People in Marin County have learned that their school district has been funneling resources to a Sausalito charter school away from a nearby Marin City school that’s attended by a majority of black students, potentially segregating the schools in violation of federal civil rights laws. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that, “In looking at the relationship between the district’s board and Sausalito’s Willow Creek Academy, an independent charter school attended by a majority of white students, investigators found that leaders of the charter school “exercise significant control” over most of the district’s board members, making for a “clearly biased financial arrangement” that benefits Willow Creek Academy. Students at the underperforming Bayside MLK, meanwhile, continue to fall behind as money is diverted from the school to pay for the charter school.
Accountability is a big issue with California’s charter schools, as it is across the nation. Parents, teachers and community members are asking Governor Jerry Brown to sign a bill, AB 709, which would tighten loopholes and force privately-managed charter schools to show how they spend public money, make them hold public governance meetings, and outlaw self-dealing.
Advocates for AB 709 have created a petition which reads, in part,
Our existing public schools take all students within the attendance zone. But almost 20% of charter schools illegally skim certain students instead of families choosing schools. Often English language learners and special ed kids get “counseled out.” And over $81 million of taxpayer money that shady charter operators already spent is unaccounted for instead of being used to educate kids.
A letter from area parents and teachers to the Governor says,
Dear Governor Brown,
We are a group of concerned parents and educators from Marin County writing to encourage you to support SB 322 (Leno), SB 329 (Mendoza) and AB 709 (Gipson), originally proposed by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (link here). In their November 2015 report, the Annenberg Institute said, “the lack of effective oversight means no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence, too many cases of fraud and abuse, and too little attention to equity.” This package of bills is also co-sponsored by the California PTA (read their position here), The California Teacher’s Association (read their position here) and the ACLU (read their position on SB 322 here).
According to the National Education Policy Center, which in 2013 thoroughly reviewed the CREDO charter studies touted in the popular film, Waiting for Superman, “results consistently show essentially no difference between” traditional public and charter schools (link to WaPo article here). Further, The Center for Popular Democracy’s March 2015 report on charter school fraud in California (link here) revealed “$81,400,000 in fraud, waste and abuse by charter operators that has been uncovered to date is likely just the tip of the iceberg.” Perhaps that contributed to the USDOE denying the CDE’s charter schools grant application, dinging its application on many fronts, “stating that it offered a weak ‘vision for authorizing’ (the USDOE’s new criterion for state-driven chartering), a vague management plan and inadequate plans to target disadvantaged student populations” (link here). Further, the Washington Supreme Court (link here) ruled in September of 2015 that charter schools are “unconstitutional,” as they divert tax dollars from public schools to charter schools without the oversight of democratically elected officials.
We became aware of this issue in our own backyard when the Ross Valley School District Program of Choice (called, “MAP”) petitioned to become a charter school in 2014. This program was essentially operating as a non-complying charter school for much of its 20 year history: it had its own self-appointed Board which set enrollment policies impacting the entire district, resulting in substantiated discrimination against protected classes of children (link here); it did not comply with the Brown Act; and it independently raised its own funds and did not disclose nor share said funds with the District or the students with which it was co-located (Manor School). On January 14, 2016, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve their current petition with several conditions. The issues of discrimination and non-compliance raised by many of us, including our Superintendent, Dr. Rick Bagley, were hardly acknowledged by the commissioners (except Commissioner Rucker), despite the fact that many of the same people responsible for the creation of those issues during the 20-year history of the program, are on the Ross Valley Charter School Board.
We ask that you do all in your power to support the Annenberg Bills, and that you use your influence to demand that the conditions for final approval recommended by CDE staff are upheld.