The latest revisions to proposed federal charter school regulations represent a victory for parents’ right to education choice for their children and good news for charter schools led by Black, brown and indigenous educators committed to serving students in their communities. I have no doubt that Secretary Cardona and the Biden administration heard the voices of educators, parents and advocates – and at the same time, my decades of experience in the fight for school choice tell me that the battle is far from over.
When it comes to managing public education systems, charters remain at risk because any talk about improving public education almost immediately shifts to a hyperfocus on regulating charter schools. In many ways, this oversight pushes charters in ways that result in better-than-anticipated outcomes for students. However, despite concrete data proving that charters work and that parents want more learning options, we’ve seen more restrictions put in place to limit the reach of these schools.
Now why would anyone want to limit access to schools that are meeting the needs of students and delivering positive academic outcomes? The answer is the same for just about any nonsensical response to the common good: politics.
Simply put, politics are making it harder for charters to operate – and this means that, now more than ever, we have to pay attention to what’s happening in our local communities for clues as to what is likely to unfold at the federal level. For example, when the state of California decided at the beginning of the pandemic to suspend school assessments for two years in acknowledgement of the impact of student learning disruption, many other states followed suit. And just when we thought that no reasonable certifying body would deny the impact school closures and the sudden shift to virtual learning would have on performance and assessment, we learned that two Philadelphia charter schools were recently denied renewal based on performance and assessment during pandemic years.
We see the inconsistencies and disparities – grace not uniformly applied, attempts to limit the growth of successful charter networks, attempts to limit charters’ ability to select local community vendors to provide operations services – but what can we do?
For parents, it’s critically important to investigate available options and determine which ones fit their children. Coming out of the pandemic, you are going to have to do the due diligence to get your children caught up because traditional public schools will not do it – and for Black, brown and indigenous students who were already behind pre-pandemic, this is even more critical.
For politicians, the call to action is clear: do not talk about education equity if you do not have all representatives at the table. Start listening to the authentic voices that are directly impacted by these regulations and stop making decisions without their input. And if you have no skin in the game, get some.
Jay Artis-Wright is the executive director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS), an organization established in 2019 to bring the voices of Black and Brown charter school leaders, founders, advocates, and families to the forefront. She has more than 20 years of experience holding diverse roles in education that intersect advocacy, political campaigning, leadership development and community organizing. Prior to leading FCCS, Jay was the Executive Director of Parent Revolution, a parent-based advocacy organization, and Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs for the California Charter Schools Association.