Dear Governor Newsom:

It is with profound disappointment that I heard that your office was responsible for essentially gutting the main features of these charter reform bills. While I can only speculate on the reasoning for essentially caving to the charter industry (besides Ann O’Leary and the task force espousing all kinds of charter-friendly platitudes), I can say that as a California native, public school graduate (1983), advocate, and 16-year parent/volunteer (two sons in Oakland Unified), and now employee of Oakland Unified, I am well familiar with the education landscape in this state,  particularly the damage being done to schools in Oakland. I’m also familiar with what happens when districts don’t have local control over the schools for which they are responsible. You and I have something in common-we both attended well-resourced public high schools. You went to Redwood High School in Marin, and I attended Miramonte High School in Orinda, located in what is now one of the wealthiest suburbs in the East Bay. Lucky us. 

The irony regarding your potential alliance with privatization groups like CCSA is that, because of your severe dyslexia, you would have been rejected by the same schools that are now being touted as “high quality seats”, aggressively marketed as superior to real public schools because of test scores. According to the bio I read, you were rejected from a private prep school and enrolled in your local public high school instead. So you have first-hand experience with the idea that real public schools enroll all children, not just the easy ones. Charter schools aren’t interested in promoting their schools to children with learning disabilities such as yours, and consciously or unconsciously discourage SPED kids from applying. They don’t test well and they cost too much. Your own private-to-public school trajectory clearly illustrates how private schools select students. The same situation occurs when real public schools are allowed to be privatized into charter schools. These charters schools, because they are privately managed, are now able to choose and keep the students they want, not the other way around. Lotteries do not create equity. They only encourage more motivated families to self-select into the lottery. In many cases, SPED, ELL, and newcomer students need not apply. 
What is a good school anyway? I will bet Redwood High and Miramonte High were both good because of the usual reasons: wealthy families, well-resourced, free transportation (before Prop 13), experienced teachers, lots of enrichment like art and music, language classes, health care, and sports. Prop 13 had just been passed, so the facilities had not fallen into ruin yet. Later, when our sports and bus service were eliminated, my school (and probably yours, too) was able to rally the parents to pony up the cash for all the extras that had abruptly disappeared. Other schools weren’t so lucky.  Did that make them less “good”? No, it made them underfunded and unsupported, and it’s been that way ever since. 
I will speculate that you have no personal experience with any of the long-term damage done to school districts because of charter friendly laws in California, written by the very people who want public schools to go away. (Reed Hastings).  Because of this lack of real world experience in education, you therefore are relying on the advice of education reformers that aren’t as interested in improving outcomes for high-needs children as they are putting money in their pockets and/or heading up the next rung of the political ladder. 
Over the years, I’ve heard all kinds of excuses why charter schools deserve more protection, more appeals, and more expansion. For the uninitiated, there seems to be an underlying assumption that charters are of higher quality (“high quality seats” is a marketing term thrown around a lot for charters schools that JUST opened), that they perform better than the neighborhood schools, and therefore deserve up to three chances for authorization or renewal.

In the past, the charter-friendly state board made it nearly impossible for any local control to happen, which is wrong but also purposeful. Our own traditional district schools are not given the same opportunity to appeal their closures, and they are simply closed for any reason, without any more due process. There is this pervasive idea that maybe a “good” charter will fall through the cracks somehow, and therefore must be given another chance. But, in this case a good district school is not given the same opportunity. So, by this definition, district schools and charter schools, in order to be on equal footing, both would deserve the same appeals process. Otherwise, this charter appeals process automatically games charter expansion by rubber stamping any appeal to the county or the state board. We’ve seen this happen over and over and it needs to end. The CCSA’s agenda is unfettered charter expansion and privatization of our public schools. Do not allow them to use their power and billionaire influence to gut AB1505 and AB1507. Reed Hastings and Eli Broad have dictated their privatization agenda and charter expansion for far too long, and the local community deserves to take back control of its own schools, regardless of which type their students attend.
 I’d like to discuss a few characteristics of the current charter school landscape and debunk a few myths that your advisers, like Ann O’Leary and the charter-friendly task force appear to be selling to either curry favor with the charter industry or to curry political favor with Latino families, many of which have been sold on the promise of “quality” charter schools. 

