Black and Latino Voters Blast Dem 'Establishment' for Opposing Charter Schools

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren / Getty Images
November 26, 2019

As top 2020 Democratic candidates unveil plans to curb or reverse the spread of charter schools, many Black and Latino voters are asking why their voices aren't being heard, according to a New York Times report.

"As a single mom with two jobs and five hustles, I'm just feeling kind of desperate," Sonia Tyler told the Times. "They're brilliant; they're curious. It's not fair. Why shouldn't I have a choice?"

Tyler is seeking to enroll her children in a suburban charter school outside Atlanta, joining many other parents who have found in charters a lifeline to escape failing public schools. But Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) have put out plans to defund charters, while South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and former vice president Joe Biden have both publicly expressed skepticism about charters.

In front of the studio that held the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta last week, more than 300 school-choice proponents chanted, "Our children, our choice" and held up signs such as "Charter schools = self-determination" and "Black Democrats want charters!" The next day, charter-school parents disrupted Warren's speech on racial inequities at Clark Atlanta University with similar chants, and a black mother even confronted her about whether Warren sent her children to private school.

Warren said she had sent her children to public school, but failed to mention that her son attended an elite private school from 5th grade on.

Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, has argued that charters are a ploy to "privatize" education, a sentiment echoed by Warren in her public opposition to any federal funding for the schools. Both propose dramatically increasing funding for public schools in order to achieve better educational outcomes.

But Richard Buery, who is the chief of policy for the Knowledge is Power Program charter network and a Democrat, said the Democratic shift against charters is "a reflection more broadly of the lack of respect for black voters in the party."

Former Milwaukee schools superintendent and school choice activist Howard Fuller went even further in questioning the commitment of Democrats to racial justice.

"The establishment, run by white people, their strategy was, 'let's be quiet and hope it goes away,'" he said. "We decided, no, we're going to fight."

Other Atlantans have united around charters as a means of improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.

"We look at it as a burning ship going down with thousands of kids in it, and we're trying to get kids on lifeboats," said Tariq Abdullah, who is seeking to start a charter in the suburbs of Atlanta. He and his wife are concerned that their son will not be able to attend a nearby school that is not failing.

One of the problems many black and Latino parents see in Democrats' plans to improve existing public schools is the timeframe for reform.

"If we wait around for them to address these things, we're writing off years, if not generations, of kids," said Ricardo Mireles, the founder of the charter Academia Avance in Los Angeles.

Fortune School of Education president Margaret Fortune, a lifelong Democrat whose group operates seven California charters, asked why Democrats are telling families to return to failing schools.

"What would be happening in a fair society is we would be asked for our opinions, rather than having candidates saying, 'I have a plan for you—to shepherd you into the very schools that you left on purpose,'" Fortune said.

The most potent opposition to charters comes from teachers' unions, which have long been among the largest donors to Democratic politicians and have handsomely supported Warren. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the 2020 Democrats oppose charters because they are smart enough to see they are not a "panacea."

When charter school parent Sarah Carpenter confronted Warren over her plans to defund charters, Warren did grant that her plan may need improvement.

"Let me just say, I appreciate nothing more than how much you care about your children and your grandchildren, and getting them educated," Warren told Carpenter. "That's all I want to do. If I don't have the pieces right, I'll go back and read it."

The broad support for charter schools among Black and Latino Democrats is reflected in recent polling published by pro-school-choice journal Education Next. As the Free Beacon reported, declining popularity of charters among Democrats is driven entirely by White voters, while Black and Latino Democrats remain pro-charter.