Tag Archives: Newsom

Reforming California’s Dysfunctional Charter School Law

18 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/17/2019

Members of the California legislature have engaged in an internecine battle over charter schools. Even the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has expressed concern over lawless cyber charters and filed the first known complaint with the California Department of Education over A3 Education and Valiant Prep which were recently charged with stealing a stunning $50 million. California State Sen. John Moorlach (R) is warning that 85% of school districts in California are running deficits. Governor Gavin Newsom has statedrising charter school enrollments in some urban districts are having real impacts on those districts’ ability to provide essential support and services for their students.”

The drive to privatize schools in Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles has been fueled by enormous sums of money spent on elections. Billionaires led by Eli Broad and Richard Riordan have successfully installed a former investment banker – a proponent of school privatization with no education experience – as Superintendent of Schools for Los Angeles. In Oakland, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to pro-privatization independent expenditure committees and a similar amount has been donated directly to charter friendly candidates running for that city’s school board. Very few of the donations come from Oakland. The story is similar in San Diego.

With so many extremely wealthy individuals like Michael Bloomberg from New York City, Stacy Schusterman from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Alice Walton from Bentonville, Arkansas continually making six and seven figure donations to privatize public schools in California, the defenders of public education are fighting with all they have against what they see as an undemocratic attack by oligarchs. At the same time, many charter school leaders are feeling insecure and under attack.

It is this Gordian Knot that legislators are addressing. As Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.

California’s new Democratic governor does not seem as mindlessly pro-charter school as the outgoing Democrat but his long time backers and chief of staff have public school advocates concerned. The Sacramento Bee reportedGavin Newsom turns to top Hillary Clinton adviser to launch administration.” That would be his Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, whose Fortune magazine biography says she was a key voice in creating the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. She defends NCLB stating, “We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.

For those of us working in classrooms in 2001, it became clear that O’Leary’s education ideology harmed students and facilitated privatizing public schools. Her theory comes from the neoliberal business mindset that venerates market based solutions and competition. The writer Anand Giridharadas recently labeled this philosophy “MarketWorld.”

Leading up to the 2018 general election, the Los Angeles Times ran an in-depth article about the eight elite San Francisco families that have funded Newsom’s political success. Although his own family was not particularly wealthy, they did provide him with connections to the wealthy elite. The Times story included,

“He has said he was primarily raised by his mother, who at times struggled to make ends meet. But Gordon and Ann Getty viewed him as a son, according to interviews the couple gave to the San Francisco Chronicle and W Magazine, and they provided him with experiences his parents could not afford, including an African safari when he was a teen, Newsom said in an earlier interview with The Times.

‘“It all goes back to the Gettys as far as Gavin is concerned,’ said Jerry Roberts, former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and an expert on Bay Area politics.”

The Getty’s are the heirs of John Paul Getty. However, of the eight families described in the Time’s article it is the Fishers and Pritzkers that most concern public school advocates. Doris Fisher and her late husband Don founded The Gap. They were the first major contributors to KIPP charter schools and Don was a cofounder of the Charter School Growth fund. Doris continuously contributes to efforts for privatizing public education. The Fisher family has provided more than $300,000 in contributions to Newsom since 1998.

The Pritzker family are heirs to the Hyatt Hotel empire. Penny Pritzker was Barack Obama’s campaign treasure and his Commerce Secretary. As Secretary of Commerce, she used the Malcolm Baldrige award to promote charter schools in the mall. In Chicago, the family financed a charter school called Pritzker College Prep which is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Since 1998, the Pritzker family has donated more than $600,000 to Newsom.

Newsom and the SF Billionaires

Newsom Hob Knobbing with San Francisco Elites (from the LA Times)

Legislature Takes on the Issue

Four bills were introduced in February aimed at reforming the charter law. Newly elected Senator María Elena Durazo from Los Angeles submitted SB 756 for a moratorium on new charters. Over at the assembly education committee three reform bills were presented AB 1505, 1506 and 1507. AB 1506 would have introduced a new meaningful cap on new charter schools. In May, both SB 756 and AB 1506 were pulled by their respective authors. The Los Angeles School Report said,

“On Wednesday, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo sidelined the Senate moratorium bill, which she authored. The bill would have placed a two-year halt on new charter schools in the state unless the Senate passed further regulations. The measure could return for consideration next January, according to Senate rules.

