05/09/2005 02:01 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Left Just Doesn't Get it about Public Education

I just got back from Sacramento after a futile day of meetings with Assembly and Senate staffers who were sitting in for their members. I'm the founder and Executive Director of a social justice-themed charter school in inner-city Los Angeles. We need help. All public schools need help. But the Democrats who control the State legislature, particularly those who represent the poorest families, do whatever the teachers union tells them, and right now the unions are anti-charter schools. So the job of creating an alternative public school that cares about children first is made that much harder. Why was I in Sacramento? To argue in favor of rent subsidies for those schools that serve the poorest families. Charter schools get the same $6000 per pupil per year as other public schools, but from that money we have to buy or rent a facility. A public school building is public infrastructure, but charter schools have to find private sources of money for a building. That's like telling citizens to fill their own potholes, government won't do it. But our brilliant Democratic legislators couldn't care less. Last week one of our finest progressive legislators, Jackie Goldberg, tried unsuccessfully to sneak a rider on a bill that would have placed a moratorium on charter school approvals. 60 schools, already in development for years with hundreds of desparate poor families signed up, would have been denied their charters. Jackie knows nothing about the charter school movement. She mouths left-wing gibberish about siphoning off the best and the brightest while the other public schools are left behind. Let's look at the facts: in Los Angeles a dysfunctional and over-centralized school district that only cares about its own self-preservation is locked in a death grip with a union that only cares about its own job security. The district and the union worry about jobs. No one worries about the kids. Ten years ago three of the worst performing schools in the United States, Vaughn, Fenton Avenue and Montague, all in Pacoima serving the poorest community in the district, converted to charter. Today they are the pride of the community, California Distinguished schools, turned around because site-based managers excited all stakeholders, parents, students and staff, and together they have produced minor miracles. My school is in year three, and already I can see the results. Rather than siphon off the best and the brightest, we have 15% of our student body needing special education services (as opposed to a District average of 10%), and yet our test scores are way above the neighboring schools. Charter schools bust up the dysfunctional monopoly, and yes, they are the creature of the right wing, who in reality would prefer vouchers and taxpayer support for fundamentalist Christian education, but the work is so hard that only progressive crazies like me will take on the challenge. I pay my teachers in accordance with the UTLA collective bargaining agreement. I've never crossed a picket line in my life. Rather than fight charters, the left should embrace them and co-opt the movement. Jackie, our kids need your help!