Californians Nearly Split Evenly on Issue of Charter Schools

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Reaching a consensus on how to teach California’s children is a tricky problem depending on whom you ask.

According to a new studyreleased Wednesday from the Public Policy Institute of California, some see a solution through charter schools while others cannot support the issue because they see the model comes at the expense of low teacher salaries and a lack of funding for traditional public schools.

The study shows a split over charter schools in the Golden State and how they fit into the public school equation.

Parents and supporters of charter schools rally outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2019. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

About half of all adults polled, 49%, said they support charter schools, while 46% said they oppose them. A majority of those polled, 75% of adults and 81% of public school parents, see charter schools as a means to provide low-income communities with more choices on where children can receive K-12 schooling.

Charter schools are a bit of an oddity in North America, as they’re funded by tax dollars from a local school district, but are formed under the terms of a charter that have separate faculty and curriculum from a neighboring school. Some charter schools may also be co-located on a public school campus but have a different set of goals and tests for its students.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last month new transparency requirements that will force the state’s more than 1,300 charter schools to provide more access, including having board meetings open to the public, stopping personal gain, banning members from voting on contracts that would benefit them and properly responding to public records requests.

Support may be well represented, but 64% of adults and 75% of public school parents said they are very or somewhat concerned that charter schools divert state funding away from traditional public schools and this worry was most pronounced among those polled in Los Angeles.

Earlier this year, 30,000 educators took to the streets in Los Angeles to protest low teacher salaries and what the local teacher’s union called the “privatization” of public schools. A focal point of the 5-day strike was how state funding is diverted from traditional public schools to charter schools.

When the nation’s second largest school district grinded to a halt this January due to the strike, the California Charter Schools Association said there needs to be more funding for all schools.

In March, some 2,000 teachers in Oakland went on a 7-day strike and received secured higher pay raises for educators.

Teacher strikes for higher pay were widely supported by those polled in the PPIC study, with 61% of adults and 58% of public school parents in support. Support was highest in San Francisco and Los Angeles, while more than half of those polled in the Inland Empire, Central Valley and San Diego supported teachers going on strike for higher pay.

The most troubling issue all adults polled see facing public schools today is a lack of funding. Across the race/ethnicity groups polled, 30% of Asian Americans are most concerned about a lack of funding and 25% of all public school parents also see this being a top priority, followed by large class sizes, quality of education and limited curriculum. Teacher pay was at the bottom of the list, with only 5% across the board saying it was a concern for them.

Funding shortfalls at the Los Angeles Unified School can be tackled through a proposed parcel tax which will be placed on the June ballot and would generate an estimated $500 million over the next 12 years if approved by voters.

Across the state a ballot measure that could make it onto the 2020 ballot would tax commercial properties to create a “split roll” property tax system to fund K-12 public schools. More than half of likely voters and adults in the PPIC study said they would approve the tax.

California ranks below average or near the bottom in English and math test scores for grades 4 and 8, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Overall, the Golden State ranked 32nd out of 50 states in spending for public K-12 education per student, but only about 35% of parents polled thought it was average or below average.

About 40% of adults and public school parents polled gave public schools in their neighborhood a grade of C, with Latinos and African Americans giving this ranking at a higher rate.

Which could explain why most Californians support Newsom’s plan to earmark $750 to increase full-day kindergarten programs and $125 million for full-day, full-year preschool for low-income families.

There is overwhelming support for state funded voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds, from 63% of adults and 81% of public school parents.

Meanwhile, six in 10 Californians are concerned about increased federal immigration enforcement that could impact undocumented students in their local public schools and their families. That concern was at 71% for public school parents, with Latinos at 39%, followed by just 29% of Asian Americans.

Another factor Californians and parents must face is the possibility of a mass shooting at their local school. Overall, 37% of adults and 50% of public school parents were very concerned of the threat of a shooting, with Latinos responding most loudly, at 54%, among other race/ethnicity groups polled.

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