“The next day, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty opted to hold his bill on the last day it was eligible for a vote in the chamber. AB 1506 would have mandated a statewide cap on charter schools…”

Now the battle is centered on AB 1505 and AB 1507. 1505 increases local control over chartering and reduces rights of appeal and 1507 bans charters not authorized by the district in which they operate.

On July 9th, EdSource reported,Governor’s team jumps into fray over contested charter school bill.” It said,

“On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1505, which included a substantial number of amendments that Newsom’s office submitted after numerous discussions between his advisers and representatives of charter schools, organized labor and the bill’s author, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

“With the final vote expected at day’s end, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Connie Leyva, D-Chino, characterized the amended bill as ‘the makings of a deal with the governor’s office’ and said she is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that remaining issues can be resolved over the summer for passage in the fall.”

Scholar and former US assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to this news with a post on her blog titled, “California: Is Governor Gavin Newsom Selling Out to the Charter Industry?” Diane points out that the one thing the charter Industry has going for it is money. She noted that politicians are always in search of money for their next campaign and says, “Big donors always find open doors.

Back in the Education Committees

The Assembly Education Committee chairman is Patrick O’Donnell a 20-year classroom teacher who worked mostly in middle school. He is leading AB 1505 through the difficult legislative process. The authors of the bill are San Jose Assembly member Ash Karla and East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner who are both representing areas suffering at the hands of the charter industry.

The other bill still alive is AB 1507 which blocks districts from authorizing charter schools out of their own boundaries. Assembly members Patrick O’Donnell, Kevin McCarty and Christy Smith authored this bill.

The Assembly Education Committee has seven members; five Democrats and two Republicans.  One of the first big hurdles for these two bills came at an April 10th hearing. It was the first opportunity to keep these bills alive or kill them. Charter school supporters came out in droves to talk the bills down. It was during this hearing that Assembly member Shirley Weber from San Diego said “since the four coauthors are here this is a done deal.” Weber also said she did not think these bills addressed the right issues and announced she would not be supporting them. Interestingly, Weber did not vote against the bill, she just didn’t vote. The bills passed out of committee by a vote of 4 to 1 with the lone descent coming from the only Republican in attendance Kevin Kiley.

There was a similar dynamic when these bills finally arrived at the Senate Education Committee this July. The Senate Committee is also a seven member committee with five Democrats and Two Republicans. Democratic Senator Steven Glazer said “781 public schools in the state have poor performance” and “We have failures all across the state.” Like Weber he was not satisfied with the content of the bills and said we need to worry about too many students in failing schools. Glazer did not make clear what he based his failing schools charges on. However, the charges by the Contra Costa Senator are similar to the charges made by leaders of the school privatization movement like the current US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Both AB 1505 with the Governor’s amendments and AB 1507 were voted out of the Senate committee by identical 4 to 3 votes. The two Republicans and Glazer were the no votes.

Possibly Weber and Glazer agree with DeVos and her choice advocacy and that is why privatizing money is going to them or did they take this anti-public school position to attract that money? In any case, privatization money is flowing their way.

Glazer and Webber

Data from California Secretary of State Glazer ID #1377665 and Weber ID #1393376

When these two bills went to the Assembly for a floor vote, every Republican voted no or didn’t vote. Weber didn’t vote and Glazer joined two other Democrats voting no. The final tallies were AB 1505 44 yes 19 no with 17 not voting and AB 1507 54 yes 18 no with 8 not voting.

As a child growing up in a Republican community in Idaho, I remember Republicans as being very pro-public education and suspicious of big business and big centralized government. What happened to my grandfather’s Republican Party? How can it be that not one Republican during any of the votes taken supported protecting our public schools from plunder by large charter management organizations or stood against the demise of Democratic local control of schools?

If we consider the development of political action committees (PAC) for privatizing public school, the anti-democratic nature becomes stark. If your holdings are $2 or $3 billion, then you are generating at least $100 million income every year. So, donating $1 million to four PACs is not a strain. That means besides creating a huge pot for independent expenditures, the 4 PACs will also send 4 more max donations to your favored candidates. No matter how bad the idea being pushed, this kind of spending gives it consideration and drowns out opposition.

