Oakland’s charter school boom continues

The California Charter Schools Association reports today that California leads the nation in the number of new charter school openings — 89 brand new schools, for a total of 686 statewide.

Oakland came in second only to Los Angeles in the number of new schools. Six new public, independently run charters opened in the city this fall.

As the number of charters grow — and in light of the governance problems and allegations of fraud that came to light this summer at the since-closed Uprep — the Oakland school district seems to be taking a hard look at its authorization and oversight practices.

Tonight, the state administrator considers major changes to the district’s charter school policies. One of the revisions would require each charter agreement to be effective for five years, rather than fewer, to not create “an environment by which experimentation with Oakland children is an acceptable practice.”

Charter groups might also need to apply by mid-November for the following school year, submit annual reports to the school district and follow other new regulations.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Caroline

    “Governance problems” is an awfully understated way to refer to out-and-out theft and fraud. By that standard, there’s “unpleasantness” going on in Iraq.

  • Katy Murphy

    Good point, Caroline. I’ve edited the entry. Although that would be alleged theft and fraud.

  • Caroline

    True indeed.

    BTW it was interesting to see that the widely hailed Preuss charter school in San Diego has been hit by allegations of transcript-fudging similar to Uprep’s. And the operators hit back with charges of racism (claiming the accusers just can’t believe minorities can achieve). Preuss is run by U.C. San Diego professors and staff, yet they get (allegedly) dragged down into the muck and start acting like hustlers. Interesting.

  • Jim Mordecai

    At the School Board meeting on Halloween night the devil was in the details. An innocent looking agenda item was on the State Administrator and/or School Board agenda was 07-1331 Calling Parcel Tax Election for District – February 5, 2008. Passage of this item by the public will provide a stable source of funding for both retaining and recruiting teachers–health care cost shifting one of the factors driving good teachers out of Oakland

    But, this Halloween night the purveyors of charter schools paraded their money hungry thirst to the Oakland School Board meeting and demanded that they get their cut of the parcel tax. They then provided the Board with language that would amend the parcel tax request to include all 30 plus Oakland charter schools. The charter school lobbyist were lead by Mr. Driver a charter school paid lobbyist from Sacramento who brought with him his organized contingent, signatures of Oakland taxpayers, and charter school supporters, as well as a threat to lobby against passage of the parcel tax if the Oakland School Board doesn’t include charter schools in their charter school request.

    I celebrated Halloween night at the School Board with appropriate shock and horror at the charter schools lobbying for parcel tax money when they feel no responsibility for the $100 million debt they left behind on taking their children out of Oakland Unified School District schools and adding to the financial stress of the district. The same night charter schools lobbied for parcel tax money that would reduce Oakland Unified School’s potential income by 3 million a year in program cuts, three more charter schools submitted applications that if accepted will further reduce the District’s students, revenue, and cause more program cuts.

    The idea of charter schools was sold as creating a competition that will make public schools stronger. But, what last night’s charter school lobbying horror show showed is that charter school idea is a monster that weakens public education by eating way scare education dollars. The monster’s lobbying arm must be exposed as the stealth force it is undermining the proper funding of public education. It is public education dollars that were diverted by the charter school association to pay their high priced lobbyist Mr. Driver to drive down from Sacramento and pressure the Oakland School Board last night. Like a parasite it wants to have the District raise money for it and pay the full cost of running the parcel tax election.

    All this shows that the true cost of charter schools is not totaled unless its paid lobbyists are included as well as the cost in financial harm done to existing public school districts.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Mr. G


    Perhaps I am misunderstanding the way charter schools work. If I trust that you or Caroline will enlighten me.

    As I understand it, charters are publicly funded and part of the public school system. They receive money, in large part, based on enrollment and attendance, the same way district schools do. This is, presumably, money that OUSD will not need if they have fewer students in district schools, right? They would need to adjust their organization, of course, as would any organization when competition ends a monopoly. But it is not as if this is money that the district is “due” regardless of enrollment numbers. It is money they receive based on the number of students that attend district schools.

    Charter schools permit additional choice. They exist because traditional public schools were not meeting the needs of all students (demand for an alternative existed). Students attend charter schools and so funding is provided to those schools. That seems to make sense to me.

    Now, you can argue the results of charter schools if you’d like. But that is a different argument. Assuming that charter schools are doing a good job (make the leap, if you can, for the sake of the discussion), then isn’t public education (delivering an education to students using tax revenues, not private funds) strengthened by charter schools?

    I guess what I mean is, shouldn’t charter schools be included in the definition of public education? If no, why not? If so, shouldn’t we find a more specific way to talk about the weakening of the district school system by charter schools? That seems like another conversation altogether. And you would get no argument from me that this is a possible result if district schools are unable to compete. But shouldn’t that be our aim? Isn’t that what’s best for the students – to have access to the best free education available to them, regardless of the specific system under which it was formed?

    I realize I didn’t really address your comments about the parcel tax. I know nothing about it and have no idea if charter schools deserve a cut or not. But I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest that we should neglect the public funding of charter schools because they are lowering enrollment at district schools.

    I don’t think there is much of a chance that the charter school movement is going to die. Instead of fighting it every step of the way, perhaps district schools should figure out what there role is in this new public education system and do the their best to fulfill their new responsibilities.

