Ann O’Leary, who advises Hillary Clinton on education policy, wrote an article in which she corrected the impression that Hillary does not support charter schools. O’Leary explains that Hillary does support charter schools, so long as they meet their obligation to include students with disabilities and English language learners and stop suspending kids they don’t want.


O’Leary takes the tack that charters are public schools, and Hillary has always supported public school choice.


She writes:


Hillary believes that every public school should be serving our students and supporting our teachers. And when charter schools are producing results, she believes we should double down on their success by scaling the model and ensure that their innovations are widely disseminated throughout our traditional public schools. That was the original bargain of charter schools.
At the same time, we must also have the courage to shut down charters that are failing our kids. And don’t just take this from me, or Hillary, for that matter. Take it from Geoffrey Canada:
“You know, people tell me, ‘Yeah, those charter schools, a lot of them don’t work.’ A lot of them don’t. They should be closed. I mean, I really believe they should be closed.”


Geoffrey Canada (who stepped down last year as leader of the Harlem Children’s Zone and now spends a large part of his time lecturing about the glories of charter schools) was the star of the anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” He had two billionaires on the board of his Harlem Children’s Zone and $200 million in the bank. According to the New York Times, there are 15 students in a class with two licensed teachers, and individual tutors. His charter schools never lacked for money or whatever they wanted. Even so, their test scores were nothing to brag about. When his entering class failed to get high scores (according to Paul Tough’s book about Canada called “Whatever It Takes,“) Canada simply kicked the entire class out in May, when it was too late for them to get into a high school of choice. When I confronted Canada with Tough’s account on national television (“Education Nation”), he denied it and claimed he closed the whole school. But it wasn’t true. He kicked out the entering ninth grade class, everyone of them.  A public school can’t do that.


In Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and other states, charter school founders (all non-educators) have collected tens of millions of dollars in profit by running charter schools. No public school superintendent or principal can do that. In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed in a single day, to be replaced by privately managed charter schools where the citizenry has no voice. Eli Broad has proposed putting half the students in Los Angeles in privately managed charter schools; how many members of UTLA will be replaced by temps willing to work 60-hour weeks? Tennis star Andre Agassi (a high-school dropout) and his partner, investor Bobby Turner, are building charter schools for profit, and they are currently raising another $1 billion to profit from the taxpayers’ largesse. Does Hillary want to see more profiteers fatten from the taxpayers’ dollars?


I take issue with the claim that charter schools are public schools. When they have been brought to federal courts for violating the rights of employees under state law, their defense is that they are not public schools. When they have been hauled before the NLRB for fighting efforts to form a union, their defense is that they are not public schools. When charter operators in California were tried for embezzlement, the California Charter Schools Association defended them on grounds that they are not public schools and therefore not subject to the same laws. When Eva Moskowitz did not want to be audited, she went to court and insisted that the state had no right to audit her school (what public school can do that?); when she feels like holding a  political rally in Albany or at City Hall, she closes her schools for half a day (what public schools can do that?).


Another point about Hillary and charters. 93% of charters are non-union. How can she simultaneously court the millions of teachers who belong to the NEA and AFT while praising a sector that is proudly, defiantly non-union? Almost all charters are non-union, and their owners fight to keep them non-union. That’s why the far-right Walton Family Foundation has invested $1 billion in expanding the charter sector: to eliminate teachers’ unions. That’s why charters are applauded by ALEC and the likes of Scott Walker, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Rick Snyder, Rick Scott, and other rightwing governors. Is this the crowd that Hillary should be hanging with?


I do hope that Hillary thinks some more about her views of charter schools. We are hurtling towards mass privatization of public education in our urban districts. Some of these charters are for-profit or run by incompetent non-educators. For-profit charters should not get a penny of public money, not a penny. Charter chains that exclude students with severe disabilities and students who don’t speak English and students with low scores should not receive public funding. Charter chains run by foreign nationals should not get public funding. At present, charters are neither equitable nor accountable.  And there is nothing in the law that would make them so.


Why should we eliminate public schools and replace them with privately managed, unaccountable charter schools? No high-performing nation in the world has charter schools.


Please, Hillary, think about it some more. Or better yet, meet with me so I can walk you through the issue.