I’m in the minority among my ideological peers, on this, but my thinking on charter schools has changed quite a bit in recent years.
Many conservatives, I believe, see them as a sly way to insert wedges into public education’s cracks in order to bring about wider-scale reform of the system. If we create this alternate system of schools, literally entered with the luck of the draw, that is free of the restrictions that (for some reason) we continue to tolerate in district schools, then parents will demand that district schools be made free of the restrictions, too.
To advance this stratagem, we’ve been willing to overlook basic descriptive facts about charters that would normally concern us a great deal. In order to work around the damage that the democratic nature of our government has wrought in education (thanks, largely, to the self-interested activism of teacher unions), we’re creating institutions over which the public has less control. On the one hand, charter advocates insist that they are “public schools of choice,” so they should fall within the range of inside-government benefits, but on the other hand, they are demanding that the people paying the bills should not have immediate, democratic control over them.
In any other context, conservatives would recoil against that just as surely as they ought to recoil against crony capitalist deals giving connected insiders taxpayer cash for their private business dealings. Principle should not be something to be weighed against practicality. Rather, we should hold to our principles because they produce the outcome that we desire; it is in determining our goals that we should weigh morality and practicality.
My concern, in treading off our principled path, is that we’re more likely to get lost than to return to our firm ground. Instead of breaking the rigid grip of special interests on public schools, charters will kill off private schools — at least all of them that are accessible to anybody who’s less than rich. Then special interests will successfully tighten the vice, making government education a true monopoly rather than the near-monopoly that it currently is.