Charter Schools: A Cancer Destroying Our Public School System By: Francisco Martinez

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When I first heard that Broad was planning to dismantle public education by taking 50% of students out of LAUSD and putting them in charters schools, I thought it was time for me to get active. Originally, I was one of those people who thought that charters were an alternative to our struggling inner city schools that were infested with gangs, under performing, and multiple other problems. Soon, I began to comprehend that behind the appealing and usually misleading propaganda publicized by charter school operators, there is an undeniable truth purposely hidden by proponents of the charter school industry: Charter operators are in business to make money at the expense of our children's education.

Without any doubts, the charter school industry generates hundreds of millions of Dollars in revenues for the most part because they benefit from the year 2000 Community Renewal Tax Relief Act that provides "tax incentives for seven years to businesses that locate and hire residents in economically depressed urban and rural areas". This credit allows charter school investors to double their money in a period of seven years which is one reason why many of them are coming into the charter school business in unprecedented large numbers. It's evident that most of these investors take advantage of the quick guaranteed profits generated in large part due to the lack of government oversight of these money making institutions. As a matter of fact, The Miami Herald called south Florida charter schools a "$400-million-a-year powerhouse backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians, but with little oversight." According to information obtained from tax forms 990, major Charter Chain Executives total Compensation in 2012, was as follows: Celerity, Vielka McFarlane $438,730.00, Alliance, Judy Burton, $330,400.00, Aspire, James R. Willcox $293,687.00, Green Dot, Marco Petruzzi $279,478.00, Camino Nuevo, Ana Ponce $230,811.00. Today, they may be making even more as many of these charter schools have moved into many other school districts throughout the country.

While representatives of the lucrative charter school industry make millions of dollars in profits, they claim and promote the belief that they run public schools. Yet, legal entities such as the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the California Court of Appeals, and the National Labor Relations Board, have on record that charter schools are not public entities. These rulings, however, clearly contradict a latest document published by the CCSA(California Charter School Associations) that falsely argues that "Charter schools are public schools". While a few charter schools are run by some public institutions, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are ,therefore, classified as private. In addition to not being public and being in the business generating millions of Dollars in profits from tax Dollars, charter school operators and strong proponents of charter schools, demonize the public school system and even argue that parents are waiting for more charter schools because they are better. This, evidently, is misleading because many parents would choose to keep their children in a public school if enough funding was provided by the State to pay for services and personnel to cover basic educational needs. Unfortunately, instead of providing the funding necessary, state governments are reducing school funding while they blame the country's economic crisis. At least 35 states were providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. As of last year, over half of the states had education funding levels below pre-recession levels. In California, due to budget cuts, many traditional public schools ended their after school programs and have defunded day care facilities. These budgetary adjustments have forced many parents to turn to charter schools in search of these highly needed programs. However, even under severe budget cuts many public schools strive and continue to provide high quality education to the majority of their students. Unfortunately, this is hardly ever publicized by the corporate media that, in large part, spends their air time praising charters and repeating, again and again, how much better these educational institutions are.

The proliferation of charter schools in low income communities has also motivated parents, teachers and the community in general to organize and form community organizations to try to stop the charter school takeover of our public schools. In California, a group of community leaders attempted to repeal the 1992 California Charter School Laws. This group that had representatives throughout the state argued that charters are taking away precious funds from public schools and are not accountable to tax payers. This effort to stop the expansion of charter schools received the support from different personalities such as actor Danny Glober, former US Ambassador to Mexico Julian Nava among many other activists and personalities who perceived charter schools as a threat to our public school system.

However, charter school operators attacked this movement by arguing that those opposing the charters school expansion were actually attacking those parents who want their children to receive "better education". However, studies show that charter schools don't typically offer a better education or that they in, anyway, outperform public schools. For example, in 2013 students from Ref Rodriguez's Early College Academy for Leaders and Scholars (ECALS) took the California State University (CSU) entrance exams. Half of those taking the test failed to test proficiently in either mathematics or English. The fifty percent of Rodriguez's students that failed had to take remedial high school classes. This clearly indicates that a lot of what is being said about the charter school "success" story is very misleading "propaganda" that the charter school industry has publicized to attract parents who may wrongly think that charter schools have more to offer when it comes to their children's education. As a result of this propaganda, many parents have felt victims of a system that usually gets a lot of media attention but lacks the statistics to support their "success" arguments.

