Tag Archives: Pritzker

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.”