NAACP Leader Expresses Concern About Bill That Restricts Charter Schools in California

September 13, 2019 Updated: September 13, 2019

After Governor Gavin Newsom brokered a deal between teachers’ unions and charter school advocates in August over the fate of AB 1505, NAACP leader Christina Laster said she still has reservations about the bill, which requires school district or county approval for new charters. The legislation has passed both the State Assembly and Senate and has headed to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Laster, who serves as President of the Inland Empire Parent Union and NAACP Education Chairwoman for the Southwest Region of Riverside, said, “My concern is that new petitions will have to go through such lengthy processes and procedures that it’s going to be very difficult to keep growing. We need more high-quality charter schools that are committed to closing this achievement gap. We need more high-quality options, not less, especially for black students and that is their only hope.”

The bill in question, introduced by Democratic Assembly Members O’Donnell, Bonta, McCarty, and Smith, allows school districts to have discretion over a new charter’s impact on the district’s finances. All charter school teachers also would be required to hold a state credential as well as go through a background check. Additionally, the bill would impose a two-year moratorium on non-classroom and online based schools. The win for charter advocates was an option for charters to appeal to county and state boards for approval.

“This agreement focuses on the needs of our students,” reads a statement from the Governor’s Office regarding the deal between teachers’ unions and charter school advocates. “It increases accountability for all charter schools, allows high-quality charter schools to thrive, and ensures that the fiscal and community impacts of charter schools on school districts are carefully considered.”

The CTA was joined by a number of unions in releasing a statement on the agreement. “All along, our goals have included ensuring locally-elected school board members have the discretion to make decisions to meet the needs of local students … and holding all taxpayer-funded public schools to the same high standards,” the statement said.

Laster, who over the past few months travelled to Sacramento to speak with numerous legislators and the office of Governor Newsom to discuss this bill on behalf of concerned members of the black community, explained her role in the negotiating process.

“As a black community activist and education advocate, I did meet with Governor Newsom’s office. I had several appointments with Assembly members and [state] senators to express our deep concerns about the bill and how it would impact black students within the school choice, charter school platform, how it would hinder more access and opportunity. Those conversations, as far as having an impact on legislation, probably brought an awareness that we were not going to back down,” she said.

“The concessions that were made to restore county and state appeal rights were reasonable from the perspective of the CCSA (California Charter Schools Association),” Laster said of the deal.

Laster also mentioned her meetings with Senators Richard Roth (D-Riverside), Connie Leyva (D-Chino), and Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes (D-Grand Terrace) on AB 1505. She expressed that her meeting with Senator Roth went very well.

“The meeting with Senator Roth was very productive. He actually wanted to hear what our concerns were. He actually provided feedback. He wanted to know how he could better serve his constituents. I was totally pleased with the meeting, because it was a different tone than what we’ve experienced this whole time,” she said.

In contrast, Laster described her meeting with Senator Leyva as not helpful at all.

“Our meeting with Senator Leyva was not very productive, not very welcoming and was not as friendly to be honest. I got the notion that she did not want to hear what we were trying to say and her mind was already made up. She had agreed to meet with us for a certain period of time, but cut it short. I don’t feel like we were welcome.”

Laster’s meeting with Assemblywoman Reyes was also met with similar dismissal.

“I asked her to talk about educational outcomes, supporting access and opportunity for black students. That discussion was for naught. Her mind was already made up. I was trying to present the data, trying to talk from a vantage point of the parents and the students. That was obviously not welcome,” she said.

When asked about who were the biggest beneficiaries of the deal made between the two camps, Laster said that while the CTA likely came out on top, the CSSA and charter advocates also gained something from the deal.

“While the CTA benefits more, I do not believe that it is a total loss for charter advocates. [Charters will] continue to have their schools open and support high quality [education]. A huge benefit is also the appeals consideration.”

Laster said this demonstrates that existing charter schools are performing well and meeting the needs of minority students, and they will be able to continue to service disadvantaged communities. However, she said that she has concerns with the Governor’s claims of “accountability” and “fiscal responsibility” in regards to the deal.

“Of course, there shouldn’t be any bad actors on either platform,” she said referring to both charters and standard public schools. “However, when you are talking about accountability, especially regarding fiscal impact, no one except for the charter school platform have been accountable for what is going on. How can anyone set accountability measures for one arena when [public schools] haven’t gotten it right themselves? If you talk to districts, they’re always fiscally insolvent. It’s a little hypocritical.”

Laster said that she had hoped charter schools wouldn’t have to be held to higher standards than traditional public schools.

“I honestly wish there was a clause where it stated that schools that are supporting the most vulnerable populations and doing very well in that area would not have to be held to higher standards to that of the district,” she said.

While Laster has accepted the current deal, she hopes to educate parents on their representatives and to inform them about how voting for certain candidates will affect their children.

“The parents cannot expect that even the representatives they elect will always have their and their children’s best interest at heart. Ultimately it is up to each and every parent to make sure that their children have access and that they thrive,” she said.