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CA Charter Bill Protects Status Quo

“Charter bill would serve status quo, but not students”
Redding Record Searchlight
February 1, 2012

Struggling business owners might occasionally daydream of getting a law passed to block inconvenient competition. Too bad for them: They lack the political clout of California’s teachers unions, which can actually pull off such a stunt.

The California Assembly on Monday passed a bill on a largely party-line vote — Democrats for, Republicans against — that would give school districts a handy new excuse to deny petitions for charter schools. Assembly Bill 1172 would let a school board block a new charter on the grounds that it would have “a negative fiscal impact on the school district” — if the district was already showing financial distress. That includes districts that are closing campuses because of declining enrollment and thus would otherwise have space for a new charter.

No doubt, schools are suffering from tight budgets that could grow tighter still. Already struggling to preserve programs — especially in districts, including many in Shasta County, whose enrollment is down — administrators can be forgiven for welcoming a new rival charter with the same enthusiasm they’d show a campus stomach-flu outbreak. If AB 1172 passes and they exercise a veto on financial grounds, they might even sincerely believe it’s for the kids.

But serving status-quo institutions is not the same thing as serving children, and the distinction is all the more important as tight budgets intensify battles for resources.

Most traditional schools do a fine job and are staffed with dedicated teachers, but the charter system California has developed over the past two decades has both instilled a healthy sense of competition and created niche opportunities to serve students who don’t reach their full potential at the neighborhood school. Some traditional schools still struggle under the new rules, and some charters are busts. Overall, though, the more flexible, innovative system is better.

And, paradoxically enough, it’s also more financially efficient. A report on charter-school financing by the state legislative analyst’s office released just last week concluded that the state shorts charters by several hundred dollars per student, compared with traditional schools. It recommended increasing charters’ per-pupil financing, but in the meantime lean-running charters, which enroll roughly 7 percent of California’s public-school students, are leaving more money in the pot for other schools.

You’d think lawmakers would spot potential savings and, if anything, encourage charters. Instead, the Democrats want new roadblocks in their way. And you wonder why the state can’t balance its books.

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