Karen Wolfe is an activist for public education in Los Angeles. Here she responds to the news that Eli Broad and the Walton family plan to pour millions into increasing charter school enrollments in Los Angeles; their hope is to capture 50% of the children for the privately managed schools. Despite the fact that studies show that charters on average do not outperform as compared to public schools, despite the fact that twenty-five years of charters have produced no innovations (other than to go back to the 19th century way of doing things in the strictest manner possible), despite the numerous frauds and financial scandals associated with charters, Broad, Walton, and a few more billionaires want to destroy the public school system of Los Angeles to have their way. Public education belongs to the entire community; it is undemocratic to allow a handful of billionaires to take possession of half the children enrolled in the public schools and turn them over to franchise operators.
Karen Wolfe writes that the outcome depends on Steve Zimmer, the recently elected school board president, who has walked a fine line between supporting public schools and placating the privatizers (who spent $4 million trying to defeat him when he last ran for re-election):
The timing of this plan is no surprise at all. The powerful California charter lobby seems to be at their wits end after recent losses. Let’s assess.
The first big loss was Steve Zimmer’s election two years ago, despite their spending more than any previous school board race in US history, according to published reports at the time. Subsequently, the corporate privatizers have lost almost every time a vote has been put to the people.
Last year’s election of Tom Torlakson for California’s State Superintendent was seen as a referendum on corporate privatization–and we public school advocates won. California is one of the few states that resisted Race to the Top reforms.
The LA teacher’s union election also brought in leaders with a broader understanding of the fight for public schools. They still need to prove their mettle at building support among parents and student groups who seek an ally in improving our schools without selling them off. But the potential looks better than before. CTA, the state teachers union, remains a strong force in the state capitol, despite the charter lobby’s increasing presence.
The L.A. Mayor’s office is no longer carrying the water of the corporate privatizers either. New Mayor Eric Garcetti has resisted the repeated taunts of Broad and the other plutocrats to push their agenda. Garcetti is a distinct departure to his predecessor, the self-proclaimed “Education Mayor” Villaraigosa, who was trying to share the national charter stage with Bloomberg and Emanuel.
A notable exception is the election of disgraced PUC charter founder Ref Rodriguez to the school board, joining his charter cheerleader Monica Garcia. But now Steve Zimmer is board president and, if that position carries any weight, it might be making the charter lobby nervous. Often the swing vote in a split-down-the-middle board, Zimmer is now presiding over a new board that should give him more courage than he has previously displayed. His unwavering support of John Deasy and his support of almost every single charter school petition that came before the board have alienated many of Zimmer’s backers. We are anxious to see him prove himself to be the champion of our neighborhood schools that he recently proclaimed he was (in an AFT video posted on this blog).
This revelation that the charter groups have lost their patience and are announcing a public attack should be met with redoubled resistance. We have done the work to elect officials who will champion our public schools, even against wealthy special interests like the groups in this article. But the board needs to listen to community members and truly consider the supports that are necessary to enable our neighborhood schools to stand up to the threat of charters. We advocates need to know our school board is behind us as we fight for the very survival of our schools. I wrote this article for our local newspaper about what we need in Zimmer’s district, where I live, and have never heard from the school board about it.
There are advocates in other neighborhoods that have come up with similar plans and the board should solicit them. The point is that the board needs its public constituency or eventually no one will care who wins this policy debate.