In a rare break from scapegoating homeless people, the San Francisco Chronicle recently followed the money web in the heated Scott Wiener vs. Jane Kim state Senate race. They noted the almost $800,000 various charter school groups had funneled to, among others, Equality California, to drag Kim.
Equality California are the legendary bumblers who lost Proposition 8 in California by failing to anticipate opposition and squandering campaign resources by dispatching volunteers to the Castro, home to some of the savviest voters in the universe, to exhort them to vote no on not gay marriage. Their slogan should be, “Scott Weiner, brought to you by the folks who made gay people needlessly wait an extra five years to get married.”
The Chronicle quoted Richard Garcia of the Charter Schools Association Advocates, who said, “Mr. Wiener has the greater ability to effect positive growth for students in San Francisco and not be a proponent of status quo agendas.” It’s hard to imagine a more meaningless soundbite. What does positive growth mean? No one supports the status quo in public education, even if they oppose charter schools. For example, I support desegregation, overhauling Proposition 13, and hiking taxes on the rich to fund good schools for everyone.
But the bigger question, which the Chronicle declined to ask, was WHY do charter school lobbyists care about Wiener? It’s not hard to figure out why tech or real estate or Ron Conway do. But why charter schools?
This year, charter school organizations have spent $9 million statewide to elect a dozen pro-charter Democrats to the Legislature. The charter industry is not informed by any actual evidence by educators, but is funded by various billionaires including the Fishers and the Waltons, and for-profit charter chains. While there may be some good charter schools, they operate without accountability, waste public money and cherry-pick students to juke their stats.
For example, one of the biggest charter school chains in the country, which has 10 schools in California, is operated by a reclusive Turkish Islamist named Gulen who is based in the Poconos and is wanted by the Turkish government for backing the attempted coup this year.
Rather than handing over a free public system that is the bedrock of equal opportunity for all to private corporations, we should figure out how to make it better. Significantly, charters propose to improve education by dispensing with unions. How would education be improved by making teaching a worse job?
California has the most charters and charter students in the country — so much so that the Washington Post recently did a multipart series, titled, “How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.” There’s widespread cases of conflicts of interests, charters using up millions in taxpayer dollars with nothing to show for it, discriminatory admissions practices and more.
With investigations and abuses piling up, state lawmakers have introduced legislation to bring greater oversight and transparency to charter schools. Gov. Jerry Brown enthusiastically brought charters to Oakland when he was mayor and has been an ally of the industry in Sacramento. He vetoed Assembly Bill 709, which would have required that charter schools comply with the same public records, open meeting and conflict of interest laws as every other public entity in the state.
A bill to ban for-profit online-only charter schools died in the Senate. And Sen. Mark Leno introduced a bill to require that charter schools have transparent due process and reporting of suspensions and expulsions. Disciplinary practices are disproportionately used against black and Latino students, and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. The bill died in the Assembly.
Bills to bring accountability to charters will be reintroduced. With the charter industry spending big for Wiener, how likely is he to follow Leno in holding charters accountable? When he has to choose between the charter industry and students of color, whose side will he be on?
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. See him live for Verdi Wild Things Are at the Verdi Club on November 17, or troll him @natogreen. No Vines.