There’s an aggressive turf war that several San Diego-area school districts are waging against personalized learning, independent study-based public charter schools across the county.

Commentary - in-story logoSchool districts like San Diego Unified, Grossmont Union High School District and Sweetwater Union High School have been sending cease-and-desist letters warning these public charter schools that they’re not allowed to locate their resource centers within their district’s boundaries.

In many cases, these resource centers have been operating legally for years. So why wage war on them now? These charter schools are making a positive difference in helping students succeed and, as a result, growing in popularity throughout the county.

This unnecessary legal battle ignores the single most important question: What’s in the best interest of students?

This week commemorates National School Choice Week, which honors the fundamental right that parents and students have to choose which public school, whether traditional district or independent charter, best meets their needs. Many San Diego County students who enroll in these types of independent-study public charter schools were either homeschoolers who had been disenfranchised by the public school system altogether, or former students of these same district schools that are now waging war against them.

Many of these students chose public charter schools because their district schools previously failed them. These students were not given the individualized attention they needed to succeed. Many entered high school without the basic reading, writing, math and communication skills they needed to succeed in either college or the workforce. These students had lost hope and confidence in themselves and became disenfranchised from the public education system altogether.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Charter schools provide students with a fresh start. Many students describe their experience at charter schools as empowering and transforming.

The negative and one-sided news articles that have appeared lately are an attempt to distract the public from the truth: School districts are using public tax dollars not to improve their own schools and programs, but to engage in expensive legal battles to undermine and destroy the public charter schools that are better meeting students’ educational needs.

In other words, these districts are spending taxpayer dollars to eliminate citizens’ fundamental right to school choice.

It’s time to step up and defend the fundamental right we have to choose the education program that best meets the needs of our children. Our school districts must drop the lawsuits, end the turf war and recognize and respect this right.

Jeff Rice is the founder of the California Personalized Learning movement and director of the APLUS+ Personalized Learning Network Association. Rice’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Charter Schools, Education, Opinion

    Written by Opinion

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    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    Charters are just another place to shop. Taxpayers should not be funding these independent schools. Parents have a choice to go somewhere else. What should be happening is that children who have been identified as "at risk" for failure be supported more greatly than ever before. These are children who are second language learners who tend to reside in very low income neighborhoods and live a highly stressed(on survival mode) existence.  Many of these kids live on the streets, in cars, or bounced from the homes of friends and relatives. These are the kids that need mental health care, normal health care, and a speech pathologist.  These are the kids that represent, on average, 20 percent of the students with low test scores and help to categorize a school as "under performing".  Taxpayers don't want to pay for adequate funding for public schools, but they sure know how to complain about it. Charter schools are not an answer.

    Dennis subscriber

    War on Charters? LMAO! The UT has been anti public education for as long as I can remember and there has been a major war against real public education for many years. Don't worry Charters, ALEC has your back in many many places around our country.

    So it should be okay for a school district to authorize charter schools to operate in another school district? Read this article:

    This poor me with Charter schools is laughable. Many exist so middle class families don't have to send their children to schools with "those" kids. Some cherry pick the brightest students away from public schools. Some council out students they don't think "fit" their system. One is under federal investigation for diverting millions in funds in Ohio/LA and uses their school as a backdoor visa program for Turkish nationals.

    Some truly exist for the right reasons but are overshadowed by many others.

    Charters will eventually lead to have/have not situation. Those who have not will be left in schools Charters leave for scraps.

    My last question. How are Charter boards accountable to the public? They have their own boards, not voted on by the public, can go up the chain to the state level if they don't like how district school boards are treating them.

    There is a great story here. Glendale school board denies a charter. The residents don't want it. The democratically elected Glendale school board does not want it. The charter then will go to the county school board to override the decision. True democracy in action.

    "They calculated that 74% of the charter petition’s roughly 300 support signatures came from families who reside outside of Glendale."

    The public is catching on.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge subscriber

    @Dennis Thank you very much for the articles!  It is about time the public is waking up.

    David subscriber

    School districts are only interested in their survival and influence. Whether a student succeeds doesn't even come into play. The traditional system needs to be overhauled. I personally know charter leaders that work day in and day out for their students, not for their personal survival. Traditional school districts brew on ways to set-back charter schools only to falsely prop themselves up. I recently heard something very interesting about a very large school district in San Diego from one of their employee -- "we spend all our time trying to make up charter school issues rather than coming up with strategies about improving our own schools.' Someday a superintendent will be hired at a large district that will put students needs' first and discover that both public chatter schools and traditional schools should work together for our children's sake. 

