Bernie Sanders’s War on Charter Schools Is Hardly Progressive

Bernie Sanders is fortifying efforts to preserve the educational status quo and stifle change. Earlier this week, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate announced his 10-point plan for education reform, including banning for-profit charter schools, placing “a moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion” and ensuring that charter schools look and act the same as conventional public schools.

Educational Innovation

The whole point of charter schools is to encourage educational experimentation and innovation. Bans, moratoriums, and calls for conformity erode this intent and threaten to make charter schools—which serve 2.8 million children in the US and would likely help many more if state caps were lifted—indistinguishable from traditional public schools.

That seems to be the goal.

In an effort to secure the highly coveted endorsement of powerful teachers’ unions that have long been hostile to education choice and charter schools, Democratic presidential hopefuls are beginning to signal their opposition to choice. Sanders is leading the way, and Elizabeth Warren appears to be second in line. As PBS reports,

Democratic presidential candidates have already begun competing for key endorsements in the education sector, including engaging directly with teachers’ unions to ask for their support ahead of the primaries.

Teacher Unions Oppose Charter Schools and School Choice

Teachers’ unions, of course, are smart to oppose charter schools and other school choice programs. Their primary purpose is to secure the jobs and benefits of their union members who work in conventional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run, most often by a non-profit organization. They are typically tied to state academic standards, curriculum frameworks, and testing requirements that limit their full autonomy, but charter schools are often free from collective bargaining agreements, giving them much more flexibility in hiring and firing decisions.

That’s an existential threat to a labor union whose sole purpose is job protectionism. It would be foolish for teachers’ unions to support or ignore their non-unionized competitors. Sanders reinforces this fundamental teachers’ union tenet, stating in his plan that charter schools will be held accountable by

matching employment practices at charters with neighboring district schools, including standards set by collective bargaining agreements.

In his plan, Sanders echoes the common rhetoric of anti-choice advocates like teachers’ unions, suggesting that school choice measures create “two schools systems” and arguing that “we need to invest in our public schools system” to combat segregation and inequality. But as all of us know, we already have segregation and inequality in the public school system. If you can afford a house or apartment in a more affluent community with better schools, your children’s educational opportunities are greater than if you’re relegated to an assigned district school in a poorer community. Forced schooling tied to zip codes creates segregation and inequality.

Charter Schools Are Underfunded

School choice mechanisms, like public charter schools, voucher programs, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), and tax-credit scholarship programs seek to eliminate these barriers by expanding the education options available to low- and middle-income families. Championing mandatory school assignments based on a family’s zip code is hardly progressive. Promoting, creating, and increasing access to more educational options for families is much more forward-looking than clinging to a coercive system of mass schooling.

While pandering to teachers’ unions may score political points, Sanders’s attack on charter schools is largely unfounded. In his plan, Sanders argues that charter school “growth has drained funding from the public school system”; yet research suggests that charter schools are significantly underfunded compared to their conventional counterparts. University of Arkansas researchers Patrick Wolf, Corey DeAngelis, and others reported last fall that charter school students in 14 cities with heavy concentrations of charter schools received an average of $5,828 per student less than traditionally schooled students.

Overall, students in public charter schools received 27 percent less funding than students in conventional public schools. In some cities, like Atlanta, that funding gap was as high as 49 percent, with charter school students receiving roughly half as much money as public school students. Last month, Wolf and DeAngelis published a new study on charter schools, finding that for every dollar spent, charter school students were more productive and had better outcomes than students in traditional schools. From a taxpayer accountability perspective, public charter schools are a good investment.

Despite the positive results of charter schools, particularly those in urban areas, we will undoubtedly see more Democratic presidential candidates following in Sanders’s footsteps by proposing federal restrictions on education choice. With a trend toward collectivism, the idea of individual freedom and parental choice in education is concerning to many on the left. They cite segregation and inequality as societal scourges yet dismiss education choice mechanisms designed to free families from forced government schooling tied to one’s zip code.

All parents should have the freedom to choose the best educational option for their children, and all children should have the best opportunity to reach their full potential. Doubling down on efforts to strengthen an inherently coercive system of mass schooling by diminishing education choice is a troubling retreat from freedom and opportunity.

Open This Content

We Need a Substitute for the Word ‘Support’

I support good things because I’m good!

Almost every time someone uses the word ‘support’ it sounds nice but means something nasty.

When people say they support something, it usually means they want governments to make laws that will advance that thing. Legislation is not like business, or family, or society. Those institutions require persuasion and value creation to get the thing you support to win. Legislation is a different beast. The single feature that distinguishes governments from every other institution is that they initiate violence to back everything they do.

So when someone supports something by wishing there were government action, ‘support’ has a very different meaning from the nice one we give it. The nice kind of support might mean you invest your money in or say nice things about something. ‘Support’ as most often used, however, means desire for government action.

To bring clarity and prudence, we should use a more accurate phrase. Try this out with yourself and others, and see if it changes the way you think about things.

Every time you see the word ‘support’, replace it with the phrase, ‘advocate violence on behalf of’. That’s what it usually means.

That’s why supporters of things tend to be regressive and uncivilized. To advocate violence on behalf of something is the approach of very bad children and animals. Humans can do better in 99 out of 100 situations.

