Educators, Parents Warn Against Bills that Would Limit Charter Schools in California

July 21, 2019 Updated: July 21, 2019

Two bills aimed at limiting charter schools have passed in the California State Assembly and the State Senate’s Education Committee. They now head to the State Senate floor where they are also expected to pass.

AB 1505 would limit charter school appeals, restrict county charter programs, and allow districts broad discretion to deny renewing a charter school. Its sister bill, AB 1507 would prohibit establishing any charter school site outside its authorizing district.

A group of state civil rights and education activists have fiercely opposed the bills, saying it will harm minority students who are forced to go to school in public school districts that have poor educational performance levels.

Christina Laster, who serves as President of the Inland Empire Parent Union and the NAACP Education Chairwoman for the Southwest Region of Riverside, recently joined representatives from the National Action Network, the Urban League, and a number of parents whose children attend charter schools, in a meeting with the office of Governor Gavin Newsom, who would be tasked with signing the two bills if they pass the state senate floor.

Laster and her associates argued that the bills will harm minority students’ ability to achieve a quality education.

“I believe that they were very interested in hearing what we had to say, especially seeing that the National Action Network and the Urban League are Civil Rights organizations. They were very attentive to why this is so important to us,” Laster told The Epoch Times.

In attendance at the meeting were three members of the Governor’s staff, including Jennifer L. Johnson, Newsom’s Deputy Legislative Secretary; Ben Chida, the Senior Policy Advisor for Cradle to Career; and Priscilla Cheng, the Director of External Affairs.

Laster explained that in the meeting she and her associates were told the Governor was studying the state’s Charter Schools Act as a whole, not just AB 1505 and 1507 in particular. In June, the California Charter School Policy Task Force sent their report to the Governor, with four unanimous recommendations, including allowing greater discretion for districts to consider new charter school petitions.

“He’s looking at how he can amend the entire Charter Schools Act, because [it has] not been looked at since 1992,” she said. “Aside from 1505 and 1507, we did express concern with the unanimous report decision from the Governor on charter schools. We did admonish the Governor to accept the report as is and not to change anything.”

Laster also expressed concern about the position of Tony Thurmond, the Superintendent of Education, on charter schools.

“He has not been willing to work with us on these issues, and he was opposed to negotiations when it comes to charter schools,” she said.

Laster, who was at the senate education committee hearing last week during its passage, said that Newsom was trying to work with the Senate on a more moderate form of at least one of the bills to appeal to civil rights groups.

“What I believe is that it may go through and it may get to the Governor’s desk,” she said. “Just based on the climate of the conversation that we did have with the administration, that [Newsom] was actually going through negotiations with the Senate to try to come up with a more acceptable version. I believe they will pass based on that conversation, because if you weren’t going to pass them, you wouldn’t be looking for a more approvable package.”

Laster told The Epoch Times that even amended versions of the bills would still be harmful to those seeking to receive a better education.

“I think that they should be scrapped altogether, 1505 and 1507. Any amended version of those particular bills are still going to allow for harm to charter schools and school choice.”

Two other bills, AB 1506 and SB 756, which according to Laster, would have put a moratorium on charters, were recently defeated as a result of concerned parents and charter advocates protesting the bills’ effects on education in the state.

“The parents and us, the civil rights activists, came and said, ‘Wait this is too far reaching.’ Parents are speaking here. They need to listen. This is a civil rights issue. Charter schools have shown tremendous achievement as far as black students and brown students. If you say, ‘We’re not going to allow you to have this option,’ you have some inequitable practices.”

Laster further expressed concern that in the amendment process, language from the two cancelled bills could be hidden in the final versions of 1505 and 1507.

“My fear is that in some kind of tricky way, in their process of negotiation with the governor and coming up with an acceptable amendment, they could be sneaking in some of this language.”

At previous hearings on the bills, hundreds of parents, educators and school choice advocates were in attendance. Laster anticipated that opposition would continue to grow. She also stressed the seriousness of the situation for minority students in the state.

“My only assumption is that it is going to continue to [grow], because people are really adamant and clear about preserving their school options. At the end of the day, public education choice and options should not be stripped away. It’s the parents’ right. If you take that away, then essentially the government is saying, ‘This is my kid.’ That alone is enough to say don’t remove quality public education options from parents. Allow them to have options and choices to best support their student,” she said.

AB 1505 and AB 1507 are expected to be voted on the Senate floor later this summer, where if passed they will go to Governor Newsom’s desk.

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