Advocacy Day at the Capitol

May 4, 2011

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By Jed Wallace, President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association

The path of innovation is never easy, but it is necessary when trying to bring about meaningful change for the future of our students.

Just ask the parents whose children attended the state's first charter school, San Carlos Learning Center, which is the oldest charter school still in operation in the country. They saw their kids weren't getting what they needed from their traditional public schools, and wanted the chance and the choice to take the path of change.

Offering parental choice and better educational outcomes for students were the original goals of charter schools, and they remain the reason charters have consistently grown in California over the past 20 years. More and more, parents and students are recognizing the potential of charter schools and because of that, California now has 912 charter schools serving more than 365,000 students.

Today, during our annual commemoration of National Charter Schools Week, the California Charter Schools Association is also holding our annual Advocacy Day. On Advocacy Day, we invite charter school leaders, teachers and students to the Capitol to talk to their elected representatives, to find out how powerful their voice, and their stories, can be as legislation is being decided.

More now than in recent years, charter schools face challenges at our state's Capitol that pose a serious threat to our schools' existence. There are bills in our legislature that want to cap the number of charters, empower districts to deny new charter schools purely based on financial impact, and strip charter school leaders and parents of their governance and flexibility. On top of that, budgetary issues which already negatively impact charters are poised to leave charters with added financial stress. These attacks represent a full-blown offensive that, if approved, would change the landscape of charter schools in California for years to come.

There are several reasons for this negative environment toward charters. We have new legislators that are supported by education establishments that are fundamentally against change, and we face an unprecedented budget deficit that will demand sacrifice from every sector in the state. As a movement, we understand that, but we must also fight for our charter schools, teachers and students. Ignoring them, and their needs, is shortsighted and veers away from the principles that lie at the heart of the California Charter Schools Act.

That's why we need you! We need you to answer our call to action to strengthen our defense, and show Sacramento the diversity and the power of the state's charter school movement.

California is a model that the country looks to for ideas and innovation. Restricting growth and undermining the charter's role in public education is out of touch with the parents, students, teachers, and leaders involved in the movement. These attacks are all the more puzzling given that charters are showing significant progress in closing the achievement gap so prevalent in traditional schools, particularly between low-income and affluent communities. They come at a time the charter school movement has embraced the highest levels of openness about academic accountability. In fact, CCSA and our members across the state have been at the forefront, with our "Portrait of the Movement" report and a bill we have sponsored, SB 645 that would hold charter schools even more accountable when it comes to academic outcomes. This bill, being presented today in the Senate Education Committee, would establish minimum criteria for charter schools to meet at the time of renewal, and weed out the persistently low-performing schools. Charter leaders feel this is of utmost importance as we seek to improve on the promise of offering every student in California the choice of a high-quality education.

The academic accountability bill is one of many being considered today. The Senate Education Committee will also consider the myriad of "attack" bills that threaten the very freedom and flexibility that allow charters to succeed and thrive.

Therefore we must join together-the parents, students, leaders, and government in an effort of unprecedented scope. The future of California demands that. The charter movement must be strong in our resolve to oppose those who want to stop the charter movement on its tracks. The future belongs to those with the bold ideas. With the momentum charter schools have generated, it is clear that we are the future of public education. Hundreds of thousands of families know it. The general public is embracing us. And we know, with diligent collective advocacy efforts, we will cultivate the support we need in the Legislature and elsewhere to propel the charter school movement and all of public education to even greater heights in the years to come.

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