In 2000, Vice President Al Gore ran for president as a Democrat on an education plan that called for tripling the number of the nation’s charter schools—a plan mirrored in his party’s platform that year. Nearly two decades later, many of the politicians seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are hesitant to say anything positive about charters, and some have even called for a national moratorium on them. A look at the two major parties’ platforms since the first charter school law was passed in 1991 shows that, as the charter sector grew, the Democratic Party added more caveats to its support of charter schools, while the Republican Party remained a full-throated advocate for charters and various other forms of school choice.
Democrat: We oppose the Bush administration’s efforts to bankrupt the public school system—the bedrock of democracy—through private school vouchers. ... We support education reforms such as site-based decisionmaking and public school choice, with strong protections against discrimination.
Republican: Parents have the right to choose the best school for their children. ... We should explore a new generation of break-the-mold New American Schools. ... America needs public, private, and parochial schools. ... Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children. They should have the right not only to participate in their child’s education but to choose for their children among the broadest array of educational choices, without regard to their income.
Democrat: We should expand public school choice, but we should not take American tax dollars from public schools and give them to private schools. We should promote public charter schools that are held to the highest standards of accountability and access.
Republican: We encourage a reform agenda on the local level and urge state legislators to ensure quality education for all through programs of parental choice among public, private, and religious schools. ... We support and vigorously work for mechanisms, such as opportunity scholarships, block grants, school rebates, charter schools, and vouchers, to make parental choice in education a reality for all parents.
Democrat: The Democratic Party will triple the number of charter schools in the nation. And we will ensure that these charter schools are fully accountable ... —financially and academically—to students and the communities they serve. [W]hat America needs are public schools that compete with one another and are held accountable for results, not private school vouchers.
Republican: For dramatic and swift improvement, we endorse the principles of Governor Bush’s education reforms, which will: ... expand parental choice and encourage competition by providing parents with information on their child’s school, increasing the number of charter schools, and expanding education savings accounts for use from kindergarten through college.
Democrat: Instead of pushing private school vouchers that funnel scarce dollars away from the public schools, we will support public school choice, including charter schools and magnet schools that meet the same high standards as other schools. And at a time when so many schools charged with our future are relics of the past, we will build new schools and offer the technology and equipment for a 21st-century education.
Republican: The Republican Party strongly supports school choice, because choice creates competition and competition puts the focus on quality. ... President Bush, Republican governors, and members of Congress have worked to expand parental choice and encourage competition by ... increasing the number of charter schools and expanding education savings accounts for use from kindergarten through college. ... We support state efforts to expand school choice, as well as the president’s call to provide funding for new and existing charter schools.
Democrat: We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach.
Republican: Parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child. We support choice in education for all families, especially those with children trapped in dangerous and failing schools, whether through charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for attending faith-based or other nonpublic schools, or the option of home schooling.
Democrat: The Democratic Party understands the importance of turning around struggling public schools. We will continue to strengthen all our schools and work to expand public school options for low-income youth, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.
Republican: School choice—whether through charter schools, open-enrollment requests, college-lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits—is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools. Getting those youngsters into decent learning environments and helping them to realize their full potential is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time.
Democrat: We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. … We believe that high-quality public charter schools should … not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.
Republican: We support options for learning, including home schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support … education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. … We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.
Coverage of how parents work with educators, community leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about their children’s education is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www.waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 19, 2019 edition of Education Week as Timeline: Party Platforms & Charter Schools