I am vocal about my support for charter schools because of the choice, accountability, and innovation they represent. They should continue to be a top priority at the State Capitol. Families living in neighborhoods across our state, those with limited opportunities and those searching for choice, realize charter schools offer what could be their best hope to attain a high quality education for their children. In fact, I have one child in a public charter school and another child in traditional public school, and having the choice has provided what my children need.
Charters schools are a unique, positive element of California’s public educational system. The state authorized the creation of these schools in response to parents who demanded more educational options for their children. The growth of charter schools has steadily increased. As of fall 2012, more than 1,000 charter schools across the state serve more than 484,000 students. Charter schools operate in diverse school districts focusing on the needs of children in both affluent and economically disadvantaged communities.
The success of the charter school movement can be traced to its basics. They are designed and governed by the community they serve, instead of a distant authority. They have more flexibility to design curriculum, to instruct students, and to be free from many of the burdensome mandates that impair traditional schools. Most importantly, charter schools have to respond to parent concerns given that parents have the “right of exit,” to take their children to another school should they find the school unsatisfactory. The system provides accountability for the school along with real choices for the parents.
Despite its successes, California’s charter school movement faces opposition from several areas. In the past, legislators have introduced proposals that would hamper or strip charter schools of important tools essential to their unique status. While the worst of these proposals did not become law, one should not be surprised if legislators try to push these proposals again this year. Charters are held to a “higher” standard. For example, in 2003, AB 1137 was passed which requires charter schools to show a certain level of academic performance to have their charters renewed. Why isn’t a certain level of performance mandated for each public school too?
Nevertheless, the state has made important progress for the charter movement. As a member of the State Allocation Board, I helped convince my board colleagues to make available almost $29 million in bond sale proceeds not only for design and site acquisition, but also to allow charter schools to use those funds on construction costs. This will help build the facilities that many charter schools need to grow.
Like other schools, charter schools face challenges of their own. Some fail to live up to expectations while others simply fail to deliver. There is no question that the charter school community must lead the way on accountability and demand results. The California Charter School Association recommended closing 10 charter schools that were failing kids. Public charter schools are subject to the truest test of accountability from their parents. No amount of oversight can ever replace that accountability factor.
In the months ahead, I will do everything I can to support the charter school movement in the Legislature. I am hopeful that my colleagues can come together to help charter schools succeed because numerous communities have seen the positive change charter schools have made. After all, public education choice and excellence are neither Democrat nor Republican issues. Let us make 2013 the best year yet for charters schools and the students they serve.