Justin Haskins: Bernie Sanders’ education plan is terrible for minority kids, great for teachers unions

Self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released his plan earlier this month for reforming the nation’s education system. If Sanders wins the 2020 election and successfully implements this proposal, it would effectively send America back to the education reform dark ages, run up the national debt, and destroy opportunities for millions of children across the country.

By far, the most important and destructive part of Sanders’ plan is its assault on charter schools and education choice in general.

Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that offer free education to students while operating outside of the traditional—and highly bureaucratic—government-run school system that most children in America rely on. Because charter schools are not controlled by the broken systems and burdensome regulations that plague government-run schools, they have been remarkably successful at providing children in failing government school districts with better educational opportunities.

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Despite charter schools’ well-established history of success, Sanders is completely opposed to education choice programs, claiming in his education proposal that charter schools have not “lived up to their promise.”

Rather than supporting education freedom, Sanders is calling for a moratorium on funding for new charter schools, a “national audit” of all existing charter schools, and the creation of regulations that would effectively force all charter schools to operate in a manner very similar to the one employed by the failing government school system. Under Sanders’ proposal, charter schools would even be forced to abide by neighboring schools’ collective bargaining agreements.

Sanders’ goal is clear: to eliminate publicly-funded education freedom in the United States. In his proposal, Sanders plainly states, “We do not need two schools [sic] systems; we need to invest in our public schools system.”

To justify his attack on charter schools, Sanders makes numerous misleading and false claims throughout his education proposal about charter schools and school choice, but perhaps the most outrageous is that he suggests charter schools are hurting minorities and even “intensifying racial segregation.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reason charter schools and other school choice programs are effective is because they aren’t beholden to the absurd regulations, collective bargaining agreements, and other government-imposed restraints commonly found in the public school system.

Although it’s true, as Sanders notes in his proposal, that “17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority,” the reason for this is that minorities disproportionately suffer from the government-run school model. Many charter schools throughout the country have been built for the specific purpose of helping inner-city kids—many of whom are black and Hispanic—escape dangerous, disastrous local government schools.

There is absolutely no question that school choice programs work and that minority students are benefiting. As my colleague at The Heartland Institute, Timothy Benson, noted in an analysis published in 2018, “In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the ‘gold standard.’

The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and it does so at a lower cost while simultaneously benefitting public school students and taxpayers, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.”

On its website, EdChoice, one of the leading academic institutions researching school choice programs, noted further, “According to nearly every empirical study on the topic, school vouchers lead to more ethnic and racial integration in schools, so there is virtually no evidence to support that vouchers, in practice, result in more racial or ethnic stratification.”

The reason charter schools and other school choice programs are effective is because they aren’t beholden to the absurd regulations, collective bargaining agreements, and other government-imposed restraints commonly found in the public school system.

In a study of education choice programs in Wisconsin published earlier in May by the Reason Foundation, researcher Corey DeAngelis, Ph.D., found “private schools [in Wisconsin] receive 27 percent less funding per pupil, and independent charter schools receive 22 percent less funding per pupil, than district-run public schools …”

Despite this funding gap, DeAngelis determined “private schools produce 2.27 more points on the [Wisconsin state education] Accountability Report Card for every $1,000 invested than district-run public schools, demonstrating a 36 percent cost-effectiveness advantage for private schools.” Similarly, “Independent charter schools produce 3.02 more points on the Accountability Report Card for every $1,000 invested than district-run public schools, demonstrating a 54 percent cost-effectiveness advantage for independent charter schools.”

In other words, private and charter schools do far more with less than government-run schools.

As harsh as it might sound, it’s clear Sanders doesn’t care about helping minority children struggling in America’s public schools—at least, not as much as he cares about kowtowing to teachers union bosses.

Sanders paints a false picture that minority students are victims of charter schools. In reality, many students are desperate to attend charter and private schools because government schools are failing spectacularly.

In many places, demand for charter schools and other school alternatives are so high that lottery systems have been developed to decide which lucky students will get to escape the government-run school system.

In a 2018 survey conducted by Democratic polling firm Beck Research and published by the American Federation for Children, the overwhelming majority of respondents said they support school choice programs, including education savings accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to enroll their children in any school—public, private, or homeschool.

As Benson notes in his analysis of the survey, [JH1] “Seventy-five percent of respondents said they are in favor of ESAs, including 73 percent of blacks, 87 percent of Hispanics, 77 percent of millennials, 78 percent of independent voters, and 70 percent of Democrats.”

If the evidence indicates children are helped by school choice programs and that parents of virtually every demographic support them—including Democrats—why would Sanders build an education proposal around attempting to destroy charter schools?

Because he’s going to need a lot of support from teachers unions in order to win the Democratic nomination for president, and teachers unions hate school choice programs. And because teachers unions are among the most politically active groups in the United States today.

Teachers unions aren’t opposed to school choice because they believe it doesn’t work (it clearly does, as I’ve already shown). They want to stop school choice because it limits their power and is bad for business.

Sanders’ proposal is obviously designed to win over teachers unions. Not only does it mention two of the largest teachers unions in the proposal by name and promise to limit school choice, it also pledges to give government teachers across the country a big pay raise.

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Sanders’ plan would “Significantly increase teacher pay by working with states to set a starting salary for teachers at no less than $60,000 tied to cost of living, years of service, and other qualifications.” It would also allow states to go beyond that floor “based on geographic cost of living,” and it would “Protect and expand collective bargaining rights and teacher tenure.”

As harsh as it might sound, it appears that Sanders doesn’t care much about helping minority children struggling in America’s public schools—at least, not as much as he cares about kowtowing to teachers union bosses. If he did, he wouldn’t have created this atrocious, dishonest, shameful education proposal.

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