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California Democrats Hint At Upcoming Charter School Changes

Under the new party platform, charter schools would have publicly elected boards rather than self-appointed boards

By Evan Symon, November 22, 2019 6:30 am

Under a new change in their party platform, the California Democratic Party aims to add additional limits to charter schools.

New party platform language

The new language states that charter schools should only have publicly elected boards and not boards that are chosen by those who run the school.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

“This is big,” said Cynthia Noonan, a former teacher and a charter school mediator across four states. “Most charter schools in California have boards that they elect internally, and they plan everything from curriculum to building safety measures. This change is pretty much telling them where the party stands on education and their belief that public school boards should have control over public education.”

Before 2018, Charter schools were on the rise in California. However, after the signing of AB 406, a bill authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) that banned for-profit charter schools, in 2018 by former Governor Jerry Brown, charter schools have been up in the air.

There are currently over 1,200 charter schools in California, altogether educating about 10% of California students, but only a little more than 300 of those charter schools are “affiliated”, meaning they are overseen by a school board and are given perks public schools typically have but charter schools do not.

“Charter schools tend to have more minority students,” explained Noonan. “So there are more typically in cities. As for performance, boy, you can do a book on that. Generally it’s been mixed. Some studies show improvements in students, others show they’re worse off than public schools.”

Teacher unions and charter schools

The big division is teachers unions. Initially charter schools, who mostly employ non-unionized teachers, were seen as a blessing in having another option. Then public schools saw a decrease in students, causing layoffs of unionized teachers. This pushed more kids to charter schools, where they hired more, again, non-union teachers.

“What we’re seeing is a battle for the survival and increased membership levels of teachers unions. Unions who, generally, back Democrat candidates.”

“And with the change in the charter, California Democrats want a renewed focus on public schools, as they feel that school districts are best run by those elected by the people in the district. They also want to have charter school teachers to join a union if they so want to under the new platform change.”

“This is leading to big action,” said Noonan. “They don’t make changes like this unless they intend to make a new law about it in the future. Basically they want all but 316 of the current schools to close, or of those facing closure, get on board and have an elected school board. This way none of them are independent any more. They’ll get to be run by locally elected people, and they’ll also be open for more union members, which have been falling hard nationwide.”

The NEA, for example, projects a 10% loss in union membership between 2018 and 2020.

New charter school limiting bills likely coming in 2020

“They care about kids,” explained Noonan. “They really do. They want better schools, but that language wasn’t added in out of 100% good intentions either.”

“Many Democrats, in both the Assembly and the Senate, oppose charter schools. [Governor] Newsom has been very clear about this as well. With this charter change it’s signaling that we’ll be seeing this in bill form coming in the next few sessions.”

Last session numerous bills limiting charter schools were passed, including charter schools abilities to appeal anti-charter school decisions, and limiting the boundaries of charter school areas.

“If they did all that last time, with this new platform language, it means changes are a coming fast. Buckle up.”

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