Whatever the case may be, it is important to recognize that parents and students are not the only victims of the charter school deceit. Studies show that charter schools usually have problems retaining teachers. While some charter schools may offer decent salaries, usually they offer less benefits and reduced job protections compared to public school teachers. These may be some of the reasons why charter schools keep on hiring new and usually inexperienced teachers. The average charter school teacher leave the profession or move on to work for public school districts that still offer good pay and some job protections, or leave the profession at all within a period of three years. This fast and continued displacement of educators usually disrupts the learning continuity and directly affects the education of children. At the same time, disallow teachers from getting the experience necessary to be successful educators in their careers. As a matter of fact, the 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey of the National Center for Education Statistics shows that "charter teachers have less experience than those at typical public schools; more than one-fourth (29 percent) had less than three years full-time teaching experience compared with 12 percent of those at traditional schools."

While many public school teachers and community members oppose charter schools, labor unions, on the other hand, continue to incorporate charters into their so called "plan of action". That is exactly what United Teachers of Los Angeles UTLA is doing under their so called "Strategic Plan", which has been carried out in full force under the regime of president Alex Caputo-Pearl. Obviously, this is nothing new if we look at the fact that the California Teachers Association, or the CTA, the NEA's largest state affiliate, officially listed charter school "organizing" as a focus area in its long-term strategic plan. AFT president Randi Weingarten said at one point: "We started actively organizing charter schools pretty much right as they began evolving--first in New York, where my predecessor Al Shanker supported charters as hubs of innovation, then in Florida and throughout the country,". This statement pretty much spells out where teacher's unions stand with regard to charter schools. However, as popular as this may sound, this is not a true representation of how rank and file members actually feel about the idea of "charterizing" the educational system. To many public school teachers, the so called "charterization of the public school system " in one way or another, represents the biggest threat to many teacher's careers. Usually, charter school teachers get thin contracts compared to large districts that can have a few hundred pages. However, having a bigger contract not always translates into having more protections when it comes to layoffs or issuing Reduction in Force(RIF) notices to teachers.

In the last few years, teachers in Los Angeles have had to endure constant budget cuts, RIF notices, increase class sizes, poor working conditions, while many of them also fear the threat of a possible takeover of their schools by a charter school operator. The Parent Trigger law created a process which allows parents of students in low-performing schools to sign a petition to implement one of the intervention models - replacing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to a charter operator, transforming it through some programs, or closing the school altogether. However, this law has been mainly used by charter operators who have used this law to take over more public schools while teachers unions, such as UTLA, stand on the sidelines or try to cut secretive career deals with charter owners.

The almost non-existing opposition to the expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles, has led to the unprecedented increase on the number charter schools in the last few years. Los Angeles already has more than 100,000 students attending charter schools, the most of any city in the nation. Charter school supporters in Los Angeles want to boost the percentage of students in the city who attend charters to 50% from 16% currently. However, in theory, Los Angeles teachers union(UTLA) opposes this plan but in practice they are not really doing much to stop it. Actually, many activist teachers feel that they have become part of it given that former UTLA president John Perez and staffer Mike Bennet both seat as members of the Board of Directors of the Montague Charter Academy School. However, as bad as this may sound, former UTLA president, John Perez, still is a seating member of the UTLA Board of Directors and the House of Representatives and the chair of the Retired Teachers Committee of UTLA. Mike Bennet, on the other hand, is a paid UTLA staffer. This, of course, constitutes a clear conflict of interest on their part and a hypocritical position of our Union leaders who pretend to be fighting charter schools when in fact they are in bed with them. In the same way, it is important to note that Mr. Perez and Mr. Bennet are not the only two members of the UTLA leadership who have been in direct contact with the charter school movement. Previously, UTLA president AJ Duffy, a close associate of the current UTLA leadership, left UTLA to become member-director of a charter school. However, the UTLA leaders make no mention of this and keep this information hidden from our rank and file members because they know that AJ Duffy was part of their inner circle and a close friend of those in power today.