The Bills and Amendments

Former State Sen. Gary Hart, a Democrat who represented Santa Barbara in the Assembly and Senate for 20 years, authored the original 1992 California charter school law. Sue Burr, a current member of the State Board of Education, played a major role in drafting it. EdSource interviewed Sen. Hart last year. Reporter John Fensterwald noted that the financial impact on a district was not part of the law and asked, “Was it brought up at the time?” Hart replied,

“I don’t think so. The law didn’t have large-scale financial ramifications. We were talking about 100 charters statewide.”

The original law capped charter schools at 100 statewide. In 1998, the cap was raised to 250 with a 100 schools a year escalator thereafter. Today, there are 1310 active charter schools in California and the current cap statewide is 2,250 for the 2018-19 school-year. Neither this uncontrolled growth with essentially no cap nor its financial implications were addressed in the original law.

As originally proposed, AB 1505 would have given all school districts broad authority to reject a charter school’s application and renewal after considering the financial impact on neighborhood schools and the district. That provision has been restricted to just school districts already certified as being in financial crisis.

The amended version also sides with charter schools in changing the language back to “shall” issue a charter to a petitioner who met the state requirements from the less demanding “may” issue the charter.

None of Governor Newsom’s amendments are more demanding on the charter industry and most make things easier on the industry.

While Mayor of Oakland; Jerry Brown created a military charter school with the National Guard. Language added to the education funding bill AB 75 in December was automatically added to the charter law. That mysterious language seems written solely for the benefit of Brown’s school.

“Notwithstanding any other law, a charter school in operation as of July 1, 2019, that operates in partnership with the California National Guard may dismiss a pupil from the charter school for failing to maintain the minimum standards of conduct required by the Military Department.”

The Oakland Military Institute had tried during its reauthorization to be allowed to dismiss students who had too many demerits. The Chartering Authorities rejected the request. They felt that demerits were given for such minor offenses as not having a badge sewn on correctly and that a student should only be dismissed from a public school in extreme circumstances. Now the charter school’s questionable request is written into law.

Conclusions

Money is still ruling but even the watered down bills as amended are better than what we have now, so it is important to keep pushing for their passage.

A parent and fellow Bay Area resident named Jane Nylund wrote a letter to Newsom expressing her disappointment at his amendments. Diane Ravitch posted the letter. I encourage you to read the whole letter. It makes many strong points. Jane personalized the letter noting,

“You and I have something in common-we both attended well-resourced public high schools. You went to Redwood High School in Marin, and I attended Miramonte High School in Orinda, located in what is now one of the wealthiest suburbs in the East Bay. Lucky us.

“The irony regarding your potential alliance with privatization groups like CCSA is that, because of your severe dyslexia, you would have been rejected by the same schools that are now being touted as “high quality seats”, aggressively marketed as superior to real public schools because of test scores. According to the bio I read, you were rejected from a private prep school and enrolled in your local public high school instead. So you have first-hand experience with the idea that real public schools enroll all children, not just the easy ones.”

An Educators Preference for the Next California Governor – John Chiang

2 Nov

It seemed like identifying the best option for our next governor would be difficult. It wasn’t. The next governor will most likely come from the big three in the Democratic party; Gavin Newsom, Anthony Villaraigosa or John Chiang. Republican, John Fox is fighting against history and Delaine Eastin has yet to raise enough money to be taken seriously. Breitbart favorite, Travis Allan, has raised even less money than Eastin.

The Case for John Chiang (pronounced chung)

Recently, I asked the head of a Democratic Assembly member’s staff who the member was supporting for governor. He would not say but shared his own opinion. He said Jerry Brown had been successful as governor because of his fiscal responsibility. The staffer said that John Chiang was the only Democratic candidate who would control the spending of California’s democratically dominated assembly.

The 55 years-old Chiang’s education and experience include a degree in finance from the University of South Florida; a law degree from Georgetown; past work experience that includes tax law specialist for the IRS and an attorney for the California state controller’s office.

Chiang’s career in public office began in 1997 when he was appointed to the California Board of Equalization, and then was elected the following year to the same position. Chiang won re-election in 2002, and then went on to serve two terms as California state controller. In 2014, he was elected California state treasurer.

