The Blog at CTA

Access, Accountability are Key Issues for California Charter Schools, Legislative Staff Learn

Dr. Michelle Renee, an Annenberg Institute of School Reform researcher, tells California legislators’ staff members at an informational briefing Friday that charter schools are public schools that should be open to all state youngsters. The briefing was hosted by CTA, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Labor Federation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Public Advocates.

More than 26 staff members of California lawmakers took part in a Friday morning briefing at CTA’s Governmental Relations Building in Sacramento to learn more about the challenges facing charter schools, students seeking to learn in them, and teachers seeking to teach in them.

Dr. Michelle Renee, the Associate Director of the Annenberg Institute of School Reform at Brown University, spelled out for the staffers the issues swirling around charter schools. “Public education is a public good, and all children should have equal access,” the researcher said. Then she cited growing numbers of reports that youngsters who are costly to educate – including children from low income homes, children of color, and children whose native language is not English—are being “counseled” out of the schools.

Dr. Renee cited the need for transparency, oversight, accountability, guaranteed access, and anti-discrimination enforcement at the state’s charter schools.

More information about her findings can be found in a 2014 report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform entitled "Public Accountability for Charter Schools."

Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, told legislative staff about the institute’s research on the California Virtual Academy (CAVA), noting that the ostensible non-profit owning organization pays multi-million dollars to its corporate executives and siphons funds out of the underfunded individual sites.

 

Three CTA teachers at CAVA – from r. Debbie Scoltock, an algebra and geometry high school teacher; Sara Vigrass, an elementary teacher; and Jen Shilen, a social sciences teacher – told the legislative staff they were committed to telling the story about CAVA because change is needed.

“Students are not getting the education they deserve and teachers are having problems trying to teach,” Jen Shilen testified.

“Student success is secondary to profits, and voicing concerns is dangerous at an ‘at will’ institution,” Sara Vigrass said. Teachers have been fired, not renewed, or had their assignments reduced because of their advocacy.

She said the teachers had voted overwhelmingly to form a union so that they could speak out for their students.

Even now, CAVA is fighting the formation of the union.

In addition to helping the CAVA teachers form a chapter and using state law to protect them, CTA is also working with legislators to make needed legal changes in oversight and transparency at charter schools.

A number of bills have been introduced recently, including legislation by Assembly Member Mike Gipson (D-Compton) and Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). CTA has worked with Assembly Member Gipson on AB 709, a bill that would explicitly state that charter schools are subject to open meeting and other transparency requirements in current law.

CTA is working with Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), whose SB 322 would, among other things, require charter schools to report rapidly on loss of students and to track and report teacher turnover, a disruption that harms the education process.

During his presentation, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at CSU Sacramento, reported that many charter schools are minimizing the enrollment of migrant students, students with special needs, and other more costly to educate students. The CSU professor said many charters can avoid dealing with bilingual students simply but not advertising in Spanish language publications or television stations.

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