlined "Democrats, Support Charter Schools." It is an article well worth reading.
And something of a landmark–Landrieu is one of the few prominent Democrats who has dared to break ranks on charters.
Landrieu knows that in general research supports the educational advantages of charter schools:
Studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes show that students who spend four years or more in a charter school gain two months of additional learning every year in reading and more than two months in math, compared with demographically similar students with similar past test scores in district schools. In urban areas, it’s 3½ months gained in reading and five in math.
She also has personal experience of New Orleans, which turned its whole public school system into charter schools, with good results. Landrieu explains:
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, my home city of New Orleans empowered every public school to be an innovative charter school, each with a large measure of independence. Our schools have seen a 35% increase in graduation rates since 2004. Tens of thousands of students have been given the opportunity to go to college.
She even dares to take on the unions to some extent:
The union caricature of charter schools as corporate entities set up by billionaires to profit from public education is deeply misguided. Charter schools are public schools. The vast majority are set up by local educators or nonprofit organizations. Charter schools cannot turn away students, and they must uphold civil-rights protections. When a student enrolls in a charter school, money doesn’t leave public education; it gets redirected to the public school the student chooses to attend.
Unfortunately, Landrieu seems to think that many of the tough issues in public education are the result of "chronic underfunding."
No doubt, some districts and individual schools are underfunded. But funding isn't the problem. It is the mindset that prevails in unionized public schools, where firing a bad teacher is almost as hard as firing a Washington bureaucrat.
Landrieu should have guessed that funding isn't the top issue. Has she not noticed that teachers in charter schools tend to earn less than those in regular public schools, but are glad to do it because of a better atmosphere for learning and teaching in charter schools?
Still, it is terrific to see a Democrat willing to say what Ms. Landrieu says in this oped. Kudos to her.
Landrieu is a senior policy analyst at Van Ness Feldman, and a board member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.