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By Ricardo Cano, CalMatters

CALmatters is an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government.

Photo:  Charter school advocates and teachers unions mass at the Capitol on April 10, 2019, as state lawmakers consider dramatic curbs on charter schools. Photo for CALmatters by Dan Morain

April 20, 2019 (San Diego) - As charter school advocates rallied en masse and California’s teachers’ unions flexed their political muscle, a cluster of bills that would dramatically curb the growth of charters in the state cleared the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday. The votes were the first in what figures to be a lengthy, high-stakes battle this session between two of the state’s most powerful education interests.

That the legislative panel passed Assembly Bills 15051506 and 1507 on Wednesday wasn’t surprising—the authors of the trio of bills sponsored by the California Teachers Association made up two-thirds of the panel, which is chaired by a longtime public school teacher and former member of the CTA’s policymaking assembly.

But the hearing, which featured more than five hours of impassioned debate and testimony from hundreds of people, offered a glimpse of just how consequential the charter proposals are to teachers unions and charter advocates.

While the two sides have battled for decades—typically to a draw—the political momentum has shifted in favor of organized labor this session.

A wave of high-profile teacher strikes this year in Los Angeles and Oakland put the spotlight on unions’ claim that the growth of charter schools, which are mostly nonunion, has financially stressed traditional public schools, siphoning enrollment and public funding.

And following the strikes, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won office with the support of organized labor, signed fast-tracked legislation that requires charter schools to follow the same open-meeting and conflict of interest laws as school districts. The new law and other charter restrictions had been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The three bills heard Wednesday aim to make the most significant changes to California’s charter school law in the 27 years since its inception. Depending on the viewpoint, the bills either make long-overdue and necessary reforms to how charters are overseen, or mark the beginning of the end for charter schools in California.

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, a Democrat from Long Beach who chairs the Assembly Education Committee and authored AB 1505, said his bill “returns local control to school boards.”

O’Donnell and other legislators stressed that the bills would not close any existing charter schools, adding, “if you’re a good charter operator, there is nothing for you to worry about in this bill [AB 1505].”

“Some charter schools have exploited every loophole in the law, and this bill begins to close those loopholes.”

Charter advocates had a different take.

“Today, we could not be more clear: This package of bills is poison, and we will not go quietly,” Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, told a crowd of supporters before the bill hearings.

Combined, the bills would give local school districts the sole power to authorize charter schools, create state and local caps on the number of charters allowed to operate, and put strict limits on charter school locations.

  • AB 1505, authored by Democratic Assemblymen Patrick O’Donnell and Rob Bonta, would repeal the ability for charter applicants to appeal denials from local school boards at the county or state level as is currently allowed. Local school boards would have the sole power to authorize charter schools, and they would also be allowed to consider the fiscal impact of charters in deciding whether or not to authorize them.
  • AB 1506, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, would set state and local caps on the number of charters allowed to operate based on how many are operating by the end of 2019. (Currently, there are more than 1,300 charter schools in California, with majority of them concentrated in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area.)
  • AB 1507, authored by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a Santa Clarita Democrat, sets strict limits on school locations and is in response to the practice of small school districts authorizing charter schools dozens or hundreds of miles outside of their geographic boundaries.

A fourth bill sponsored by the state teachers’ union, Senate Bill 756, was not heard Wednesday, but calls for a five-year moratorium on charters unless the Legislature passes specific charter reforms by 2020.

The latest legislative battle over charter schools comes as Newsom has directed state schools superintendent Tony Thurmond to lead a panel to study the financial impact charter schools have on school districts with recommendations due by July 1.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego, cited this ongoing study as her reason for not voting in support or opposition of any of the three charter bills Wednesday. She noted that the fate of the bills was “a done deal because four of the six members of this dais are co-authors of these bills.”

“There’s no question that after 26 years, there’s a need for a serious discussion about charters in California,” Weber said as the committee debated AB 1505, later adding, “I can’t support it [AB 1505] until I get more information.”

McCarty, the author of the charter cap bill, noted that previous charter legislation battles have drawn out through the end of session, and that “we’ll be going at it, as we know, until the end of summer, end of August, early September.”

“The report that the governor and the [state superintendent] are working on will be out within a couple of months and allow us to take a look at their findings and recommendations and potentially bridge them into the proposals that we have here,” McCarty said.

As Wednesday’s hearings unfurled, the scene at the Capitol was raucous. A line of hundreds of teachers, parents, students, administrators clad in red (in support of teachers unions) and yellow (supporting charters) snaked outside the packed Assembly hearing room where legislators debated the charter bills. Opponents outnumbered those in support.

Earlier in the day, the charter advocates and unions held dueling press conferences, and charter proponents rallied and chanted outside a union event.

