“Slipping Out the Back Door” – What Congressional Dems Think of Parents Wanting Something Better For their Kids

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, The 74 published a great article about Don Shalvey this weekend.

It’s the portrait of a titan in our movement who has made a huge difference doing what he encouraged all of us …

over and over again ..

… to do:

What we love.

Properly calibrated on the more important things, as Don constantly helps us to be, we proceed.

“Slipping Out the Back Door” – What Congressional Dems Think of Parents Wanting Something Better For their Kids

This week, with dispositive Super Tuesday results and a fiery State of the Union address occurring, the country began to focus even greater attention on the November election.

Polling from a few months ago suggested that education matters a great deal to voters.

At the Wall Street Journal, Tressa Pankovitz, from the Progressive Policy Institute, argued that Biden could improve his chances by pivoting to an embrace of school choice.

As Tressa notes, Biden has been essentially silent on charter school matters in recent years.

So I found it noteworthy that Education Secretary Cardona would make a visit this week to E.L. Haynes, a highly respected charter school in DC.

Even more noteworthy was the fact that Representative Aaron Bean (R), Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would schedule a discussion of charter schools …

… the first such formal hearing focusing on charter schools to have happened in Washington in years. It provided a temperature check for charter schools’ standing in the Capitol as we enter the 2024 elections cycle.

It was a hearing that was both highly predictable and yet highly illuminating.

Chairman Bean, as we would expect, was strongly supportive of charter schools in his general framing, highlighting polling showing that high percentages of voters support parents having public school options for their kids.

I thought that those testifying in favor of charter schools were particularly effective.

Macke Raymond summarized compellingly the latest positive charter school results coming out of CREDO III.

Robert Pondiscio from American Enterprise Institute cited his personal experiences as a classroom teacher in laying out the moral argument for students having access to improved educational opportunity.

And Kenneth Campbell from New Schools for Baton Rouge did a great job explaining how charter schools have helped improve public education in New Orleans and Baton Rouge at large scale.

Republican committee members were also crisp with their comments in support of charter schools.

Representative Kiley, who served as a Teach For America Corps Member in Los Angeles before starting his political career, was particularly spot on as he lamented the level of attack that charter schools are under in his home state …

… as was Julia Letlow from Louisiana …

… who used her time to highlight the bill she is sponsoring to accelerate the development of high quality charter schools.

That legislation …

… has bi-partisan support, as do charter schools in many other contexts.

But the Dems on the committee were intent on presenting themselves as uniformly anti-charter.

They brought as their expert witness Julian Vasquez Heilig …

… who is a Board Member at the Network for Public Education, the teacher union mouthpiece founded by Diane Ravitch that orchestrated the Administration’s Charter Schools Program debacle.

It’s what happens when you farm out your staff work to NPE.

One would think, given the negative blowback that the Administration endured on that occasion and that Dems have experienced in general over their years of protecting status quo interests since the onset of the pandemic, that Congressional Democrats would have wanted to present themselves to be more nuanced on charter schools.

But that was not the case.

Most of the questions posed by Committee Dems like Representative Wilson from Florida …

… reflected that their staff work has also been farmed out to NPE.

Member Bonamici from Oregon …

… concluded the hearing with a particularly harsh criticism of charter schools, building on comments shared by Ranking Member Bobby Scott from Virginia.

During his questioning, Scott repeatedly likened families leaving failing district public schools and attending charter schools to people who are “slipping out the back door” of public education.

We’ve heard a lot of questions about what happens when a school is failing. I just want to remind people that we updated the Every Student Succeeds Act to require that the lowest performing schools receive additional supports as a solution for addressing failing schools. Dr. Vasquez Heilig, can you say a word about what sense it makes as a solution to a failing school to let a few students slip out the back door?

After Vasquez Heilig opined on other matters, Representative Scott brought him back to the subject.

Well, if you have a failing school, letting a few people slip out the backdoor, those who have figured out what’s going on, leaving everybody else in the failing school, well, that doesn’t sound like much of a solution at all. In fact, if you have a failing school, all of them want to choose to leave. Then what happens?

At that point, Vasquez Heilig went on to say that not all parents have the ability to get their kids “all the way across a city” to attend other public schools, which of course, just further builds the argument for why we should have even more high quality charter schools located in close proximity to the families who need them most.

There is actually, CharterFolk, a wide range of opinion about charter schools among Democratic policy makers across the country.

But none of that range was on display this week at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

What we saw instead was an out-of-touch, lockstep mode of thinking that, unbelievably, recognizes that many of our district public schools are neither equitable nor excellent but then asserts that nothing needs to be done about it

… which only sets up a moment of even more cataclysmic change when the fuse finally runs out.

It’s an astonishing indifference that a subset of Blue policy makers have for families forced to attend schools they’re desperate to escape.

Any parents, Dems on the committee assert, who reject such a situation and seek something better for their kids should be seen to be “slipping out the back door.”

Like the public education establishment should be entitled to lock them in.

To give them no escape.

And to make them feel like a sneak if they somehow get out.

It’s exactly the kind of thinking the Republicans were hoping to put on a national stage as the country turns its attention to the November elections.

And this week, CharterFolk, they absolutely got it.