Democrats in Louisiana and across the country continue to stand for education reform — from increasing college affordability to restoring civil rights protections for students, and yes, to high quality public charter schools.
As president, Barack Obama led a new generation of Democrats to realize the value in the charter school model. Over the last two decades, Louisiana reforms were brought by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans.
Race and class, of course, cannot be overlooked in why Democrats have led and will continue to lead on charter schools. Public charter schools were born out of a demand among low-income communities for quality schools in the aftermath of widespread middle-class flight — generally to communities with better school options — from low-income neighborhoods.
Today, communities of color comprise two-thirds of all public charter school students. In Louisiana alone, about 84,000 students attend public charter schools. Unsurprisingly, Democratic voters of color are also more than twice as likely as white Democratic voters to hold favorable opinions of public charter schools.
While some white Democratic voters may pose an impediment to parents of color gaining access to high-quality public charter schools that best serve their children, every key Democratic constituency nationally including voters of color and millennials support public charter schools as part of a system of other public school choice options. In Louisiana, Democrats surveyed also strongly support public school choice, greater accountability, and autonomy for school leaders to make decisions for our students.
That’s one reason why Democrats continue to lead in communities with large public charter school sectors. For instance, Democratic mayors preside over six of the seven cities nationally with districts that have 40% or more of students attending public charter schools. In Louisiana, many Democratic leaders, including those in Congress, the Governor’s Mansion, the Legislature, and BESE have supported public charter schools over the years.
Beyond politics, public charter schools have produced better results for our kids, as your May 31 editorial pointed out. But don’t take my word for it — let the data speak for itself.
When we allow public charter schools to become a political football, we detract from the issues that truly matter and hurt traditionally underserved students. Policymakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose own state does not have a single public charter school, should not pretend that a one-size-fits-all approach is best, and he certainly should not pretend that it is in the best interest of families of color.
state director, Democrats for Education Reform