Ever since taking office in 2017, Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Besty DeVos, with cover from Republicans like Byron Donalds, have prioritized the expansion of the school choice initiative when it comes to their education policies, emphasizing how it “expands” parent’s available options when it comes to their child’s schooling. What they have failed to acknowledge, however, is that the school choice initiative accomplishes quite the contrary, straining the already thin budget used to fund essential programs in public schools. Continuing to focus funding on these money pits would be prioritizing the 6% of students enrolled in charter schools, while blatantly disregarding the 80% enrolled in traditional public schools, stripping away money from the teacher payroll, security, the arts, athletics, and more.
The school choice system has been consistently tapering off when it comes to the student population. In Lee County alone, charter school enrollment dropped 3% from 2018-2019, and were reportedly only at 58% capacity across the 24 districtwide schools yet plans for the opening of three new charter schools were unveiled last year. While the plans lay dormant for now, their construction would mean even more funding will be sucked out of public schools and fruitlessly allocated into a dying initiative.
Additionally, charter schools provide a second-class education when placed side-by-side with their public counterpart. Much of that can be attributed towards their inability to hire experienced teachers. Perhaps the key reasoning behind it is the fact that charter school teachers are simply paid less (approximately 10-15% smaller annual salary), regardless of experience, and often are faced with more intense workloads. For DeVos, who stated that “you have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching,” it is perplexing that she, along with the backing of the Republican party, would place such heavy support on a system that places their teachers at such an extreme economic disadvantage.
Even if more money were to be placed in the hands of charter school administrators, there is no guarantee that the affected schools would actually see improvement in the education they provide. The Network for Public Education published a report last year that outlined over a billion dollars that the federal government lost from charter school waste and fraud. It is time that that money finally goes towards incorporating meaningful changes in public schools that assist in guaranteeing the future of our youth.
Going forward, it is vital that those in power realize the potentially dangerous carryover effects that the increased funding of charter schooling can possess and reassess the importance of the school choice system in regard to education as a whole. The priority going forward needs not to be on yielding profit from education but yielding results from our schools. The current administration seems to neglect the latter, and this concerning trend will only continue down a dark path unless serious changes are implemented in Washington D.C. and Tallahassee.
The push for charter schools is even further complicated when it comes to Republican candidate for US House of Representatives Florida 19, Byron Donalds. Donalds’ wife, Erika, is a major advocate for charter schools across the State of Florida. Her foundation, The Optima Foundation, where she is CEO and President, sets up charter schools across the state and then takes a cut of their income. Donalds also voted in favor of pro-charter school initiatives during his tenure in the Florida legislature. Their relationship and advocacy for charter schools has directed public funds into coffers of their own control. With the growth of Erika’s organization to projected to be 40% annually through 2024, that diversion of public dollars to the Donalds will swell.