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New Charter School Rules Are an Assault on the Rights of Families of Color

It has been obvious since his presidential campaign that President Joe Biden is not a supporter of charter schools. The reason has never been clear to me. Does he oppose the movement for philosophical reasons, or does he believe it is the most politically advantageous path to travel? No matter what his reasons are, his administration is pursuing a path to act on his disdain for charter schools. On March 11, his Department of Education put forth a new set of rules that, if adopted, will cripple and maybe even eventually help kill the chartering effort.

The department claims the rules will improve charter schools and “hold them accountable.” But, in fact, it is proposing onerous regulations as a way to remove the ability of charter schools to sustain what was the very bargain the movement was founded upon. Specifically, the idea of freedom in exchange for accountability. These new proposed rules are supposedly bringing about accountability, but what they will truly do is stifle the freedom charter schools need to be successful. This is not just a veiled effort against the charter movement, I believe it is an intentional strategy to deny access of low-income and working-class Black families to an educational option that has been a positive lifeline for their children. It is clear that Biden has chosen to side with the organized special interests of the traditional public school system rather than those families. He has chosen to be a protector of the traditional system and not the families whom he sometimes gives lip service to supporting.

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Since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991, charters have been a welcome opportunity for families who historically have been poorly served by the traditional public school system. By proposing these new rules, the administration has bought into the argument that by protecting the traditional public school system, he is protecting public education. The fact is the traditional system is not public education; it is one delivery system for public education. Biden and his administration are conveniently ignoring the fact that charter schools are public entities and that they are an important element in the delivery systems aimed at achieving the goal of educating the public.

Related: Open Letter to Joe Biden: The Votes of Black and Brown Charter School Parents Matter. Ignore Us at Your Own Peril

Let me be very clear that my objection to what is being done here is not meant to be an attack on the Biden administration writ large. I happen to agree with many actions that have been taken by the administration on other fronts. But this misguided effort is an assault on the right of self-determination for low-income and working-class Black and brown families and communities in two ways: It attacks the rights of families who intentionally choose these schools for their children; and it attacks Brown and black people who govern and lead some of these schools.

Let me cite some of the specific concerns I have:

First, the proposed rule to demand that charter schools partner with a local district is obviously aimed at ending their independence and forcing them under the control of the traditional public school system. Charters should be free to determine whether partnering with a school district is in the best interests of the students and families they serve. Historically, charter schools have thrived when they are independent of their local district — particularly where, as is the case in so many places, the local districts have been hostile to the charter school efforts in their locale. This rule would put an end to that freedom.

Related: Watch: A Conversation about Charter Schools, the Biden Administration & the Uncertain Future of Parental Choice

Second, the proposed “diversity” requirement, under which charter schools would need to have the same socio-economic and racial makeup as the local district, is a serious problem. What happens if a charter school is located in a district that is predominantly white, but the children who are falling through the cracks are Black and brown kids from low-income and working-class families? This rule would prevent a charter school from serving those students.

The Biden administration is attempting to reverse the pro-chartering stance of the Clinton and Obama administrations, to return to the days when teachers unions’ interests were placed ahead of the interests of the families that supposedly this administration cares about. It is crucial that the Education Department continue to support policies on a variety of fronts that will aid the families who have chosen charter schools as the best educational option for their children. I urge the administration to back down on this assault.

Dr. Howard Fuller is a distinguished professor emeritus at Marquette University and former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

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