September 5, 2012; Source: Hechinger Report

While there are vast differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on issues that many nonprofits consider crucial, there are some topics where nonprofits might have some difficulty in choosing between the two candidates. One such issue is clearly charter schools, something both candidates support. As the HechingerEd blog reports, Obama gave states extra points in the Race to the Top program if they were making it easier to create charter schools, and “Romney’s entire education platform hinges heavily on school choice, including charters, vouchers and online schools.”

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told Hechinger that Romney thinks the president has been good on charter school issues in Race to the Top, but Romney wants to take it “a step further by pushing states to be more aggressive in making choices available to their students, pushing the envelope on inter-district choice, which again hasn’t been mentioned in the Obama platform.”

Representing a nonpartisan group, Rees declined to tell Hechinger which candidate’s charter school stance she prefers, hedging her bets to say, “both candidates, quite frankly, so far have been strong on the issue, so I can’t chose.” But she wants both candidates to ensure that charter schools get access to startup funds, that they are able to tap into public education funding streams because charters are public schools, and that they get “their equitable share of funding from Title 1 [federal money given to schools with a certain amount of low income students], from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Rees’ interview with Hechinger concludes with Rees advocating federal support for “encouraging inter-district choice or statewide open enrollment [that would] also benefit charter schools.”

It must have been a long time ago that public education was also part of community building, back when schools were critical focal points for neighborhood identity. A school was part of a neighborhood or community. Now, in the charter school definition, the neighborhood context is secondary to inter-district choice and, potentially, statewide open enrollment as incentives and supports for the success of charter schools.

In the case of the Democratic Obama and the Republican Romney, is the success of the charter school (which is often legitimized by it being a public school, albeit managed by nonprofit or sometimes for-profit operators) more important than the success of the public education system?   Is the vision of the charter school separate from community setting and context? As the Hechinger interview with Rees suggests, the charter school movement will be quite satisfied with the continuation of President Obama or the advent of President Romney, but will public education overall be equally well served? —Rick Cohen