Do Charter Schools Create a Class War Among Minorities?

California legislation is proposed to require charter schools to become more reflective of the communities they serve.

For years, many have criticized charter schools as being inaccessible to low-performing, low-income children. A new bill in California, however, would require charter schools in the state to show that their demographics are in line with the neighborhoods they serve.


The bill, AB 440, would not only create demographic requirements, but would also require charter schools to pay for the same financial audits as public schools and set stricter academic accountability standards.


Established in 1994, charter schools are a mix of private and public schools. They are funded with public money, but as an alternative to public schools. Public school districts give charter schools waivers in exchange for better academic performance. Students at charter schools are selected through a lottery using the school’s specific admission policies. A close eye is kept on academic results.


Charter school discrimination has been a popular topic in debates across the country. Last year the NAACP, National Urban League and other civil rights groups condemned charter schools, voicing concern that there is an "overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities" but that charter schools do not cater toward low-income or lower-performing students.


Just last month in Harlem, New York, the NAACP, in collaboration with the United Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit to try to stop the expansion of charter schools. The groups are claiming that low-income Black students were treated as “second-class citizens” when the schools they attended had to share buildings with charter schools. The lawsuit goes on to say that the public school children were forced to eat lunch so early that it was almost breakfast and that they received less gym hours, among other charges.


“The city’s actions impede learning, increase tensions among students and tear at the fabric of communities. When one set of students is perceived as getting preferential treatment over another, or the city refuses to work with parents to fix problems at a school before closing it, the inequity leaves all our children suffering,”  NAACP President Benjamin Todd wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post in explanation of why the organization was suing the state of New York.


A lot of the controversy, however, is not over race, but class—or education—level. In fact, a study from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that seven out of 10 Black charter school students are on campuses with extremely few white students. Therefore, whether you’re for, or against, charter schools, both sides want to ensure that Black and Hispanic students have equal access to education—the problem becomes how do we avoid a war among our own children?


"The children from the charter school will get the science labs and not the children from the public school. The children from the charter school will get the playground, and not the children from the public school," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said at an NAACP press conference in June.


According to the legislation, the bill wants to ensure that charter schools “will achieve a racial and ethnic balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general population residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the school district.”


The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, (D-Santa Monica) previously passed similar legislation through both Congressional Houses. It was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Though it may not be a solution to the many problems arising from charter schools, at least it will be a start.


To share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.


(Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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