Democratic Guide to Public Charter Schools, 3rd Edition

Policy Briefs

June 21, 2021

Public charter schools have a long history of bipartisan support and that includes, from their very beginnings, support from key Democrats and progressives. The relationship between Democrats and public charter schools, however, is currently a complicated one.

On one hand,

  • Democratic voters, especially voters of color, continue to rate public charter schools favorably in most major polls.
  • Moreover, public charter schools are concentrated in communities represented, by and large, by Democrats at all levels of government and show their most dramatic positive results for students of color and those from low-income families, constituencies for whom Democrats have historically claimed to be champions.

On the other hand,

  • In recent years we’ve seen some Democratic leaders move to a more anti-charter stance. During the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary, Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) both called for policies that would end federal support for new public charter schools.
  • And in blue states from coast to coast, we’ve seen Democratic governors and state legislatures slow or freeze charter school expansion.

If Democratic lawmakers want to be the champions of public education excellence and equity, they need to do some serious soul searching on how they position themselves on public charter schools.

Charter schools, as we discuss in this guide, aren’t all created equal, and some models are better than others, so not all criticisms should be summarily dismissed. But the idea that charter schools are anathema to the idea of public education and that they should be defunded or unconditionally curtailed is misguided and misinformed.

To the contrary, public charter schools continue to give millions of students access to a public school other than the one to which they would have been assigned. Millions more students are on charter school waiting lists.

Public school choice—including, in addition to public charter schools, magnet schools and career academies—gives parents the opportunity to choose a school within the public system that they feel provides the best education experience for their child.

In this 3rd edition of the Democratic Guide to Public Charters School, we:

  • Set the record straight on public charter school facts.
  • Trace the history of support for public charter schools by Democrats and progressives.
  • Present public opinion data showing strong support for public charter schools from key Democratic constituencies.
  • Review data showing high concentrations of public charter schools and students in Democratic strongholds.
  • Analyze research on public charter school performance in advancing student achievement.
  • Review federal and state policies key for sustaining, improving, and expanding public charter schools.

Read the full guide here.