Myth-a school is “good” because it has high test scores
Reality-test scores don’t measure anything and are essentially used in our district and others to weaponize school closure. There is no agreed upon measure for learning. Test scores correlate with wealth. Therefore, a high-testing school is often labeled “good” because it is well-resourced and well-funded with a rich curriculum and supports. What else is new? Charters can also manipulate test scores by keeping out low-testing populations, and high student attrition that concentrates better test takers at these schools.  They also favor a lot of test prep, which is not authentic learning and is a strategy that would never be tolerated or accepted at the kind of wealthy public schools we attended.
Myth-charters perform better than neighborhood schools based on test scores
Reality-the population of the neighborhood district school is often far different than the charter school. In Oakland, most district schools support far more SPED students, and other high-needs groups like ELL and newcomers.  Often, the poverty levels can be significantly different. Motivated families that are willing to even enter a lottery often attract a student population that test better. The populations between these two groups aren’t the same and therefore one can’t make any sort of statistical inference as to whether one school is better than the other based on test scores. Because population differences usually skew test scores in favor of the charter, these schools often discourage certain students to apply, or encourage certain students to leave. And don’t kid yourself if you think this doesn’t happen. 
Myth-charters do more with less
Reality-charters do less with less. As a privately managed business, they operate on revenues and expenses. Charters keep expenses low by hiring inexperienced TFA teachers and churning them constantly. They generally offer fewer supports, such as afterschool programs, transportation, or meals. They may not provide a rich curriculum that a lot of us had before Prop 13: art, music, sports, clubs, nurses, counselors, etc.  Charters don’t want to pay for these “extras”, but they are essential to a quality education. This business model can’t supply a high-quality product to all, and was never designed for that. Charters are a privately managed business that first and foremost have to offer an acceptable ROI to their investors. These investors are the real customers, not the students.
Myth-there is so much demand for charters, they must be doing something fantastic and amazing
Reality-Oakland has become a target for privatization because of its urban setting, combined with its valuable real estate. If opening charters was all about the kids, then there would be several in surrounding areas like Hayward and San Leandro, with similar student populations. Hayward, with a population of around 25K students, has 4 charters. San Francisco, with a population of 60K has 18 charters. Oakland, with a total student population of 50K has 46 charters. It is simply a business saturation model that has nothing to do with “quality” and everything to do with disruption and school closure. Twenty years ago, many parents in Oakland were thrown a lifeline called a charter school. Fast forward, and the model now isn’t much different than saturating the poor neighborhoods with cheap fast food. I heard an East Oakland resident say, in a public meeting, that charter schools were like having drug dealers on every corner. 
How to create demand? The current strategy is as follows: close your neighborhood elementary schools, which then feed into the middle schools (demand dries up there as well). Then, open a charter right near these same schools. Out of the last 18 school closures in Oakland, 14 were converted to charters. Doesn’t take a genius to see how that will turn out. Ask the students at Roots International how they feel about their neighborhood school closure. But our charter-friendly ($$$) school board fully supports this portfolio model; there are charters right around the corner that former Roots students can attend instead. Instant charter demand creation.
Myth-there are so many students on waitlists that charters must be allowed to expand
Reality-giant wait lists are created when students are allowed to apply to multiple schools. A pool of 100 students can create demand for 500 seats if each one applies to 5 different schools. Each of those schools then puts the student on a waitlist. But the student only attends one school. The rest of the seats on the waitlist are phantoms once the student enrolls. But they remain and are presented as proof of demand, when that proof is only an illusion.
Myth-It’s the charter parents vs. the teachers’ union
Reality-that language is purposeful. It is used by CCSA and its billionaire allies to pit these groups against each other, and it’s working. News flash-it’s the billionaires vs. the rest of us that want and deserve good neighborhood schools that aren’t defined by a piece of paper with test scores on it. Parents and students from all walks of life deserve the same clean, well-resourced schools that you and I attended. Any rhetoric spouted by Reed Hastings (school board hater extraordinaire) and Eli Broad, along with the Koch Brothers and the Waltons about charters being a civil rights issue would make Martin Luther King turn in his grave. There are no civil rights to be had when your school doesn’t support your child’s unique academic needs (like dyslexia), doesn’t provide programs or wraparound services, doesn’t provide food, transportation or a playground, no arts programs, no sports, doesn’t support SPED, sticks your child in front of a computer all day, and test preps them to death. And if your child is suspended or expelled, there is no due process. Nothing you can do about it. Parents are voiceless and that’s what these billionaires want. 
 Our school district loses $57M a year to unfettered charter expansion. It’s time to get back to some no-nonsense approaches to this problem such as real local control, as well as including impact to district finances. Charter schools don’t have the right to expand just because it’s what the Waltons and Reed Hastings want. This failed experiment on our most vulnerable children must end, and your office needs to reevaluate the amendments of AB1505 and AB1507 and ask yourself who really benefits from those amended bills.  It is obvious that these bills were gutted to satisfy your charter friends and allies, which an insult to all hardworking teachers and public school parents who have seen firsthand what kind of devastation this education model has caused over the years.
As these bills wind their way through the legislature, keep in mind how different your life might have been if you had attended a “good” charter school and been rejected (“You have dyslexia, so this school isn’t right for you”). Your entire life, career, and political aspirations might have been completely sabotaged if you had not had that well-resourced, authentic public school to fall back on. And remember what it was that made it a quality school. And remember that it’s a school model that all kids deserve, not just those in Orinda or Marin. Thanks for listening.
Jane Nylund
Oakland, California