While deep divisions form over a new slate of bills aiming to establish more stringent regulations on charter schools, some favor a more measured approach to crafting school choice policy.
A group of state assemblymembers and senators made their case for charter school reform by seeking to enhance local control, and also proposed establishing a temporary moratorium on launching new ones, which will be heard by the education committee Wednesday, April 24.
The proposed legislation is backed enthusiastically by state teaching unions and lays bare the polarization of school choice politics — an issue growing increasingly influential across the state among educators and lawmakers alike.
As evidenced in the most recent general election, positions on charter school policy was a determining factor in the victory of state Superintendent Tony Thurmond over school choice champion Marshall Tuck.
Perhaps looking to seize the momentum established by Thurmond’s win, state senators Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, as well as assemblymen Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, released a package of policies targeting charter growth and governance.
Most notable among the proposals was Durazo’s Senate Bill 756, that aims to establish a five-year moratorium on new charter schools, which she claims is needed to grant time for decision makers to craft more thoughtful policies.
“SB 756 calls for a pause until some flaws in the law can be fixed. That’s why this is so important for our communities and for our future,” she said in a prepared statement regarding the proposal which is slated to be heard Wednesday, April 24, in the Senate Education Committee.
Some of those amendments are raised in the proposals form Durazo’s fellow lawmakers, such as an effort to grant local school districts greater influence when authorizing and governing charters.
Dennis McBride, president of the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees, said he considered the nuanced approach more appropriate for regulating charter schools.
“It’s very complicated. On one hand, it’s created a huge financial problem for our district. But on the other, parents in Redwood City that send their kids to charters really like them. Just like there are parents who send their kids to our schools and love them,” he said.
Regarding the financial issues associated with charters, McBride’s district recently decided to overhaul its composition and close campuses due to dwindling student enrollment numbers.
As charter schools have grown in popularity among the Redwood City community, money allocated according to average daily attendance by the state is taken away from the school district.
When deciding to shutter schools, charters drawing students away from the district was frequently cited by Redwood City officials as a key financial hurdle which ultimately proved too difficult to overcome.
Yet despite the challenges posed to the district, McBride stopped short of advocating for disallowing establishment of new charters.
“I don’t think you want to stop charters that are doing a good job,” he said.
He bolstered his broad perspective by suggesting there is value in offering school communities the choice valued by so many parents and families across the state.
“It has created havoc for us, and we’ve had to close schools. But if you believe in choice for parents, then charters can be an option,” he said.
Instead of a potential moratorium, McBride suggested a more measured approach to regulation may be in order, similar to the push for granting local officials greater oversight in managing charters.
The California School Board Association shared a similar position, according to legislative advocate Carlos Machado, who said his organization supports most of the slate’s supplementary proposals but not the moratorium.
Rather than seeking to ban charter establishment, even temporarily, Machado suggested refinement of the existing policy is due to keep current with a climate evolved since the initial movement in favor of school choice.
“It’s not about trying to close charters. They are here to stay. Instead, let’s try to find a way to improve the system,” said Machado.
The California Teachers Association more enthusiastically advocates for the moratorium, hosting on its website material which parents could use in their arguments to persuade officials to support the temporary ban.
The California Charter School Association, meanwhile, maintains an alternative position, claiming the moratorium would harm the quality of education throughout the state.
“These bills would create an effective moratorium on charter public schools by removing appeal rights, severely limiting new schools, and allowing school districts to close successful schools that are serving hundreds of thousands of students statewide for any reason. Charter schools are not the problem, we are part of the solution,” said a prepared statement from the association.
To find a middle ground, Machado said his organization is seeking a careful balance between reform and reserving the rights for those favoring school choice.
“School choice is important but it’s got to make sense for the school districts and all students in the districts,” he said.
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