School Choice

Booker Expresses Tepid Support for Charter Schools While Sanders Seeks To Stifle Them

Sen. Cory Booker's comments were in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders' public education plan, which targets charter schools.


Presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) reaffirmed his tepid support for public charter schools at a campaign stop on Friday, breaking with a long roster of primary rivals who have condemned school choice in favor of the traditional public school system.

"I've seen charter school models that are outrageous and unacceptable," Booker told the Washington Examiner. "I've seen charter laws propagated by Republicans that just outright dangerous. And so I understand those people, I'm one of them, that wants to stop those kind of movements.

"But I've also seen in places like Newark, N.J., and other places where local leaders are making decisions that elevate the best educational possibilities of their children, and local leadership should be allowed to do that," he continued.

Booker's comment was in response to the education plan released by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.)—a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination—who would issue a moratorium on public funding for charter schools until a national audit can measure the impact of their growth in every state. The plan would also require that charters—which can be privately run and often use innovative educational models—adhere to the same oversight requirements as traditional public schools.

"65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, many U.S. schools remain unacceptably segregated," says Sanders' plan. He's correct—but charter schools are not the problem. The initial data actually suggests that they might be part of the solution, as they exhibit a slight desegregating effect in classrooms. It's true that some charters are heavily populated with minority students, a fact not lost on critics of school choice. But such objections fail to consider the contextual factors that influence the makeup of any given student body. Like location.

"It's like saying that urban public schools are more racially isolated than public schools nationwide," Michael Petrilli, president of the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told Governing last year. "Of course they are—urban neighborhoods are the most segregated in the country. And in most states, most charters are urban."

Further probes into classroom outcomes reveal that students in public schools perform at a disadvantage when compared to their peers at charters. In Florida, for instance, students at charter schools were 6 percent more likely to pass state reading tests than those in public schools. Such benefits are particularly prevalent in the underprivileged and minority communities: Pass rates were 10 percent higher for low-income children and 12 percent higher among the Hispanic population.

Evidence shows that African Americans have much to gain from school choice as well, with black students in urban charters amassing an additional 36 days of learning in math and 26 days in reading. Students who are both black and low-income make even larger strides, gaining 59 days in math and 44 days in reading.

It should come as no surprise that 68 percent of charter school students are from minority communities. People of color are more likely to grow up in impoverished neighborhoods with less effective schools, motivating some to seek opportunities outside of their zip codes. It should also fail to shock, then, that the majority of black Democrats (58 percent) and Hispanic Democrats (52 percent) support school choice.

But within the Democratic party as a whole, whites overwhelmingly tilt the scales against charter schools, with only 26 percent of whites polling favorably. Many such detractors likely side with Sanders, whose plan says that school vouchers have "drained funding from the public school system." That messaging has become commonplace, particularly as the Democratic party tilts toward a more socialist brand.

But while Sanders' explanation is a popular political talking point, it's also a misleading one. Education spending is at an all-time high, with states shelling out an average of $13,474 per student to attend public schools each year. Yet academic progress has remained stagnant.

Meanwhile, charter schools receive 27 percent less in per pupil funding—but they're savvier with what they do get. A recent study that examined charter schools across 8 U.S. cities found that they are 40 percent more cost effective.

Sanders' plan would also eliminate for-profit charters, which is a position that Booker likely shares. Booker tells the Washington Examiner that his commitment to Newark, N.J., where he was mayor from 2006–2013, "was not to for-profit charter schools."

But for-profit charters make up a mere 12 percent of total charters, and the individual schools in that category are nearly always structured as nonprofits. Sanders' attempt to scapegoat a small number of profitable charter management firms for the problems of American public schooling is a clever political move, but not an accurate picture of their influence in American education.

NEXT: Justice Department Tells Republicans to Hand Over Records on Cindy Yang and Other Chinese-American Supporters

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  1. It's amazing how far an idiot like Bernie can make it in this country. He's largely clueless on pretty much every issue/policy (except maybe our involvement in wars), and yet he has been elected to the highest legislative body in the nation. He hails his socialist garbage as a fix all to our ills. Strangely, socialist countries don't seem to be drowning in immigrants. It's almost like they're not desirable places to live...

    1. Like every Bolshevist, he should be put to death. This country is in deep shot now because we stopped destroying the lives of people like him. They need to be put down as soon as they are rooted out.

      Or we can live under their yoke. Ultimately it comes down to that. I would personally rather see them all gone forever.

  2. reason actually thinks any of these Democrat candidates will win election 2020.

    1. reason sure spends a lot of time writing about these ass holes in the socialist party, as if I don't know their policies are an affront to freedom.

      1. reason barely covered Libertarian candidates and mainly chose only a few LINOs for election 2016 and election 2018. I expect the same this election cycle.

