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Jane Nylund, a parent activist in Oakland, wrote this incisive overview of charter frauds in her district and submitted it to the Task Force reviewing the California charter law. Please copy and forward to the Task Force at:
For fifteen years as a parent, volunteer, and employee of Oakland Unified, I’ve been witness to what is now a full blown privatization movement in Oakland under our “portfolio district” model. A movement designed to crush our real public schools and privatize them; a movement to close our schools and gentrify our neighborhoods. A movement to allow outside interests and corporations to feed at the trough. And the current laws in California that allow this to happen, unchecked and unfettered. And the absolute failure of any of it to collectively improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.
The time for this damaging experiment on our children is over. Stop clutching at the billionaires’ purse strings, while at the same time declaring that more choice is the answer. Here’s why it isn’t.
Choice in Oakland-Do you want fries with that?
What does choice in Oakland mean? The model here isn’t much different than saturating the poor neighborhoods with cheap fast food. Oh, there’s choice all right-McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, or Taco Bell. Plenty of choice, take your pick. How about a nice juicy steak? Forget it, you don’t need that choice, but here’s some other choices for you. Poor nutrition that fills you temporarily, but ends up starving you of any real sustenance. Saturating neighborhoods with charter schools is the same business model. I heard an East Oakland resident say, in a public meeting, that charter schools were like having drug dealers on every corner. Keepin’ it real….
Scandals? You want ’em, we got ’em
Scandal #1-American Indian Charter
The CEO of AIMS, Ben Chavis stole $3.8M from his schools in rent and paid it to his own leasing company which held the leases for his own schools. Self-dealing Gone Wild. He is in jail in North Carolina awaiting trial for money laundering and mail fraud. You’d think the school would be shut down after that? Nope, the school board wilted under the facade of those amazing test scores, gamed in part by shutting out African Americans and SPED from the AIMS schools, as well as having obscenely high rates of attrition.
Scandal #2-Bay Area Technology School
A Gulen school run by Turkish teachers and a Turkish school board. In a squabble worthy of a B-rated movie, the principal was forced out but somehow managed to flee to Australia with $400,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars in his pocket. Nice gig if you can get it.
Scandal #3-Oakland School for the Arts
Full disclosure-I’m a huge arts supporter, and I know plenty of parents who support the school and who have kids there. It’s not the program; it’s the enrollment policy. OSA is an experiment in what happens when a school supported by our former governor is allowed to select its own student body. OSA is now the second wealthiest school in Oakland and has virtually no ELL. How can that possibly happen when the school has a lottery? Easy. You have the kids do an audition and allow the kids into the lottery based on the results of the audition. Private schools do that. Is it discriminatory? Yes, the ACLU said as much. Does it violate charter law? Yes. Has anyone done anything about it. No, because of big $$$ and the support of Jerry Brown and Friends. Alternatively, Jerry could have supported more arts funding in public schools instead of opening OSA. Food for thought….
Scandal #4-Castlemont Junior Academy and Primary Academy
This was a script that practically wrote itself. Open charters right next door to the neighborhood elementary, Parker. Next, install a OUSD board member, James Harris on the charter board, as well as Yana Smith, the wife of former OUSD Chief of Schools Allen Smith. While it might have been legal, the perceived conflict of interest was breathtaking. Lastly, watch in amazement as the charters implode a few months later, due to low enrollment. Parker, the real public school has to enroll approx. 85 children from the elementary charter mid-year. It doesn’t get more disruptive than that. Startup funding? Gone….
Scandal #5-Aspire Eres and the annexing of the Derby Parcel
When Reed Hastings says “Jump!”, Aspire says, “How high?” Aspire, in a bid to purchase city-owned public land for charter school expansion, tried to negotiate a backroom deal with the city. The expansion had not even been approved by the school board, but that’s okay because Reed Hastings doesn’t like elected school boards anyway. They just get in the way of his personal business. Public school activists found out, organized the public, pushed back hard, and thwarted the deal.
Scandal #6-the 100% Grad Rate myth
This is one of my personal favorites because of the inevitable comparison of district schools’ to charter schools’ performance. How many more times do we need to see grad rates/test scores stats tossed around on social media, popping up like so many toxic mushrooms. How can a charter school claim 100% (or close to it) grad rates when they lose 40, 50, or 60% of their children in high school? Easy, charters typically don’t backfill. Real public schools backfill; they fill that seat as soon as a student wants it, at any time. Any student, not just the easy ones.
Scandal #7-Charters are superior to district schools because of their amazing test scores! (Marketing 101)
See Scandal #6. Until charters can claim that they educate the same number of FRPL, ELL, and SPED kids, and also have the same number of suspensions/attrition, there is no valid or fair comparison here. The student populations served (or not) are usually significantly different.
Scandal #8-the “rightsizing” myth
Portfolio models “rightsize” (translation:downsize) by closing mostly district schools. But the schools don’t close; they are privatized into charters via Prop 39. Out of 18 of the last Oakland district school closures, 14 were converted to charters. This scandal illustrates the utter lack of local control on any charter openings/closings. Easy to open, nearly impossible to close, favoring charter growth by design. OUSD admitted that closing schools doesn’t save money, and yet they (Walton/Bloomberg-bought board) push the narrative constantly. It’s a mantra that’s growing stale but refuses to die.
Scandal #9-the “high demand” for charters myth
See Scandal #8. How to create demand? Close your neighborhood elementary schools, which then feed into the middle schools (demand dries up there as well). Then, open a charter right near these same schools. Doesn’t take a genius to see how that will turn out. Ask the students at Roots International how they feel about their neighborhood school closure. But our charter-friendly ($$$) school board fully supports this portfolio model; there are charters right around the corner that former Roots students can attend instead. Instant charter demand creation.
The fact that all these scandals exist at all, and that public school advocates, as well as tenacious local reporters, have to do the important work of digging up the information and presenting it to the public. This is what accountability looks like in Oakland and the rest of California. We are getting tired of doing the job that the Office of Charter Schools is supposed to be doing, but doesn’t. And this list is far from exhaustive; it’s likely just the tip of the iceberg, because of the lack of transparency.
Our school district loses $57M a year to unfettered charter expansion. It’s time to get back to some no-nonsense approaches to this problem such as real local control, as well as including impact to district finances. Charter schools don’t have the right to expand just because it’s what the Waltons and Reed Hastings want. The Waltons don’t send their children to Oakland public schools. District schools aren’t offered the same expansion opportunity and if they were, Oakland Technical would be the size of a small college by now. This failed experiment on our most vulnerable children must end, and I implore the task force to make the recommendations that will serve the needs of ALL students and stop supporting an agenda that clearly favors charter expansion, the theft of taxpayers’ dollars, and not much else. The time is now, and if not now, when?
Thank you for your attention in this matter.