The Oakland Unified School District, as well as many other school districts, is struggling to stay afloat financially in a state where politicians have passed and support laws that promote corporate-backed charter schools, which are draining funds and students from the public systems and gradually making them unviable.
Anger is growing among public school supporters. More and more educators and parents are organizing efforts to raise public awareness of the threat charter schools pose to the survival of the public system, countering well-funded arguments in favor of “school choice” advocated by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and pro-charter organizations in Oakland.
One organization, In the Public Interest, recently published a report that examines the impact of charter schools on three districts: the Oakland Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, and San Jose’s East Side Union High School District.
The report, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,” finds that charter schools cost Oakland Unified $57.3 million a year, which means that the district receives $1,500 less in funding for each student who attends a public school in Oakland.
A new video produced by In the Public Interest, “Charter Schools Are Draining California’s Education Funding,” interviews parents and educators in Oakland and in the other two districts interviewed for the report about charters’ negative impacts.
“Every time a student leaves this area and goes into a charter, that is what happens,” said Jasmene Miranda, teacher and director of the Media Academy at Oakland’s Fremont High school. “That’s when our co-principals tell us we’re not going to able to fund (a) position.”
, Oakland parent and executive director of Bay Area Parent Leadership Network (PLAN), said, “I think we’re beginning to see the impact of the charter system not necessarily being long-term that very shiny thing that we thought it was going to be.”
Board and staff at East Side Union are worrying about the growing pressure that charters have on district finances.
“You’re going to continue to see cuts in infrastructure. You’re going to see cuts in programs,” said Chris Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union.
Marcus Battle, East Side’s associate superintendent for business services, said, “If we look at our budget three years from now, we have a fiscal challenge. We’re projecting a large deficit. A lot of that is related to charters and other impacts on our district.”
Patti Cortese, vice president of East Side’s school board, said that at one board meeting, the district was getting ready to lay off 140 school support workers while on the same agenda it was considering a petition to open a new charter school.
“How do you talk about cutting out 140 positions that serve our most vulnerable students, and (consider) opening up a new school in the same breath?” she asked.
Recently, Oakland community members and students organized to oppose the petition of Latitude charter school. The charter was rejected by the Oakland school board, and the appeal was rejected by the Alameda County Board of Education.
Aisha Knowles, member of the Alameda County Board of Education, said she felt she had to oppose the Latitude charter because she thought about Oakland Unified “sustaining additional cuts that will impact more working families and children.”
However, the Latitude charter was approved to open in Oakland when the appeal when to the State Board of Education.
California already has 1,200 charters schools, and local districts have very limited legal options for turning down new charters. In addition, state law requires school districts to provide charters with school buildings or classroom space if they are available.
The growth of charters take place within the context of a statewide education funding crisis. California ranks 41st in how much money it spends per student.
In the Public Interest’s video explained that when students move to charters from district-run schools, state funding goes with them.
However, a district school’s costs for a principal, school secretary, maintenance and electricity do not decrease. So, they must cut programs like music and art, school nurses, and librarians.
“What’s happened with the proliferation of so many charter schools is that sometimes it just becomes a parallel school district and actually bleeds away money from the neighborhood schools,” said John Lee Evans, board member at San Diego Unified.
To view In the Public Interest’s video, click here.
To read the report on the impact of charter schools on Oakland and two other school districts, click here.