By Jon Riley
Special to the Herald
Today, the Solano County Board of Education will be voting on whether to allow a Countywide Charter application from the Elite Charter School. As the executive director of the Napa Solano Central Labor Council, I have been struggling with the issue of charter schools, both personally and professionally, for years. Our Labor Council recently voted unanimously to oppose this privately run unregulated charter for many reasons. We also pledged to work with the educators and elected officials in Solano County to educate the public on how district-sponsored charter schools offer the preferred choices and oversight in education that our citizens demand while not draining resources from our already struggling local school districts.
We are also concerned that privately run unregulated charters like Elite, while using taxpayer monies, do not operate under the same standards we require of our elected officials. The current laws regarding charter schools do not ensure adequate transparency and financial oversight that is so important when using tax monies, which is why there has been so many cases of waste, fraud, and abuse in privately-run charter schools around California. They also lack an elected board accountable to the taxpayers. Other concerns of course are the absence of collective bargaining agreements that provide negotiated rights and benefits to their employees. Charters are also exempt from many critical parts of the Education Code that our district schools must follow.
Do we really want or need privatization of our education system? And do we want the decision to do so taken away from the individual school districts and their elected boards, who all have different needs, further eroding the say the voters have in how their taxes are spent? And is a private solution even needed when we have quality STEM, Dual-Immersion Language programs, arts and cultural curriculum, and Expanded Learning Opportunities already in place in Vacaville, Fairfield and Vallejo to address the achievement gap? District-sponsored charters like Buckingham in Vacaville and the Vallejo Charter School are examples of doing it right without the devastating financial impacts to the individual districts who will be left to operate with less funding.
And therein lies the rub. That the students most impacted by the achievement gap, African American and Hispanic families, who need the most resources in their local schools, will be most negatively impacted by this privately-run charter. The districts that have the most diverse populations, like Vallejo with 68 percent African American and Hispanic students and Fairfield with 56 percent, will be left to educate those not “chosen” by the Elite Board with fewer resources to do so. The students in Vallejo are already facing another multi-million-dollar operating deficit and this privately run Elite Charter will drain millions more away from the budget, further dividing the community and potentially jeopardizing the much-needed facilities maintenance bond that everyone agrees is critical.
We also condemn those that choose to personally attack the petitioner who is bringing the Elite Charter forward. The decisions whether to accept unregulated privately run charters should be made on the merits of the application, by local school boards, elected by the public with oversight protections. Each community should decide what their values surrounding the privatization of education, pro or con are and do so with the students’ best interests in mind, not adults with political agendas
Simply put, the application does not meet the legal requirements under the ED Code for a County wide Charter, and we urge the Solano County Board of Education to deny this Charter application and the Napa Solano Labor Council stands ready to go to work identifying how to continue to improve our local neighborhood schools so that we can offer our students the best education possible and families the choices they expect in the district without unduly penalizing others.
Jon Riley is executive director of the Napa-Solano Central Labor Council.