Deep Dive: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren on Charter Schools
Perhaps no education issue has been as divisive among Democrats in recent years as charter schools. Support for charters in the national Democratic Party has diminished in recent years, although many Democratic voters still support them.
And in the 2020 campaign, no two candidates for president have criticized charters as sharply as front-runners Sens. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts.
Their stated plans would cause a dramatic upheaval in the charter school community, which includes more than 7,000 schools and roughly 3.2 million students. But how many of their aggressive goals are realistic, and do they accurately describe what happens in charter schools today?
You might have noticed by now that you can interact with sections of this article that have been highlighted in yellow. Click on those sections to see our annotations about the parts of the Sanders and Warren platforms that deal with charters to address how (or if) their plans would work, and to share background information about funding, oversight, and more.
Perhaps the most dramatic pledge in both their platforms is to ban “for-profit” charters, a reference to charters that are managed by for-profit entities. But is that even possible? How, in theory, would it work? We asked around, and it seems there’d be two main theoretical avenues to do this. But they’re both very far-fetched.
The first would be conditioning federal education aid so that in order to get it, states would have to agree that none of it would go to “for-profit” charters. The second would be conditioning federal Charter School Program grants in a similar way. Such moves could shrink the appetite for those charters, but wouldn’t be the same as a statutory ban.
However, Congress is normally averse to saying states can’t do something, particularly if they already do it or permit it. That makes some sort of blanket federal prohibition on for-profit charter schools unlikely.
A President Sanders or Warren could take a baby step in the direction they’re talking about by requiring more radical public disclosures by for-profit charters receiving federal aid. But that’s not a ban.
We asked the campaigns how they planned to enact such a ban and other elements of their platforms, but have not heard back.
One more thing: Sanders and Warren don’t really address charter school performance in their platforms. Charter supporters point to a 2015 Stanford University report on charters in 41 urban areas that overall found significant gains in reading and math compared to district schools. However, that report also reveals their performance can vary dramatically between districts. And virtual charter schools, which have a significant footprint in states like Pennsylvania, have been panned by many charter supporters as well as charter critics in recent years.
Read on for their platforms and our annotations of what they’re saying.
- Elizabeth Warren’s K-12 Plan Spotlights Funding, Charters
- Bernie Sanders’ Education Plan: Unions and Desegregation Win, Charters Lose
- Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Charter Schools, Equity
- Charter School Leaders Warn Bernie Sanders: Freeze Would Hurt Students of Color
- Democrats Are Fighting Over Charter Schools. Will Key Early Primary States Care?
Reporting by: Evie Blad and Andrew Ujifusa
Design & Visualization: Hyon-Young Kim
LEAD IMAGE Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. —AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the J Street National Conference Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Washington. —AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., campaigns Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. —AP Photo/Cheryl Senter