September 11, 2019
Chiefs Call for End to Toxic Rhetoric on School Choice

Two years ago, Chiefs for Change outlined a blueprint for what healthy systems of school choice can look like at scale. In these systems, which often include a variety of new options in terms of design, levels of autonomy, and governance, all children can have a fair shot at attending a high-quality school, families are informed and empowered, and campuses receive funding proportionate to the needs of their students.

No system is foolproof, but across our membership, excellent systems of school choice have helped to expand options for families, replicate great schools, foster innovation, identify schools in need of intervention, turn around underperforming campuses, and weave together diverse neighborhoods in ways that are healthy and long overdue.

That is why we are troubled by the current national dialogue about school choice, which is more politically polarizing than ever before and driven in part by the cynical nature of today’s presidential politics. As a bipartisan network of education leaders, we oppose attempts to undermine, misrepresent, and politicize sound school choice policies and practices that work for families and communities. We also acknowledge missteps along the way, such as school choice systems that have been largely unmonitored and often unaccountable, or that have increased the racial and economic isolation of students.

Yet recent attempts to halt or severely limit school choice—including legislative debates over caps or moratoriums for charter schools—are misguided at best. Effective mechanisms of school choice—those that ensure quality, accountability, equitable access, and equitable funding—provide opportunities that our students need and deserve.

Families with financial means in America have always been able to choose the school that is best for their child, by moving to a certain part of town or by sending their children to private schools. But most American families do not have that opportunity. The school in their neighborhood may fall short in meeting their child’s needs in any number of ways—but they’re stuck.

Our nation’s history of redlining to separate both housing and schooling based on race and income, along with local zoning ordinances that restrict and confine affordable housing, alongside the recent wave of “school district secessions” by higher-income neighborhoods, have compounded the problem. Our nation’s children often live in neighborhoods just a short distance from each other but worlds apart in terms of school quality. This is unacceptable. Every child deserves school options where they will learn and thrive.

That is why today we are calling on policymakers across the nation to end the destructive debates over public charter schools. Proposed caps and moratoriums allow policymakers to abdicate their responsibility to thoughtfully regulate new and innovative public school options: like banning cars rather than mandating seatbelts. They are a false solution to a solvable problem.

We lead education systems in both traditionally blue and traditionally red states. Many of us have built and oversee well-regulated systems of school choice that serve the diverse needs of our communities. Those of us with high-performing public charter schools in our communities have consistently found that they improve the quality of education.

As we continue to do everything we can to put all children on a path to success in life, demagoguery about charter schools is deeply unhelpful. We challenge everyone, from presidential candidates to local public officials, to reject toxic rhetoric and defeatist policy proposals in favor of the more difficult and essential work of establishing strong school choice systems that are in the best interest of all of America’s children.