Bye bye, bipartisan

Chalkbeat’s thoughtful article on the charter sector’s response to the selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education did a good job of presenting the conundrum we presently find ourselves in. For better or worse though, in a city the size and complexity of ours, the head of the federal DOE is not in and of itself a major game changer. Only a few initiatives from Arne Duncan’s office ever moved the needle here, so there’s no reason to expect local upheaval now.

What’s more worrisome are the broader political implications of the new reality, especially with regards to charter schools. Since the time of the first charter legislation in Minnesota we have traditionally enjoyed a fair measure of bipartisan support. The depth of that support from the left, however, has been slowly eroding and recent developments exposed cracks in that alliance even before the election: the NAACP resolution; the battle over the Massachusetts charter cap; the fight against the Washington State charter law, which was joined by local affiliates of NCLR, a group that nationally has been very supportive of charters.

And then we had an election.

In keeping with a resolution being strictly enforced by my family that prohibits me from reacting to every piece of discomforting news, I’ll refrain from pronouncement on the selection of the Secretary of Education except to say that it is an extreme choice. And while extremes may bring joy to the base, they bring revulsion to the other side and headache to those in the middle who long for sobriety. It is, alas, a choice that is certain to drive more space and suspicion between charter supporters and skeptics.

As a departing cabinet secretary told me last week: “charter schools don’t have that many friends remaining on the left.”

That is probably true. And for those who seek the middle way, that is not good news.

Steven Zimmerman is co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools


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