Trump keeps repeating it — but Biden never said it.
Charter schools are publicly funded but operated independently, a minority of them by for-profit companies. Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have put school choice — expanding alternatives to traditional public school districts that enroll the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren — at the forefront of their education agenda. (DeVos was in the audience at the White House for Trump’s speech, not wearing a mask.)
Charter schools are one feature of the school choice movement, but there are others that the two embrace at least as much — programs that use public money for private and religious schools. They include direct vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts and other programs. DeVos once labeled traditional public school districts as “a dead end.”
The Obama administration supported the expansion of charter schools but opposed vouchers and similar programs. More recently, many Democrats have expressed skepticism of charters amid a series of financial scandals and concerns that they take funding away from cash-strapped school districts.
Biden has said repeatedly this year that he would ban for-profit charter schools — but most charters are not for-profits. The 2020 Democratic platform was tougher on charters than the 2012 and 2016 platforms, but it shows that Biden has no intention of closing all charter schools. It says in part:
Charter schools were originally intended to be publicly funded schools with increased flexibility in program design and operations. Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding. And we recognize the need for more stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards of federal education funds. We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. We will call for conditioning federal funding for new, expanded charter schools or for charter school renewals on a district’s review of whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students.
On Thursday night, though, Trump insisted during his long speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination that Biden had promised to close them all. Trump said:
“Biden also vowed to oppose school choice and close all charter schools, ripping away the ladder of opportunity for Black and Hispanic children. In a second term, I will expand charter schools and provide school choice to every family in America. And we will always treat our teachers with the tremendous respect that they deserve.”
In fact, Trump and DeVos this year upset the charter school community when their proposed 2021 budget for the Education Department, released earlier this year, wiped out all federal funding for charter schools, instead lumping the money into a bloc grant for states to spend as they wished.