Char­ter schools re­group after big loss

Manteca Bulletin - - Local / State -

SACRA­MENTO (AP) — Char­ter school sup­port­ers are de­cid­ing where to di­rect their con­sid­er­able re­sources after pour­ing money into the Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor pri­mary to sup­port a long­time ally who failed to move on to Novem­ber’s elec­tion.

The fall­out may sig­nal fu­ture un­cer­tainty for the school choice move­ment in a state with some of the most ro­bust char­ter school laws in the United States.

The front-run­ner for gov­er­nor, Demo­crat Gavin New­som, could ham­per or threaten the progress of char­ters — pri­vately run schools that use pub­lic money and have di­vided par­ents and politi­cians. He has mostly em­pha­sized his sup­port of tra­di­tional pub­lic schools and called for more char­ter school ac­count­abil­ity.

New­som’s cam­paign said it would seek to tem­po­rar­ily halt char­ter school open­ings to con­sider trans­parency is­sues but that “suc­cess­ful” char­ters would thrive un­der his lead­er­ship. In the June 5 race, he beat out for­mer Los Angeles Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, a key ally of the Cal­i­for­nia Char­ter Schools As­so­ci­a­tion Ad­vo­cates.

The pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion and its big-name donors, in­clud­ing Net­flix CEO Reed Hast­ings, for­mer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Wal­mart heir Alice Wal­ton, gave nearly $23 mil­lion to sup­port Vil­laraigosa, who fin­ished be­hind New­som and Repub­li­can busi­ness­man John Cox.

Now, the group said it’s work­ing on a new strat­egy that could in­clude sup­port­ing New­som or Cox, de­spite the Repub­li­can’s en­dorse­ment from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The heav­ily blue state is help­ing lead a na­tional re­sis­tance to his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The char­ter Ad­vo­cates is in a tight spot after run­ning at­tack ads against both can­di­dates who ad­vanced to the gen­eral elec­tion.

The pri­mary is seen as a failed of­fen­sive for the char­ter group and a loss for ad­vo­cates that won enough seats last year to con­trol the board of the Los Angeles Uni­fied School Dis­trict, the sec­ond-largest U.S. school sys­tem, for the first time. Their $8.5 mil­lion added to the un­prece­dented to­tal spent on a lo­cal school board race.

“I frankly can’t re­mem­ber a prom­i­nent loss that they’ve had,” ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy ex­pert and Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Angeles, pro­fes­sor John Rogers said of the char­ter move­ment’s leg­isla­tive wins. “The Cal­i­for­nia Char­ter Schools As­so­ci­a­tion has had the power to en­sure that leg­is­la­tion that would be against their in­ter­est can’t be passed.”

Cal­i­for­nia was the sec­ond state to get a char­ter school law in 1992 and now boasts the largest en­roll­ment num­bers. Sup­port­ers have won a se­ries of ex­pan­sions and de­vel­op­ments — trail­blaz­ing progress that could be at risk un­der a new gov­er­nor.

It sets up the po­ten­tial for an ed­u­ca­tional sea change in Cal­i­for­nia, where some char­ter pro­vi­sions are un­heard of else­where. They in­clude an ap­peals process for open­ing new schools, ac­cess to equal fund­ing and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, and flex­i­bil­ity over spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices.

The char­ter group hasn’t ruled out sup­port­ing New­som, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Gary Bor­den said. But he was non­com­mit­tal about what the group will do, sug­gest­ing it could even cross its own po­lit­i­cal line to sup­port Cox.

Cox’s cam­paign said it wel­comes any sup­port to fix Cal­i­for­nia’s fail­ing school sys­tem.

“We will have a look at the can­di­date’s point of view on broader is­sues, but we pre­dom­i­nantly stick to an eval­u­a­tion of their per­spec­tive on the char­ter school is­sue to help in­form the de­ci­sion on what to sup­port and whether we’ll get in­volved in the race,” Bor­den said.

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