To promote school choice with parents, the Orange County Board of Education hosted a public forum aimed at “Strengthening California’s Charter Schools at the Local and State Level,” featuring a panel discussion among experts and policy makers. September 20.
All five board members have been strong advocates for charter schools. The board also serves as an appeal board when an application to open a new charter school is denied by the school board of a local school district.
In addition to dispelling misconceptions about charter schools, the panel provided suggestions on how to improve and support these schools in the county through legislation and public policy.
“The purpose of this forum is to inform our community of the successes and effectiveness of public charter schools…to highlight some of the misunderstandings and myths, and [to] shine a light on the realities of what public charter schools can do in our communities,” said board chair Lisa Sparks at a press conference preceding the forum.
Moderated by former State Senator Bob Huff, the panel included former State Senator Gloria Romero and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, both supporters of parental choice in education; Ricardo Soto, general counsel for the California Charter Schools Association; Lance Izumi, Senior Director of the Pacific Research Institute Education Center; and Walter Myers, assistant professor of theology at the University of Biola.
Common Misconceptions: Admission, Funding, Demographics
Myers said a common misconception about charter schools is that they “drain money from traditional public schools,” which he says “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” because schools at charter are also public schools, if not the best ones.
“Rather than a competitor to traditional public schools, charter schools are more of a model of how public school systems can better meet student needs,” he said.
Myers said charter schools produce better academic results because they can lose their license if they are unable to serve their students effectively.
For Izumi, it’s a rumor that charter schools’ best performance comes from a highly selective admissions process, as many of their students come from underprivileged backgrounds.
“There are people who believe that charter schools select the best students and that’s why they can perform well, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “It’s often the charter schools that work the hardest to educate the state’s most at-risk children, many of them dropouts from the public school system or homeless youth…trying to escape the families victims of abuse, violence and crime.”
Soto agreed, pointing out that statewide, charter school demographics mirror the population of traditional public schools.
“Especially in some of our more disadvantaged communities, charter school students reflect the communities where those schools are located,” Soto said.
According to Soto, among students attending charter schools, 56 percent are low-income, 52 percent are Hispanic, 15 percent are learning English, 10 percent are students with disabilities, and 7 percent are black.
Help charter schools by working with parents and cutting red tape
Jorge Valdes, the newest board member appointed to the board in August, said a big concern for charter schools was insufficient facilities, based on his finding after spending the last month visiting schools of his district.
He asked the panel how the council could help charter schools work through their local councils to get the facilities they need.
In response, Kiley said teamwork between council and parents can effectively push for policy changes in city governments.
“If you mobilize enough parents [who live in the district], you will have an impact,” Kiley said. “[That] tends to make decision-makers see things a little differently.
Romero — who co-authored a state law in 2010 allowing parents of students at an underperforming school to convert the school to an independent charter school — criticized the current school opening process chartered, claiming it has become a “niche industry”. ”
She said “it often takes so much bureaucracy and legalese” that consultants can charge up to $100,000 to help draft a petition for a charter school.
The former state senator suggested the board make it more feasible for grassroots groups to start new charter schools by creating a donor fund for those institutions or connecting groups with resources through the California Charter School Association.
Romero also suggested getting rid of the board’s requirement for these groups to file a memorandum of understanding, since the state does not require a charter school to be opened.
Data from the state Department of Education showed a nearly 7% increase in enrollment at Orange County charter schools over the past year, from 20,861 students over the past year. 2020-2021 school year to 22,295 students the following school year.
It’s also a 15% jump from pre-pandemic enrollment of 18,893 students in the 2018-19 school year.
Orange County is home to 35 charter schools that serve more than 21,000 students, according to the board’s website.