Why Are California Legislators Trying to Take Away High Quality Educational Options from Brown and Black Students?

On Wednesday, April 10th, I flew to Sacramento to attend the Assembly Education Hearing that was taking place that afternoon. That morning I arrived at Burbank airport at 7:00 AM with a group of parents from my community. There were several charter school parents and advocates from Los Angeles, on this flight. Later that same day, we were flying back to Burbank approximately 12 hours later. At first, this might seem like a crazy thing to do, right? For a parent to fly back and forth in one day, and on a school day!? I never imagined this would be a norm for me. Making this happen with a school aged child is not easy, but thankfully I have a supportive family and a flexible schedule. But for many parents to make this happen, they have to take an unpaid day off of work. And the reason many parents, like myself, have felt they had to do this, is to protect their child’s civil right to a high quality public education.

This is the third time I have flown to Sacramento for the day, to advocate for a bill that I was either opposing or supporting, but usually opposing. The first time was last January when a group of parents went to oppose another bill that would have greatly hurt the charter community. The bill was known as “The Charter Killer”, this bill SB808, would have taken away a school’s right to appeal, if their charter petition was denied or not renewed. Under SB 808, a charter school could also be denied its five-year renewal or be closed down, if it was considered a financial burden and/or created competition to the district. It didn’t matter how well the school was performing or how high the test scores were, it could be closed down. And many families would be forced to send their children to their neighborhood schools, which in most cases are not performing well. Actually, this sounds a lot like AB 1505, the same Assembly Bill I was opposing that Wednesday! So it’s a year later, and here we are fighting the same threats. To say that I am frustrated would definitely be an understatement. It’s time to start listening to parents.

Instead of talking about WHY families have chosen charters in the first place, and the severely underperforming schools that drove them there, we continue to scapegoat charter schools as the source of all of the ‘district school’s’ problems. There are numerous challenges that district schools are facing up and down the state. Under enrollment is one that I have heard a lot of people talking about recently, and they are saying that charter schools are to blame. Why are we not talking about all of the other things causing under enrollment? Probably because it’s easier to just blame the competition instead of examining under funding, the skyrocketing cost of pension and health benefit commitments, historically low birth rates, private schools, unreasonable cost of living, and immigration issues have also contributed in significant ways.

After the LA Teacher’s strike, the Los Angeles Board of Education called for the state to do a study on the impact of charter school growth. Since that resolution passed in January, Governor Newsom put Superintendent Thurmond in charge of putting together a task force to conduct this study. The panel consists of 11 people, including four charter leaders and advocates. The task force’s study is due July 1st. The pending report prompts my biggest question. Why are we trying to pass legislation that would greatly affect charter schools, if the study to find the impacts of charter schools isn’t ready yet? We are completely undermining our Governor’s work, work that we asked him to do. If you are meeting with your elected officials to oppose these bills, mention this to them. Truth be told, we really should be waiting for the study so we can review the findings. Then we would hopefully be informed enough to come up with fair compromises, to close loopholes that some are taking advantage of, in order to reform charter law. When we work together on legislation, we can find compromise. For example, SB 126 was recently passed with the unions and the charter association’s blessing.

Since the passing of LA Unified’s “symbolic” Charter Cap Resolution in January, a slew of new anti-charter bills have been rushed through the capitol. There is a package of Assembly bills that were originally one large bill written by CTA (California’s Teachers Association). Because there weren’t any Assembly Members who wanted to take on this pile of poisonous legislation, it was broken into four, now three separate bills (AB 1505, AB 1506, and AB 1507). Not to mention the fact that the four of the authors of these Assembly Bills, make up six of the Assembly Education Committees’ members. It’s a lot easier to pass bills through the first step, which is the Assembly Education Committee, when more than half of the committee has “authored” the bills. What also concerns me is how quickly these bills are being rushed through both houses. They have both passed through the Education Committees in the Assembly and Senate, even though there were many questions left unanswered in both Education Committees.

