Charter Schools: How Democrats Betray Blacks

Unknown-6“Draining” is the word of choice. As in “draining money from public schools.” As if charter schools hurt public education – a sinister plot (“corporate” of course) to do just that. As if public education is great for everybody – including ghetto blacks.

Some folks hate the idea of profit-making business. As if that’s not the very thing that’s given us our prosperous lives. Generating the wealth we can spend on . . . well, stuff like public education. But never mind. Profit is evil; it’s greed. Surely we don’t want that corrupting our kids’ education.

Unknown-1Actually, I’ve always found rather better the services provided by profit-seeking businesses, competing for the consumer’s dollar, than by government. To survive, such businesses must satisfy their customers. Government bureaucrats, not so much. Would you find a nightly chocolate on your pillow on a government-run cruise ship?

Unknown-3Charter school detractors say they perform worse on average than public schools. But as I noted recently, former NY Education Commissioner David Steiner explained that charter school data is pulled down by a proliferation of what he called “mom and pop” operations, whereas larger, professional – “corporate!” – ones tend to perform admirably.

Meantime, some public schools do not. And, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they’re too often schools serving inner city blacks — still separate and unequal. There are many reasons. One is that schools are funded, to a great degree, by property taxes, which favors white suburbs over black ghettoes. In the latter neighborhoods, charter schools are realistically the only hope. Steiner noted that Harlem kids in charter schools are seven times likelier to reach college.

Unknown-4So you might think the Democratic party, which owes its very viability to black votes, would champion charter schools. But of course there’s that ideological hostility to anything smacking of business or profit. And the party’s subservience to teacher unions, desperate to protect their near-monopoly. At recent Democratic national conventions, around one in eight delegates have been teacher union members.

Those unions have managed to convince most white Democrats that charter schools somehow threaten public education – the “draining” argument. And most white kids go to public schools that are pretty good; and the affluent ones can afford private schools. They see little to gain from charter schools.

But, again, things are very different in disadvantaged black neighborhoods where public schools do poorly, and charters – even if they didn’t actually outperform – would at least provide a spur of competition forcing public schools to raise their game. Yet blacks continue to vote Democratic, against their interests, somehow overlooking the party’s betrayal on this critical issue. When will they wake up and rebel? Why don’t Republicans stress this issue more?

Unknown-5Speaking of “draining money” – Dale Russakoff’s recent book, The Prize, chronicles what happened to the whopping $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donated to fix Newark’s failing public schools. What happened was . . . not much. The money basically went down the drain, and the public schools are as bad as ever. Reform efforts were defeated by a combination of factors, prominently including the entrenched interests of the status quo. One might conclude the system is (as bureaucratic systems tend to be) impervious to real change. But meantime Newark charter schools are doing great.

And here in financially struggling Albany, the city aims to blow a whopping $196 million to build literally the costliest high school in history. That works out to about $90,000 per high school student! One weeps to think what even a tenth of that amount could do to improve actual education – which a palatial building will not.

That’s what I call draining money from public education.


9 Responses to “Charter Schools: How Democrats Betray Blacks”

  1. jmrussell Says:

    Thank you for this. I get especially tired of humanist associations denouncing charter schools and voucher programs.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    I’m a humanist, but don’t agree with everything most humanists believe, especially in political issues. Nobody is right about everything. (Not even me.)

  3. Greg Says:

    Really, Frank? You are mischaracterizing the viewpoint of reasonable-minded democrats with regard to profit-making and charter schools. Been listening to Fox News too much lately?

    There is nothing wrong with profits if earned in a socially-responsible manner. And there is nothing wrong with charter schools if the benefit is available to all and no child is left behind.

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    Making profits by providing disadvantaged children with better quality education than they get in public schools seems to me to be earned “in a socially responsible manner.” As for “available to all,” the reason charter school places are not is because of the resistance of Democrats and their union allies to the whole idea.

  5. Greg Says:

    For those schools that really do provide a better education, I say more power to them. But all too often the continue reach for profits proves to be a conflict of interest (e.g. recent Volkswagen revelations) and in this case education may suffer as a result. There needs to be quality controls for such a system to work.

    It is far from clear that implementing charter schools as currently envisioned by conservatives will provide equal treatment for all children. That is the main point of contention from what I’ve read. Solving that problem is the key to a successful program that everyone can agree on.

    To the extent entrenched special interests on either side of the aisle are blocking needed reforms, it is unfortunate to be sure and I will not support them.

  6. rationaloptimist Says:

    The main point of contention is that teachers’ unions oppose charter schools whose teachers are not theirs. An expansion of charter schools to make them available to all children is exactly what the unions do not want!!!

  7. Greg Says:

    I think we’re agreed that special interests should not block needed reforms. Unions, like most special interests, try to protect their base even when reforms are required. Perhaps if we could show a plan that assured all children would get equal treatment, the union’s arguments wouldn’t carry so much weight. It might also be wise to make provisions for transferring qualified union teachers to the charter schools to prevent job disruption.

  8. Greg Says:

    Our discussion got me thinking about what sort of charter school program structure might be capable of addressing everyone’s various concerns. One concept in particular seemed to fill the bill so I thought I’d throw it out there and see what happens. If you care to opine about this, please feel free.

    You start by letting profit-oriented, market-based entities provide education services funded at least in part with vouchers. Oversight would be required to maintain quality control, but otherwise market forces would be at work.

    Students who are able would naturally gravitate to schools that give the best value. What’s left will be pockets of dysfunction. In those cases, the government can step in and rescue those that might be left behind.

    Specific provision would be made to assure funding for “rescue areas,” so every child can get the education they deserve. Teacher salary/education guidelines applying to all schools should be established to maintain quality amongst the teaching staff.

    We should make it as easy as possible for teachers to transition to the charter school system. As to whether every teacher should be in a union, I really don’t feel qualified to answer, but am inclined to leave it up to those most affected to make such a decision.

    If this proposal addresses the concerns of enough people, maybe one could get sufficient support to move ahead. That is, if it’s possible to get government players at certain levels to agree on anything anymore.

    I’d like to see any charter school system on a trial basis at first, to make sure the program achieves it’s intended goals. But why not give it a try?

  9. DAN FAREK Says:


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