Elizabeth Warren fails kids of color

New York Daily News Opinions 3 weeks ago

Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently released her education plan. It continues the one-upmanship that has colored a primary where candidates are desperate for the backing of the nation’s teacher unions. Given that America ranks 25th among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in the 2015 PISA study, education is an issue that needs real leadership and sober solutions. But it is difficult to take the senator’s plan seriously (even the parts that are worthwhile) because it is ultimately unserious; it’s a laundry list of tree ornaments, their glitter only surpassed by the sanctimony of the rhetoric and vengeful nature of the policy agenda.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Warren’s take on the nation’s charter schools, which serve over 3 million students who are overwhelmingly kids of color, largely located in urban areas, and for whom the nation’s traditional public schools offered sustained underperformance aplenty.

The senator wants to vest all control of the creation, oversight and closure of charter schools (commonly known as authorizing) with traditional public school districts. She would make these districts — whose achievement gaps and inflexible bureaucracies were the reason for charters in the first place — their regulators. (It’s worth noting the majority of charter authorizers in America, 89% of them, are already school districts.)

Warren’s plan talks a good deal about school finance, its unevenness, and how the rich-got-richer nature of schools funded by property taxes left poor kids in communities victimized by redlining. But her platform fails to note that even in states where the difference between rich suburban schools and lower funded urban schools is most pronounced, charter schools are the poorest of these schools.

There is no place in America where charter schools receive the same funding as their district school counterparts, a fact made more acute because charter schools typically pay for their own facilities, which further drives down the amount that can be spent on things like teacher salaries — about which, as a former teacher, the senator apparently cares. If equalization is the goal, the answer should not be to lift funding for one group of poor kids in district schools while sacrificing the rest on an altar of imperfect collectivism.

Perhaps most pernicious of the senator’s proposals is the elimination of federal Charter School Program grants — a program President Obama expanded greatly. These grants are vital for community members, who aren’t deep-pocketed, who lack access to big philanthropy, who only want high-quality alternatives to traditional public schools close to home. Indeed, given the regulatory hurdles, planning time, and facilities challenges most potential charter starters face, the grants aren’t just vital, they’re essential. In killing this program Warren would be — in calculated fashion — retreating on issues that put her on the radar of many regular folks.

A woman whose brand is standing up for the poewrless is, here, comforting the powerful and hindering the needy.

The senator’s education plan features a federal competitive grant program to spur state action on redrawing school district boundaries, which have enforced racial segregation in neighborhoods and public schools. But charter schools, by virtue of many state laws, are already available to students across these lines already. They’re a solution to this issue, not the problem.

And if federal grant programs are an engine of fairness against greedy banking oligarchs in the housing market — the senator wants to expand the federal role in supporting middle- and working-class home ownership as Presidents Clinton and Bush did — how is eliminating that backstop for local educators, instead forcing them to seek capital in the banking sector, either good or intellectually consistent? Far from embracing diversity, if you want to ensure minority leaders and educators — who are routinely frozen out of credit markets — don’t get to start schools, this is exactly how one would do it.

Elizabeth Warren says she wants “all students [to] have access to great public education.” She’ll instead ensure fewer do while swapping schools run by small, nimble groups of educators for those led by large and distant bureaucracies. It’s also hard to ignore the obvious racial implications of this plan to make education great again. If enacted, teachers unions — whose workforces are overwhelmingly white — and white progressive Democrats who oppose charters will be happy. For African American and Hispanic families who support charters a great deal, the opposite will be sharply true.

Bradford is the executive vice president of 50CAN.

Tags: Opinion

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