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Civil Rights Groups On Opposite Sides Of California Charter School Debate

Scott Rodd/Capital Public Radio
Julian Vasquez Heilig of the NAACP speaks at a press conference in support of the proposal to limit charter schools and increase oversight in California.

Two national civil rights organizations are at odds over a proposal in California to limit the number and increase oversight of charter schools.

The National Action Network, an organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in the early 1990s, opposes the legislation. The group claims putting a cap on charter schools would have a disproportionate impact on black communities, where students rely on them as an alternative to traditional public schools.

The NAACP supports the legislation and claims it would help black students by cracking down on failing charter schools. The organization argues the state’s charter school laws have not been substantially changed for more than 25 years and are overdue for revision.

The current proposal would establish a limit on charter schools in California, based on how many the state has by 2020. It would also grant local school districts more authority over their approval.

According to Ryan Anderson, a fiscal and policy analyst at the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, black students make up 8 percent of statewide enrollment at charter schools, compared to 5 percent at traditional public schools.

“There are a number of charter schools throughout the state that are specifically intended to serve predominantly black communities,” Anderson said.

Rev. Jonathan Moseley, the western regional director of the National Action Network, says traditional public schools may not be the best option for some students — especially in underserved areas.

“People should have the right to choose their children’s academics,” Moseley said.

He added that educational materials and resources are often higher quality at charter schools: “You don’t have to worry about getting hand me down products or even books that are outdated.”

Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California NAACP and professor of educational leadership and policy studies Sacramento State, says poorly run charter schools can exacerbate common issues faced by black students.

“Charters schools are more likely to suspend black and brown boys, they’re more likely to be segregated, [and] on average [are] lower-performing than neighborhood public schools,” he said.

Charter schools can be a good option for some students, according to Heilig, but the failing ones leave students at a greater disadvantage. He says those are the schools that the legislation targets.

“Charter schools that are doing great have absolutely nothing to worry about,” he said. “It’s the bad apples out there that should be really worried.”

The proposal — made up of Assembly Bills 1505, 1506 and 1507 — passed the Assembly Education Committee this month.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio