Rep. Carroll: Support of Charter Schools Is a Progressive Position

    Last month, Rep. Mike Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs) resigned as chair of the House Education Committee after an inflammatory email of his leaked.  In the email, he stated “There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers, and Voucherizers!”

    If we set aside the emotional tone of the statement, an interesting question arises: Should supporters of charter schools be lumped in with those who support vouchers and privatization of public education?

    Rep. Terrance Carroll (D-Denver) not only says no, he says that support for the public school choice that charters allow is a natural position for progressives.

    Hear more after the jump…According to Carroll, many of the Democratic party’s top leaders have voiced support for charter schools, including former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), among others. 

    Carroll further explains his position:

    We have had the same public education system in place for the past 100 years based on the agrarian model.  Charter schools give parents and students who have not done well within the traditional public school model a choice. Charter schools are part and parcel of public schools, but provide some choice.

    Carroll also added, “I don’t support vouchers by any stretch of the imagination.”

    As Jim Griffin of the Colorado League of Charter Schools explains, the first charter school law in Colorado was passed in 1993 and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, partially in an attempt to head off support for vouchers, which had twice been voted down when placed on the statewide ballot. 

    According to Griffin, the concept behind charter schools is that they shift decision making from the central school district board, to the individual school site, which promotes innovation as it allows those running charter schools to try out alternative ways to run schools, while still facing most state mandates, including that students take CSAP tests each year.

    Carroll notes that students of color do exceptionally well in charter schools as compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

    One the biggest complaints about charter schools, though, is that they pull resources away from traditional schools, which already are underfunded.

    Carroll and Griffin admit that to an extent this is the case, but Carroll adds, “There’s no way to get around that, but that’s not a reason to dislike charter schools or to say they are bad for kids.” 

    Using the Denver Public Schools system as an example, he notes that Colorado law already allows school choice between district, and as a result, students who live in Denver but near Jefferson County or Cherry Creek school having been choicing out of traditional Denver neighborhood schools in increasing numbers, as reported recently by the Rocky Mountain News in their recent series “Leaving to Learn“.

    Carroll contends that his support for charter schools stems from his belief in public education, noting that charter schools “are one tool in the toolbox.”  He also claims that what growth there has been in DPS in recent years has been related to charter schools.

    One underlying, but infrequently discussed, issue behind progressive opposition to charter schools is that in very few charter schools are the teachers unionized.  Many progressives, then, view them as a method for breaking up the teachers’ unions, but splintering control of the schools, and thus requiring the unions to negotiate contractors with each school, rather than just each district.

    Griffin defends against criticism that charter school supporters are seeking to undermine traditional public schools or the teachers union by pointing out that teachers’ unions are free to set up charter schools of their own.  He notes that the Colorado Springs Education Association led the effort to create the CIVA charter school (CIVA standards for Character, Integrity, Vision, and the Arts).

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