On the day of the Assembly Education Committee hearing, many opposers lined up outside the boardroom three to four hours before it started. This was the only way to make sure that you would make it inside. Thankfully the group I traveled with did and we were let into the boardroom an hour before the hearing started. Right before the hearing was ready to start, the members of the committee started to get ready, when suddenly a staffer from Assemblyman O’Donnell brought in a group of about 20 CTA members to sit in the front two rows, on the floor of the boardroom. I found out later that the staffer told security that they were ALL members of the Assemblyman’s staff, when they clearly weren’t. I am not a fan of double standards. And it was really upsetting for all of us who waited outside in an extremely hot humid crowded hallway, to see exceptions being made for this group. I shouldn’t be surprised since I’ve seen this numerous times at local LAUSD Board Meetings.

When O’Donnell gave his remarks as to why he felt his bill, AB 1505 was necessary, he simply referenced headlines from recent newspaper articles. Is this how we pass legislation now? We simply read off headlines that favor our argument? If that’s the case, I could reference several articles that contradict his case. Assemblywoman Shirley Webber was one of the committee members that was asking a lot of relevant questions. Questions like, “Why do so many parents feel so desperate for a charter?” Parents have told her that they see this as “the only hope they have and the only answer they have.” She also said that she will continue to ask the question, “what is best for kids?” I believe that is why she abstained from voting that day, because she felt what is being presented, is not what’s best for kids. Assemblywoman Webber has been a longtime advocate for closing the African American achievement gap.

At the end of the day, what this boils down to is our child’s civil right to a fair and equitable public education; it’s being threatened. Why are we attempting to go backwards, when we have made so much progress? Maybe because this is another example of systemic racism. Many children of color are finally getting a fair opportunity, so why are some trying to take that away from them? Because the status quo doesn’t want change. When you take away the colored t-shirts and organization designations, what you probably saw at these hearings is what everybody saw, and that was white teacher, after white teacher, after white teacher supporting these bills. And in the opposition, you saw every color of the rainbow and representation from every age group advocating for the students. It took a total of two hours for over 500 hundred people to oppose the Assembly bills. There were grandparents, parents, students, teachers, counselors, admin staff, leaders/principals, & community members, from all different cultural backgrounds. Most parents opposing were Latinos and African Americans; however, there were many other ethnicities present.

Another example of this diversity was the ‘Stand For All Students Rally’ that took place on the State Capitol steps in March. Over 8,000 families from all over the state took cars, buses, and planes, as they headed towards the capitol to advocate for more funding for all students in California. Not just charter school students, all students. But what I’d really rather be doing with my time and energy is talking about the school to prison pipeline. Rather than constantly having to fight for the right for my daughter’s school to simply exist, we should be talking about how much is spent per prisoner every year, compared to what is paid per student in public funding every year. And we should be talking about the for-profit private corporations that operate these facilities. They are the real privatizers.

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Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario

Roxann Nazario is a single parent living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Born and mostly raised in the San Fernando Valley, Roxann experienced her own struggles as a student in LAUSD, growing up in North Hollywood. Roxann pushed through her struggles in school and right after high school she attended The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles, where she received her Associate’s Degree in Interior Design. Roxann made sure to play an active role in her daughter’s education, by becoming an active parent volunteer. From field trips, to book fairs, to starting a new parent group called, Parent Voice, at her daughter’s school. Wanting to get more involved and make a difference, she began to get civilly engaged in local elections by organizing parents in her community. Roxann is now a Parent Engagement Coordinator with Speak UP, where she works with parents in LAUSD’s Board District 3 and 6. Roxann recently became a Board Member on the Sylmar Neighborhood Council. And she proudly represents her Assembly District 39, in the California Democratic Party. Roxann has been a blogger with La Comadre for two years and she is grateful to be a part of the La Comadre Network.

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