By California Legislator Kevin Kiley
Few things at the Capitol surprise me anymore. But what happened last week was a nuclear event.
Gov. Newsom has routinely put special interests before kids, so I expected he’d use the COVID crisis to advance their agenda. But no one expected anything as vicious as the attack on students, families, and teachers he dropped at the 11th hour of the budget process.
Without public input, Gov. Newsom eviscerated the one meaningful driver of school quality in California. A long-time equity advocate put it this way: “In my 30 years of close involvement in the state budget process, I’ve never witnessed such an egregious abuse.”
What the Governor’s “trailer” bill does is straightforward: it stops schools that enroll new students from receiving funding for them. This is unprecedented, as funding has always followed the student in our public school system. That’s why it’s called “per pupil.”
This is obviously harmful for growing communities, and hurts school districts that attract families to the community by serving students well. But it’s most devastating for charter schools – and that’s the point.
Charters are public schools that aren’t assigned students in the surrounding neighborhood, as traditional schools are. They aren’t assigned any students. They have to attract families to opt-in with a desirable product.
With this latest attack, Gov. Newsom has effectively stopped charter schools from enrolling new students. That’s a big problem, because many charters have seen rapid growth this year after pioneering successful distance learning models.
Some have enrolled hundreds of new students for the coming school year, and those kids will now be sent back to their neighborhood school. In many underserved communities, this means going back to the failing school they were trying to escape from.
For good measure, the bill also bars non-classroom-based charters from billions in federal coronavirus relief, an invidious act of discrimination I condemned on the Assembly Floor.
The reason Gov. Newsom dislikes charters is because unionization is voluntary, not automatic – meaning less revenue for the large, corporate-like union conglomerates that spent millions getting him elected. It doesn’t matter that charters have proven to be the best hope for many underprivileged kids.
Last year, in a move condemned by civil rights groups, he signed a package of bills specifically designed to cripple charters, particularly AB 1505.
The Urban Leagues of Greater Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles described the bills as “a direct attack to the ability of African American parents to choose the best education possible for their children,” adding: “It is not fair to African American families to take away public charter schools and force them back into failing district-run schools.”
Three chapters of the NAACP passed a Resolution stating that “African American families are more likely to choose public charter schools” and that “African American students enrolled in public charter schools achieve academic outcomes exceeding their peers in district-run schools.”
California has staggering and ignominious achievement gaps. We rank 47th in fourth-grade math, 46th in fourth-grade reading, and 46th in fourth-grade science. We do even worse when it comes to kids who are in poverty.
Thanks to Gov. Newsom, we’ll now be in the running for 50th.
*I am Vice Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. You can receive my new posts by email.