School board passes resolution asking for a state moratorium on charter schools
on February 28, 2019
On Wednesday, the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution calling upon the state to establish a moratorium on charter school expansion.
The final resolution received widespread support from the public—including former and current city councilmembers, union leaders, teachers and parents—and from most of the board, who passed it with a 4-1 margin. The passing resolution was devised by board members Consuelo Lara and Valerie Cuevas and was first presented at a meeting earlier this month.
The resolution, with a full page of arguments, calls for a moratorium on charter school expansion from the California State Board of Education—the main intent, according to Lara—and seeks to establish additional oversight over existing charter schools. The arguments included in the resolution note the rapid growth of charter schools in recent years, the funding that school districts across California have lost to charter schools, and the lack of accountability and transparency in charter school organizations.
“We want to stop the billionaire privatisers from profiting from public funds,” Lara said. “That’s what we want to do. So this is going to be the district that starts that fight.”
The passing resolution was listed alongside another, ultimately unpopular, option: A new, edited, amended version from district Superintendent Matthew Duffy that was based upon legal considerations, suggestions from Board President Tom Panas and included an additional phrase from member Stephanie Hernández-Jarvis that was meant to encourage sharing best practices for student achievement between the district and charter schools.
Language cut from the original included a clause outlining the severe financial impact of charter schools on school districts as determined by a 2018 study by the research group In The Public Interest; an evaluation of charter school LCAPs—local control accountability plans, used to set goals to improve student outcomes—that found charter accountability to be “woefully lacking”; a line about informing parents of their rights related to the difference between public schools and charter schools; a line about the district’s intent to make use of its right to appoint members to the boards of each charter school it operates; and a critique of a state law that requires districts to provide facilities to charter schools, resulting in co-location within district schools.
Additionally, an analysis of the impacts of co-location was cut in the amended version, and a line was added to limit district support for the statewide moratorium only to districts “where the achievement gap is 10 percent or less.”
When asked by board member Mister Phillips if the “10 percent or less” condition applied to the West Contra Costa district, Duffy said he didn’t know—they had never talked about the achievement gap in those terms before.
Duffy said at the meeting that many of the changes were for legal reasons—he confirmed these reasons during the meeting with attorney Edward Sklar, who works with the district on charter school issues. The legal reasons varied; Sklar said some areas of the resolution had mischaracterized studies, or the language was impractical, or, in the case of putting board members onto charter boards, that it might create conflicts of interest.
But the amendments were roundly criticized by both members the public and the board for undermining the intent of the original resolution. The room was filled with about 100 members of the community, most supporting the original resolution. No one who spoke during the public comment period supported the amended resolution.
Demetrio Gonzalez, president of United Teachers of Richmond, gave a personal story about why he became an advocate for public schools. He said that 5 years ago—in his second year of teaching as a 3rd grade teacher at Bayview Elementary School—he was approached by a charter school representative. Wanting to give opportunities to his students, he put the representative in touch with the families of his students. He said that, one year later, the student population of his school fell from 740 to 520. As a result, Gonzales said, the school had to cut various sports programs, and lay off four teachers.
“Our school went to chaos,” Gonzales said. “And the worst part is the kids that they took from my class were my six highest-achieving students.”
A few members of the public spoke in favor of charter schools, and they told similar stories about how charter schools have given their children an opportunity to gain an education that they wouldn’t have gotten in public schools. They urged the council not to pass a moratorium.
Gabriella Rodriguez, a parent of two daughters who attend charter schools, argued that her children had received a great education. “Five years later, I can tell you that transfering my daughter to that school was the best decision I ever made,” Rodriguez said, and questioned the low-performing Kennedy High School.
Jovanka Beckles, a former Richmond city councilmember, was among many who criticized the oft-made argument that the charter schools had served some kids better than district schools. “I hear parents tonight saying, ‘Well, I took my child out of public schools because they’re not giving my children what they deserve,’” Beckles said. “And that is exactly the plan. The plan is to starve our public schools and justify charter schools.”
After public comment, Lara immediately moved to vote on the original resolution with the addition from Hernández-Jarvis, which called for the sharing of best practices between district and charter schools. The board spent about 30 minutes making their final points and indicating where they stood before voting.
Lara, who was largely responsible for creating the resolution, said she felt proud and humbled by the strong public response. “This moratorium, I feel, this resolution has already passed,” Lara said. “It’s passed in public opinion.”
Phillips said that he would prefer the board to reuse the language of a similar Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) resolution, and adopt the best practice policies of national and state charter oversight organizations that the district belongs to. Regardless, he said, he didn’t support the amended resolution and announced that he would vote for the original. He said he didn’t think the amended resolution honored the message or spirit of Lara’s resolution.
Board member Hernández-Jarvis, who listened attentively during the meeting and passed up her earlier speech time, summarized her thoughts before the vote. “I think it’s a structural issue,” she said. “I don’t think it’s about parent choice, in a sense. I think it’s about the systemic ways things have broken down.”
Panas voted against the resolution, though he said he believed it made an important statement. Even so, Panas said, he didn’t see anything in the resolution that would affect student outcomes or achievement, on which he argued the board should have a “razor-sharp” focus. He thanked district teachers for their efforts, but criticized the decision-making and poor outcomes of the district over the past 30 years.
“I think all of our energy ought to be focused on our kids and supporting our teachers in the rest of the district,” Panas said. “Our student outcomes for students of color have been unacceptable for 30 years and that’s long before charter schools showed up on the scene.”
Cuevas disagreed. “I know what the problem was in terms of underserved students in the last 30 years, Mr. Panas. I appreciate your comments,” Cuevas said. “But at some point I have to believe in hope. This board has the opportunity to say that we will be the change.”
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