Why Are Charter School Students Worth Less?

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Students are not pawns to be used by bureaucracy and politicians

In Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently red-lined a record-breaking number of budget items approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature. The hyper-partisan dysfunction that has pervaded Washington, D.C. for some time has officially come to Lansing. This time, though, it has gone too far.

Shockingly, Governor Whitmer decided to use charter school students as one of her bargaining chips with legislators in this budget battle. The legislature approved an increase in per-pupil funding for all public school students—and Governor Whitmer eliminated the increase for charter school students, meaning some public schools will still get increased per-pupil funding from the state, but others won’t. It’s an incredibly damaging action for Governor Whitmer to take, especially when charter schools already receive significantly less funding than district schools—already 27 percent less.

Which leads us to ask: why are politicians toying with our students’ futures in such harmful ways? Here’s what we want state and federal politicians to know so they stop endangering public school students with their games.

Charter school students are public school students.

Public charter schools are just that—public schools. They are tuition-free and open to all students, which means the students who attend them are public school students who choose to attend charter schools because that is the right school for them.

Furthermore, many students who choose to attend a charter school are doing so because there is no other high-quality educational option in their neighborhood. Charter schools serve a high percentage of students who are historically underserved—inner-city students, students living in poverty, and students of color.

Does that mean these students—in this case about half of Detroit and Flint’s public school students—deserve less state funding? Absolutely not.

Lawmakers need to stop playing politics with students.

Our children should not be pawns in a political game. At a time in our history where bipartisanship has gone by the wayside, it should—at a minimum—be clear that students cannot be subject to the whims of which party is in power.

Charter schools have historically had bipartisan support—and for good reason. As public schools, they provide a public education option to families who are limited by their zip codes and predetermined to attend schools that are not meeting their needs. Especially for families living in poverty, this option can be a child’s only opportunity to break the cycle and seek out the American dream.

Governor Whitmer’s veto shows more than ever how far some politicians are willing to go in their political in-fighting. And we need to tell them to stop.

We won’t let this slide.

Bottom line: students who attend public schools—whether district or charter schools—shouldn’t be punished for pursuing the best possible education at a school that is right for them when it is available. And they shouldn’t be held back by the politicians who are supposed to have their best interests at heart.

The news out of Michigan shows a new low in the hyper-partisan politics of the day. Charter school supporters from the left to the right need to join forces to ensure our students are not treated as political pawns.


Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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