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Michael Bloomberg slams Biden administration's attack on charter schools

Noam Galai/WireImage

Billionaire Democrat Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday slammed the Biden administration for a proposed regulation that critics say will make it harder to fund new charter schools or expand existing ones, demanding that the White House intervene and stop the rule.

In an op-ed for the New York Post, Bloomberg argued that the Biden administration is about to "impose a series of burdensome and potentially crippling new restrictions on federal funding for educators working to create new charters and expand existing ones."

The Department of Education proposed rules in March that require that applicants for federal funding to start a new charter school submit a "community impact analysis" that demonstrates there is "unmet demand for the charter school," in part by showing there is "over-enrollment of existing public schools." Applicants would essentially be asked to first prove that a new charter school is needed and then meet several racial and economic diversity requirements in order to obtain funding from the federal Charter Schools Program.

The DOE says the new rules are needed to address concerns from public school officials and teachers that they are not being represented in charter school decision-making. But critics say the federal government is limiting the ability of educators to provide parents and students with alternative options to public schools that have failed students for decades.

On April 6, Republican lawmakers wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, condemning the proposed rulemaking for "effectively harming access to high quality schools for millions of students around the country."

“The White House is out of step with the general public, parents, and even families of Americans who are black or Hispanic when it comes to charter schools and school choice, generally,” Heritage Foundation education expert Jonathan Butcher told the Daily Caller in a recent interview. “But this administration is completely in line with radical interest groups such as teacher unions, school board associations, and other parts of the education bureaucracy.”

Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and 2020 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said that the Biden administration is making a "terrible mistake" and could "reverse the progress of the $440 million federal charter-school program — championed by President Barack Obama — that helped so many children and educators succeed."

He argued that charter schools are desperately needed as students nationwide have fallen behind in math and English because of school closures and failed remote learning during the pandemic.

"This is an emergency that requires urgent action, and creating additional high-quality charter schools is a critically important piece of an effective response," Bloomberg wrote. "Data show that students in urban charter schools are outperforming their peers in district schools, with black students and low-income students — who are the majority of charter students — seeing the biggest benefits. High-performing charter schools are reducing or eliminating the racial-achievement gap, and many are even outperforming peers in the wealthiest suburbs. It’s no surprise that polls show strong support for expanding charter schools, especially among black and Latino voters."

Bloomberg repeatedly emphasized the political benefits of supporting school choice, writing that "Republicans are making inroads with voters by focusing on education, portraying Democrats as out of touch with the concerns of parents and captive to teachers unions."

He pointed to the popularity of charter schools during the pandemic, noting that charter school enrollment increased by 7.1% in 2020, arguing that school choice is a winning issue with parents and that black and Latino students stand to benefit the most from leaving failing public schools.

The billionaire has also put his money where his mouth is. On Monday, he announced a $200 million donation to two New York City charter schools, Harlem Children’s Zone and Success Academy. The generous investment was part of a $750 million private initiative Bloomberg launched last year to support charters schools after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If the proposed rules are adopted, Democrats are likely to pay a painful political price in November. But the biggest costs will be borne by so many young Americans who will be robbed of the chance to attend the high-quality schools they deserve — and receive an education that prepares them for success in college and careers," Bloomberg wrote. "That would be a tragedy, and the administration should move swiftly to prevent it from happening."

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