California Reached a Critical Compromise on Charter Schools, and Students’ Academic Needs Were Central to the Deal

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Sacramento, California 

This legislative session, the voices of California’s African-American families were part of the policy conversations that impact them directly.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leadership announced last week that they had reached agreement on Assembly Bill 1505, legislation focused on the needs of students. This deal speaks to the sensibilities of fair-minded Californians who believe that our state — the Golden State — should have a world-class public education system. It also acknowledges that charter schools are here to stay as a permanent feature of California’s public education system by affirming the critical role they play in closing the achievement gap.

Most importantly, the deal acknowledges that the academic needs of students must always guide decision-making.

We’ve come a long way since AB 1505 was originally introduced in February. The original bill included devastating consequences for our state’s most vulnerable students and would have taken away access to quality charter schools from those same students, including African-American children, and those living in neighborhoods most in need.

Charter schools are beating the odds and meeting the needs of our students every day. They are increasing learning and expanding access to college for students in the greatest need. After all, performance matters and greater accountability related to the education of students of color and those in poverty are needed to close the achievement gap.

Over the past several months, charter school leaders and thousands of charter school families, students and supporters visited the Capitol. We met with and called our legislators to underscore that charter schools are meeting the needs of our students in exceptional ways. Educators of color, like me, create and lead charter schools. Supporting us means supporting self-determination for black and brown people.

The Black Parents Strike, a group representing a statewide coalition of California’s black parents, showed up at the state Capitol in May to protest the legislation. And all the National Action Network and Urban League chapters across California also wrote a letter to the governor and legislative leadership expressing concern.

Like most compromises, this deal isn’t perfect. But our collective actions helped ensure that significant protections for charter school students and communities were secured. These include:

● Restoring an appeals path to county boards of education,

● Protecting a role for the state in the appeals chain,

● Negotiating a five-year transition for existing charter school teachers in non-core subjects to secure certification,

● Granting charter schools that are closing the achievement gap streamlined renewal, and

● Balancing students’ academic needs with fiscal impact considerations for new petitions.

For 25 years, California’s public charter school movement has relentlessly run toward the greatest challenges in public education. We know that a one-size-fits-all education simply doesn’t work, and that’s why charter schools are designed to view students as the unique learners they are and provide a tailored approach to meet students’ individual needs.

Black families understand the important role their charter schools play, and they want more of what’s working for their kids. That’s why we fought so hard against some of the most extreme proposals that threatened the very existence of charter schools in California.

After months in this legislative fight, it’s time to get back to the business of focusing on an entire education system that is simply not living up to its promise of providing all students with a great education.

We have a long way to go to ensure that all of California’s students have access to a great public school of their choice, and charters will continue to do our part.

Margaret Fortune is president and CEO of the Fortune School and the graduate Rex & Margaret Fortune School of Education, board chair of the California Charter Schools Association, a member of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Charter Task Force and trustee emerita of California State University.

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