In February, President Trump and Betsy DeVos proposed a major reduction to all funding for public K-12 education, including the federal Charter Schools Program grant.

Opinion: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders align in disdain for charter schools


Andrew Lewis
is an education and political consultant, on the board of a charter school and spent 12 years as the executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. 

In this piece, Lewis discussses the rebuff of charter schools by two political opposites, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

By Andrew Lewis

The New York Times accurately notes in the recent  article Charter Schools in Surprise Political Fight as Trump and Democrats Turn Away, “Public charter schools — caught between growing Democratic disenchantment and a Trump administration shift toward private schools — are preparing for political battle, as the long-protected education sector finds itself on the verge of abandonment.” 

As our nation continues to be more and more manipulated by the extremes of both political parties, certain policy issues, like public charter schools, have fallen victim to the zealots that represent the furthest edges of our hyper-partisan times. And while our nation appears to be in mortal combat for the political hearts and minds of voters across the nation, meaningful policy discussions at state and federal level fall prey to dangerous agendas. 

During this current 2020 presidential campaign, two of the most recognizable faces of the political extremes, President Donald Trump and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have rebuked public charter schools and the policies that underpin chartering as a needed outlet for families seeking options within public K-12 education. Trump and Sanders appear to be aligned in their disdain for public charter schools.  

In February, President Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, a supposedly longtime supporter of charter schools, proposed a major reduction to all funding for public K-12 education, including the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant. The CSP grant is used to offset start-up costs that are vital for charter schools to open as public school options across the nation.  

The Trump administration’s Feb. 10 budget proposal for K-12 education combines 29 elementary and secondary education programs, including the federal CSP program into a single $19.4 billion state block grant program.  

The $19.4 billion dollar block grant is an 8% cut from the current budget. The concern from supporters of traditional and charter public school supporters alike is that when dedicated funding is rolled into a block grant, the funding for that block grant is less than the sum of all the programs rolled into it, resulting almost always in less funding for each policy.  

The Trump administration’s policy shift away from charter schools and all of public education comes at a precarious time when many Democrat lawmakers like Sanders have as well targeted charter schools for defunding.  

Sanders, living up to his self-proclaimed “democrat socialist” moniker, notes in his education policy, “Charter schools are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.” 

For Sen. Sanders, parents and children across the nation, including those in economically disadvantaged communities, do not deserve an opportunity to be empowered with options in public K-12 education. Apparently, the only avenue for these parents and children must come from the “system,” regardless of quality. 

Sanders offers ways charter schools should be held accountable on top of the highest accountability measure (closure) in public K-12 education. One suggestion is, “charter schools comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools.” Does this mean Sanders would support the reverse, where traditional public schools are closed if they fail to meet academic goals? Let’s just assume he does not. 

Sanders and many Democratic leaders at state and federal level ignore some simple facts; charter schools are public schools, parents freely choose charter schools and to freely choose to leave a charter schools, public funding of charter schools is a reallocation of funds to the public school of choice, public charter schools are not a gateway drug to private school choice – private school choice is a radically different type of policy and lastly, charter schools serve a higher percentage of black and Latino students across the U.S. seeking an option within public K-12 education.

Andrew Lewis

Trump and Sanders continue to show each and every day they are the face of the political extremes of our nation. Over a 24-year time period, the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations recognized the empowerment of providing communities with options within public k-12 education. Less concerned with the type of public school, these administrations invested in charter schools to empower parents and students with options. The quarter decade of support by these administrations have been transformative for countless student and communities.  

Trump and Sanders’ shared opposition and desired disinvestment of charter schools turns the students and families choosing these public school options into political pawns for extreme agendas. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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