The federal Charter Schools Program was launched in 1994 with a few million dollars, when the Clinton administration decided to offer funding for start-ups. At the time, there were few charter schools. In the early, idealistic days, charter enthusiasts asserted that charters would set lofty goals and close their doors if they didn’t meet them. They were sure that charters would be far better than public schools because they were free to hire and fire teachers.

Right-wingers jumped on the charter bandwagon as a way to undermine public schools and to bust teachers’ unions. In short order, a gaggle of billionaires decided that charter schools would succeed because they operated with minimal or no regulation, like a business.

What no one knew back in 1994 was that the charter industry would grow to be politically powerful, with its own lobbyists. No one knew that the “most successful” charter schools were those that excluded the students who might pull down their test scores. No one knew that for-profit entrepreneurs would set up or manage charter chains and make huge profits, mainly by their real estate deals. No one knew that one of the largest charter chains would be run by a Turkish imam. No one knew that charter schools would develop a very old-fashioned militaristic discipline that prescribed every detail of a student’s life in school. No one knew that the little program of 1994 would grow to $440 million a year, with much of it bestowed on deep-pocketed chains that had no need of federal money to expand. No one knew that charter schools would become a favorite recipient of big money from Wall Street hedge-fund managers and billionaires like Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, John Arnold, Betsy DeVos, Reed Hastings, and many other billionaires and multi-millionaires. No one anticipated that by 2022, there would be 3.3 million students in more than 7,400 charter schools.

Perhaps most important, no one expected that charter schools, on average, would perform no better than public schools. And in many districts and states, such as Ohio, Nevada, and Texas, charter schools perform far worse than the public schools.

School choice has been a segregationist goal ever since the Brown Decision of 1954, when southern states created segregation academies and voucher plans to help white students escape from racial integration. It should be no surprise, then, to see that the same states that are passing laws to restrict discussion of racism, to ban teaching about sexuality and gender, and to censor books abut these topics are the same states that demand more charter schools. Coincidence? Not likely. These are culture war issues that rile the Republican base.

How strange then, given this background, that the Washington Post published an editorial opposing the Department of Education’s sensible and modest effort to impose new regulations on new charter schools that seek federal funding. The education editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao very likely wrote this editorial, since she has that beat. Armao was a cheerleader for Michelle Rhee when she was chancellor of the D.C. schools and imposed a reign of terror on the district’s professional staff, based on flawed theories of reform and leadership.

In the following editorial, she makes no effort to offer two sides of the charter issue (yes, there are two, maybe three or four sides). She writes a polemic that might have been cribbed from the press releases of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the amply endowed lobbyist for the industry. She gives no evidence that she has ever heard of the high closure rate (nearly 40%) of the charters that received federal funds from the Charter Schools Program. She seems unaware of the scores of scandals associated with the charter industry, or the number of charter founders who have been convicted of embezzlement. She doesn’t care about banning for-profit management from future grants. She thinks it’s just fine to set up new charters in communities where they are not needed or wanted. She seems unaware that the new regulations will not affect the 7,000 charters now in existence. Charters can still get start-up funding from Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, or other privatizers. New charters can still be opened by for-profit entrepreneurs like Academica, but not with federal funds.

Here is the editorial, an echo of press releases written by Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (Rees previously worked at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, served as education advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney, and worked for financier Michael Milken).

The editorial’s title is: “The Biden Administration’s Sneak Attack on Charter Schools.”

Advocates for public charter schools breathed easier last month when Congress approved $440 million for a program that helps pay for charter school start-up expenses. Unfortunately, their relief was short-lived. The Biden administration the next day proposed new rules for the program that discourage charter schools from applying for grants, a move that seems designed to squelch charter growth.


On March 11, a day after the funding passed, the Education Department issued 13 pages of proposed rules governing the 28-year-old federal Charter Schools Program, which funnels funds through state agencies to help charters with start-up expenses such as staff and technology. “Not a charter school fan” was Mr. Biden’s comment about these independent public schools during his 2020 presidential campaign, and the proposed requirements clearly reflect that antipathy.


The Biden administration claims that the proposed rules would ensure fiscal oversight and encourage collaboration between traditional public schools and charter schools. But the overwhelming view within the diverse charter school community is that the proposed rules would add onerous requirements that would be difficult, if not impossible, to meet and would scare off would-be applicants. Those most hurt would be single-site schools and schools led by rural, Black and Latino educators.


Consider, for example, the requirement that would-be applicants provide proof of community demand for charters, which hinged on whether there is over-enrollment in existing traditional public schools. Enrollment is down in many big-city school districts, which would mean likely rejection for any nonprofit seeking to open up a charter. “Traditional schools may be under-enrolled, but parents are looking for more than just a seat for their child. They want high quality seats,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.Hence the long waiting lists for charter school spots in cities with empty classrooms in traditional schools. Also problematic is the requirement that charters get a commitment of collaboration from a traditional public school. That’s like getting Walmart to promise to partner with the five-and-dime down the street.

The Biden administration surprised the charter school community by what charter advocates called a sneak attack. There was no consultation — as is generally the case with stakeholders when regulations are being drafted — and the public comment period before the rules become final ends April 14.The norm is generally at least two months.

The proposed changes, according to a spokesperson for the Education Department, are intended to better align the Charter Schools Program with the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities. “Not a charter fan,” Mr. Biden said, and so bureaucratic rulemaking is being used to sabotage a valuable program that has helped charters give parents school choice.

If you disagree with this editorial, as I do, please send a comment thanking the Department of Education for proposing to regulate a program that has spun out of control and urging them to approve the regulations. Give your reasons.

If you think that charter schools have no need for federal funding when so many billionaires open their wallets for them, if you think that your community has enough charter schools, if you think that public schools must be strengthened and improved, if you want to stop federal funding of for-profit entrepreneurs, if you are tired of funding schools that never open, please write to support the U.S. Department of Education’s reasonable proposal to regulate the federal Charter Schools Program.