Anaheim School Board Calls for Statewide Moratorium on Charter Schools

Editor's note: Across the country, a coalition of billionaires and entrepreneurs has been promoting and imposing charter schools on the traditional public school system. These schools are funded by taxpayers but are run like private corporations--for profit, in secrecy, with little transparency and public accountability. They typically over-emphasize tests, oppose teachers' unions and have been given authority by states and counties to ignore locally elected school boards. In December, the elected high school district board in the southern California city of Anaheim published the following op-ed calling on the state to suspend sanctioning new charter schools.

In 1813, towards the end of their extraordinary lives, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams exchanged a series of remarkable letters reflecting on the meaning of the American Revolution, and as Jefferson said, it all came down to, “Whether the power of the people or that of the aristocracy should prevail.”

Today, over 200 years later, billionaires are asserting their will over our public schools, institutions that Jefferson believed were necessary to uphold the foundation of democracy. And today, wealthy and disconnected elites -- the “1 percent” -- have successfully lobbied elected officials to pass overly permissive laws allowing “charter” schools, many of which operate on a business model whose main goal is to make money.

Although there is nothing wrong with making money, when it comes to public education, our children should be our first priority. Yet while charter school proponents may say they care about kids, many operate in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.

So we respectfully ask the public to consider: if kids really come first, why are charter schools continuing to hide their funding, ownership and financial relationships? Why not agree to the same accountability policies as public schools – policies that would build public trust?

Yet time after time, charter schools have refused.

For example: they won’t allow open access to financials, including budgets and salaries, even though they spend public money, just like public schools do. Charter schools are not required to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests, as required by other public entities. There's little oversight to ensure that children are protected from asbestos and lead as required of public schools. And why aren’t charters required to have local boards so parents have access to real decision makers? Why aren’t there accountability measures for keeping (not just enrolling) all kids (including children with disabilities, English learners and children with social and emotional needs) in charter schools?

And finally, why do most charters not include teachers in decisions like governance that actually model democratic values? The loopholes make it apparent: laws governing charter schools were written to circumvent accountability so that the profit motive could be fully realized.

Let’s be clear: Competition and choices for parents are good things.

Public schools deserve their share of scrutiny and criticism.

The Anaheim Union High School District is the home of eight state Gold Ribbon schools, nine US News and World Report Gold, Silver and Bronze high school awards, Two Golden Bell awards, a P21 exemplar school, and one National Blue Ribbon school.

We welcome the competition from charter school organizations but also believe that there needs to be a fair playing field.

The Anaheim Union High School District is currently addressing requests from two charter schools, Vista Charter, which operates schools in LAUSD and recently opened in Santa Ana, and Magnolia Science Academy, which has several schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and also recently opened in Santa Ana Unified School District. Vista Charter has a dubious record even in charter friendly LAUSD. They already had one school shut down and the other has a 47% truancy rate; yet, the now charter friendly Orange County Board of Education is letting them move into Santa Ana.

OCBOE has in fact doubled the number of charters in the county and is led by a board president Robert Hammond, who believes in handing over control of our public schools to private organizations, and is moving forward approving just about all charters including ones like EPIC, which is currently under investigation for fraud in Oklahoma.

Moreover, the fact that OCBOE has authority to grant charters without the consent of local school boards undermines the concept of "local control" and makes a mockery of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) as required under new state funding formulas.

But if that were not enough, the Magnolia Science Academy is part of one of the largest charter operators in America, and according to an expose on 60 Minutes, is overseen by Fethullah Gulen, a wealthy Turkish national who controls an international chain of Gulen schools. The 60 Minutes piece exposed the fact that taxpayer money—hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide—is being funneled into the pockets of Turkish foreign nationals in the form of contracts for building schools and hiring teachers. At the same time, Gulen’s financial health and practices have been called into question and investigated by local and state agencies.

The USA though, because of lax charter laws that favor privatization, is the only country in the world that allows public taxpayer money to fund schools operated by foreign nationals. Although the Gulen officials insist there is no ill intent, enough questions have been raised about Magnolia Charter School operations that it is a prime example of why we need a temporary moratorium on charter schools now. All Californians should demand an immediate halt to approval of charter schools until the laws are fixed and accountability is restored.

This is a fight to preserve our public schools, to fight for the future of our children and to uphold our democratic values. As another great patriot and contemporary of Jefferson and Adams, Thomas Paine, said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

So today, we are asking Orange County residents to stand with our children and call for an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools at all levels until there is transparency and accountability on par with public schools.

Michael Matsuda, Superintendent, Anaheim Union High School Distric

Al Jabbar, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Brian O' Neal, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Anna Piercy, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Kathy Smith, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

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