Latest Headlines

Opinion: Mia Bonta bill attacks charter school construction funding

Fifteen thousand students, nearly one-third of all children in Oakland public schools, attend charter schools. While all children deserve safe and equitable education facilities, a bill introduced by Oakland’s assemblymember would make it more challenging for public charter schools to purchase and improve their schools.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta’s legislation, AB 1604, makes it more expensive, and possibly prohibitive, for charter schools to finance new facilities or improvements to existing ones. The bill focuses on construction bond financing and how charter facilities are turned over if a school closes. But, at its heart, it’s a labor-backed bill that makes serving children, especially in communities such as East Oakland, harder.

Under the current state-run system, charter schools borrow money through the bond market. Bonds for charter schools are issued at a higher rate of interest than a school district is afforded because the smaller size of charters presents greater bond risk to investors. AB 1604 would further increase that risk, forcing charters to borrow at even higher rates and spend more money on interest instead of on programs and staff.

The impetus for this bill was supposedly an audit of the Charter School Facility Grant Program conducted last year. However, the state audit report noted the positive effect of the existing bond program and that the programs are “generally achieving their purpose of increasing charter schools’ access to facility funding” and did not find any improper use of the program.

This bill would hamstring many charter schools’ ability to provide safe and equitable facilities serving our highest-needs families and communities. For example, Lodestar, our campus in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, serves a student population that is 95% low-income and 45% English-language learners, with over 13% qualifying for special-education services. Our families choose our schools because of our focus on teaching and learning, K-12 community school model, and emphasis on college and career readiness.

READ MORE:  Popping the top on canned wines, luxury automobiles

Charter schools are run by non-elected, non-profit boards that are separate from the political dysfunction that prevents Oakland from meeting the basic public safety needs of its children and families.

AB 1604 has a poison pill, a “first right of refusal” that would allow school districts to buy out a facility in the event of charter school closure. This provision is incredibly problematic given the political climate of the Oakland Unified School District board. It is not inconceivable that the current board — dominated by labor-backed trustees — would vote against reauthorizing a charter school and open the door to take over a bond-financed facility.

Bonta aims to solve a problem that does not exist. Statewide, only four charter schools using bonds have closed. Her bill is co-sponsored by the California School Employees Association. Charter leaders serving a large percentage of children in the assemblymember’s district were never consulted before this legislation was written.

Across two recent meetings with Bonta and her staff, attended by Oakland charter school leaders, she was asked to pull her bill until an equity and financial analysis could be done to ascertain how deeply the bill would impact low-income, Black and Brown communities. Bonta and her staff declined.

AB 1604 would have a negative and disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities throughout California. Additionally, this bill would only further the equity gaps in our post-pandemic world as well as intentionally politicize and ostracize families that choose public charter schools for their children. A political attack on charter schools and their facilities should not be allowed to become law.

READ MORE:  Orioles leading prospect Gunnar Henderson, now youngest posture participant in MLB, understands ‘road is just now starting’

Rich Harrison is CEO of Lighthouse Community Public Schools, dedicated to serving a K-12 student population that has been historically underserved by the traditional school system in Oakland.

Related Articles

Back to top button