Crackdown on California charter schools brings out hundreds to protest at Capitol

Charter school advocates packed a Capitol hearing Wednesday to protest a package of bills supported by teachers’ unions that would limit the opening of new charter campuses.

The bills are part of a legislative push to restrict charter schools that has already produced a win. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that forces charter schools to hold open meetings and adhere to state open records laws.

But a set of three Assembly bills would go further by handing greater control of charter schools to local school districts in the state and by placing a statewide cap on the number of charter schools.

At an Assembly Education Committee hearing, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell said successful and legally operating charter schools have nothing to fear. His Assembly Bill 1505 would give school districts more power to reject charter school applications.

“This bill will not shut down existing charter schools,” he said. “If you are a good charter school operator, there is nothing for you to worry about in this bill.”

About 10 percent of California’s 6.3 million K-12 students attend charter schools, according to the California Department of Education. Public school advocates and teachers’ unions are critical of charter schools, which they view as competitors for funding.

The other two proposals are Assembly Bill 1506, which would cap the number of charter schools in the state, and Assembly Bill 1507, which would eliminate the ability for a charter school to operate outside of the boundaries of the agency that authorized it.

Dozens showed up to the committee hearing to support the bills; supporters included organizations like the California Teachers Association, members of school boards, school district employees, teachers, parents and students.

CTA and the California Federation of Teachers earlier in the day touted their support for the charter school restrictions at a press conference with lawmakers.

But the vast majority of those who showed up at the hearing opposed efforts that would constrain charter schools. They criticized the bills as efforts to shut charter doors and stymie innovation in education.

So many showed up to support charter schools that people spilled out into Capitol halls, waiting in crowded corners overheated by the hundreds of people wearing yellow shirts that read “#DefendGreatSchools.”

Joette Campbell, 65, is a grandmother to two charter school students in San Bernadino, one in

Hardy Brown College Prep and the other SOAR Charter Academy. She also has a grandchild in a public school.

“I oppose the bills because they are going to negatively impact the students where I live,” Campbell said, sitting in the audience. “I see the transparency. I feel (charter schools) have higher expectations.”

Campbell said she lost faith in public schools years ago when she said her children weren’t getting a quality education. She said she sacrificed paying rent to send her kids to private schools.

“I couldn’t afford it, and I had to make a choice,” Campbell explained. “I needed my kids in private school. With charter schools, I don’t have to do that.”

Letty Gomez was another one of the parents who appealed for a no vote from the committee. She told the lawmakers that her child’s charter school has a much higher proficiency in math and English than her local public elementary school.

“I cannot afford private school for my daughter and with the current cost of living I cannot afford to move to a school district that can best serve her,” she said.

Despite the overwhelming vocal opposition, the bills faced a receptive committee, many members of whom were authors or co-sponsors of the bills.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, was a notable exception.

Kiley, who recently raised eyebrows in another hearing on a bill to ban Teach for America from low-income schools, questioned O’Donnell and fellow authors over stripping decisions from local jurisdictions and eliminating school options.

“Charter schools are a part of the public education system,” Kiley said. “I’d ask you to keep that in mind.”

At times, the back-and-forth between legislators grew tense.

“It’s ok to be nice,” O’Donnell said to Kiley, who pointed his questions to the chair, sitting feet from him.

“I’m right here, I can hear you. So bring it down a bit,” O’Donnell urged.

Even with Kiley voting no on all three proposals, the bills passed the committee. That fact was observed by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

“This discussion is pretty much a done deal,” she said.

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