A Charter School “Moratorium” in Oakland Would Be Wrong, Illegal and Stupid

Rather than asking why so many families attend charters or even more pay for private school in Oakland, there is a misguided effort at a charter moratorium.

This is not only illegal, it’s counterproductive—which makes it stupid.

Case in point: Unnamed Charter School, a school soundly denied by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), was approved on appeal to the County. That’s right, the school district doesn’t have the final say on who gets to open a charter school.

So, not only did the school still get approved, it has a different authorizer, so now OUSD has less authority over it. Rather than taking the opportunity to think how the district might work with a committed team to serve kids, OUSD stalled the school. And rather than working with the new charter to coordinate with existing district schools, the school may now draw students from an improving  and high quality program at Parker.

For those advocating a “moratorium”—formal or informal—it’s time to rethink that. You can’t do it.

The “wild west” of charter schools is a problem, but it won’t be solved by denial, or grandstanding. It will be solved by talking. And if you start with a moratorium…well, there ain’t much to talk about.

A Primer on Charter Law

I know some don’t like charter schools, but the legislature created them, and wrote a law to govern them. Change that if you will, but that is the law. And that law does not allow a “charter moratorium.”

Let’s take a look at the California Department of Education website:

On what grounds can a local governing board deny approval of a charter petition?

EC Section 47605(b) specifies that a local educational agency shall not deny the approval of a charter petition unless it makes written factual findings, specific to the particular petition, that:

  1. The charter school presents an unsound educational program.
  2. The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
  3. The petition does not contain the required number of signatures.
  4. The petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions described in EC Section 47605(d).
  5. The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the 16 required elements of the petition.

Note that pesky “shall not deny” language. Basically, if a solid, comprehensive plan is presented in the charter with a solid team behind it, the district is supposed to approve the charter. And if they don’t approve it, the charter can be appealed to the County, and then the State. With each body taking a fresh look.

Districts can deny all the charters they want, but if charter applicants have good paper, a good team, and a good lawyer, they will still be approved later on down the line. So, a “charter moratorium” both violates the law and more plainly—it don’t make no sense. No legal sense and no moral sense, if the goal is to best serve students.

Too Many Schools, Not Enough Great Schools

I don’t think anyone in Oakland could argue that we don’t need more good schools. We may have too many schools, but you are high—really, really high—if you think we have too many great schools.

We have some great district schools and some great charters, some struggling charters and some struggling district schools. And I may be naïve here, but I always thought it was about the students and families. I thought it was about giving all families access to high quality, culturally-responsive schools. But somewhere the debate that families care about, the one about quality and access, has been overtaken by the professional debate, of charter versus district.

Progress can’t stall because the district is struggling with its portfolio or pocketbook. And by the way, this is not a post about Unnamed Charter School itself. I have heard very positive things, but haven’t read the proposal or attended the hearings.

This is a post about how to productively move forward. In reality, if OUSD thinks it can, without legislation, impose a moratorium on charters, it’s just wrong. And just ceasing approvals will be counterproductive, and destroy relationships that should be continuing to build.

Charter school students are roughly 30 percent of public school children in Oakland, that is not changing. The district can either figure out a way to work with the sector, or the sector will just do its own thing…or 38 different things, which I agree 100%, is not good for kids and families.

But neither is a moratorium. I hope we can keep our eye on the ball, and remember what parents want and need, rather than the professionals.

What do you think?

One thought on “A Charter School “Moratorium” in Oakland Would Be Wrong, Illegal and Stupid

  1. Moratorium on Oakland charter schools would be neither illegal nor stupid. It would only be illegal if, the Board voted on the basis of a moratorium, and not on the basis of California charter law.

    With one exception, Board Member Jody London in recent years has voted against charters, basically a personal and public stance against more charters in Oakland. She explains her person moratorium on charters is because OUSD Board Member Jody London recognizes Oakland is over-saturated with schools.

    Impact of growth of small charter schools on OUSD means big public school sites means lowered enrollment at public schools in the area of new charter. The public school enrollment drain means the local public school cannot operate efficiently and additional charters makes the local public school more economically less and less viable.

    Districts are caught up in a Catch 22 situation. Districts approve more and more charter schools they become more and more economically less efficient. Cutting teachers and programs make the local public schools less desirable and less able to compete for enrollment with charter schools.

    This situation is made more complicated by Prop 39 that requires districts to provide unused classroom space for ALL charter schools whether or not the District authorized the charter schools.

    Sharing space between public and privatized charter schools increases conflict over space within a school campus and the split between public and privately managed student bodies provides a natural conflict between us and them.

    Stupid is the idea that public schools would be improved by setting up a competition between publicly funded public schools and publicly funded privately managed charter schools.

    Charter school law is a lemon and publicly funded privately managed charters are an existential threat to the fiscal well-being of school districts when they reach a critical mass as they have in Oakland.

    What with far too many schools, including charter schools is the Oakland School Board that has been charter friendly or even charter indifferent to do? It could within the law become rigorous and strict regarding enforcement of charter school laws. It could stop being charter school friendly and seeking to promote the charter school bran with initiative such as Common Enrollment or Equity Pledge.

    For example when parents and teachers sign in support of a new charter school District administration should investigate whether parents and teachers are merely signing because they already send their child to a charter and support charters or whether they really want enroll their child in a new school and whether or not a teacher really wants to teach a new charter school or not.

    The OUSD Board should ask when they have a hearing on a new charter school for those parents or teachers that say by their signature they are committed to a new charter to stand up in the meeting and testify as to the depth of their commitment.

    A violation of charter law that is never followed is that the petition that is signed for a charter has to be attached to the parent and teacher signature page. The legislative intent was that the person signing has read the charter they are endorsing. Many charters are over 100 pages and those signing are seldom knowledgeable of the charter their signature supports. Yet, no OUSD School Board has in a public hearing ever asked a charter supporter if they have read the charter they are supporting.

    The OUSD charter friendly School Boards have traditionally provided extra public comment time to charter schools but not to opponents of charter schools during the initial charter public hearing; and even sometimes extended public comment when a charter is agendized for the School Board’s vote. Actually, charter law requires the Board during the public hearing on a new charter to determine what current employees’ view is on a charter school being added to the district. Instead of outreaching to its current employees to communicate to the Board where current employees stand on the charter being presented, the Board turns the public hearing into a forum for charter operators to promote their charter.

    OUSD School Board voting for a moratorium on charters is a symbolic act; but an act that to have meaning must be accompanied by strict enforcement of charter law. And, with highest percentage of charter schools in California’s urban school districts, the Oakland School Board has not in the past been strict in enforcement of charter school law. By its charter friendly actions the OUSD School Board has supported the stupid idea that privatizing Oakland public schooling has made OUSD school system better.

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