School board discusses charter school moratorium
on February 7, 2019
On Wednesday, the West Contra Costa Unified School Board discussed a resolution that calls upon the state to establish a moratorium on charter school expansion.
The proposed resolution, inspired by several others—including one that passed last month following the teachers’ strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District—calls for a moratorium on charter school expansion from the California State Board of Education and seeks to establish additional oversight over existing charter schools.
Board member Consuelo Lara, who introduced and co-sponsored the resolution, said the call for action to the state is the main focus of the resolution. “The charter school laws are ridiculous and need to be changed at that level,” Lara said.
The resolution provides a full page of arguments to support its backers’ central premise: They note the extreme proliferation of charter schools in recent years; call the schools “woefully lacking” in engagement, transparency and accountability; and, citing a May 2018 study by In The Public Interest, criticize the high cost of the schools to district funds across the state. They also note the shortage of school district space and resources caused by the legal requirement that they provide facilities for charter schools, which may result in some of them being co-located within district schools.
The suggestion for oversight is largely contained within a proposal that the district perform a broad analysis to understand the local effect of charter schools. This analysis would include measuring demographics—including the number of students with special needs, English learners, newcomers, and homeless/transitional students; the net fiscal effect of of the schools on the district; the impact of co-locating them with traditional public schools; statistics on discipline and student removal; data on teacher retention and credentialing; and a list of laws, policies, and standards that traditional public schools are held accountable to that charter schools are not.
Many prominent public figures—local mayors, councilmembers, union presidents and former school board members, among others—signed on to a letter from the United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) in support of the resolution. UTR president Demetrio Gonzalez said that the resolution was drafted with the support of the union’s legal team, and that they took language from six similar resolutions to create it.
“This [resolution] really puts in the oversight and accountability language that we need and all of you have to exercise as trustees of this board,” Gonzalez said.
Members of the public, including teachers and elected officials, echoed their support of the moratorium at the meeting.
Richmond City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez argued that the creation of new schools—as part of the charter school proliferation—implies that current schools are overflowing, but said that isn’t the case. He said that large charter schools in Richmond come from outside the community and serve students from outside the city as well. “What needs to be considered is appropriate schools and appropriate locations,” Martinez said.
Gabby Micheletti, a first grade teacher at Verde Elementary School, questioned whether charter schools are dedicated to providing a good education when they spend millions of dollars in lobbying the state.
Marissa Glidden, also a teacher at Verde, said she hoped the moratorium would allow the district to further invest in programs that are already running at their schools. “I see firsthand the impact this unregulated growth has had on our district … and our most vulnerable children,” Glidden said.
Though every board member eventually said they supported some form of the resolution, there were disagreements among them about strategy and which resolution to adopt—Lara’s version, or the one previously adopted by the school board in Los Angeles (LAUSD). The LAUSD resolution is much shorter than Lara’s and doesn’t contain many of the arguments or any oversight recommendations.
Three of five board members—co-sponsor Valerie Cuevas, Stephanie Hernández-Jarvis, and Lara—supported Lara’s suggested resolution as it stood, while Mister Phillips supported using the LAUSD resolution, and board president Tom Panas said he was somewhere between the two.
Phillips questioned the legality of some portions of Lara’s version of the resolution, and worried that the district might be sued by charter school advocates for overstepping their legal authority. But he was assured by attorney Edward Sklar, who works with the district on charter school issues, that it was legal, that the district wasn’t going to be at much risk of a suit because the resolution is a call for a statewide moratorium, rather than a locally-enforced one. Phillips also questioned the feasibility of the proposed oversight, given that the district has only one employee, Linda Delgado, dedicated to overseeing charter schools.
To clarify, Phillips then asked Lara what the main point of her resolution was, to which Lara responded that the statewide moratorium was the main focus. In explaining her motivation for introducing the resolution, she also referred to two California cities where teachers have been motivated to strike over issues that include charter schools, which teachers blame for reduced district funding and the closure of campuses.
“Well, quite simply, my intent was clearly looking at Los Angeles,” Lara said. “I was looking at Oakland and I was thinking what if they could’ve gone back in time to stop all the school closures and all the movement that there was no pushback on.”
Phillips eventually suggested that the board approve the LAUSD resolution, instead of Lara’s, by using the same language and replacing any mention of LAUSD with WCCUSD. This, he argued, would produce a bigger effect on the state—especially if other districts followed along.
He also suggested that, in terms of oversight, the board should adopt the best practice policies provided by state and national charter school oversight organizations to which the district belongs.
Panas broke down the issue to argue for the perspectives of parents who make the choice to send their kids to charter schools. He said that though he thought the broader economic discussions were important, the moratorium would not solve the longstanding issues faced by district students. Panas argued for the long term, and pointed to low grade level reading scores and low-performing schools as reasons why parents would be inclined to enroll their kids in a higher-performing charter school.
“Half the kids who should be going to Stege actually transfer to another school,” Panas said, referring to an elementary school in Richmond. “Those are parents making the same decision. We can’t just say its the charter schools’ fault.”
“It’s asking parents to send their kids where they don’t want to send them to and saying they don’t have a choice,” Panas continued.
Cuevas disagreed. “We all want kids to thrive. If you don’t want kids to thrive, I kind of wonder about you,” she said. “I know that we can not continue to pay for everything that helps our kids thrive when there’s unbridled growth [of charter schools] and a constant avenue out.”
The board will decide on a final resolution at a future meeting.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that board member Phillips said the board should “explore” best practice policies provided by state and national charter school oversight organizations. In fact, Phillips said the board should adopt these policies.
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