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Thomas Ultican teaches high school mathematics and physics in San Diego, in a school where more than 50% of the students are English language learners and 75% are Title I. In this article, he calls for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter sector in California. That state happens to have more charter schools and more students in charters than any other state. This is no accident. The charter school legislation is extremely permissive. If a charter applicant is turned down by the local district’s board of education, he can appeal to the county board of education. If he is turned down by the county board of education, he can appeal to the state, which does not review the reasons that the local board rejected the application. If the applicant has trouble writing his application, he can turn to the California Charter Schools Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. Its staff will help newcomers develop a proposal that it is likely to get adopted somewhere along the line.
California has had many charter scandals, financial and academic. The charter schools are virtually unsupervised, as the state lacks the administrative staff to watch what they are doing. The charter schools claim to be “public schools” when they seek funding but they are exempt from many laws and regulations that apply to public schools. When a couple of charter operators were indicted for misappropriation of funds, the California Charter Schools Association filed an amicus brief, which contended that charters are not really public schools and not subject to the same criminal laws as public employees. The charter operators are “private entities.” Their plea failed; the couple were convicted and sent to jail.
Ultican lists the reasons why a moratorium is past due. The sector is growing “explosively,” without transparency or accountability. Schools open quickly, but at the same time, other charter schools fold, creating instability in the lives of their students. The charter industry is riddled with fraud and profiteering.
Ultican quotes distinguished professor Gene V. Glass, who wrote:
“A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.”
Let’s heed the words of real experts. It is time to put a halt to the privatization of public education long enough to see what we have wrought before we do further damage.