Let Charter Schools Grow - Voice of San Diego

Opinion UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Let Charter Schools Grow

The city has the opportunity to give students educational choices by making simple changes to the land use code.

Emily Murray, right, helps students in her San Diego Cooperative classroom, which shared space with a traditional San Diego Unified District school, in 2016. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The city of San Diego does not oversee the education of its students — that’s the role of San Diego Unified School District. The city’s decisions and actions, however, can and do have a great impact on how students can learn. One easy decision is coming before the City Council in the form of the city’s land use code.

Amendments to the city’s land use code came before the Council earlier this year, and instead of voting for basic amendments that impacted charter schools, the Council punted and delayed its vote until Tuesday. The day has come, and it’s time for the City Council to do what’s right and in the best interest of children.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryLet’s get one thing out of the way. Charter schools are public schools. They are free, open to all and are accountable. Unfortunately, self-serving, anti-charter groups continue to push false information and outright lies about charter schools in hopes of undermining charters and maintaining the status quo, one that favors bureaucracy over students’ needs. Their goal is to limit charter growth by keeping tight enrollment restrictions through the land use code.

Specifically, the amendments in front of the San Diego City Council would allow schools in commercial zones to increase the maximum enrollment from 300 to 600 students by obtaining a neighborhood use permit. They would also remove the onerous conditional use permit requirement for schools with more than 300 students in the residential multiple-unit zone, or those with apartment buildings and condos.

Despite what opponents say, charter schools do not take money from public schools. School funding doesn’t belong to the district; it follows the student to whichever public school he or she decides to attend. In San Diego, this happens through the district’s own choice program. When students choose to leave their neighborhood school to attend one outside their boundaries, the funding follows that student to that school. This is happening very much in the district’s lower-income schools. Students are leaving not to go to neighboring schools, but to others school clusters.

Charters wouldn’t grow unless there was demand. By not allowing schools to expand their individual capacities, the city is denying a school of choice to the thousands of families whom they serve.

The amendments would also give charters more independence and thus ease the need to use district facilities. That’s a win-win.

Perhaps instead of vilifying charters and blaming them for the district’s own financial mess, anti-charter groups should focus on why students are leaving their schools in the first place.

I hope the San Diego City Council will see through this and look at the facts. Charter schools are concentrated south of the I-8 freeway, where they are outperforming traditional public schools. Charter schools are an essential part of the educational landscape. They provide options to parents and students who don’t have the luxury to pay for private schools. Charter schools wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a need or demand for them. Today, hundreds of students are on waiting lists because charter schools do not have the capacity to meet the demand.

Better facilities equal better education. The city has the opportunity to give students educational choices by making simple changes to the land use code. I hope they will see past the lies being spread and the polarization being created. I hope they will do what’s right for students and vote for the recommended amendments to the land use code.

Kamaal Martin is regional director of Southern California projects for the California Charter Schools Association. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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