Public education in California is under siege by people and organizations who want to privatize the schools, remove them from democratic control, and hand them over to the charter industry.

The attack began when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor. He stacked the state board of education with a majority of charter school advocates (even though only 4% of children were enrolled in charters at the time) and slashed billions of dollars from the budget of the public schools.

The attack continues today, as billionaires add their clout to the charter industry. Eli Broad is the point of the spear, with his unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, which has “trained” would-be superintendents in his management techniques and sent them out to reorganize schools, and whenever possible, close them down. Broad has proposed to open 260 new charters in Los Angeles, which would mean that 50% of the students in the district would be enrolled in charters. Other billionaires, such as Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix) and David Welch (of Vergara notoriety), have joined the fight against public schools and their teachers.

The Golden State is often a bellwether for the nation.

Governor Jerry Brown, a progressive on many other issues, has defended the charter industry and blocked efforts to regulate it. California has had some of the biggest charter scandals in the nation, starting with the collapse of the California Charter Academy in 2004, which went bankrupt and stranded 6,000 students. The state has for-profit charters, including the California Virtual Academy (CAVA), which was recently the subject of an expose by Jessica Calefati in the San Jose Mercury-News. CAVA is run by Michael Milken’s K12 Inc. It is one of the worst performing schools in the state, perhaps the very worst. But no action has been taken to close it.

When the legislature passed a bill to prohibit for-profit charter schools, Governor Brown vetoed it. This, despite the fact that America has never had for-profit “public schools” until the rise of the charter industry. An associate of the governor told me that the governor did not believe that for-profit schools are inherently bad. I disagree. Any for-profit organization has profit as its highest priority, not education or children. Governor Brown also vetoed legislation to prohibit charters in one district from opening branches in other districts. He vetoed legislation to bar conflicts of interest in charter schools. Governor Brown opened two charters in Oakland when he was mayor, so he must be partial to them. Nonetheless, it remains baffling that Governor Brown would allow vested interests and advocates of privatization to ruin the state’s public schools.

Unlike many other states, California has a well-financed and formidable organization fighting to expand the power of privately managed charter schools: the California Charter Schools Association. It is active in advancing legislation to protect and advance privatization and to block any effort to rein in their excesses.

Begin your reading at this site, Capital & Main. It contains a series about California and the future of public education.