In fact, if you modified the statement to ‘advocate the initiation of violence on behalf of’, you could do better 100 times out of 100. Violence sucks, but as a defense against violence may be the least bad approach. Initiating violence never is.

It’s also interesting when you consider the fact that most ‘supporters’ – of wars, drug bans, wage mandates, border walls, land use restrictions, etc. – would find it unthinkable to initiate violence directly on behalf of these things. How many, when they say they support bans on fossil fuels, head to their neighbor’s house with a gun and promise to cage or kill them if they don’t destroy their car and buy a Prius?

But those same people happily vote for people to vote for bills to fund other people to hire others to order others to send threats to their neighbors, the ultimate end of which is the same should they refuse to comply.

The state is that great obfuscating abstraction where we hide our violence in a fog of procedure and collectivism.

It is the most dangerous institution in human history.

Open This Content

Don’t Follow a Sick Society

The more insane the majority of individuals in a society get, the more anti-social the sane people will appear to be.

At least that’s my story.

When everyone’s “solution” involves more archation, I’m going to reject their “solution” and seek my own path.

When I’m required to pretend people with mental issues are empowered to dictate the words I use, I’m going to seem unkind. Because I won’t comply.

If you believe the “climate change” debate centers around what government should (or shouldn’t) do about it, I’m going to reject your proposals. They are without validity, even if they would “work”. Nothing can trump natural human rights. Not even “necessity”.

I’m not going to pretend a political “solution” to anything is legitimate. Not “laws”, not bans, not anything.

I’m fed up with the clamor to find ways to count yourself a victim. Micro-racism, “misgendering“, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and all the rest. I’m fed up with being told that violating me is the only way to solve some problem, whether real or imaginary.

I reject your control tactics. I reject your collectivism and your “intersectionality”. I reject your politics. It’s all BS.

If everyone wants to be a victim, they’ll find some way I’m victimizing them no matter how I try to bend over backward to accommodate them. So I’m not going to bend. They can take their victimization and choke on it.

I will not archate. I will not support those who do. I will try to defend those who are targets of archation. But I’m not going to pretend fantasy is reality to make crazy people feel better about themselves.

If that makes me “anti-social”, so be it.

Open This Content

Cesspools of Collectivism

Racism and nationalism are among the most menacing forms of collectivism in the world today. Racists and nationalists are among the greatest enemies of people who favor a society of free and responsible individuals, a society in which all persons are seen as equal claimants of natural rights and equally entitled to respect for their human dignity.

Donald Trump, by his words and his policies, draws on both these cesspools of collectivism and seeks to enlist those who have sold their souls to them to form the core of his political base and populate his cult of personality. Anyone who cherishes a society of free and responsible individuals should steer clear of these terrible forms of collectivism and their associated hatreds and superstitions.

Open This Content

Propping Up State Violence

Classical liberalism was always a cosmopolitan doctrine. It supported the free movement of goods, capital, and people. It recognized states as propagators of destructive collectivism, as oppressors at home and war makers abroad. It sought to chain governments and limit their power and reach.

Its cosmopolitanism was not only preached, but embodied in some of its leading expositors. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest classical liberals, Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, were themselves international migrants. Milton Friedman was born in the USA, but his parents had migrated there from eastern Europe. These icons and their followers recognized that division of labor, specialization according to comparative advantage, and free trade, along with unrestricted migration and capital flows on an international scale, offered the best prospect for the greater prosperity and personal freedom of all the world’s peoples.

Libertarian anarchy, which grew out of classical liberalism and pushed it to its logical conclusion in favor of the complete privatization of economic life and the phasing out of the state, continued for a long time to be as cosmopolitan as its antecedent doctrine. But in recent years some anarchists have been misled by twisted and fantastical constructs to suppose that so long as states persist, they ought to employ their powers to keep migrants out and preserve some sort of imagined national cultural purity. This is a tragic turn, and it is having highly pernicious effects on efforts to oppose the state across the board and ultimately eliminate its evils altogether.

Classical liberalism and libertarian anarchism were never meant to prop up state violence against unoffending people in general, and certainly not against those whose only offense is peacefully crossing a state’s established border. I pray that the recent ideological wrong turn will prove transitory, that the fever will abate, and that all who cherish human freedom will again recognize that it can never be the exclusive property of any tribe, but must always be upheld as the rightful heritage of all human beings.

Open This Content

Evolution by Voluntaryism

Nobody asked but …

I recently wrote about how choices in education (not the institution, but the natural process) arise in the individual, only to ripple among the species.  I am not, however, promoting collectivism.  The effects of the ripples are not predetermined, but are redetermined.  Each consequential link in a network has the responsibility to choose the form in which it passes information forward.  If one is a consequential link, one has the further responsibility to pass along true information voluntarily, reducing noise as much as possible.

You cannot avoid being part of a sequence of acts and events, but you can choose the degree of voluntary care you take in your role.  “Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

For instance, you can take a stand on your estimation of the beneficial effects (on posterity or the prospects) of the public education system.  Do you consider this system to be focused on good goals which outweigh its negative side effects or to be bent by process toward nondescript goals?  Is your view based on truth?  You are in the stream of cause and effect.  You can choose whether to amplify or to suppress the ripple.  This is your voluntary act.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content