An editorial ran in USA Today recently penned by three CEOs of ‘high performing’ Charter Chains, Achievement First, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools. It ran under the title ‘Mr. Trump, Don’t boost our budget while cutting education: Charter school CEOs.’
In the new budget despite massive cuts to education, the charter school industry will see a $168 million increase. About this, the charter CEOs wrote:
As public charter school operators, we appreciate the proposed investment in new schools like ours.
But we cannot support the president’s budget as proposed, and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families and communities.
Budgets are statements of priorities, and this one sends a clear message that public education is not a top priority.
Of course the usual gang of ed reform cheerleaders received it enthusiastically:
And even some praise from charter school opponents:
I can see why an organization like the UFT might celebrate this piece. For years there has been bipartisan support for the modern style of education reform which features charter schools as proof that traditional public school education is broken in this country. Having some splintering among the reformers is, at least, a step in the right direction.
In the 74, Richard Whitmire wrote an analysis of this gesture which included this:
Their charter schools, which enroll nearly a quarter million students around the country, stand to benefit from the Trump budget, which increases charter school investments by $168 million. These charter leaders should be elated — but they’re not.
The leaders write that they “appreciate” the boost. However, the cuts that paved the way for that increase — such as funding for AmeriCorps volunteers, who work in schools, and Pell Grants for low-income students attending college — would inflict too much damage on all students, both charter and traditional, they argue.
I agree with Whitmire here. Charter schools are looking to distance themselves from Trump / DeVos. But in that same Whitmire piece, there is this morsel about why it is so noteworthy that this group of charter CEOs wrote this:
Each of those networks operates schools that, on average and over time, add roughly a year and a half of learning for every year a student spends in their classrooms.
Though the CEOs did not make this outrageous claim in their USA today piece, this helped me understand my own skepticism of the supposedly courageous ‘rejection’ of the Trump budget.
Charter leaders, and reformers in general, need to understand their role in promoting a narrative in which funding for public education could be gutted. It was mainly Democrat reformers who pushed the idea that traditional public schools were not doing their jobs. There were ‘drop out factories’ and children ‘trapped’ in ‘failing schools’ on the basis of their ‘zip codes.’ Unions, with their LIFO and ‘lock step salary increases with no consideration of effectiveness’ and teacher evaluations that did not take into account ‘student achievement.’ All this rhetoric has built up momentum and has gotten these Charter CEOs very rich. It didn’t matter that, like the Whitmire year and a half of learning each year quote, it was not true. But now that it has spiraled out of control, the Democrat reformers don’t want the Republicans to take this to the next logical step. Instead, the charter schools want things to stabilize right where they are.
Because increasing ‘choice’ is not a good thing for charter schools. Families who are choosing to leave traditional public schools have only had one feasible choice thus far, charters. With DeVos those families may have way more choices: private schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, other types of schooling that hasn’t even been invented yet. This could really make it tough for charters who are already slowing in growth as they already scramble to get the students most likely to get the test scores to make their schools look good.
I’m not impressed with the USA today manifesto because in it the charter school CEOs purposely refrain from saying the one thing that would really make a difference. Bravery would be the charter school CEOs saying, once and for all, “We lied. We said that our schools proved that poverty did not matter. That all that was needed was ‘great teachers.’ The truth is that our schools are not as transformational as our PR materials claim. We didn’t realize that our lies would lead to this and now that it has, we feel we need to set the record straight.” I don’t expect them to say anything like this anytime soon. They will continue to straddle the fence, ready to adapt and survive in whatever new political environment emerges.
The most powerful way, in my opinion, for these charter CEOs to reject the Trump budget would be to do so literally by refusing to accept the money.