Federal money for charter schools is unconstitutional (except in D.C.)

I have read the outcry over the suggested new rules to three components of the United States Department of Education’s Charter School Program. I have seen the protests over them by parents and students at the DOE headquarters and the White House organized by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The language contained in this proposal will almost certainly cut off $440 million annually for charter school openings and expansion. While there is no greater charter school proponent then me, I’m not sad to see the money go.

The charter school movement prides itself in advancing the academic achievement of students, many of whom were failing in traditional public schools. To be consistent with this mission our sector must be sure that is teaching civics in a highly accurate fashion. Here’s where the problem comes in. The United States Constitution’s Article 1 Section 8 delineates the powers of Congress. Support in the way of revenue for public education is no where mentioned.

I know what you are saying: “Mark, Congress has for decades exceeded its authority under the Constitution.” This statement is true, however, it does not make appropriating funds to charter schools the allowable thing to do. Through our pedagogy we impart values to our students. The difference between right and wrong is one of the best lessons that we can teach.

I am also concerned that taking money from the federal government introduces politics into the authorization process. This is exactly what we have seen take place here. The New York Times last Friday ran an exceptionally balanced piece about the new rules written by Erica Green. To understand the motives behind the teachers’ unions anti-charter efforts all you have to know, as Ms. Green points out in her article, is that Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, started a tweet on the subject of these rules with the hashtag #CharterSchoolsFalling. President Joe Biden is a tremendous union supporter.

Yes, it is still a war out there between charter and traditional school supportors. As charter advocates we should never let down our guard. The best way to see our model flourish and grow is to seek support from outside the federal government. I’m sure Elon Musk, Tim Cook, and Jeff Bezos have incentives to see the United States produce well-educated children. As I pointed out in a previous column, Michael Bloomberg has already set a strong example in this regard.

Finally, just to be perfectly accurate, it is fine for the federal government to authorize revenue for charter schools in the District. That is because our Constitution gives Congress power “to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.” It is stated right there in Section 8. 

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