Gridlock and rancor dominated Sacramento in 2008. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, reacted to the ensuing budget crisis by ordering state worker’s pay to be slashed and thousands of others to be laid off. Chiang refused to comply. “Frankly, [the governor] is just trying to make me do something that’s improper and illegal,” Chiang told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The New Yorker chronicled this episode dubbing Chiang an unlikely hero,

“Under Schwarzenegger’s plan, the workers would receive their full salaries once a budget was approved. But California had enough cash in its accounts, and, in Chiang’s view, the Governor’s move could violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Moreover, he thought, it was cruel. It was the height of the financial crisis, and mortgage defaults were up more than a hundred per cent over the previous year.”

“The Sacramento Bee, adapting the iconic image of a protester at Tiananmen Square, published a cartoon that depicted Chiang as a lone resister before a line of Hummers, with “Arnold” stenciled on the bumper of the lead vehicle. The Liberal O.C., a progressive blog, nicknamed him ‘the Controllernator.’”

Schwarzenegger sued Chiang but eventually, Schwarzenegger’s replacement, Jerry Brown, dropped the legal action.

An NBC report on Chiang notes:

“Chiang’s campaign site lists an extensive rundown of his accomplishments as controller and currently as treasurer that include restructuring the state’s debt during the recession “to generate $2 billion for schools, infrastructure and public safety” and imposing sanctions on Wells Fargo following a scandal that revealed over 2 million fake bank accounts.”

Because of the relentless attacks on public schools and educators, candidate views on education are key. Many self-styled “progressive democrats,” have adopted education positions attacking teachers’ unions and promoting privatization (Rahm Emanuel, Corey Booker, Antonio Villaraigosa). Some position statements promulgated by Chiang’s campaign:

“In 1988, California voters approved Proposition 98, which requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education. Unfortunately, while Proposition 98 was meant to create a constitutional “floor” for education spending, it has turned into a political ceiling. As a result, California is grossly under-invested in public education.”

“We also must protect the collective bargaining rights of our educators, classified employees, professors, early childhood educators and child care providers. It is critically important that the people who interact with our students and children every day have a seat at the table and a voice on the job to advocate for the best conditions possible for our children to learn.”

“We must also increase both the quantity and quality of California’s early childhood education programs and assure free access for all working families.

“We also know that small class sizes are the key to improving student learning. We need to expand the Class Size Reduction program so our students have every opportunity to learn.”

“Cities and states across the nation are jumping on board and are finding innovative solutions to provide two free years of community college. California needs to find a way to get to that place, where we make community college free while ensuring students are on the right path through participation and graduation.”

“To reclaim the promise of quality education, we must ensure that children and their families have access to wraparound services to meet their social, emotional and health needs.”

Money, Money, Money

John Cox, the Republican gubernatorial candidate from Rancho Santa Fe, is fighting an uphill battle and he has yet to share his views on issues like education.

When Pete Wilson was running for reelection as governor in 1994, he used proposition 187 as a wedge issue. The proposition established a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibited illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in California. Another Republican candidate for governor, Ron Unz, campaigned against bilingual education. Both positions alienated many people in the Hispanic community.

Even more damaging to the image of the Republican party in California is the widely held view that they cannot govern. Californians blamed them for repeated failures to pass a budget which led to service interruptions and layoffs. Originally, Democrat, Gray Davis was blamed. However, his Republican replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also unable to pass a budget. So, intransient Republican legislators inherited Gray’s reputation as the source of the problem.

John Cox is not likely to become governor, but his views about political corruption are interesting. He states:

“Think about it. Legislators are largely funded, not by the voters, but by the lobbyists whose bills they’re going to vote on.

“You couldn’t have designed a system more fraught with temptation, or ripe for reform.”

Reforming California’s system of government appears to be Cox’s sole issue. In a system that makes it impossible that someone without access to financial resources be taken seriously, Mr. Cox became relevant. He donated himself $3,000,000.

Money on Hand July 31_2017

Campaign Funds Report to State of California

A Daily News article from this May reported on the effect of the Los Angeles School Board election for those advocating a privatized education system:

“Advocates for change include Netflix founder Reed Hastings and developer Eli Broad, who have poured millions of dollars into pro-charter groups that fund political campaigns. Their recent win in Los Angeles “portends a massive investment in the superintendent’s race and the governor’s race,” said Mike Trujillo, a Democratic political consultant who worked on campaigns for Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin, the newly elected Los Angeles school board members.