    Finally, with respect to paid lobbyists adding to the cost of charter schools, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The cost of teacher’s unions to the district far surpasses the cost of charter school lobbyists. Sure, the union serves a number of other purposes, but one is to be the chief mouthpiece and negotiator for its members. This is the role the lobbyists serve for charters. What’s the difference?

    Mr. G

  • Caroline

    Hi Mr. G. The point you’re missing is that when a student leaves a school, it doesn’t reduce the school’s costs at all — or only infinitesimally — but a big chunk of funding leaves with the student. The school still needs to pay its administrators and maintain its building and programs. Unless a big mass of students leave, it can’t cut back the number of classes, so there’s no savings in teachers or other classroom expenditures (only tiny savings, for books and minutiae). If a big mass of students leaves, it’s not a good thing for the school to have to cut classes — more likely the school will have to shut down.

    So I hope that helps clarify how charter schools harm other schools.

    Here are some of the forces lobbying for and providing massive financial support for charter schools:

    — The entire Bush administration and its Department of Education.
    — The Schwarzenegger administration, the California Department of Education and the state Board of Education, which is stacked with avid charter supporters and insiders.
    — The huge and mega-wealthy right-wing so-called “think tanks” (these are really advocacy organizations, not the scholarly research organizations they make themselves out to be) — the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and others.
    — Dedicated charter school lobbying organizations such as the Center for Education Reform (very closely linked with the Bush administration) and the California Charter Schools Assocation, all of them bounteously funded.
    — The giant wealthy private funders such as the Gates Foundation, Eli Broad, the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart), and Gap founder Don Fisher.
    — Much of the mainstream media. Savvy education reporters like Katy Murphy and the Chronicle’s Nanette Asimov and Jill Tucker know to ask tough questions, but the charter flacks’ new tactic is to go to uninformed journalists and get them to run unquestioning puff pieces. Giant puff pieces have run in the Chronicle in the last couple of weeks on KIPP and Envision Schools, for example — not written by education reporters, and conveniently timed during enrollment season. (KIPP and Envision needed those puff pieces, because their schools in San Francisco are having trouble filling up.)
    — The California Department of Education will give $450,000 startup grants to anyone who says “I want to start a charter school” — almost no questions asked. Accountability for the money, even if the charter school never starts, is highly nebulous. I’m considering having my Labrador file an application to see what happens.

    Compared to those mighty oceans of support for the charter-school industry, the teachers’ unions and other public-school advocates are one tiny drop.

    So I hope this clarifies some points for you.

  • Caroline

    Oh, and also, it takes some integrity for education reporters to resist the urge to write those newspaper puff pieces, because the temptation of jobs with well-funded charter-school organizations is enticing to reporters in an era when the newspaper business is floundering desperately.

    Nick Driver, the aforementioned charter association exec (actually a San Franciscan and a very nice guy in his Dr. Jekyll, non-charter-flacking incarnation), is a former San Francisco Examiner education reporter.

    Former Oakland Tribune education reporter Jonathan Schorr now works for KIPP.

    Those are just two local examples that immediately leap to mind.

    So you can see how tempting it would be for education reporters to go easy on the charters, and those who do their jobs with integrity deserve extra praise for their ethics. But that also gives you a view of how much power the charter-school lobby wields.

    Here’s some further information on how charter schools harm public education:


  • Jim Mordecai

    Mr. G:

    From my point of view a wonderful question and even better response by Caroline.

    I would like to address the government is a monopoly comment of the mysterous Mr. G. Let us not also forget that the American government is a democracy and a Republic. If both ideas are true then the word monopoly is not appropriate.

    And, if you compare the charter school system to the traditional public school system the latter is far more democratic and representative. Most school districts have directly elected school boards and even Oakland under state take-over ultimately has the State Superintendent elected by the State’s citizens. Charter schools in California have no obligation to be democratic. And, they are not public in the sense that the public pays the taxes but what what happens at a charter school is like the Las Vagas ad: stays at the charter school. In Oakland there are about 140 schools but one school board. However, the over 30 charter schools are run (in theory) by a school board for each charter school. I mentioned in theory because many charter schools the founders hand pick their school boards if they even have a meeting of the school board. In the case of Uprep the board only had one person living in Oakland with many of its school board members from Southern California.

    Finally, the potential for charter school monopoly is real with Green Dot trying to establish itself across the State of California its charter schools free from local control. The idea of the Edison School was capture as much market share as possible or win at monopoly. Independent local school boards in a traditional public school setting is the opposite of a monopoly and what I have seen of the charter school experiment makes be pine for public school system purely for the people and by the people.

  • Marcella Dasta

    I am a student at University of Phoenix, I also work in the Special Education Department at Jefferson Academy Charter School. I am trying to find a social services lobbyist which I can do an Email interview with. Please guide me in
    the right direction, if there is anyone in your area that I can get some answers from please let me know.

    I appreciate any help that you can give me. Thank you very much.

    Marcella Dasta

  • Nextset

    If the school districts don’t want the Charters peeling off the better students they should beat the Charters at the game by starting academically competitive school campuses within the existing District. How difficult can that be?