Ann O’Leary is Chief of Staff to California Governor Gavin Newsom. Previously she was education advisor to Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She is a lawyer and a very accomplished person, with a long history in Democratic politics. She was leading the Clinton transition team right before the election of 2016. For several years, she was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which strongly defends charter schools and Obama’s failed Race to the Top program.

During the 2016 campaign, when it was clear Hillary would be the nominee, Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education and I went to see O’Leary at the Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn. We tried to persuade her that Hillary should oppose charters. After all, school choice is a Republican priority. It is supported by the Waltons, the Koch brothers, ALEC, the DeVos family, and every Red State Governor. Democrats should support public schools, we argued, not privatization. We failed. We went back again, after the convention. O’Leary was unmovable. The best we could get from her was a promise that Hillary would oppose for-profit charters.

We knew that was a meaningless offer, because large numbers of nonprofit charters hire for-profit management companies.

We were thrilled when Gavin Newsom and Tony Thurmond were elected, because the charter industry placed its bets on Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor, who ran third, and on Marshall Tuck for Secretary of Education. Tuck’s campaign spent twice as much as Thurmond’s and vilified him with false advertising. Thurmond barely beat Tuck, the charter industry’s favorite and former leader of a charter chain.

Newsom promised to create a task force to advise on reforming the state’s notoriously weak charter law, which has enabled fraud, embezzlement, and grifters to cash in. Thurmond would chair the task force.

But then the task force was named, and it was clear that the charter industry was running the show. Of the 11 members, seven are connected to the charter industry. Two appointees are directly employed by the charter lobby.

Here are the members:

The task force members are:

  • Cristina de Jesus, president and chief executive officer, Green Dot Public Schools California (charter chain);
  • Dolores Duran, California School Employees Association;
  • Margaret Fortune, California Charter Schools Association board chair; Fortune School of Education, president & CEO (charter lobby);
  • Lester Garcia, political director, SEIU Local 99 (Local 99 took $100,000 from Eli Broad to oppose Jackie Goldberg, a critic of charters, and its former national president, Andy Stern, is CEO of the Eli Broad Center);
  • Alia Griffing, political director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 57;
  • Beth Hunkapiller, educator and administrator, Aspire Public Schools (charter chain);
  • Erika Jones, board of directors, California Teachers Association;
  • Ed Manansala, superintendent, El Dorado County; the El Dorado County Office set up a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) specifically to service students with disabilities in charter schools and wooed charter students away from their local districts, even students who live hundreds of miles away; 
  • Cindy Marten,  superintendent, San Diego Unified School District;
  • Gina Plate, vice president of special education, California Charter Schools Association (charter lobby);
  • Edgar Zazueta, senior director, policy & governmental relations, Association of California School Administrators (ACSA endorsed Marshall Tuck against Tony Thurmond). 

Only four members of the task force are not connected, politically or financially, to the charter industry: Cindy Marten; Dolores Duran; Alia Griffing; and Erika Jones.

Who selected this skewed task force?

A tip came from someone with a direct line to the Governor’s Office.

Ann O’Leary.

Ann, I hope you read this because I want you to know that you are protecting an industry that tolerates corruption and malfeasance.

Please read this report, “Charters and Consequences,” written by Carol Burris, which begins with a description of charter operators in California who hire family members, run multiple charters with appallingly low graduation rates and continues to describe a state law that is sorely in need of real reform.

Why does California have a law that ignores graft and corruption? The California Charter Schools Association fought any reform. Yet you put the chair of the board of this lobby on the task force to reform the charter law! And to make it worse, you added another employee of CCSA! This is the lobby that fought any reform of the law, that fought previous efforts to ban nepotism and conflicts of interest, that fought accountability and transparency.

And now the Network for Public Education has documented how charter operators in California have wasted millions of federal dollars. 

Nationally, about one-third of federally-funded charter schools either never opened or closed soon after getting the money. In California alone, the state with the most charter schools, the failure rate for federally funded charters is 39%.

California charters won almost $326 million from the federal Charter School Program between 2006-2014. To be exact: $325,812,827. Of that amount, $108,518,463 went to 306 charter schools that either never opened or soon shut down. Of that 306, 75 never opened at all. But the charter operator kept the money.

In addition, the ACLU of Southern California in its 2016 report, ”Unequal Access,” identified 253 charters in the state that engage in discriminatory—often illegal—practices. That number, they said, was the tip of the iceberg, because these were the charters that put their discriminatory policies on their website! Thirty-four California charter schools that received federal CSP grants appear on the ACLU of Southern California’s updated list of charters that discriminate—in some cases illegally—in admissions.

One can only imagine how much the waste has grown since 2014, with the Obama and Trump administrations adding even more millions to expand charters that divert resources from public schools.

So, this is on you, Ann.

Will the task force protect the charter industry? Will it come up with meaningless “reforms” that do nothing to rein in waste, fraud, and abuse?

Will it protect the power of districts to authorize charters in other districts, far away, without the permission of the receiving district, so the authorizers gets a fee and the charter has no oversight?

Will it continue to allow charters to open with no consideration of the fiscal impact on the district where it chooses to open?

Will it continue to allow endless appeals when the host district rejects a new charter?

Will it continue to allow corporate chains to Walmartize what were once public schools? Will it continue to allow non-educators to open and operate charter schools?

Will it ignore the expansion of Gulen schools, schools run by a Turkish imam who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania, schools which import Turkish teachers and relies on Turkish boards?

Is it possible for a task force to regulate an industry when industry insiders are a majority of the task force?

I know you are very busy, but I hope you will take the time to think about these questions and respond.