The latest poll numbers are in on charters, and they show a nuanced and thoughtful electorate, that defy the us versus them mentality of the two main combatants in the public school wars and their politicians. This is encouraging and points towards some policy solutions.
According to the poll,
Californians hold mixed views on charter schools, with 49 percent of adults in favor and 46 percent opposed. Support is somewhat higher among public school parents, with 59 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (51%) and whites (50%) are more likely than Asian Americans (43%) and African Americans (36%) to favor charter schools in general.
Overwhelming majorities (75% adults, 81% public school parents) say it is very important or somewhat important for parents in low-income areas to have the option of sending their children to charter schools. However, 64 percent of adults and 75 percent of public school parents say they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about charters diverting state funding away from traditional local public schools. Majorities of adults across all regions express this view, with those in Los Angeles (71%) being the most likely to express concern.
These results reflect the nuanced views of most voters. Underserved parents need better options, and voters also worry that districts pay a cost when parents choose. Unlike the ideologues on either side, the average voter can hold two thoughts at once. And those thoughts don’t need to be in conflict.
How “Transitional Aid” to Districts can Help
So, if voters and particularly public school parents want charters, are there ways to minimize the financial impact that parents choosing public charter schools have on districts? Fortunately, there are, and rather that indulging in the public school wars that have wracked the state, our legislators should look at ways to create a truce. One such way is “transitional aid.”
School districts are built to grow and not shrink. As districts like Oakland lose students, from 60,000 students at its height to the present 36,000, they struggle to balance budgets, reduce central office, and the overall footprint in line with the students served. Case and point, OUSD. However, states like NY provide additional funding for a limited time to districts that lost students to help them through that transition. California could do the same. We could support underserved families in finding the best school for heir child and avoid the year to year financial impact on districts from those choices.
This still requires the districts to then make some hard decisions, but it gives them some runway to plan and transition. Which is much preferred over our current cycle of annual cuts in OUSD and often midyear ones as well.
California does need to take a hard look at its charter law. And we should be trying to end the public school wars, with all the associated wasted resources, and children and educators in the crossfire. Transitional aid is one place to start, and based on the polling data, I think the public would agree.