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Guest Column
Defund teachers unions, not charter schools | Column
The national teacher unions hate charters because they give parents the option to flee failing schools or look for a better fit for their kids.
A student on his first day of class as IDEA opens two state-sanctioned charter schools of hope in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2021.
A student on his first day of class as IDEA opens two state-sanctioned charter schools of hope in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2021. [ IDEA | Handout ]
Published Apr. 9

Does public education exist to benefit children or teacher unions? The answer should be obvious, but President Joe Biden appears to have it backwards. Last year, he gave national unions free rein to keep classrooms closed and kids out of school. This year, he plans to defund charter schools to further empower union bosses.

Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio

Defunding charter schools has been a priority of the American Federation of Teachers for years. By extension, that priority is shared by leading Democratic politicians. On his campaign, Joe Biden promised to crack down on school choice. “If I’m president,” he said in 2020, “Betsy DeVos’ whole notion (of) charter schools (will be) gone.” President Biden is now trying to make good on that promise.

Last month, the Biden administration proposed prohibiting federal funding to charter schools unless a district’s traditional public schools are overpopulated. The proposed ruling would also withhold funds from charters that are insufficiently “racially and socio-economically diverse,” and it would allow teacher unions to dictate how they are operated. And that’s not to mention the tidal wave of paperwork impending contracting regulations would send the way of charter school administrators.

How would this ruling help the nation’s 3.4 million charter school students? Or the nearly 206,000 charter school teachers who rely on government grants to provide and improve their educational services? Or the millions of parents who want to get their children into a charter but cannot because of limited supply? The answer is: It won’t.

Since its creation under President Bill Clinton, the federal Charter School Program has directed hundreds of millions of dollars to support the growing charter school movement, which now encompasses almost 8,000 institutions. By all accounts, this is one of Washington’s greatest success stories. Research shows charter schools produce greater academic gains than traditional public schools while using less money to do so.

Charter schools are especially beneficial for students from disadvantaged communities in America’s urban core. Various studies indicate charter school attendance significantly improves urban students’ educational outcomes. It’s part of the reason why a majority of Black and Hispanic Democrats, who disproportionately make up urban neighborhoods, support charter schools.

I wrote to the Biden administration, urging them to reverse course on their proposed ruling and allow more time to hear from families who will be hurt by these disastrous policies. I hope President Biden will respond, but I’m not betting on it — because he appears to value teacher unions over local communities, ordinary educators, and children.

The only reason to crack down on charter schools is cronyism. The national teacher unions hate charters because they give parents the option to flee failing schools or look for a better fit for their kids. These shine a light on where traditional public schools fall short, an embarrassment to unions’ failures.

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We know from the past two years that national unions’ interests don’t always align with what is best for parents and their kids. But the unions are experts at getting “their people” into political office, and they donate tens of millions (much of it from teachers’ union dues) to political action committees. Their outsized influence allows them to buy widespread support for their anti-charter agenda.

Never mind that many Democratic voters are in favor of school choice. And never mind that students will be worse off without charter schools. What matters to Democratic politicians like Joe Biden is keeping their special interest donors happy.

America’s families deserve better than special interest politics and destructive “one size-fits-all” mandates from the federal government. This is especially true today, when the demand for alternative schools is high — and still unmet. If President Biden really wants to help our country’s children, he should defund radical teacher unions, not charter schools.

Marco Rubio, a Republican, represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

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