By Theresa Harrington, EdSource
A California State Board of Education decision to approve a charter school over a school district’s objections laid bare the limits of the state’s charter laws.
Oakland Unified had refused to approve a charter for the proposed new Latitude 37.8 high school in part because the district faces a fiscal crisis and can’t afford to lose more students, along with the state aid that follows them when they go to charter schools.
Already, 43 charter schools operate in the city, enrolling one in four students in the Alameda County district.
The district is under pressure to cut at least $5.8 million next year and to close district schools to close its budget deficit.
“We did make a tough decision,” Oakland school board President Aimee Eng told the state board. “And we hope the state stands behind our tough decision.”
After intense discussion amid sympathy for Oakland’s situation, the state board during its meeting Thursday approved a new charter high school expected to open in the fall, based on the California Department of Education’s recommendation, which said it met all legal requirements.
The board said the state law does not allow it to consider the charter school’s financial impact on the local district.
However, Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent of the California Department of Education, said California’s charter school laws — passed in the early 1990s — were outdated and needed to be revised.
“But, they know that at some point, we have to consider the whole ecosystem — the whole community we’re operating in,” Price said, adding that no other local planning body would make a decision about expanding services without considering the financial impacts.
“It’s time for us to take a fresh look at policies in the state,” he said.
Some state board members struggled with the decision. State board member Ilene Straus said she understood that the Oakland school board was grappling with managing its finances and reducing the number of schools in the district.
“I think we’re stuck between wanting great things for kids, which everybody wants, and really clear guidance about what we can approve,” Straus said.
The Education for Change Public Schools charter management organization expects to open Latitude on the site of the organization’s Epic middle charter school next month in the Fruitvale area of Oakland with 50 9th-graders. It will expand to 320 students in grades 9-12 by 2022-23.
Published July 20,2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post