Yet, UTLA leaders continue to mislead our members when they publicize that UTLA is fighting charter schools when, in fact, they are making them part of us. Indeed, UTLA is in the process of incorporating more charter school teachers into their ranks. They talk so much about representing those poor charter school teachers but they fail to admit that all they care for is their money. It seems so obvious that they are just bringing these teachers in to compensate for the money they have lost from the 10,000 educators they lost in the last seven years due to the so called budget cuts. Then again, it is important to note that UTLA gets a significant amount of money from charter school teachers who have light contracts and little union representation. Over all, this is not bad for a union that does little or nothing to defend its members but spends member's money in political campaigns, trips and labor conferences that hardly ever materialize in anything that truly benefits our teachers.

Similarly there are other organizations that have joined the charter movement because their top executives thought they could make quick and easy money. Actually, operating a non-profit charter schools can be very profitable for charter school executives like Eva Moskowitz. According to Alan Singer, educator at Hofstra University, Moskowitz earns close to a half a million dollars a year ($485,000) for overseeing school programs that serve 6,700 children, which is over $72 per student. By comparison, New York State Education Commissioner is paid a salary of $212,000 to oversee programs with 2.7 million students or about 8 cents per student. In other words, Moskowitz earns about 100 times more than King for each student enrolled in a Success Academy Charter School. Carmen Farina, New York City School Chancellor is paid $212,000 a year to oversee 1.1 million students or about 19 cents per student. As you can see, is all about the money and not the children's education as the charter operators and our union leaders want us to believe!!

While the Gates and the Broad foundations takeover of our schools represents a threat to our public school system, it is equally or a greater threat the fact that the charter school industry has also influenced and to, some degree, infiltrated and bought off the labor institutions that are supposed to protect public education. Gates and Broad would not be talking about taking half of our LAUSD schools if the UTLA leaders would have been standing up firmly against the charter school expansion. Unfortunately, the millions of Dollars generated by this industry may influence many of these union leaders who get elected saying one thing but ultimately doing just the opposite of what they said.

While overall demands for education remains steady, the demands for charter schools is on the rise. By the year 2020, industry value added, which measures this industry's contribution to the overall economy, is forecast to have grown at an annualized rate of 7.9%. Whether this statement is accurate or not, UTLA leaders have already committed to making these projections a reality. This may explain why UTLA has moved in full steam to organize and represent charter school teachers while they disregard their dues paying members who are the back bone of our union. There are no good or bad charters they are all in the education business to make money. Recently, there have been many headlines about waste, fraud, and abuse at charter schools across the country. School districts lack the resources to oversee charter schools, which has led to millions of dollars in misspent taxpayer funds.

The Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education released the results of a survey of charter school fraud, waste, and abuse in 15 states, which found more than $200 million in fraud. If UTLA moves ahead in the direction to incorporate more charter schools, they are becoming part of a scam that takes funds away from our low income community public schools and hands it to big corporations and millionaires who may care less for the well-being of our children and our communities. However, teachers need to stand up and raise their fists and organize fight backs and actions. If everything fails, rank and file teachers need to take the lead and remove those leaders who may already have sold out to the charter school movement. The goal of the charter school movement is to privatize even further an already privatized public school system. Our goal, as public school teachers, is to defend the right of our students and communities to a free public education for all. There is no way in the foreseen future that we will be able to coexist with a movement which primary goal is to make profits and destroy public education. If we do not take a stand now, our profession as we know it may no longer exist. It is up to you, your friends, your colleagues, your community, etc., to make sure that our public schools remain public. Power to the people! Stop privatizing our public schools!

Thank you for reading!!!

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