Nothing exemplifies the slippery slope of privatization of public commons like charter schools, especially where public funds are taken from public schools. A series of court decisions and ballot initiatives have limited the ability of local school districts to raise taxes to pay for public education. That has left the funding of schools largely up to the state, but the state failed to adequately do so. The objective that charter schools would fill that gap has failed.
Since 1992, charter schools were authorized to elect to operate as a nonprofit public benefit corporation. But many charter schools began to operate as for profit companies or finagled for profit vendors to manage or administer the schools. With Betsy DeVos running the Department of Education in Washington, for profit charter schools seemed to be on a fast track for further growth. Through DeVos, the Trump Administration had ordered that refugee and migrant detainees in migrant camps attend for profit charter schools. That slippery slope just got iced.
Also, graduation statistics are dismal for these for profit companies with some schools graduating as low as 36% of their students compared to 78% in California public schools.
By finally drawing the line in the sand, new adopted legislation, known as AB406, California now joins seven other states to ban for profit charters. Taking this stand sends yet another clear message to Washington that the DeVos model of profiting on policy decisions is unacceptable to us. Supporters included the California Federation of Teachers, the Association of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Association, and the California Charter Schools Association, which represents the schools with the vast majority of the state’s 630,000 charter students.
Thus, this new law received bipartisan support because it strengthens accountability and transparency which legitimate charter schools welcome and weeds out the bad actors. More legislation will be needed. But this law sends a clear signal to for-profit corporations who run charter schools, or plan to: Policymakers in California are now paying attention and we, parents, teachers and stakeholders want the best schools for our kids.
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Alan Geraci is a consumer advocate and attorney.