    T Hinker
    T Hinker

    I agree with your closing remark 100%

    As I said previously:

    "The sad thing is that students need to be at the center of the debate, but ironically they have hardly any voice at all. If their genuine interests and needs were truly at the heart of the debate, I suspect many of the issues would evaporate or become irrelevant."

    All the debate, including any supposed right to choice of school, is almost always driven by political issues, greed and self interest. A total abuse of children.

    And like David, I know charter school administrators and staff who give everything in support of the children in their charge, only to find themselves and their schools a pawn in a political and legal battlefield.

    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    Move over Veteran's Day and the Fourth of July. We are now celebrating National School Choice Week! This editorial uses overheated rhetoric to declare a non-existent right.  

    The author boldly proclaims "...these districts are spending taxpayer dollars to eliminate citizens’ fundamental right to school choice." The California Constitution is the source of a fundamental right to a "free and appropriate education." There are no legal precedents for saying California's students have a fundamental right to choice. Choice depends on the political process and policies exercised by our elected representatives. It is called self-government. Indeed the fifty states have a wide variety of laws and regulations that provide for charter schools and traditional public schools and the choices that might be exercised by parents. This concept is known as federalism. 

    This editorial shares many characteristics of a propaganda piece, demonizing the enemy, oversimplifying the issue and presenting the stated view as the one adopted by all right thinking people. As a voter I'll stick with Madison's view of pluralism rather than adopt this phony "war on charter schools" mantra.

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Richard del Rio  "There are no legal precedents for saying California's students have a fundamental right to choice. Choice depends on the political process and policies exercised by our elected representatives. It is called self-government"

    Unless I'm missing something, this is a legal requirement for CHOICE as set by the California Ed Code:

    As an active Charter school advocate, kids in SDUSD Charter (after choicing out of a public school who failed my IEP child) and Board member of a Charter (which is considered a legal public Board with restrictions outlined in the Brown Act), I respectfully completely disagree with the characterization you state as:

    "This editorial shares many characteristics of a propaganda piece, demonizing the enemy, oversimplifying the issue and presenting the stated view as the one adopted by all right thinking people".

    In my direct experience, there most certainly is a war (check out what just happened for IA in Scripps Ranch). In reality, the barn door is open, the animals are running and Charters are a reality. If anybody wants to minimize Charters, then fix the local community public school so parents won't choose to choice out - which will never happen.

    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    @ScrippsDad @Richard del Rio The characterization of a state statute on the legislative intent authorizing charter schools qualifies as a fundamental right is simply wrong. 

    Expanding choice beyond the traditional public schools is one of the many goals of the authorizing legislation. I am not anti-charter school but recognize that our legal and political system has never defined a family's right to choice. The political conflicts between the two notions of public schools are inherent when there is a limited set of funds and seemingly what benefits one model hurts the other. 

    My main criticism is the orchestrated stream of poorly written editorials and followup letters that declare a Holy War on traditional public schools and their elected school boards. The readers know this is a difficult set of issues with conflicting agendas on both sides. To delegitimize those you have a policy dispute with is to make practical solutions much more difficult than need be. The editorial should frame the dispute as a disagreement over policies not an abridgment of rights and a "war on charter schools." It remains propagandistic.

    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    @ScrippsDad @Richard del Rio There are eight states that have chosen to not authorize charter schools. Do you think a lawsuit could force them to comply with this version of the fundamental rights of the parent with regard to charter school choice? Pierce, for example, was decided based on whether compulsory public education could be forced on families that wanted a religious education.  Likewise, recent cases do not establish a right to choice in the sense that enthusiastic charter advocates, or extreme parental rights groups propose.  The issue is not whether you have a right to be free from interference with your conscience--you do-- but the right to public monies, facilities and a specific curriculum. The school boards elected by the people and the state legislatures retain the power to set educational policy.   States have wide latitude to incorporate choice as an element of public school legislation. If you do not like any given policy, your fundamental right is to petition your representatives. That is what is happening with these cases as it should be. 

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Richard del Rio @ScrippsDad  Thanks for the analysis and your point is taken. I appreciate the information as well.

