On Friday, Presidential hopeful and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders launched an attack on charter schools and school choice that puts him at odds with minority voters in his own party.
Sanders perversely points to the fact that charter schools disproportionately serve minority and low-income communities as evidence that they are more segregated. In reality, there are more poor and minority students in charter schools because those are the students who are worst-served by the status quo system, and so there is more need and demand for alternatives in neighborhoods with bad schools.
While around three million students attend charter schools, a million more remain waitlisted, hoping to win a lottery that allows them to attend. For example, a full quarter of the students in Washington D.C. – 12,000 young minds – are waiting for a seat at a one of the city’s charter schools. Charters addressing the desperate need for good alternatives to failing traditional public schools is not "segregation.”
Charter schools receive, on average, around three-quarters of the funds of their traditional district counterparts, and yet they deliver better academic outcomes for the investment. Test scores aside, there is good reason to suspect that charters have positive impacts well beyond filling in bubbles on standardized tests. The girls accepted by lottery into charter schools in New York City had a 59 percent lower chance of teen pregnancy and the boys experienced a 100 percent reduction in their chance of being sent to prison. That’s right, in New York City, every boy who was given the educational opportunity Sanders decries found himself on the right side of the law after the experience, while nearly five percent of those who lost the lottery ended up incarcerated. And Sanders wants a moratorium so that fewer children will be granted that life-changing opportunity?
It’s hardly a wonder that Bernie Sanders is on the wrong side of this issue from minority Democrat voters, with whom he is already at a large disadvantage vis-à-vis opponent Joe Biden. Multiple polls have shown that Black and Hispanic Democrats support charter schools at much higher rates than do white Democrats. Black and Hispanic voters generally support school choice, including private school choice options, at majorities well above 60 and even 70 percent, probably because minority voters are less likely to be able to afford to move to a neighborhood where they like the school better and feel their children are safe there.
In response to the failures of the traditional system, Sanders trots out the tired canard that U.S. schools are underfunded, and that excuses their poor performance. In reality, the US is among the highest-funded per pupil systems in the developed world. Districts don't lack for money, they make bad decisions with their money, like hiring 700 percent more bureaucrats than they did a generation ago, instead of raising teacher salaries.
Districts are able to continue making those bad decisions because politicians like Sanders attack choice and charter programs that actually let families hold schools accountable for whether or not they provide a good education for taxpayers' money.
It is the height of the "privilege" Sanders usually rails against to say that charters shouldn't be able to open to serve the populations that traditional system has left behind.