The misleading narrative created around charter schools is that they take resources and high achieving students away from traditional public schools. The more honest one is that they give low-income families some measure of decision-making power instead of having to settle for a system that ignores their interests time and time again. Most parents see this clearly, based on
the findings of our national poll, and low-income parents are most likely to embrace the advantage of choice in the form of charters.
These parents know that the deck is stacked against them—
better teachers work in the most advantaged districts,
school boards vote to resegregate schools that are left to languish, and funding formulas have not kept up with the actual needs of local districts. Money intended to help the poorest students is not actually reaching them.
Spending gaps between states account for most of the financial disparities and oddly enough, Title I—the federal aid program created to help poor schools—has made these gaps worse because
funds are doled out based on how much states are already spending. When it comes to funding equity, charter schools may make for an easy scapegoat. But state control over school funding, often byzantine in nature, already does a
pretty good job of diverting money from the neediest traditional schools. When you learn that
charter schools tend to get less money than traditional public schools, and they’re
achieving success with children normally relegated to failing schools, then you realize they’re not taking anything away but giving lifelines to people who otherwise wouldn’t have any. Affluent parents are satisfied with their children’s education because they have an abundance of choice. So it’s hardly a surprise that the more money people have, the more confident they are as to the quality of their children’s education. Our poll found that respondents with household incomes of at least $100,000 annually were the most confident in their children being prepared for college, at 85 percent. These same parents were also the most likely to agree with the statement that “all children have access to the same quality of education in our public school system regardless of background, race, or income,” at 54 percent. Parents with household incomes of below $25,000 per year are less confident that their children being prepared for college, compared to other groups. Three-quarters expressed some confidence in college preparation, but that confidence was soft, with most of those saying they were only “somewhat confident.” Confidence for parents earning above $100,000 were 10 percentage points higher, with 85 percent confident about college preparation. The poll findings are clear: Charter school parents have the least faith that all children are able to attend schools of uniform quality. These parents represent growing number of families who believe neighborhood schools aren’t working for their children. They seek alternatives to what they see as limited options and are the most apt to express dissatisfaction with traditional public schools. The number of students
enrolled in public charters, private and parochial schools, or pulled kids out for homeschooling now stands at nearly 10 million. When parents were asked whether charter schools “offer parents in low-income communities options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them,” the class divide in education becomes clear. That’s why support for charter schools—as an option for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible in low-income communities—dips in proportion to the income parents earn. Tellingly, 72 percent of parents making less than $25,000 annually embrace this idea. The support drops to 63 percent for parents earning above $50,000. (This divide is the same for single parents compared to those who are married.) For low-income, single parents, charters fulfill a real and pressing need. Parents are less likely to see the value charters provide because they do not know, or understand, the educational struggles low-income families face. It is denigrating to tell people who want the same for their own families, people who have been served badly, to settle for what little they have and be content with it. If you have never experienced deprivation, how can you made to sympathize with it, or even acknowledge it exists?
Research shows we have compassion on an individual basis but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a wider scale. If children are stuck in subpar schools, then the blame tends to fall on the parents, regardless of their circumstances: Why don’t they get more involved in their kids’ schools? Why don’t they move to a better neighborhood? Why don’t they work harder so they don’t have to be poor? A sense of the common good, an awareness of systemic ills, disappears when people live within their own bubbles for too long. When the system as you know it works fine for you, there is scant incentive to change it.
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders ...