In 1988, at the 70th convention of the American Federation of Teachers, its President, Albert Shanker, proposed to reform the public school system through the formation of community-based, teacher-run Charter Schools. In 1991, the first Charter School Law was enacted in Minnesota. California followed with the “1992 Charter School Act.” Today, in California there are approximately 1,200 schools serving half a million students. In 2016-2017, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) enrolled 4,577 in 11 charter schools; in 2017-2018, charter school enrollment is expected to be around five thousand students or approximately 15% of the District’s student population.
Apparently, progressive teachers and community activists were not the only ones attracted to Shanker’s neoliberal utopia. Only six years after the initial call for reform, academic bureaucrats, philanthropic entrepreneurs and plain corporate scammers took over the popular movement for school reform. To his credit, Shanker was among the first to denounce the corporate-bureaucratic take over. In “Where We Stand”, his weekly column in the New York Times, July 3, 1994, he denounced the Detroit School District for “…giving $4 million—for starters—to a group of people who are eager for public funds but could care less about public education.”
Based on the legal fiction that charters are “public schools”, they receive public funds on a per pupil basis. In 2016-2017, charters received $46 million. In addition, out of the General Fund, Local Control Funding Formula and Title II monies, the WCCUSD paid an additional $48 million for, among other things, the salaries of charter teachers, administrators and staff, instructional materials, and professional development. Thus, in 20116-2017, the subsidy to the charters added to $94 million. If pending petitions for new charters or for the expansion of existing ones are approved by either the district, the county or the state, the subsidy to the corporate charter school “reform” movement could well gobble up more than half of our district’s annual budget.
The hemorrhage must stop!
A few weeks ago, as demonstrators in Denver protested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (in town for a meeting of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council), the RPA endorsed a recent resolution adopted by the United Teachers of Richmond on charter schools. The RPA Schools Action Team has noted that if the West Contra Costa Unified School District approves all its pending charter petitions, the subsidy to charter franchises will soon amount to $151 million, or half the total budget for the WCCUSD.
The UTR resolution reads, in part:
Whereas charter schools take away funding from traditional public schools creating a wasteful parallel school system…
Whereas charter school choice is supported by special interests who seek to privatize and profit from our schools.
Be it resolved that the United Teachers of Richmond CTA/NEA opposes charter school expansion in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and the nation.
The UTR statement follows a similar resolution that the NAACP adopted in the wake of the 2016 election. It stated, in part, that the NAACP “supports a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools.” Conditions for lifting the moratorium include: (1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools, (2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system, (3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and (4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
Adult school teachers, students and supporters rallied and spoke during general public comment at school board meetings on both May 24 and June 14, demanding that the adult school not be removed from its flagship Serra site. Adult school supporters requested that the matter of Serra Adult School be placed on the agenda for the June 14 meeting, but because their request was ignored, they were only able to speak during general public comment. A request to put Serra on the agenda for the June 28 meeting was similarly ignored.
As reported in earlier editions of The Activist, the district decided to establish a Mandarin immersion elementary school at the Serra site without soliciting input from adult school students and teachers. After adult school supporters pointed out that displacement of the adult school would fragment the adult education program and negatively impact students—particularly immigrants, who are directly under attack by the Trump Administration—the district arranged for most adult school classes to stay at Serra for one more year, co-located with the Mandarin school kindergarten program. However, the adult school community is concerned about the future. Unless the district finds another site for the Mandarin school, adult school programs will have to leave Serra as the Mandarin school adds grades.
The Mandarin school has now taken over three classrooms, the multipurpose room, and the office at Serra, and the adult school programs that will remain will be in the remaining 10 classrooms for 2017-2018. The Mandarin school will have to move eventually, as Serra is too small to house the K-6 program that is envisioned for it. Adult school supporters will continue to fight to keep Serra, and keep pressure on the district to find another, more appropriate site for the Mandarin school going forward.
By the RPA Schools Action Team
The list of twenty violations for which a student can be suspended in the West Contra Costa School District includes threats, weapons, damage to school property, and fighting. The catchall “willful defiance” of “valid authority” is a controversial cause for suspension that can include wearing a cap, answering back, or standing when asked to sit.
Willful defiance is not just vague, it is discriminatory, since it is used disproportionately against African-American students. Moreover, once a student is sent home, he or she becomes more likely to become involved in gang activity, drop out of school entirely, or engage in other high-risk behaviors. For these and other reasons, some school districts have eliminated the policy. California law bans it for grades 3 and under, and the California State Senate just passed SB 607, the “Keep Kids in School Act” that will extend the ban through grade 12.
WCCUSD Board member Mister Phillips recently proposed that the board adopt an immediate ban on all willful defiance suspensions. Leadership of the United Teachers of Richmond union and others objected on two grounds: the teachers were not consulted, and the district lacks appropriate measures to handle disruptive students. UTR supported the policy to ban the practice but called for different groups, including teachers, to study the issue.
RPA Schools Action Team supports the ban but recognizes that the issues raised by UTR are valid. Without restorative justice or other practices in place to handle disruptive students, the ban may be ignored or result in classroom chaos. Nonetheless, we recognize that an open-ended request for more study often results in slow death for a proposal. Accordingly, we suggest the school board immediately declare a ban that will take effect in six months, and in the interim, in consultation with all stakeholders, consider and implement meaningful alternatives to suspension.
We know that corporate charter school chains are having a serious negative impact on public education by draining resources, creaming the student crop, and counseling out the difficult and "less profitable" students.
All parents want the best schools possible for their kids, but charter school chains are damaging the ability of local districts to fairly distribute limited resources. Charter schools are funded with taxpayer money but governed by millionaires and billionaires outside the public school system without much oversight.
A large part of the problem is that local school districts have no true enforcement power regarding these schools. A poorly performing charter school can simply jump over a local school board and ask the County or State Board of Education to approve a charter application. All this is done with legal help provided by the California Charter School Association.
Problems also occur when school board candidates declare, "I am not for charter schools!" when, in fact, they are sponsored by the California Charter School Association and their supporters' dark money.
Gayle McLaughlin is a current Richmond City Council Member and former mayor. She lives in the Richmond Annex.Read more
When the WCCUSD Board of Education voted last month to evict adult education classes from their long-established Serra Adult School campus, the abrupt decision stunned the teachers, students, and staff of Serra Adult School.
The Serra Adult School serves a mostly low income and immigrant population, though classes are open to anyone. The site is home to four ESL classes, and High School Diploma, GED and Adult Basic Education (the adult version of an elementary school education) programs during the day; and at night there are job training classes.
The Board made the decision to evict the Adult School with no input from teachers or students, and now district staff is fast-tracking the process. Superintendent Duffy says the Serra site will house a new elementary school slated to supplant the adult school “only temporarily”; after four years, the school will need to move to a larger location. Then presumably the district will sell the site to a charter school.
As I am sure you are aware, charter schools promote a pernicious two tier system of education, leaving children with learning disabilities, emotional problems, behavior issues, etc. in one poorly supported school, while the charters skim or "cherry pick" the high performing students with parents who advocate for them.
Charters' teachers and staff are not unionized. By state law, charter schools must have their facilities maintained first, and district funds must be allocated to the charters off the top, meaning that regular public schools take the cuts. Charters are heavily promoted by corporate interest who approve of the privatization of public education, and are able to turn a profit from tax payer funds for education.
I teach at Nystrom Elementary, on the same block in West Richmond as Richmond Children's College Prep Charter School. I see daily the two tier system of public school vs. Charter, and I know it is detrimental to the education of my students.
Charters are not held accountable to the state. Many financial and administrative scandals regarding charters have surfaced, because there is no one overseeing the charter schools. With a pro-charter majority of candidates on the WCCUSD School Board, we need to be informing voters of the negative issues of charter schools in Richmond.