    2. Who cares? They're still setting the stage for 2024. You think the themes that come out in the 2020 campaign won't figure in 2024?

  3. All citizens must be indoctrinated in the socialist school systems.

    1. All citizens must pay for that indoctrination in the socialist school systems.

      Its why the Lefties want to destroy private schools that do not have to indoctrinate kids about Socialist Utopia.

      1. And schools that do not have to indoctrinate them in the Cultural Marxist/LGBT agenda!

  4. >>>"I've seen charter school models that are outrageous and unacceptable,"

    I've seen NJ senators deserved of same description.

    >>>Evidence shows that African Americans have much to gain from school choice as well

    no wonder (D) hates them.

    1. "them" charter schools, not African Americans whatever those are.

      1. They hate both, actually.

        1. y'know ... i try to be only so accusatory at one time

    2. But, he got Zany Zuckyberg to give Newark a ton of money to fix their schools...Y'know the schools that were already spending the most in the nation per student...Gee, how did that work out?

  5. There is zero segregation in the US. Certain neighborhoods and schools are less diverse because people do not want certain types of diversity. Desegregation is code for anti-free association.

    1. +100

  6. The main problem with many charter schools is that they skim the cream of under-served communities and leave the kids with disabilities (including ADHD, intellectual disabilities, mood disorders and autism) to the public schools. That concentrates the population of disabled kids the public schools so that the public schools need more special ed teachers and programs which are expensive at the same time that funds are cut to them. Disabled kids are *very* expensive to educate properly and also very expensive to put on state support forever if they aren't educated sufficiently to at least get jobs.

    If charter schools were required to take the same percentage of kids with disabilities as public schools or if public schools were compensated for having to take a higher percentage of disabled kids I'd be in favor of allocating more funds to charter schools (e.g. increasing caps or eliminating caps).

    1. Citation needed to show that public school funding is being cut.

    2. They're not required to take them on a percentage basis, but as far as I know, they're required to take as many as want in that they have room for.

      Meanwhile for certain types of mental disabilities, schooling is just pretend anyway, to make them and their families feel better, not to keep them off state support later. I don't know what fraction of all disabled that applies to, but it's a large one.

      1. Oh, what the heck — schooling in general is a lousy way to keep anybody from needing state support later! It's a very inefficient way to get anything but specialized training in advanced fields like medicine.

    3. We'd be better off as a while if it were the opposite.
      My experience with charter is that most of the students were low preformers who were kicked out of public.
      Would be better served not requiring charter to take anyone, but allowing to specialize (to both high and low performing or special needs but not trying to mix), and allow public schools to have the same current broad focus.

  7. I wish you wouldn't write of "public schools" as a distinct category from charter schools, misleading readers into thinking charters aren't government-funded. Charter schools are government schools, but organized in a way that was common 200 years ago. Local Americans (or colonists before independence) organized schools locally, mostly with voluntary funding, and then would seek a government charter and receive tax funding in addition or instead. This was before the movement to create districts and cover the land with them as dictated from a higher governmental unit with schools serving each. So really the best word for the other category from charter schools is district schools.

    Charter schools may be considered choice schools because, as far as I know, no student is districted into any of them. Their governance is according to their charter, which mostly frees them from the district bureaucracy and boards. So they're getting government support without the type of democratic accountability the district schools have — but this lack of accountability seems to be an overwhelmingly good thing as far as libertarians are concerned, except for those who align with the Mises Foundation. They don't depend on vouchers or tuition, so they don't have that kind of accountability to their students either, but they seem to be more responsive and involve parents more anyway.

  8. Teachers' unions contributed $36 million plus to Democrats and Liberal groups in the 2018 election cycle. Union teachers predominantly work for state-run public schools.

    Any wonder that Democrats don't support charter schools?

  9. How about sending Bernie back to school? It doesn’t need to be a charter school, but just one that teaches stuff like history and civics. He needs to learn an awful lot. He would be the oldest high school student ever, but it’s never too late, I’m suppose.

    1. Played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie, no doubt.

  10. […] of economic freedom is one where private insurers are barred from the health care market, where school choice is restricted in favor of zip code entitlements, and where the poor increasingly struggle to get a credit card. […]

  11. […] of economic freedom is one where private insurers are barred from the health care market, where school choice is restricted in favor of zip code entitlements, and where the poor increasingly struggle to get a credit card. […]

  12. […] Cory Booker (D–N.J.), who has been running away from his past enthusiasm for charter schools, took a different tack than evasion or acknowledgment—he […]

  13. […] Cory Booker (D–N.J.), who has been running away from his past enthusiasm for charter schools, took a different tack than evasion or […]

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