Among all the programs that face cuts in President Obama's new
budget, education is a clear winner. Charter school funding,
however, suffers a slight decrease. And this may be a good thing.
Charter schools have become another silver-bullet 'idea fad' racing
through education reform.
President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal earlier this
week to a fanfare of predictable criticism from the right and a few
cries from the left. In a budget that saw cuts to many cherished
programs, one of the big winners was education - with an 11 percent
boost in total funding. Within education spending, however, the
popular charter school movement wound up as a slight loser - with
proposed funding reduced to $372 million after a pledge of $490
million in last year's budget.
While some charter school advocates may wring their hands over
the slight reduction in proposed funding, the rest of us should be
asking whether charter schools have been adequately scrutinized as
part of a "tough choices" budget.
Smoke and mirrors in Obama's budget? Five examples of creative
That's because investing over half a billion dollars on charter
schools in a two-year span suggests that policymakers are overly
susceptible to ideas that seem cool rather than ideas that we know
are sound. The unfortunate reality is that charter schools are the
latest example of "silver bullet" solutions that burst onto the
scene each generation, promising a swift end to endemic problems in
education before ultimately coming up short.
If we want charter schools to work, we must be careful to resist
the "idea faddism" that so often turns tomorrow's innovation into
yesterday's failed idea. This means avoiding the urge to go all-in
with federal funds during what should be a period of continued
US love affair with charter schools
The recent American love affair with charter schools is well
documented. In 1991, Minnesota passed groundbreaking legislation to
create the first charter school in the nation, with the first
opening its door a year later. Now there are more than 5,000 charter
Public support for these schools is also widespread, with vocal
champions from both sides of the aisle. While few issues have
unified the last three presidents, charter schools is one of them.
President Clinton set a target of 3,000 charter schools by the year
2000 in his 1997 State of the Union address, and President Bush
sought $200 million in federal funds to support them.
Obama has outdone them both. Not only has he included hundreds of
millions in charter school carrots through his budget proposals, but
he has also wielded a big charter school stick through the Race to
the Top Program. A state's willingness to foster charter schools was
considered a critical reform element in its bid for a share in the
original $4 billion Race to the Top program. As Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan made clear at the time, "States that do not
have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of
charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to
the Top Fund."
Charter schools have found an abundance of advocates outside of
government as well. School reform superstar and former Washington,
D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee has been an outspoken champion
of charter schools as part of her acclaimed school reform agenda. …