Why Yes, Democrats Should Support Charter Schools.

Public Charter schools have been around for a while now. In the late 1970’s a couple of academic papers outline the concept of a charter school and in the late 1980’s the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) embraced the idea. These days AFT only supports charter schools in limited circumstances and even sues to block some of them from opening. What a shame.

Before I go any further, let me explain what a charter school is. A charter schools is a tuition free public school where the organizers of the school are given a contact (or charter) to operate the school in a manner different to how a district public school operates. For example, we have charter schools in Georgia focused on the arts, or on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). We have all girls charter schools, language immersion schools, and a school focused on the needs of children of refugees. Other charter schools focus on helping students get back to grade level in reading and math. The charter contracts lasts for a defined length of time, at which time the school must meet performance standards in order to have their charter renewed. Poor performing charter schools can be closed or non-renewed. Charter schools can be authorized by any one of Georgia’s 180 school districts, or by the State Charter Schools Commission.

In recent years many Democratic and Democratic learning organizations have expressed opposition to charter schools. In 2016, the NAACP and Black Lives Matters called for a freeze on all charter school growth. In fact, the 2020 Democratic Party Platform called for banning so called “for-profit” charter schools managed by education service providers and for placing all the same regulations on charters that district schools are under, defeating the purpose of creating charter schools in the first place.

In 2000, for example, Democrats said they wanted to triple the number of charter schools. In 2020, the platform not only calls for a ban on charter schools run by for-profit entities—a decision that’s up to states and not Washington—but says charters should be governed by the same requirements for transparency and accountability as traditional public schools.

Sadly, this opposition to charter schools has made it’s way into the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses here in Georgia. But a hopeful sign emerged yesterday when Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Elena Parent co-authored an op-ed urging Democrats to once again support charter schools.

Democrats should push for open, equitable and public school choice options. This is the best choice for lawmakers, parents and, most importantly, students.

Sure, the rest of the article slams Republicans for pushing other forms of choice in education, but in these hostile and divided times, I’ll take what I can get.

Meanwhile, Brian Robinson, the former Communications Director for Governor Deal, penned an op-ed in Georgia Trend highlighting the success of Utopian Academy. Utopian operates two charter schools in Clayton county, and will soon open a third school in Fayette county, on the grounds of Trillith Studios. In their early days, Utopian had to overcome obstacles thrown their way by hostile local officials. Thankfully they pushed past those problems and thrived.

This fall, Utopian celebrates its 10th year in operation. It’s a living, breathing testament to what can happen when families are given options that work for their children.

We’ve come far since the creation of the State Charter Schools Commission. We don’t see fire departments deployed to close these schools anymore, and Clayton County has gone from foe to trusted partner for Utopian. But there are still too many in the education establishment that see disruption as a threat, not an opportunity.

The record of Utopian Academy should inspire us to empower parents, not systems, and we still have a long way to go.


I’m grateful Senator Parent is willing to express support for charter schools and urge her follow Democrat to follow suit. As Chair of the State Charter Schools Commission, I stand ready to work with people of all political parties to see charter schools created in every corner of this state. The data is in, charter schools help students. Let’s work together to provide this option for all of Georgia’s students, and watch them thrive.

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