It’s time to fix Prop 39

By Kimi Kean

Let’s get this straight from the start: charter public schools are public schools. That’s state law.

Oakland charter school students are Oakland public school students, and their demographics reflect the district’s: more than 7 out of 10 receive free/reduced lunch, more than 1 out of 3 are English Language Learners and 8 of 10 are students of color.

These families aren’t part of a billionaire’s conspiracy to privatize education. These are parents of some of Oakland’s most vulnerable children and they want what any parent wants: quality school options and a safe place where their child can learn and grow. They deserve that.

Families who choose charter public schools for their children definitely deserve quality school facilities. It’s on the school district to provide that. “Public school facilities should be shared fairly among all public school pupils, including charter schools,” California education code clearly states. It’s part of a compromise known as Prop 39.

End of story? Sadly, just the beginning.

Instead of being treated fairly and equitably charter schools and their families get the leftovers. Their families, educators and board members are told to go elsewhere when there is nowhere else to go. They are vilified and doxed by factions supported by the teachers’ union and more affluent parents who live in Oakland’s toniest zip codes and can buy their way into quality schools for their children. Yet they protest against charters, claiming “Oakland is Not for Sale.”

If this doesn’t sound fair, it’s because it isn’t. It’s calculated and cynical politics that puts the demands of adults before what’s best for children.

Prop 39 no doubt has its issues. But it is rooted in equity. Sharing facilities with charter schools doesn’t cost the school district any money, as is often falsely claimed by detractors. “School districts may charge a charter school a pro-rata share of the facilities costs,” according to the state education code.

OUSD is one of the largest landowners in Oakland, a multigenerational asset charters don’t have. It has excess space, which is backed up by an Alameda County Grand Jury report. Because of Prop 39, school districts only need 55 percent of the vote to pass a school construction bond measure instead of needing to reach the much more difficult threshold of 2/3. So the existence of charter public schools makes it easier for a school district to build schools. The trade-off is it needs to share.

Yet “sharing” often means multi-site offers for charter schools, requiring one school to send kids to multiple locations. At these locations, charter school staff and supporters are often vilified by factions of the teachers union who hold aggressive protests. Lately, these same factions have published the names and addresses of charter school board members, a doxing campaign straight out of the alt-right playbook.

It is wrong that charter public school students are treated like second-class citizens. Charters are not included in OUSD’s citywide blueprint, which identifies where the district needs more quality schools. Instead of engaging in hard work to make facilities more equitable for all students, charters instead are told to take the scraps, and then thrown to the wolves. It happens every year, and charters are just expected to grin and bear it.

Public officials, we need you to step up and lead. Prop 39 is well-intentioned, but its implementation in Oakland has been challenging for all of us. Some groups choose to in-fight rather than look for collective solutions. There are better ways, and attempting to pit families and educators against one another should not be one of them. The only way to fix this is to work together to find a better way, so public school students from some of our most vulnerable families aren’t the ones paying the heftiest price.

Kimi Kean has been a teacher, principal and systems leader in both district and charter schools in Oakland, California for 20 years. She is the cofounder and project lead for Families in Action for Quality Education, a coalition that works to ensure greater access to quality public schools in East Oakland.

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