Apr 15, 2019
California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, has signed a law that is supposed to subject charter schools to some of the legal requirements traditional public schools are subject to.
The fact that state authorities have held charter schools to lower legal standards than traditional public schools is certainly not unique to California – other states have been doing the same thing. But if the same politicians who have given charter schools their privileges and allowed them to enjoy those privileges for decades are now talking about holding charters accountable, it’s because there is increasing skepticism in the population about charter schools.
According to California’s 1992 charter school law, any of the hundreds of school districts in California, no matter how small, can authorize and oversee a charter school – that is, a school run privately but funded by the state – including charter schools outside of their own boundaries. So when one district rejects an application by a charter company, the company can simply apply to other districts until it finds a district that will take it.
And no matter how little educational experience and expertise they show, charters have typically found a district that will take them simply because charter schools bring extra money to the district – at a time when the state has been systematically cutting down the funding for school districts!
If it sounds like a scam, well, it is. Charter schools are a way for politicians to direct tax money into the coffers of private interests. And that can only mean a worse, not better, education for children who go to these schools.
So charter schools have thrived and multiplied in California (California now has 1300 charter schools, more than any other state), especially in working-class districts where it’s easier for charters to get support from parents who see their children being deprived of an education. And California law has allowed charter schools to take away resources such as buildings from public schools, while charters are able to pick and choose their students.
And all this under little or no supervision from school boards. Not surprisingly, stories of corruption have multiplied along with the number of charter schools, as scam artists have found themselves a place in this scheme – a place to fill their pockets: by hiring themselves on big salaries and giving big contracts to companies owned by themselves (often without even providing the service they are getting paid for); by cutting down on staffing and maintenance of facilities, or even by taking the money and getting out of the “education business” altogether, leaving their students without a school.
Today, California politicians may be promising to crack down on charters. After all, it’s not unusual for a new governor to promise to fix problems. But don’t expect the politicians to fix the charter school problem they themselves created and allowed to grow for decades.