“There is not a better motivator than the nectar of victory to push along the issue that you care about, and that’s improving public education and ensuring that every child in every school has a high-quality teacher,” Trujillo said.

“Trujillo worked closely with Antonio Villaraigosa when, as mayor of Los Angeles, he bucked the teachers union and took control of several low-performing schools. Now running for governor, Villaraigosa has signaled that education will be a focus of his campaign. In his speech at the Democratic convention, Villaraigosa called the education split ‘the most important civil rights battle of our generation.’”

The largest contributors to both Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa are Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the billionaires behind Fiji Water and POM Wonderful juice contributed $116,800 to Newsom and $112,000 to Villaraigosa.

Gavin Newsom also got large contributions from Trump supporter Peter Thiel, from George Soros and from Laurene Powell Jobs.

Villaraigosa scored big contributions from fans of privatizing public education; Eli and Edythe Broad ($112,800), Anschutz Entertainment Group ($56,400), and Reed Hastings ($56,400).

Chiang’s big money contributions come mostly from wealthy Chinese business people like CC and Regina Yin, owners of dozens of McDonalds restaurants who contributed $94,600.

Newsom and Villaraigosa on Education 

Villaraigosa has education views that are almost identical to the hedge fund supported group Democrats for Education Reform and the California Charter School Association. He will surely receive more large amounts of funding from these entities and their fellow travelers. His anti-teachers’ union message is popular with billionaires.

The attacks on the teachers’ union are disingenuous. Teachers’ unions are driven by impassioned idealistic young women who believe in social justice and public education. Trying to make them into enemies of the public is a cynical ploy. It is especially damaging in an era when working people have less and less protection from mega-wealth.

Gavin Newsom in more nuanced than Villaraigosa but no friend of public education. Last month Newsom responded to a question about charter schools:

“I’m not interested in the stale and raging debate about which side, which camp you’re on – are you with the charter people, are you anti-charter, are you with the teachers, are you anti-teacher. I’ve been hearing that damn debate for ten damn years. With all due respect, I got four kids. I have an eight-year-old, second grade. I have a five, three and a one year old. I’m not gonna wait around until they’ve all graduated to resolve whether Eli Broad was right or whether or not the CTA was wrong. I’m not interested in that debate. I’m interested in shaping a different conversation around a 21st century education system that brings people together, that could shape public opinion, not just here in the state, but could shape an agenda more broadly across the country, particularly in a time of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump. We need that kind of leadership.”

During Newsom’s last run for governor in 2010, he said:

“To close this achievement and opportunity gap, underperforming public schools need more resources, and above all, real accountability for results. Accountability means ending social promotion, measuring student performance with standards-based assessments, and testing teachers for subject-matter competency.”

Newsom adopted the manifesto, “A New Agenda for the New Decade” and his goals for 2010 were:

  • Turn around every failing public school.
  • Make charter schools an option in every state and community.
  • Offer every parent a choice of public schools to which to send his or her child.
  • Make sure every classroom has well-qualified teachers who know the subjects they teach, and pay teachers more for performance.
  • Create a safe, clean, healthy, disciplined learning environment for every student.
  • Make pre-kindergarten education universally available.

Newsom has not repeated his call for charter schools, merit pay and standardized testing in 2017 but he has not retracted them either.

Newsom also embraces the tech industry. He joins their attempt to control curriculum by promoting computer science education as a core subject in k-12 schools and in universities. He also promotes their fraudulent STEM shortage propaganda.

Does Character Matter?

In 2007 both Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa were involved with illicit affairs.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported,

“San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s re-election campaign manager resigned Wednesday after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor’s office, City Hall sources said.”

Meanwhile in LA the Daily News reported:

“The revelation of a romantic relationship with television newswoman Mirthala Salinas came to light in a Daily News story today after the mayor had dodged months of questions about the breakup of his marriage.”

“For the sometimes rocky marriage of the mayor and his wife, who merged their surnames Villar and Raigosa when they married some 20 years ago, it was the beginning of the end.”

Shouldn’t bad personal conduct be a red flag when bestowing public trust?

Conclusion

If Delaine Eastin were financially more viable, then this recommendation would have been more difficult. I think I would have ended in the same place because of Chiang’s financial acumen but Eastin has always been a feisty leader with good instincts.

For the reasons stated above, I am supporting John Chiang to be California’s next governor.