Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rolled out her plan for K-12 education this October. In her writing, the Democratic presidential front runner talks about the various steps to transform the country’s elementary, middle, and high schools, but it is the one proposal to shut down the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) that draws much attention.
In the plan, which is referred to as “A Great Public School Education for Every Student,” Warren calls CSP, a series of federal grants established to create new charter schools, an “abject failure. “As President, I would eliminate this charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools,” Warren wrote. Citing a 2019 report from a New York-based advocacy group, she accuses the Education Department of wasting up to $1 billion of federal funds on dysfunctional charter schools.
While she is not the first Democratic candidate to attack the Education Department’s current pro-school choice policies on the campaign trail, Warren seems to be leading this battle when she incorporates her Democratic rivals’ bold ideas into her plan and makes them more radical than they originally were. For example, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders caused a dispute within the left in May when he called for a nationwide ban of for-profit charter schools. Warren joins Sanders to embrace the stance, and goes even further by calling not only for a for-profit charter school ban but also extending the ban to any non-profit charters that “actually serve for-profit interests.” She also promised to make sure that only school districts can authorize the opening of non-profit charters, which would be subjected to “the same transparency and accountability requirements” as that of traditional public schools.
To make it even clearer to the Democratic voters, especially the teachers’ unions, that she is all in for traditional public schools, Warren walked the picketing line at the strike that kept nearly 300,000 Chicago students out of class the day after she unveiled her education plans. During a brief speech to striking teachers from the Chicago Teacher Union, Warren highlighted her career as a teacher who worked with special-needs students at a public elementary school, which only lasted a year, and vowed to quadruple the amount of federal funding for high-poverty schools, known as Title I. Both Sen. Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to triple the Title I funding.
Warren’s plan for K-12 education would require drastic changes in how the Education Department handles the business. The current administration, according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, focuses on freeing students from public schools that are failing instead of spending more taxpayers’ money on those schools at the expense of competitive charters.
“By expanding education freedom, students can break out of the one-size-fits-all system and learn in the ways that will unlock their full potential,” DeVos said in a statement. “They deserve it. Parents demand it. And, it’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs.”
Warren’s strong anti-school choice stances have triggered voices of opposition from the education community. Center for Education Reform (CER), a pro-school choice group released a statement, calling Warren’s plan “filled with failed policies” that “put narrow special interests over parents’ rights and student’s opportunities to succeed.”
“Banning federal funding for charter schools and threatening the freedom they enjoy, especially under the false argument that they take away resources from underperforming schools, is bad enough, and would produce a devastating race to the bottom that our country cannot afford,” said Jeanne Allen, CER’s president, and founder. “But pledging to do so while linking arms with the same activists who are keeping schools closed by shamelessly moving the goalposts in their negotiations only adds insult to injury and sends a terrible message to students and their families all over America.”