Tammy Stanton, CEO of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, arrived at the Capitol at 10 a.m. to secure one of the limited seats to the 1:30 p.m. hearing.

“This bill package threatens our existence,” Stanton said. “It repeals our right of due process and allows a school district to close us down if they cannot manage their own fiscal house.”

Steve McDougall, president of the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers, said he had left Salinas at 4 a.m. to testify at the hearings.

While unions and charter advocates have feuded for years, McDougall pointed to Newsom as the potential difference-maker after years of legislative gridlock.

“He’s our hope, that he will sign bills such as 1505, 1506 and 1507 and move forward and let everybody play by the same rules,” McDougall said outside the Assembly hearing room. “It’s public money, public funds. Everybody should be playing by the same rules.”

CALmatters is an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government.

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Closing comments on this editorial.

Multiple people here are violating the rules. I've been on vacation so didn't see this until now.  It's dangerous to stereotype. Twiggy is a man, FYI, and while not a doctor he does hold a teaching degree.  Implying someone must be home schooled because of their views is inappropriate as are many other points made by Joel including insulting Liz. Some of Twiggy's comments did border on racism, ie suggesting diseases are primarily the fault of immigrants. Liz was wrong to state she doesn't like one of the posters and has been advised by me not to do so again.

After two weeks off I have returned from vacation ill, have no time to be a referee, so am closing the comments on this editorial. Eveyone wants the last word but each comment just fuels more vehement responses.  Please give me a break, thanks.


You write: "still post 9,000+ paragraphs about how they're wrong, not you, everyone sucks but you, we're all idiots." First, I've never come close to 9,000 paragraphs. The fact that I actually explain things rather than just throw out phrases and slogans shouldn't be a problem. No one is forced to read my comments; but, if they do, they may learn something. They may not agree with me; but they will, at least, understand another opinion. Second, if someone disagrees with me, I welcome it if they can actually explain their position. Third, I may be wrong; but I can back up everything I say with valid references. So, if you felt that I'm saying that "everyone" sucks rather than a few specific commenters (note some commenters have said they agree with me), and that I've said "[you're] all idiots" tells me something about you (if the shoe fits). In other words, you don't like people to actually try to explain their positions. And if you choose to censor me, says something about your position on the 1st Amendment. 

As opposed to how you just expressed yourself, I have spent my life trying to read as diverse opinions as possible. In economics I've read both of Adam Smith's book, F.A. Hayek (father of Libertarian economics, and Milton Freeman's books and I've also read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and a lot of others. As for health care, I've spent 40 years studying it and lived in five different countries; but I accept I could be wrong; but if so, then I need people to explain why. 

Your current comment and Twiggy's are part of the problem, people who either can't or don't want to devote any time to actually analyzing their positions, facts, etc. just throw out ridiculour phrases like 9,000 paragraphs and "everyone sucks" and "we are all idiots."

I probably don't have too much more time on this Earth and I'm actually sort of looking forward to the end as long as it isn't too painful or drawn out. I'm tired of a world of soundbites, opinions based on little to no thought, seeing the world in black and white, and all the hate going on as represented by Twiggy and your empty grossly exaggerated comment. 

Tell me, do you find my comments just demanding to much time and thought???

So, delete my comments if you so choose, just one more example of contempt for real dialogue and the 1st Amendment.

Oops! Did I just write more than you usually choose to devote time and thought to? I won't apologize!

I really hope you are just expressing your position and not Miriam's. I would hate to think I'm a poor judge of character, though it won't be the first time. Over the years, reading Miriam's articles and the few times we've interacted has formed a very positive impression of her, so I really hope this is just you?

@ LizA

You could easily just remove two sentences: "Just just keep mouthing off your racism and ignorance. Were you, per chance, home schooled?" AND "Keep using Twiggy. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to know my real name given the trash you write."

You actually posted a comment warning Twiggy about her racism, which she continues with, so you are allowed to point it out; but not me??? The rest of my comments simply explain certain things. If you find me correcting her errors as "harassing users" I can only assume that you support her point of view or, at the least, prefer misinformation dominating your comments section. Which is it???

So, you could easily just delete the one or two sentence or my entire comments. Your website, though it certainly wouldn't paint you in a good light!

It's not my website, it's Miriam's.

First of all.

Second of all, we've warned you time and time and time again about insulting users and you still break our rules and still post 9,000+ paragraphs about how they're wrong, not you, everyone sucks but you, we're all idiots, etc. etc.  

Joel, we don't know what else to do to get you to LISTEN.  I don't like Twiggy either, but at least she's following the rules.  You're just running around insulting everyone who disagrees with you.

