The ferocious blowback against critical race theory represents yet another threat to charter schools. Many of the bills limiting how teachers can discuss issues of race and racism, including those passed in Tennessee and Texas, also apply to charters. Federal legislation proposed by a Wisconsin lawmaker would ban the teaching of CRT in Washington, D.C., where nearly half of the city’s students attend charter schools. And one of the first high-profile anti-CRT lawsuits filed in federal court involves Democracy Prep, a high-profile charter network with 22 schools across the country. A student at a Democracy Prep charter in Las Vegas claims that he was threatened with a failing grade in a required course unless he “confessed” his “privilege.” (The case is ongoing.)
While legislators have often been hard-pressed to identify examples of CRT being taught in public elementary and secondary schools, charter schools occupy a more complicated relationship to CRT’s framework. Advocates have long made a civil rights case that charters, which typically don’t tie enrollment to neighborhood, are a necessary rejoinder to the structural racism perpetuated through the legacy of redlining. Black-centric charters, meanwhile, which infuse Black history and culture throughout the curriculum, are also increasingly popular.
“These schools were meant to meet the needs of the Black community in a way that traditional schools weren’t doing. That makes them vulnerable to attack now,” said Green.
Charter schools’ new vulnerability on the right dovetails with diminished enthusiasm on the part of moderates and progressives for the charter experiment generally. Take the federal Charter Schools Program, which helps charter school networks expand. During the Obama years, Democrats helped the program grow to its current $440 million. Now they’re seeking to cut its budget by 10 percent and ban the use of federal funds by for-profit charters, while increasing funding for public education generally. And even in blue states, where charters have enjoyed dramatic growth in urban areas, often with support from Democratic mayors, business groups, and philanthropic foundations, communities have begun to push back against further growth, warning that continued expansion threatens to undermine public school districts by siphoning off both students and the funding that accompanies them.