By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
Efforts to privatize public schools in the San Joaquin (pronounced: whah-keen) Valley are accelerating. Five disparate yet mutually reinforcing groups are leading this Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement. For school year 2017-2018, taxpayers sent $11.5 billion to educate K-12 students in the valley and a full $1 billion of that money was siphoned off to charter schools. This meant that education funding for 92 percent of students attending public schools has been significantly reduced on a per student basis.
In July 2017, California’s State Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, announced the revised 2017-2018 budget for K-12 education totaled $92.5 billion. Dividing this number by the total of students enrolled statewide provides an average spending per enrolled student ($14,870). The spending numbers reported above were found by multiplying $14,870 by students enrolled.
The five groups motivating privatization of public schools are:
- People who want taxpayer supported religious schools.
- Groups who want segregated schools.
- Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.
- The technology industry using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and supporting technology driven charter schools.
- Ideologs who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.
The Big Valley
The San Joaquin Valley is America’s top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation’s salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. Starting near the port of Stockton, the valley is 250 miles long and is bordered on the west by coastal mountain ranges. Its eastern boundary is part of the southern two-thirds of the Sierra bioregion, which features Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It ends at the San Gabriel Mountains in the south.
Seven counties (Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Kern) govern the valley. Its three major cities are Fresno (population 525,000), Stockton (population 310,000) and Bakersfield (population 380,000). The entire valley has a population of more than 4 million with 845,369 K-12 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.
Ironically, in possibly the world’s most prolific food producing area, there is food insecurity. In 2009 the problem became particularly severe. Sabine Blaizin reported, “The state of California declared a state of emergency in Fresno County, and from July to October, was trucking in tons of food to the hungry and unemployed.” Since 2009, the economic conditions in the valley have slowly but steadily improved.
Some Data Observations
In her 2017 report on California’s out of control charter school system, Carol Burris made a point about the unsavory nature of the independent study charter school. She pointed out that these schools have poor attendance and terrible graduation rates. Unfortunately, they are easy to set up and very profitable. Of all the independent study charters, the virtual charters have the worst performance data and are widely seen as fraudulent. About one-third of the valley’s charters are independent study and half of those are virtual.
As the table above shows, Kings county is already at 17.1 percent charter penetration which is about the same percentage as San Diego. It is likely that Kings county district schools are struggling financially because they cannot adjust fast enough to the loss of students to the charter system. Several studies, including Professor Gordon Lafer’s “Breaking Point,” have documented this threat to public school systems caused by these minimally-regulated privatized schools.
The charter school industry notoriously avoids the more expensive students to educate such as special education students. The following chart shows that same trend is prevalent in the valley. In every category of more difficult and expensive students to serve, the charter school industry has managed to avoid their fair share.
GO Public Schools Targets Fresno
In Oakland, California, GO is the political organizer working on the ground to privatize public schools. It funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. The national organizing group for privatizing public schools, Education Cities, lists GO as its partner. GO is a non-profit operating under federal tax code 501-C3. Great Oakland Public Schools is GO’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501-C4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.
A December 2017 article in the Fresno Bee reported,
“Dozens of parents and community members attended a meeting at the Big Red Church on Wednesday to discuss how to improve Fresno Unified and the success of its students – but it wasn’t hosted by the district.
“Go Public Schools, a nonprofit that has worked with struggling schools in Oakland, created a branch of the organization in Fresno earlier this year, with the goal of ‘expanding access to quality education in Fresno’s most historically under-served neighborhoods.’
“Since Go Public Schools Fresno opened in June, it has hosted “house parties” across the city, where parents exchange ideas in their homes, and offered a 10-week course to Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them how to become more engaged in community issues and urging them to attend school board meetings.”
Go Public Schools Executive Director in Fresno is Diego Arambula. The article pointed out that Diego’s brother, Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, was present. This is another example of pretend progressives adopting the school privatization policies promoted by Betsy DeVos, Eli Broad, the Walmart heirs and David Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
GO’s current campaign in Fresno is the Choosing Our Future Initiative. They claim,
“Our path forward is built on a set of 3 policy recommendations:
- “21st century Success: We need to redefine success as it relates to the 21st century and commit to every child graduating prepared to succeed.