    That said - in California where Charters are authorized and specifically SDUSD, I still contend that there is a "war" and would site as just two examples: Thrive, which ended up getting State authorized after SDUSD rejection and IA, which regardless of unanimous community opposition and the lack of a place to move is being evicted from the school site so SDUSD can partner with a private developer to build for-profit homes on school land that already has a charter on it (and shares resources with the district itself as well). The details are fascinating and I'm sure will come out in future VOSD and community publications.

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Richard del Rio @ScrippsDad

    Now, I'm a product of public schools and am an advocate for quality public schools. However, I also am an advocate for parental choice as one size does not fit all and we know that every student is different.

    I agree the war is on policies, but, policies established by elected officials contrary to legitimate parental rights and legislation of which officials are abridging the rights of parents and forcing an oppositional social fight against the  "war on charter schools" to invoke and prosecute that right for choice.

    Being in the educational community and fighting for the rights of choice and charters, I feel very comfortable noting that this is not propagandistic, but, very very real. I'm actually living it now.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge subscriber

    I have to agree with what T Hinker states here.  It's complicated.  For instance, I know many students who leave traditional schools to go to charter only to return to their own public school because the charter school didn't fulfill their needs.  So, yes this is definitely an 'Opinion' piece and opinions regarding charters are wide ranging.  I am not familiar with the title 'personalized, independent, study-based learning'.  Can the author name one or two of these charters? The author talks about the money for lawyers to move resource centers off the district boundaries.  There must be some cause to be able to do this.  And yes, as Hinker says, it is not surprising what districts are doing, but what is surprising is they weren't able to block so many charters from cropping up in the first place considering all the resources they siphon from the public schools.  The amount of time alone that school boards spend addressing the needs of charters is baffling.  Check out the agendas of school boards in one year to validate this.  Whole meetings are dedicated to charters.  That's taxpayer dollars as well. 

    David subscriber

    @Lou Dodge Lou you have some good points. However, school districts should not be authorizing charter schools. From the start, there is a conflict of interest. There should be an authorizing charter board other than the district board a charter school resides in. As it stands now it's like Ford authorizing Chevrolet to move in next door. County offices should be the starting point. County offices oversee school districts that are much smaller than some district schools. They already have the expertise and they work well with charter schools. Remember, some of these charter schools are much larger than 300 traditional school districts state wide.

    T Hinker
    T Hinker

    This is a hugely complex issue. Sure, choice in education sounds great, just like freedom of speech. But when push comes to shove, what the issue often becomes is parents all wanting their own control and a legal right to demand that their own unique demands be taken into account. Before you know where you are, you end up with a hot bed of competing self-interest from a staggering diversity of interest groups. Individuals looking for personal supremacy and domination, investors looking to make a quick buck, political groups looking to further their missions..... all using the smokescreen of delivering better education to those dear, darling and deserving children.

    I can understand school districts wanting to keep this legal minefield off their doorstep by whatever means is open to them. That is a natural and understandable response to what could be seen as an assault by an anarchistic threat. With such intensity and diversity in the self-interest groups attracted by the idea of Charter Schools, expensive legal battles are almost inevitable.

    The sad thing is that students need to be at the center of the debate, but ironically they have hardly any voice at all. If their genuine interests and needs were truly at the heart of the debate, I suspect many of the issues would evaporate or become irrelevant.

    Cameron Curry
    Cameron Curry

    Thanks Jeff for adding a voice of reason and clarity to the situation in San Diego County.  The academic lives and choice of students is under attack as districts view this as a loss of market share instead of high quality options helping to improve the landscape of public education. 

    Districts naively believe that closing a charter resource center will lead to them recapturing students.  Some of these students left looking for personalized attention, others for flexibility, while others were never in the traditional system to begin with.  Having these students in a traditional school, with traditional programming is a wish that will never be fulfilled.

    The efforts of districts to hire attorneys to scare public charter school operators needs to be called out for what it is: bully tactics for no other reason than to fulfill adult agendas and propping up an industry in desperate need of change.  Imagine if this much time, effort, and resources were focused on the traditional system. The gains we would be seeing would be impressive.  Instead, we waste additional time, resources, and human capital in an effort to curb and stifle innovation and choice in our community.

    Every few decades there comes a time to take a stand and demand justice.  Not for ourselves but for those whom we serve.  These resource centers are not about money, influence, or politics.  They are all about offering a student a chance to think, communicate, and achieve.  Too bad local superintendents and school Boards are hurting children in an effort to maintain their bureaucracies.