And sweetheart, word of advice?  Do NOT speak to me about me not being in a good light after what you've done to yourself in the comments since your articles started being published here.

@ LizA missed a couple of points in last comment

You write: "And sweetheart, word of advice?  Do NOT speak to me about me not being in a good light after what you've done to yourself in the comments since your articles started being published here."

Calling me "sweetheart" is about as condescending as one can get. Who the heck do you think you are? And as for "what I've done to myself." Actually, I've had numerous people compliment me on my comments and thought I displayed quite a bit of restraint. And you write: "I don't like Twiggy either, but at least she's following the rules." Really, she's following the rules? Twiggy: "and registering illegal aliens for their votes." I guess it's not racism to keep blaming everything on "illegal aliens?" And I could go back to previous comments by her.

And I agree that it's not your website, it's Miriam's, so, as I wrote in my previous comment, I hope my impression of her is correct. My impression of you is not positive ! ! !

@ Twiggy

I forgot to mention that since Charter Schools receive public funding, just one more example of the myth of a free market. Besides bailing out the banks, redirecting taxpayer funds to benefit the rich and corporations, we outsource many jobs to private companies and corporations. In San Diego we outsource ambulance service to a company in Arizona. They pay highly trained paramedics, who also are exposed to infectious diseases and potential violence, $16 per hour with few benefits (last time I spoke with one). And they have been fined numerous times for delayed response times, etc. Yes, the city may save a few bucks; but the profits go to Arizona. According to Economics 101, if we used our Fire Department to provide ambulance service, pay would be much better, and the monies would, of course, be spent in the local economy. For every dollar spent here, the multiplier function would result in it adding about 1.4 times the amount to our local economy, which would, of course, to some extent, generate increased taxes. Since all the profits currently go to Arizona, our local economy loses ALL this money. As Ben Franklin said, "Penny wise, pound foolish."

And most times when I've seen the private ambulance, there was still a fire department truck there as well.

@ Twiggy

Numerous studies have found mixed results when comparing private charter schools with public schools in level of academic achievement. What they did find was that the schools that did well were ones where the parents were involved. In other words, it wasn't private vs public; but level of parental involvement. Thanks to Proposition 13 which was the result of a legitimate problem, namely, that people who bought homes as part of their retirement (owning home together with Social Security) found their property taxes skyrocketing. Unfortunately, Prop13 made it almost impossible to raise other taxes. When I was in school in the 1950s, class sizes were on average much smaller. Teacher unions fight for smaller class sizes, school nurses at each school, and, yes, for increases in salary, California is an expensive state to live in. However, I would agree to change tenure to a minimum of three years, allowing a reasonable amount of time to evaluate a teacher's performance. Without tenure, who in their right mind would move to a community, after incurring substantial education debts, without some security. And for those who think teacher's have it easy, during the school year they have to grade papers, grade exams, prepare materials, etc. often in the evenings and over the weekends. And their "summer vacation" often involves taking seminars and courses to improve their teaching skills. And, given the high cost of living in California, many have to work at other jobs during the summer.

As for home schooling, John Dewey, a seminal figure in American education, wrote that schools perform more than just teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic; but living in a Democracy. Home schooling results in citizens who have had little to no experience with fellow citizens of other nationalities, beliefs, customs, culture, etc. It often creates rigid, narrow minded, undemocratic people. It contributes to a polarized society. Studies have found that groups who refuse to enter into dialogues actually are often more in agreement on a number of issues and are willing to compromise on others.

As for "California lawmakers talk about lowering the voting age to 18 and registering illegal aliens for their votes."

Maybe you missed that in 1971 the 26th Amendment to the Constitution gave the vote to 18 year old American citizens. You really DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! ! !

And, while I can't be aware of what any one individual has called for, there is NO evidence that any movement with any clout is trying to get the vote for illegals. No country on this planet allows illegals to vote.

Just just keep mouthing off your racism and ignorance. Were you, per chance, home schooled?

And just for the record, Native Americans, Mexicans, and some families today who can trace their ancestry directly to Spaniards, were here long before you. And dependending when your family arrived in California, the Chinese have been here since the 1850s. 

Unless you think that might alone makes right, that is, our brutal history against the above, then we are the latecomers.

Keep using Twiggy. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to know my real name given the trash you write.


PLEASE stop harassing users or Miriam and I will delete your comments.  

Demise of educated youth

Unions and politicians in California are in bed together. Can't fire anyone because of them. Under educated and graduated youth are a mess. Home schooling and charter schools have done very well educating children. These California lawmakers talk about lowering the voting age to 18 and registering illegal aliens for their votes. All this nonsense from our Governor and lawmakers is about power votes and money. You want your children given a good education, clean house in Sacramento.