CA charters rebuff Trump on immigrants and vouchers

CA charters rebuff Trump on immigrants and vouchers

(Calif.) In another clear sign that politics in the Golden State play out far differently than the rest of the country, the state’s leading charter school organization issued a statement Monday distancing itself from the Trump administration on two key issues–immigration and vouchers.

In a letter to the incoming members of the state legislature, the California Charter Schools Association said it would support efforts by lawmakers to protect student rights regardless of immigration status, sexual orientation or religious faith.

The group took the further step of saying vouchers are not needed in California.

Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the association said the letter was intended to remind lawmakers that charter school supporters in California were in step with their efforts to protect student rights and the existing school experience.

“We think the California Legislature is the body that will have the more influence and oversight of charters than anyone,” he said. “And we looked for an opportunity to underscore our principals given the changes that may be taking place in Washington D.C.”

The statement comes on the same day that leaders of the Legislature’s Democratic majority introduced a sweeping set of bills aimed at blunting anti-immigration policies from the Trump White House. Among the proposals are new restrictions on local government’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents and an offer for free legal advice to undocumented immigrants during deportation proceeding.

For an education group to side with the state’s Democrats on social issues shouldn’t come as a surprise–but for the charter school, taking such a public position might prove risky.

Trump has not offered much on his views about schools but he appointed as his Education Secretary a long-time supporter of charters and of parent choice.

Betsy DeVos, a wealthy philanthropist from Michigan, has been for almost 30 years an active proponent of directing tax money away from traditional school districts in favor of more entrepreneurial models that would create competition.

Some observers have speculated that DeVos might advocate for freeing-up more federal money to fund a voucher programs – perhaps a share of Title I money.

That would seem like good news for charter schools everywhere but Wallace said introducing vouchers is a bad idea for California.

“We have a strong history of supporting parent choice and we think our existing robust policy environment is affording the rights of parents to school choice,” he explained.

“We’re not in support of parent choice for the sake of parent choice,” he said. “There have to be other pieces in place. Those other pieces include ensuring accountability for academic outcomes, ensuring admissions practices requiring that schools serve all students, and ensuring that schools are responsibly and transparently managed.  We know these essential pieces can be achieved within a charter school context.  For vouchers, it is not at all clear that these elements would a part of the mix.  This is why we believe in California we should be focusing entirely on charter schools and not on vouchers.”

Here are key parts of the letter from CCSA.

On the issue of student rights:

“Rest assured that, should policy proposals be brought forward at the federal level that would attempt to undermine the rights of students - be they proposals to end protections for students created under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, eliminate protections for LGBT youth, or the creation of a registry targeted at the families of Muslim students, to name but three possible proposals aligning with statements made during the presidential campaign - CCSA and our hundreds of member schools across the state stand ready to partner with legislators in California to prevent any such threatening proposals from being enacted or enforced.”

On vouchers:

“While legislation may be brought forward at the federal level to create new student voucher programs, given that California's vibrant and growing charter school sector affords parents their fundamental right to choose where their students go to school, we believe that vouchers would be at odds with the needs of California's public school system, and we will work actively to resist them from being forced upon our state. Instead, we will continue working to ensure that high performing charter schools are allowed to open, that chronically underperforming charters are closed, and we will work to ensure that all of California's charter schools are operated and controlled by responsibly governed non-profit organizations.”