Charter Schools: Guilt by Association in Alabama

To its credit, the Obama Administration is encouraging states to make more use of charter schools, through its Race to the Top initiative, which awards grants to states on a competitive basis.

Kansas, with its stunted laws on charter schools that inhibit their use, was not one of the recent finalists.

I have some friends in Alabama who are trying to get that state to enact a charter-school law. Currently, it has none.

They tell me of a remarkable commercial that is currently running on television these days. I tried to find a copy of it on YouTube, but was unsuccessful, so I’ll have to describe it.

Simply put, it’s an anti-charter law that repeats the standard talking points that charter schools “don’t work” [they do for some students, not others–just like traditional public schools] and that they “drain money from public schools” [note that charter schools ARE public schools].

But the Race to the Top fund puts charter school opponents a new angle. It portrays the push for charter schools as the work of “Chicago-style politics” practiced by the Obama Administration.

Now, I’m not a fan of the president or of most of his policies, or even of the federal government having a large role in education. But if we do have a federal department, let’s put it to good use, and encouraging states to have charter schools is a good use.

Portraying charter schools as a tool of the Obama Administration is doubtless smart politics in Alabama, a state that is staunchly Republican.  But it’s also inaccurate, and wildly so. Some charter school supporters are Republicans, others are Democrats. Some are free-marketers, others are skeptics of the market. And in any case, the first charter school was launched (in Minnesota) in 1992, so the idea of charter schools–public schools with more freedom to move than the traditional public school–predate the current administration.

But no matter. The decision on whether to allow charter schools, like many things involving schooling, is a political beast, and politics is a nasty sport.

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