Moms March to the State Capitol to Support Charter School Accountability
March 27th, 2019, 8:35 a.m. I’m at a Subway sandwich shop in Berkeley checking my to-do list. Pick up the rental van: done; pick-up my co-worker, Fabiola: done; drive to Richmond and pick up Mariela, Bertha, Petronila, Brenda, and Yolanda. And then get to Sacramento by 12:30 p.m. These simple tasks are making me nervous, but I can’t figure out why.
Mariela, Bertha, Petronila, Brenda, and Yolanda are all Spanish-speaking mothers with children in charter schools in the West Contra Costa School District. Last year, they reached out to Rigel Massaro, a Senior Staff Attorney at Public Advocates, for help analyzing the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) of several charter schools, including ones their own children attended.
All schools that receive state funding, public and charter, are required to prepare these plans each year to document how they use public funds, including extra funds they receive to help low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. Rigel discovered that many charters in West Contra Costa were not making their plans available to parents and the public, and if they did, the plans were not clear about how they were spending public funds. Thanks to the questions these charter moms asked, Public Advocates decided to investigate charter schools around the state and publish a report, “Keeping the Promise of LCFF in Charter Schools.”
In fiscal year 2017-18, charter schools received more than $3.7 billion in funds through the Local Control Funding Formula, including 900 million in funds generated by high need students (English learners, low-income students, and foster youth). Currently—unlike districts—charter schools are not required to engage with parents and students when they write their LCAP; adopt their LCAP at a public meeting or hold a public hearing in advance of adoption; post their LCAP online; or receive LCAP approval from their authorizer. And for too long, the voices of parents and students, especially Spanish-speaking parents like Mariela, Brenda, Bertha, Petronila, and Yolanda, have been ignored.
This year, Public Advocates is sponsoring AB 967 (Smith) to require charter schools to follow the same rules as public schools, including making their spending plans public and honoring the rights of parents.
And so that’s how I came to be driving to Richmond this morning. Mariela, Bertha, Petronila, Brenda, and Yolanda all offered their time to go to the State Capitol and let their elected officials know that California needs AB 967 to ensure real equity for students and parents across the state.
If I was nervous, I can only imagine how they felt. Most of them had never been to the Capitol before. Now they were going to testify before the Assembly Education Committee in support of AB 967. They had to rearrange their schedules, find child care, and take time off from work. Brenda joined us at the last minute when one of her cleaning jobs was cancelled.
10:05 a.m. We’re on our way! In the rear view mirror I can see Mariela practicing her testimony. Her story still impacts me to this day. When she tried to speak out at her school’s board meeting, the school retaliated. “I was prohibited from going to my daughter’s charter school for six days,” she recalls. “This retaliation shook me to my core.”
The other moms are talking about their advocacy struggles within their school and giving each other support. Brenda is getting some rest—she had just finished cleaning a house earlier that morning. As I listened, I feel privileged and energized to have a part—albeit a small one—in this journey.
12:25 p.m. We arrive safe and sound and march over to the Capitol, umbrellas out, translation equipment in hand. We make a quick stop on the steps of the Capitol for a selfie and walk into the building.
Turns out we were just in time. The hearing was already underway. We ran down the hall, up the stairs, and waited nervously in the overflow room until our turn came up.
The author introduced AB 967, then Rigel provided comment and introduced Mariela who, with conviction in her voice, told the legislators her story.
“Knowledge is power,” she began, then she brought it home:
My support for this bill is as strong as my advocacy for quality education for all students, especially low-income, and English learner students. Charter schools are an option—not a solution—for quality education, and like traditional public schools, charter schools benefit from family engagement, transparency, and accountability.
One by one, Brenda, Petronila, Bertha, and Yolanda went up to the podium. They stated their names and said, “Yo apoyo AB 967” (I support AB 967).
1:48 p.m. We’re all standing in the hallway. I can see the relief and pride on the faces of our brave charter moms. They hugged each other and celebrated their win. Then Rigel helped them get ready to make office visits with two of the committee members who weren’t present.
I felt proud at that moment — for Rigel and all that Public Advocates has done to stand up for parents like these — but most of all I was proud to be with these five mothers. They could have been anywhere else right now, dealing with their jobs and children and busy lives. So why did they take the time to drive all the way to Sacramento on a rainy day? Because, as Mariela put it, they’re fighting for a quality education for all students.
Time for one more selfie before heading back!
Status of Bill: AB 967 passed on the Assembly Floor on May 29th! Thank you Mariela, Bertha, Petronila, Brenda, and Yolanda. Your voices made a difference. The fight isn’t over but Public Advocates will be there with you until it is.