Are Charters Doomed in California?
Education establishment is protecting its turf in the Golden State; kids are not on its radar.
In late April, U.S. News & World Report released its yearly national rankings of America’s public high schools, and six of the top 10 are charter schools – public schools that don’t have to be in lockstep with their state’s education code or local union contract. Out of the top 100 high schools in the nation, 34 percent are charters – not bad considering that only six percent of all public schools are charters.
At the same time, the California Charter School Association released its fifth “Portrait of the Movement” report and found that “Seventeen percent of California’s charter schools are in the top tenth of performance statewide and nearly a third of all California charters are in the top quartile.”
Referring to the U.S. News & World Report findings, Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said, “It points to the fact that if you allow educators the autonomy to run their schools and allow families to make selections, those schools perform better academically and meet the needs of their student populations better than if you try to fit families under a one-size-fits-all monopoly.”
But facts, families and autonomy be damned, the California education establishment is hell-bent on maintaining its old, tired, one-size-fits-all monopoly.
As these reports were made public, three anti-charter school bills sponsored by the California Teachers Association were unleashed in the state legislature. AB 1478 would require charter schools to follow the state Brown Act, which requires open public meetings. (Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill just last year. saying it went “too far in prescribing how these boards must operate.”) AB 1360 would require all charter schools to follow the state’s admission, suspension, and expulsion procedures. But the most egregious bill is SB 808, which would limit charter authorization to the local school district. As things stand now, if a local district turns down a charter, the school’s organizers could then appeal the decision to the county, and then, if necessary, to the state. The obvious problem here is that a union-controlled school board would have even more power than it does now. And this could destroy many of the 1,250 charter schools that prosper in California today.
The good news is that after meeting with a group of parents, state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), SB 808 author, decided to table the bill. But a day later, the Los Angeles Unified school board revived it by voting 4-3 in favor of it. (Even so, the bill is still on hold but, according to a Mendoza spokesperson, could be revived in early 2018.) Perhaps most telling of all was a comment in support of SB 808 made by board member George McKenna, who said he believes “he is protecting the district and the employees of the second-largest school district in the country.”
And that is exactly what he and the rest of the bureaucracy are desperately trying to do: protect special interest adult turf. Clearly children are not high priorities. He and the three other board members who voted for SB 808 and the two other bills received praise from CTA which, referring to AB 1360, said it would bring charters “more in line with traditional schools.” Correct. But parents flock to charters precisely because they’re not like traditional public schools. There are currently about 572,000 children enrolled in charters in California, with about 158,000 more kids languishing on wait-lists. CTA, which has conspiracy theories etched into its DNA, flipped through its hoary talking points and determined it has exposed the “Billionaires Agenda.” The union nonsensically maintains that charter supporter Eli Broad, an octogenarian billionaire who made his money in real estate, is now trying to “get rich” off the backs of our kids.
Not to be outdone, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl, who is gleeful about the three bills, cautioned that the LA school board “signaled that the Trump/DeVos ‘anything goes’ agenda to privatize our public schools is not welcome in Los Angeles.”
But charters are not private. And Broad is a friend of Hillary Clinton. And Trump/DeVos are mostly trying to lighten the federal imprint on education, not privatize public schools. And…oh, never mind.
What these three bills – and the school board and teachers unions’ reaction to them – have made crystal clear is that the education establishment in California has turf protection as its number one priority. It’s not that they don’t like kids, but that their priorities are elsewhere. At the Los Angeles school board meeting where members voted in favor of the three bills, the parents packing the room were outraged, claiming that “supporting the bills would equate to playing politics with their children’s education.”
Pretty much says it all.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.