California’s Charter School Morass

Abuse of public funds by segments of the charter school industry is a major point of contention between proponents of public education and those favoring greater privatization. The CA Department of Education recently created a committee to reform the charter industry. Has that committee been captured by the industry it should reform?

It seems like corruption is running rampant in our country lately, the college admissions scandal being yet the most recent egregious example in the world of education.

A little over a year ago in January 2018, I posted a link to a speech by Diane Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. Secretary of Education in the G.H.W. Bush administration.  She described the assault on public education following the publication in the early 1980s of the famous report on U.S. education entitled “A Nation At Risk.”

One of the subsequent reform efforts was an increase in charter schools in an attempt to “free” education from teacher union and bureaucratic constraints.  While some charter schools have done well, overall charter schools have not been a panacea.

California has more charter schools than any other state in the nation.  In her speech Dr. Ravitch details cases of corruption in the charter school industry and advocates for stronger oversight of the use of public funds..

In March 2018 I highlighted another article on Dr. Ravitch’s blog detailing how the California State Board of Education overrides local and county school boards and forces charter schools into school districts that do not want them.

This draining of public school funds by charter schools has been a sore point during recent teacher strikes in both the LA and Oakland public school districts (see a story from the news organization CALmatters here).  Both districts adopted a moratorium on charter schools while a new state commission studies the issue.

The non-profit California news organization CALmatters K-12 education section has reported on charter school issues in the following articles:

California’s public school chief says education no place for competition

How a tiny California school district sparked calls for a charter crackdown

Charter-mageddon: Lawmakers advance a raft of union-backed charter school curbs

The LA Times has recently run a three-part series on charter school problems in California:

How a couple worked charter school regulations to make millions

Small districts reap big profits by approving charter schools with little oversight

California’s broken charter school law has defied reform. Can Newsom break the gridlock?

The final article in the series raises the hope that a new state commission, working with recently elected State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond, might make some progress in reforming charter school regulation.

Unfortunately it appears, according to Dr. Ravitch’s blog, that this Charter Reform Task Force may have been co-opted by advocates for the charter school industry:

The task force has eleven members and seven of them apparently have connections to the charter industry.

Clearly advocates of charter schools deserve representation on any study group researching ways to regulate the industry.  The same is true for public school teachers and their unions who often view charters as non-unionized threats to public education.  Other interested parties such as parents of school-aged children should also have a say, but clearly no single interest group should have a majority on a committee tasked with drafting regulations.

Readers might consider contacting their state representatives and asking them to inquire about the fairness of representation on the charter reform task force.  The state needs to know that the public is watching.


Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

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