A Tactic without a Strategy in OUSD’s Failed “Charter Moratorium”

Oakland Unified’s tactic of denying every charter petition, no matter how promising, isn’t working, and is actually counterproductive based on the district’s own goals.  It won’t constrain charter growth and will undermine collaboration in areas helpful to the District.  They need to rethink it.

The OUSD board and superintendent have expressed 3 specific policy goals around Oakland’s charter schools; controlling charter growth, reintegrating county authorized charters into the district, and bringing more charters into the District’s special education plan, and none of these are actually advanced by the “moratorium.”

Let me explain.

A moratorium does not stop charter approvals on appeal

A local charter moratorium will not reduce the number of charter schools, in fact it may do the opposite.  You heard that right.  The Charter Law, approved by the people’s representatives, establishes a standard for charter approvals and also includes appeals to the county and state, with each taking a fresh look.  So even if Oakland never approved another charter, qualified applicants will be approved on appeal.  And OUSD will have less authority over them.

Let’s take a look at the standard for charter petition approval from 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 county or state will.

So as was recently the case with Aurum Preparatory Academy or even the deeply rooted community based school, Lazear, the district can turn them down, but they get approved at the County.  And what credibility does a district who admits that it doesn’t follow the law and won’t approve any charters, have in working with the county or state during the appeals process–none.

OUSD has less credibility with the County because of this stance and it won’t stop a single deserving charter from being approved.

Why would a wrongly denied charter reintegrate into OUSD

While denying every charter in front of them, some on the Board have been pushing to reintegrate County charters into OUSD.  So let me get this straight, you are going to deny every charter, make them go to the County for approval and then you want them to come back to you and get reauthorized by OUSD.  If someone can explain any logic behind that, please do, and share some of that Cookies Kush you are smoking, cuz I need to lose my mind to try to understand that mess.

So if the goal is to integrate County charters back into OUSD, the tactic of denying every petition is not going to help and will likely hurt.

Denying charters reduces the chance they join Oakland’s SELPA

The last way OUSD has wanted to engage with charters is on special education and integrating more charters into the OUSD special education plan (the SELPA).  This was part of the superintendent’s work plan and could bring up to $10 million in additional revenue to the district.  This could be a win-win.  But there are risks for the charters, and based on history with OUSD, most are risk averse.

If the first interaction with OUSD is being wrongly denied a charter, what kind of partnership is that, and why would you consider taking a risk with that “partner?”  You probably wouldn’t.

Again denying strong charter schools works against the district’s own goals.

Towards a more functional authorizing process

OUSD needs to rethink its moratorium.  It won’t work.  And it undermines legitimate goals of the district.  This is not to deny some of the negative effects on the system from uncoordinated charter school growth, or even some of the very real issues in the Oakland charter school sector around serving the most high needs students.  But a policy of blanket denials won’t help with either of those issues either.

There are two public school sectors operating in Oakland right now, they can ignore each other, go to war, or start to have a better dialogue and cooperation around the issues that really matter to families; quality, equity and access.

A blanket policy of “no” is great theatre for the partisans, but does nothing for kids, and undermines the district’s own interests, not to mention those of families who want the best school for their family regardless of sector.

Oakland deserves better.

Note that I do sit on the Board of Education for Change, which supports several charter schools in Oakland

What do you think?

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