Charter Schools Provide More Choice

But overall, the system is still getting worse

As Lee E. Ohanian notes, only about one in four California students are proficient in math, English, and science, a sign that California’s broken K–12 school system “is getting even worse,” despite average spending of nearly $500,000 per year per classroom. By contrast, students perform at a very high level at the Kairos charter school in Vacaville. Their success shows the potential of charter schools, but there’s something about them that parents, students, and legislators should know.

Ohanian notes that California’s K-12 system has been “broken for decades.” By the 1990s, that broken system fueled a push for parental choice. Legislator Gary K. Hart saw this coming and, as education secretary under Gov. Gray Davis, proposed Senate Bill 1448, the state’s first legislation for charter schools. In return for meeting the academic standards of their “charter,” these schools got government funding and freedom from regulation within limits.

The original legislation capped the number of charter schools at 100, with no more than 10 per school district. This arrangement reflected the opposition of the California Teachers Association (CTA), which also opposed Proposition 174. The 1993 measure provided a voucher equal to roughly $2600 for use at qualifying government, independent or religious schools.

Proposition 174 failed, partly due to opposition from then-governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, who called the measure “too costly.” Charter schools became the only option for low-income parents seeking better opportunities for their children. California later expanded the rules to allow 100 new charters each year. California now hosts more than 1300 charter schools, but not all show the success of Kairos. 

The Bert Corona Charter School in Los Angeles claims to be named for “a Latino activist who dedicated his life to achieving social and economic justice for underserved immigrant communities in Los Angeles and across the nation.” In reality, Corona was a Communist of unusual ferocity and a defender of the Soviet Union and its colonies, such as East Germany. 

Corona’s Hermandad Mexicana Nacional was a “community based organization” that received more than $20 million from the California Department of Education under state superintendent Delaine Eastin. When auditors uncovered this massive fraud, Eastin fired the whistleblowers and kept the money flowing. The school named for Bert Corona does not rank within the state’s top charters

Charter schools are an attempt by the education establishment to expand choice within the system without allowing total freedom of choice. As Kairos and other schools show, charters can help boost increased student achievement but overall, the K-12 system continues to get worse. To reverse that decline, boost achievement, and trim government waste, all parents and students should be granted full educational choice as a matter of basic civil rights. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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