(See The Press-Enterprise article from February 11, 2019, added below)
The inauguration of our new governor, Gavin Newsom, along with Tony Thurmond, the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction, comes after several months of hard-fought campaigning primarily centered around public charter schools. Unfortunately, based on both Mr. Newsom’s and Mr. Thurmond’s stated positions, many in the charter school community are concerned about the future of public charter schools in California.
Our exiting governor, Jerry Brown (along with all previous governors since charter schools began in 1992) have consistently supported public charter schools, vetoing legislation that would have been harmful or unduly restrict charter school operation. Those governors knew what all of us in the charter school movement know- that one size does not fit all; a traditional public school will not be a good fit for every single child.
And while the issue might be a highly polarized, partisan issue for politicians, for parents it boils down to a simple question: What is best for my child?
While wealthy families have always had the option of pulling their children from public schools and placing them in private schools, families of more modest means often do not. Don’t all families in California deserve public school choices?
Hence, parent choice has always been the backbone of the public charter school movement. Parents are given broad latitude to make choices for their children in many other areas of life—medical care, nutrition, rules, experiences—so why are we trying to limit parents choices in their child’s “compulsory education”? How is it best for children to be forced into a monopolized public school system, with its one-size-fits-all curriculum approved by the elected school board from a handful of state-approved options?
Currently, 60% of California’s students are not proficient in mathematics based on last year’s state testing, ranking 46th in the nation for achievement. But instead of putting our focus on solving California’s real educational problems, powerful elected officials and status-quo special interest groups have distracted the public into believing that the only way to improve public education is to halt the growth of charter schools.
As the superintendent of one of the state’s largest public charter school systems, Springs Charter Schools, I’ve witnessed innumerable success stories of students who left the traditional district-run system to attend one of our schools. These include students who had previously been struggling academically and went on to succeed and excel through our mastery-based, personalized programs, students who were bullying victims who went on to thrive in our safe, small campus environment and students who have been able to pursue a particular passion full time, such as a sport or acting, while keeping up on their studies through our flexible independent study programs.
My charter school colleagues all have these kind of success stories to share. These testimonials, combined with solid statewide charter school achievement data, paint a picture of a thriving, prosperous charter school movement.
The California public charter school movement is entering its 27th year. All charter schools are State-funded, tuition-free, independent public schools with rigorous curriculum requirements that are accountable to both parents and state entities. A “charter” is granted to the school for an initial limited period, and then must be renewed every five years by demonstrating that it is fulfilling the mission of its charter and serving the needs of its students successfully. Currently, there are 1,323 charters serving 11% of California’s students, approximately 660,000 kids, thus clearly demonstrating a long-standing track record of success.
I congratulate Governor Newsom and Superintendent Thurmond on their new roles, and wish them every success. We ask them to support the positive contribution charter schools make in our state, and to make decisions that will provide quality choices for students in California. In addition, I ask all citizens who want students to have access to high-quality charter schools to stay active in the political process to support our movement. If we want the good work of public charter schools to continue in our state, it is crucial that we make our voices heard.
Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer
Springs Charter Schools is based in Temecula, serving 8,700 students in Riverside and the surrounding counties through 19 student centers and homeschool options.