- “Individualized Student Plans: We want to empower both students and educators with individualized data to ensure every child is making adequate annual progress toward graduating prepared to succeed. …
- “Innovation Zone: Create an Innovation Zone to design and support transformational school models.”
Goal one is related to the DeVosian meme that schools have not changed in 100 years. The second goal is about selling technology. Their individualized learning plan undoubtedly includes “personalized learning” on digital devices. It is an unproven approach, likely to fail. The final goal is a call for the ALEC supported ideology to reduce democratic input into local school policy. It claims schools should be autonomous and freed from elected school boards and legislatures. This theory is being implemented in Denver, Philadelphia and elsewhere, a plan that posits disruption as a positive value for educating children.
Local elites like Larry Powell the former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools are supporting GO’s school privatization plan. Powell’s bio at the Central Valley Community Foundation says he has a daily radio feature called “Good News with Larry Powell” on iHeart Radio and is a Political Analyst on the NBC and CBS affiliates in Fresno. He has also served on 12 non-profit boards.
A recent editorial by Powell in the Fresno Bee echoes Betsy DeVos’s spurious “schools have not changed in 100 years.” Powell wrote,
“Amazing work has been done by our educators, but our core school model has remained largely unchanged. It’s been said that if Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, the only thing he would recognize is public education.”
This well-known community leader who spent 43 years as a high school wrestling coach, history teacher and an administrator made this claim. Anyone who has spent time in a public-school classroom, knows this is not true. Powell gave his full-throated endorsement to all three of the GO policy recommendations; even praising the anti-democratic ALEC inspired innovation schools. He claimed,
“We must ensure that our educators are given the freedom to design a school model and system that best meets the needs of their current students. An innovation zone will provide school sites who are in the zone with additional academic and financial flexibility in exchange for increased accountability.”
It is unclear where that increased accountability comes from because the local school board loses their oversight ability. DPE forces generally define accountability based exclusively on standardized testing results which do not provide reliable information about teaching or school quality. Standardized tests are a proven waste of money, providing ways for businesses to purloin education dollars.
The June 21 2018 issue of the Fresno Bee published, “Kepler will keep operating after all. Does that mean Fresno is friendly to charter schools?” Reporter Aleksandra Appleton noted that even the California Charter School Association recommended the Kepler charter school’s authorization be revoked. Her lead sentence read, “The Kepler Neighborhood School will keep operating after the Fresno County Schools Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the charter school’s appeal, effectively reversing an earlier decision by Fresno Unified that would have led to the school’s closure.”
Stockton Got Their Broadie
Billionaire, Eli Broad, has been relentless in his efforts to privatize public education. To spearhead this goal, the Edythe and Eli Broad foundation created an unaccredited administrators school that teaches Broad’s management philosophy and ideology.
Broad-trained administrators are famous for hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. In May, Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting these perceptions about Broad academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).
Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said of Broad, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”
John Deasy is perhaps the most infamous of all Broadies. In 2014 when Deasy was forced out as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the New York Times reported,
“Mr. Deasy, a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers who saw him as an enemy. He testified against teachers’ unions this year in a lawsuit in which a California judge ruled that tenure protection laws deprived students of their basic right to an education and violated their civil rights.
“Detractors also criticized Mr. Deasy, who led the second-largest school district in the country, for the difficult rollout of an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to every student in the district, which has an enrollment of 640,000 across 900 schools.”
Amazingly, this May the Stockton Unified School District Board voted 7-0 to hire John Deasy to be the superintendent of schools. Evidently, they wanted a star and were willing to pay the price. The Recordnet gave some partial details of Deasy’s agreement,
“His contract is set for three years and salary will be $275,000.
“Several gasps and laughs were heard as Board President Angela Phillips read aloud the employment agreement, which includes a $700 a month allowance for vehicle, cellphone and internet costs, plus mileage, five weeks’ vacation and various expenses. Deasy’s contract also states SUSD will reimburse him for moving and housing costs to Stockton not to exceed $15,000.”
It’s the Scammiest
In the 1980’s, