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Rice: Why state leaders must reject AB 1316, a deceptive and destructive force against California’s public school children

Jeff Rice | May 19, 2021

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The hypocrisy in education policy can be astounding. Legislators in Sacramento are pushing legislation that supposedly “benefits all of California’s public school children” — AB 1316, a whopping 88-page bill that covers 45 sections of law, is packaged as a charter school reform bill. But what it really does is discriminate against more than 200,000 public school children in the state. A deep dive into the bill’s details reveals the truth and in there the political calculus and biased motives are in plain sight.

AB 1316 creates winners and losers among public school students by harshly judging which students are worth more funding and which students are worth less funding. One of the bill’s most egregious features is to target exclusively non-classroom based public charter school students for funding at a significantly lower level. These are students who learn more successfully in an alternative education model. At the same time, similarly situated students in district-run independent study programs or virtual distance learning programs receive full state funding. Despite the fact that they are in similar independent study program their peers are targeted for lower funding because they chose a public charter school instead of a public district run program.

Despite numerous examples of wrongdoing in district run schools including mismanagement of public funds and violations of public trust, lawmakers do not cast a wide net that unnecessarily punishes the rest of the traditional school system, which includes thousands of upstanding schools, administrators, and teachers.

On the other hand, the actions of two public charter school organizations that exploited the system and misused public funds for self-serving benefits are the basis for AB 1316 that carpet bombs the entire non-classroom-based charter school segment. The wrongdoings of the bad actors are serious and they deserve to be punished, and in fact are currently being punished, to the full extent of the law. But their exploitations do not merit the willful, intentional, and crippling harm against an entire educational sector nor the discriminatory injustice against 200,000 public school students.

At a time where society is rightfully demanding social justice and equal opportunity for all, AB 1316 takes a serious leap backwards by separating students into groups of those who receive full funding and those who don’t. The bill ignores the fact that students learn differently, and that many students need flexible and personalized education during and after the pandemic. All students, regardless of the public school they choose, deserve equal funding from the state.

Under the guise of so-called education reform, AB 1316 undermines parents’ ability to access the type of public school that is best for their children and wrongfully harms hundreds of high quality and already accountable public charter schools. This is the latest in a long line of legislative attacks sponsored and supported by the public education system status quo against public charter schools to stop their growth and success, actions that are based predominantly on a false and myopic narrative to further the education establishment’s agenda of monopolistic control over the public education system. Control over a system that they have been largely responsible for over the past several decades in driving to nearly the bottom of state rankings in this country.

The truth is that the 200,000 students enrolled in non-classroom-based charter schools are finding new hope, opportunity, and academic success in a non-traditional model. The reasons why these hundreds of thousands of students are benefitting from and succeeding in an alternative model vary significantly. In fact, many of these students choose a non-classroom-based public charter school because they had previously been failed by a full-time classroom based model. Are not these students worthy of equal treatment and equal funding?

If you believe in equal rights and equal opportunities for all students as an essential foundation for a more enlightened, robust, expansive, and successful California public education system, contact your California legislator and strongly urge them to oppose AB 1316.

Jeff Rice is founder/director of the Association of Personalized Schools and Services

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