Lankford lambastes Biden administration attack on charter schools

December 14, 2022

Ray Carter

In a floor speech, U.S. Sen. James Lankford said the Biden administration is working “to try to crush public charter schools,” noting a Biden administration proposal would effectively bar funding for the top-ranked school in Oklahoma in order to prop up a surrounding school district that ranks among Oklahoma’s worst.

“This growing push across our country for public charter schools, for parents to be more involved in their child’s education, for parents to have new options in education, for parents to be able to have a choice and some freedom, why is that so bad?” asked Lankford, R-Oklahoma City.

The federal Charter School Program provides funding to create new public charter schools and replicate existing high-quality public charter schools. The money can be used for facilities and initial implementation costs, among other things.

But proposed Biden administration regulations unveiled earlier this year would require applicant charter schools to demonstrate demand through over-enrollment in nearby traditional public schools.

Lankford said that would effectively eliminate federal charter-school funding in areas where demand is greatest because a local traditional public school is not serving families.

“They’re saying if there are open desks in other public schools, then the public charter school can’t prove a need for them to exist at all, and they want to just be able to wipe them out,” Lankford said.

Lankford joined U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and 20 colleagues in introducing Congressional Review Act legislation to nullify the Biden administration’s new rules for the charter-school program.

In practice, Lankford noted the Biden administration plan would bar federal funding for entities like Oklahoma’s top-ranked school to prop up the Oklahoma City school district, which has some of the worst academic outcomes in the state and—not surprisingly—has experienced significant enrollment declines in recent years.

According to an annual ranking put out by U.S. News & World Report, Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City has consistently ranked among the best public schools in the nation and was the best school in Oklahoma. Harding Charter Preparatory High School ranked 115th out of 18,000 schools nationwide in the U.S. News report.

“Now, it (Harding Charter Preparatory High School) happens to be in an area where there are open desks in other schools around it, so it won’t meet the need requirement that the Biden Administration is putting out,” Lankford said.

He noted 72 percent of students at Harding Charter are minorities.

Unlike Harding Charter, the neighboring Oklahoma City school district has consistently ranked among Oklahoma’s worst on measures of academic outcomes.

In the 2020-2021 school year, 90 percent of all students in the Oklahoma City School district tested below proficiency in all grades and subjects tested by the state, and 67 percent of students tested more than a year below grade level. That year, there were 31,026 students enrolled in the Oklahoma City Public Schools system, down 24.5 percent from 41,074 students in the 2014-15 school year.

Oklahoma City schools’ poor performance has not been a product of low funding. The school had $13,106 per student in 2020-2021. Harding Charter Preparatory High School achieved its national prominence while spending far less—just $8,197 per student.

“The number one school in our state is a charter school. The 115th school in the country is this charter school. Yet now the Biden administration is saying you’re going to have to prove a need for it,” Lankford said. “Can I tell you, the parents and families in Oklahoma have already proven a need for it.”

Because charter-school teachers are not typically unionized, teachers’ unions have opposed charter schools and sought increased regulation that would make the operation of charter schools more difficult, if not impossible.

Lankford urged his Senate colleagues to reject union demands and instead side with families.

“I say, let’s stand with those parents and with those students,” Lankford said.