Michigan school officials fear Biden would shut charter schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Clarification: This story has been updated to give a fuller explanation of the National Education Association's position on charter schools. 

Michigan charter school officials sent a letter Tuesday to Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden urging him to reconsider an education platform they say could result in the elimination of charter schools.

Officials with the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and Democratic former state Sen. Buzz Thomas of Detroit wrote the letter, which was sent to the Biden presidential campaign during the Democratic National Convention.

The letter concerns the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force draft platform, which was announced in July as a joint effort between Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, MAPSA spokesman Buddy Moorehouse said.

Biden, Sanders

If the recommendations are adopted, the proposed changes in federal education funding policy would likely result in the elimination of all charter schools in Michigan, he said.

"This is primarily due to the provision that would give local school districts the authority to sign off on funding for charter schools within that district," Moorehouse said.

The letter was signed by Thomas, board chair of MAPSA; Ralph Bland, MAPSA board president and founder of New Paradigm for Education; Madeline Black, charter leadership superintendent of Widening Advancements for Youth Academy, which has three Metro Detroit campuses; and David Rudolph, MAPSA board founder.

The Biden campaign didn't immediately return a request for comment. The former vice president has been endorsed by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, two unions that oppose what they call the unaccountable growth of charter schools. The NEA only supports charter schools that have been authorized by public school districts, which often compete with charters for public dollars.

The letter says eliminating charter schools would hurt children in Michigan, where there are 295 charter schools. For the 2019-20 school year, they served 146,394 students.

"One thing needs to be made clear at the outset: Charter schools serve a disproportionately high level of students in poverty in our state, particularly Black and Brown students," the letter says.

"Half the students in Detroit attend charter schools. Half the students in Flint attend charter schools. If the charter schools in those cities had to close, those students would have no choice but to be forced back into the districts that have failed them for years."

Charter school supporters from other states are sending similar letters to the Biden campaign this week, Moorehouse said.