Over the past year, the need for equity has risen to the forefront of public discourse. As calls for racial equity and health equity have rightfully become more prominent, unfortunately education equity has shifted in the wrong direction.
One of the most egregious acts of education inequity is seen in the fine print of AB 1316.
Legislation such as AB 1316 that is used to further a political agenda only serves one purpose: picking winners and losers among public school students. One core example of inequity in the bill is the preposterous assertion that independent study students at district or county run schools should receive their full allocation of state education funding while students in independent study programs at public charters schools deserve less funding.
There is public acknowledgment that classroom-based instruction is not the only – or necessarily the preferred option — for many students and their families.
As students head back to the classroom – many of them for the first time in over year – school districts throughout the state are announcing plans for virtual learning options for the 2021-2022 school. Two examples are Natomas Unified School District, located Sacramento County, and West Contra Costa Unified in the East Bay, which will be offering enrollment in their virtual academies for students who want to stay in distance learning next school year. These are only two examples among many throughout the state.
In offering these alternative education options, school leaders are recognizing that some students learn better in a virtual or hybrid environment. In fact, virtual district-run programs could include as much as 25% of their student body if current surveys are accurate.
Fortunately, there is public acknowledgment that classroom-based instruction is not the only – or necessarily the preferred option — for many students and their families.
As AB 1316 is currently written students enrolled in these district-run virtual academies will receive their full share of education funding but students at similar programs at non-classroom based public charters down the street will not. This blatant discrimination and begs the question to lawmakers: Why the double standard?
The bill limits school choice by prohibiting parents and students from choosing a public charter school outside the county in which they reside.
Unfortunately, inequitable education funding is just one of the many discriminatory provisions in AB 1316. The 80+ page bill is full of all sorts of policies and mandates designed to limit school choice. At the heart, this bill is written to force students to adhere to the education establishments’ agenda of restricting access to alternative models of learning.
AB 1316 is going in the absolute opposite direction of the charter school law of 1992, which focuses on school choice and student-centered instruction.
Specifically, the bill limits school choice by prohibiting parents and students from choosing a public charter school outside the county in which they reside. It also caps enrollment at non-classroom based public charter schools when they are authorized by a small school district whose average daily attendance is 10,000 students or less. These negative impacts all are occurring while thousands of students remain unaccounted for in our traditional school districts due to the COVID pandemic
The state Legislature has already implemented a moratorium on new non-classroom based public charter schools until January 2022. The Legislature chose to freeze new programs as part of a series of reforms negotiated in 2019 that are contained in AB 1505, AB 1507, and SB 126. As it turns out those bills were the Trojan Horse that now set the stage for the charter school attack contained in AB 1316 that will further limit opportunities for tens of thousands of students throughout the state.
If I were naïve, I’d think the so called “reforms” in AB 1316 were because legislators do not understand the needs of the almost 200,000 California students who have chosen an alternative education model. If that’s the case I urge them to talk directly to parents, teachers, and administrators at non-classroom based public charters and hear their truth. However, I’m afraid this bill – and other legislative attacks – are all about politics and power. Otherwise, why would policymakers so blatantly be picking winners and losers among public school students during the worst pandemic in 100 years?
Editor’s Note: Paul Keefer is the Area 3 Trustee for the Sacramento County Board of Education, firstname.lastname@example.org