Anti-Charter Bills: California Lawmakers Need to Take Parents Seriously

On Wednesday, April 10, 2019, I had the opportunity to share my testimony, as one of  the witnesses opposing AB 1505. It was an honor to speak on on behalf of parents from across the state. AB 1505 is one of the anti-charter school bills making its way through the California legislature now. It would eliminate the ability of the State Board of Education to approve a charter application after it had been denied by a local school district or a county office of education. In addition, it would give the the districts the ability to look at negative financial impacts of a charter school on a district.

As I sat in front row, waiting for the hearing to begin, the room was full of families in opposition of the bills AB 1505, AB 1506, and AB 1507. AB 1506 caps the number of new charter schools at the current number of charter schools in the state and would only allow a new charter school to open if another one is closed. AB 1507 would delete the authority of a charter to locate outside the jurisdiction or geographic boundaries of the chartering school district.

They were no longer allowing people inside the room, since it was packed! But right before the hearing began, a staff member from the office of Assemblymember O’Donnell walked in with a group of teacher union members, even the security personnel was in shock and wondering why so many people were walking in. When he went to question them, a staff member from Assembly member O’Donnell said that the group was part of their staff. I was amazed that the staff member was allowed to walk in with the group of teacher union members in their red shirts when hundreds of families were outside in line watching from monitors in hallway and did not have the privilege to be allowed to walk into the hearing room since it was “full.” The chair of the assembly education committee, Assembly member O’Donnell, used his power to walk into the hearing room with teacher union members sitting in the front row reserved for legislators and speakers. At that moment, I realized that the chair of the Assembly Education Committee had no intention to listen to the hundreds of families who showed up to oppose the bills.

When it was my turn to sit at the table and share my testimony, I walked up to the table with my youngest daughter, Gianna, who is nine years old. I sat Gianna on my lap, while I shared my testimony. This is what I shared:

“Hi, my name is Lety Gomez, I have three children, one of which has a learning disability. I am also a proud founding parent of a high performing charter school in East San José where my youngest child attends.

My youngest daughter, Gianna, is with me today. We are here to OPPOSE AB 1505.

My neighborhood traditional district school is a K-8 school, and only 16% of students are proficient in Math and 21% are proficient in English! At my daughter’s charter school in the SAME community, 57% of students are proficient in Math and 56% are proficient in English! Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who is my representative of AD 27 has co-authored this bill, even though in his district, 55.8% of students that attend charter schools are eligible to attend a 4-year university compared to ONLY 29.5% of students that attend district schools.

My daughter’s charter school is a top performing school in Alum Rock School District, yet this bill will give power to the local district to deny renewals, based on financial impact on their district instead of looking at academic results.

Giving financial power back to Alum Rock is an injustice to our community when the recent grand jury report found that the district was mismanaging taxpayer dollars. This bill is trying to take away the right to school choice and equal opportunity for communities of color! I cannot afford private school and with the current cost of living, I cannot afford to move in order to find a school that will support my daughter, I will be left with the failing neighborhood school in the east side of San Jose. Why isn’t anyone talking about fixing failing schools? I have been waiting over 30 years for our education system to improve, I cannot continue to wait at the expense of my daughter’s education. We deserve the right to have high quality education options in our community without allowing our zip codes to define our child’s outcome. We need to work TOGETHER for ALL students!

If you vote YES on this bill, you are allowing boards like Alum Rock to do what is in their own interest and not what is in the best interest of student learning. I ask ALL of you to PLEASE, put students and families first and NOT POLITICS. Thank you for allowing me to speak before you today.”

It is a shame that the authors and co-authors of AB1505 and the other divisive bills already had their minds made up and didn’t care to listen to the hundreds of families in opposition. The few who showed up to support bills were members of teacher unions, but the hundreds of those who showed up to oppose bills were families from various backgrounds who oppose these bills. The authors and co-authors of these divisive bills received campaign donations from CTA and since CTA is sponsoring these divisive bills, is it a coincidence that the authors and co-authors didn’t take into account the hundreds and hundreds of families in opposition? I think not! I am truly disappointed in how much politics is involved in our education system!

I would like to thank Assembly member Kiley for standing up against the status quo and for listening to families concerns regarding these bills. During the hearing of the three bills, AB1505, AB1506, AB1507, he asked for clarification and also referenced the Stanford research report, which states that there are greater gains for disadvantaged students in charter schools. Charters serve more economically disadvantaged students and more African American students than traditional district schools. And he also reminded the chair that charters ARE public schools! Assembly member Kiley voted against the divisive bills.

I also would like to thank Assembly member Weber for bringing up important questions during the hearing of the three bills, that need to be addressed to truly improve our education system. Why are parents so interested in charter schools? Why do they choose charters? Why do parents feel a sense of desperation? What are parents finding at charter schools that they are not finding at traditional district schools? She also said accountability in our school system needs to be addressed. Every school in the state needs to be excellent for ALL students. She also noted that the majority of families who showed up to oppose are black and brown. Assembly member Weber did not vote on any of the divisive bills because there isn’t enough information.

The authors and co-authors mentioned that they are working on amendments, two weeks later, I am still waiting to see those amendments. Although the education committee passed the divisive bills, I think we have awoken the sleeping giant to address questions that will truly help to improve our education system. I really hope that the authors and co-authors will listen to parent concerns and collaborate to work together for ALL students.

What do you think?
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Lety Gomez

Lety Gomez

Lety Gómez was born and raised in East San Jose. She is married with three children. She is proud to be the first in her family to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree. When she was a teenager, Fr. Mateo Sheedy was the pastor of her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. She fondly remembers his passion for social justice, especially justice for the immigrant community in San Jose and ensuring that the parish youth had access to high quality education. Fr. Mateo instilled in her his passion for social justice, but for many years it was kept unlit, deep inside of her. It wasn’t until her youngest daughter was enrolled at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in 2014 that her passion for social justice lit up. Thanks to the Rocketship parent organizer at that time, Lety received training and the tools to use her voice for social justice and learned about community organizing. She is proud to be one of the many parents who worked hard to open their school, knowing that the kids needed and deserved a better public school. That struggle is why they named their school Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. “Fuerza” is the Spanish word for force, strength, or power. Her passion for advocating for equity in education has allowed her to be a voice for other parents in her community who seek high quality education options. In 2014, she chaired the first parent-led Mayoral candidates forum in San Jose, where she realized the power parents have to create change in their communities. She wants to share her story with other parents in an effort to motivate them to get involved so they can advocate together, because united, they can make a change in the educational system and in their communities. In 2020 Lety moved to Texas, where she continues to advocate for equity in public education and school choice across our country.

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