Charter schools deserve support, not sabotage

Editor’s note: Sherlean Roberts is a student at Marquette University and a graduate of Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, a public charter school in Milwaukee. She is a Future Leaders Fellow with the American Federation for Children. 

Last month, the Wall Street Journal broke news about new charter school criteria proposed by the Biden administration that would sabotage the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program that assists with front-end costs for new charter schools.

Among the most egregious criteria are rules that would require charter operators to prove that local public schools are over-enrolled and that charter schools do not exceed the number of public schools needed to meet demand.

These rules wrongly assume that over-enrolled public schools are the only reason a student might need a charter school. The rules likely will result in less funding for charters, which would be detrimental to families everywhere – families like mine.

The opportunity I had to attend Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Milwaukee, changed my life for the better. It provided me with college tours, pre-college access programs, and the ability to begin college courses during high school. Without the support of my charter school, it would not have been possible for me to attend Marquette University as a Burke Scholar.

The fact that I attend a prestigious university on a full-ride scholarship is a testament to the power of a high-quality K-12 education. I am forever thankful for the opportunities that school choice afforded me, and I don’t want to see the students coming up after me denied a similar opportunity simply because of rules set up to protect the status quo.

Charters are being punished precisely because so many students like me want to go to them. The proposed charter school criteria implies that public schools must be at capacity to justify the need for new charters, yet enrollment trends show that in the last two years, millions of students left the traditional school system for homeschool or other alternatives.

Clearly, families are searching for education options, whether or not public schools are at capacity.

The Biden administration’s approach to this trend is to prevent other options from opening. As demand for education options grows, the administration should grow its mindset and allow families to access those options. If students want to leave traditional public schools for a better fit, we should do everything we can to help them.

As the Journal points out, the proposed charter criteria will make it much harder for charters in major cities like Milwaukee to gain approval. In New York, 75% of public schools reported fewer students this year. Other cities like Chicago (3%) and Los Angeles (6%) reported overall enrollment declines this year.

Obviously, many families are looking for something other than a traditional school, making this the worst time to be limiting the creation of new charters. Families deserve the opportunity to choose an education that best fits their needs, which will be much more difficult if government bureaucrats limit the creation of alternatives.

School choice, whether in the form of traditional public, charter, or private school, gives students the opportunity to create the success story they wish to see in their education. Not all students learn the same way, and they need different pathways to success. I believe that students should be able to choose an education that works for them based on their experiences.

On behalf of students like me, the Biden administration should end its sabotage of charter schools and make sure charters are included in a family’s range of education options.