When historians one day look back at 2020 they will detail the fear and the challenges. They will also explore how our normal moved to shelter in place, leading to the disruption of public education as well as the shift of the American workforce to stay at home.
They will also detail the public education policies of states that put students first, how the quality of distance learning was not equal from community to community or school to school. What 2020 has revealed is the need for the expansion of innovative programs that embrace independent study and quality distance learning. In California the term enshrined in legislation for these programs is non-classroom based. This title is confusing at best and often contributes to misinformation and misunderstanding by those within the general public. Add to that, school districts not providing quality oversight has allowed some non-classroom based organizations to defraud the public and that is not the norm for any of these schools in California.
The state of California funds public education in two methods. First, in a traditional public school, if a student sits in a seat, attendance is recorded, and the school is paid for that student’s education. Second, if a student attends a non-classroom based (independent study) program, a family signs a contract of understanding and responsibilities, a credentialed teacher assigns work, and a student is held accountable to complete the work. Once the credentialed teacher evaluates the completed assignments, he or she assigns a time and completion value, and then the school is actually paid for what a student has learned. Yes, the second model is student focused and the school is only paid for their academic outcomes.
When the pandemic hit the Golden State in February, school districts clamored to understand distance learning, wrestled with the teacher’s union, and students were left in the melee wondering when learning would begin or even continue. Charter public schools offering non-classroom based (independent study) programs were quick to pivot, offered new content, grading, and access to a credentialed teacher so that learning continued. These schools were proving that within their DNA they had the knowledge and knowhow to provide a quality academic experience so that students could hold on to a small sense of normal in the chaos of COVID 19.
Now just imagine the surprise within the public school community when the state legislature passed legislation that prohibited funding to follow students from their failed traditional school experience to their successful distance learning charter school experience? That surprise changed to anger when the Governor signed the bill into law that would send educational dollars to traditional schools no longer serving students and withheld educational dollars to new students now being served by those charter public schools offering non-classroom based (independent study) programs. For the first time constitutionally-guaranteed funding for public education would not be following the student.
In an effort to correct this intentional act by the legislature and the governor to harm these students, The Classical Academies became the lead plaintiff suing the State of California with two other charter schools in Southern California; Reyes v. State of California. This class action lawsuit is a beacon of hope to the 310 charter public schools offering non-classroom based (independent study) programs serving more than 200,000 students. The students attending these schools are entitled to a great public education. To have the legislature and state turn their back on these students is unconscionable, inappropriate, and unlawful.
Taking the courageous step forward to put students first has come at a cost. In the case of The Classical Academies, we took in 1,200 new students for the 2020/2021 school year. This boosted our enrollment by 26% and we still have 1,100 students on a waiting list wanting to enroll. Yes, these decisions were made during the legislative session and the Governor’s message in July to the legislature was to provide him a funding solution was the catalyst to help these families desiring a great education for their children. Then to see that the state’s final decision was to punish students for leaving their traditional programs was a spiteful act and aligned with the efforts of the teacher’s union to protect traditional models over what was best for students.
With the courts reviewing the facts of the case it is our hope to see a decision that will force the governor and legislature to fix the problem they created. This lawsuit was motivated and launched for one reason alone: to keep students and their learning at the center of all we do. When adults in the room consider their needs over what’s best for students in public education, the fundamental rights of citizens are in jeopardy and none of us should sit silently by just watching it happen.