Can charter schools regain momentum against the education establishment which wants to re-establish monopoly control over education? That would probably require more positive results for charters at the polls—and not simply candidate elections.
The tide turned for charters in the recent election with teacher union backed candidates elected against charter supporters from the governor on down. Both Governor Gavin Newsom and state School Superintendent Tony Thurmond were strongly supported by teachers unions while charter schools backers initially got behind other candidates in both the governor and superintendent races. Similar positive outcomes for the unions were achieved in a number of assembly races.
The assembly support came through for the unions on Wednesday when the Assembly Education Committee passed three bills, AB 1505, 1506 and 1507 to put a collar on charter schools. The first would give control to authorize charters to local school districts. The second would cap the number of charter schools. The third would limit school districts to authorizing charters within geographic boundaries.
Giving school districts the power of charter authorization is another way to establish union control since many local school board district members are backed by extensive teacher union campaign efforts.
Charter schools devotees see the bills as a beginning of the end for charters. A California Charter School Association press release called the package of bills “poisonous,” backed by the California Teachers Association “that scapegoats charter school families to obscure the failure of school districts.”
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, the lone “no” vote on all three measures, stated in a release, “Today’s vote was not about kids. It was about money. Finding ways to siphon more money to public employee unions at the expense of our state’s neediest students.”
Yet, despite obvious success of many charter schools, the teachers unions and education establishment seem to have the upper hand. A majority of legislators, the superintendent and the governor have expressed sympathy for their cause against charters. Teachers have established good will with the public in recent strike actions.
Charter school supporters showed strength of their own when hundreds showed up at the Education Committee hearing to voice opposition to the bills. There are also deep-pocketed backers of charter schools who were engaged in candidate campaigns in the last election.
Those with resources might engage again not only with candidates but with ballot measures to enlarge the charter school debate in contrast to what they see as a failing public education sector. Whether by initiative or a referendum on one or all of the measures now moving through the legislature, the ultimate battle over charter schools could very well be decided by the voters at the ballot box in 2020.