Sara Roos, a blogger who writes under the name “Red Queen in LA,” reports on a dangerous development in California. Charter school insiders took charge of writing the California Democratic Party’s education platform and made changes that undercut longstanding Democratic Party opposition to charter schools. Suddenly, charter schools are referred to not as privatization but as “public charter schools,” the preferred language of the charter lobby. The new language dropped the Democratic Party’s insistence that the boards of charter schools must be elected and replaced it with the requirement only that they be authorized by local school boards. A big change, among others that put the Democratic Party platform in the pocket of the charter billionaires.

Roos wrote:

What actually happened with the CA Democratic Party’s (CADEM) platform adopted Sunday (3/6/22) at its convention?

At the eleventh hour, following an eleven-hour meeting finalizing draft proposalsfor updating the 2022 CADEM platform, it came to light that one of its 23 platform “planks”, that of Education, had been tampered with by charter school (CS) industry insiders.

As a consequence, CADEM delegate and California Federation of Teachers legislative advocate, Tristan Brown, urged from the floor that fellow delegates vote “no” on the entirety of the proposed platform changes, since the rules forbade focusing on specifics to excise.

It was argued that the new language altered the hard-won, former mandate that charter school boards must be elected, because democracy demands public, elected accountability. The platform’s new language morphed this fundamental demand, requiring instead that charter schools simply be authorized and monitored by a school board. The language of conditional support was removed altogether.

On the strength of the Union recommendation by the statewide federation of teachers, and the leadership of several key caucus chairs and leaders, the final floor vote passing the platform was far shy of consensus at 57% aye (691 votes), 43% nay (510 votes). [The absolute numbers are extracted from the meeting transcript and are a little different from the poll result percentages shown to delegates via zoom].

From a convention of 3,037 elected delegates + 80 proxies, that translates to passage by just 22% (=691/3117) of total eligible voters at the convention. But the total number of delegates voting for the platform was not presented. If quorum were just reached for the vote with its 1559 members, then a bare minimum of 358, or nearly one-quarter of delegates (23% of the eligible quorum (=358/1559)), abstained from the platform vote altogether. The sum total of those failing to vote for the platform {“nay”+abstain} far outstrips those who did.

As it happens, the reality of the platform language change is far worse than what was hastily presented on the floor. And befitting their shepherding by charter school operators (including the board chair of the charter school lobbying association), these changes do very much advantage charter school operations.

The former language of bullet 23 in the K-12 Education plank conditioned circumstances for the Party’s support of charter schools on five contingencies [emphasis mine]:

  • Support only those charter schools that are managed by public and elected boards, not-for-profit, and transparent in governance; have equitable admissions; adopt fair labor practices and respect labor neutrality; and, supplement rather than supplant public education programs.

The draft language posted in advance of the convention eliminates rules for conditional support altogether. Instead conditions are replaced by definitions. The term “charter school” is redefined through use of the modifying adjective, “public”. A list of characteristics is simply inserted, absent any conditioning on support. And the long-standing federal exhortation acknowledging and specifying the fungibility of money to ‘supplement not supplant’ (ie, do not rob Peter to pay Paul), is lost:

  • Support public charter schools that are governed by not-for-profit, elected, public boards with transparent governance, have equitable admissions, adopt fair labor practices, respect labor neutrality, and supplement public education programs for students in historically low performing subgroups such as low income, English learners, Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native students, foster children and students with disabilities

The real problem came from a change inserted after the posted draft platform. Support is urged for these entities now defined not by their governance but by the circumstance of their chartering: authorization and monitoring [emphasis mine]:

  • Support public charter schools that are authorized and monitored by public and elected boards, not-for-profit, and transparent in governance; have equitable admissions; adopt fair labor practices and respect labor neutrality; and, supplement public education programs for students in historically low performing subgroups such as low income, English learners, Black or African American, American Indian, and Alaskan Native students, foster children and students with disabilities

The change amounts to saying “I exist therefore I am”. It asserts support of charter schools no matter what, and defines them as “public”, a characteristic denied by the courts. Reversing the stringent conditional acceptance terms delineated formerly, this incarnation accepts charter schools as the choice of the Democratic Party.

Another change instigated by the charter school lobbyist who volunteered their services to the platform committee, softens the field for two competing ballot initiatives to privatize our public schools through the use of vouchers.

Under cover of redundancy, bullet 14 that unequivocally and expressly “opposes voucher systems for schools,” is eliminated. Its declaration is diluted by sending it lower in the long list of bullet points, and combining it with Education Savings Accounts. The real problem comes in conditioning this opposition to their effect. Since charter schools are defined in the platform now as “public”, vouchers would not be found to “take away from public school funding”.

  • Oppose K-12 Education Savings Accounts, school vouchers, or any programs that would take away from public school funding;

This change was not a mere correction of duplication, it substantively prepares the field for a statewide fight about “school choice,” launched and led from the left. The platform now states that because we define charter schools as “public”, vouchers are a system we no longer oppose because they do not take money away from the public-charter entity. Just as this new platform accepts charter schools de facto, we also now fail to oppose voucher systems.

Trickiness gonna be tricky. Voters gotta be vigilant. Special, monied-interests are persistent and focused; the rest of us are harried volunteers.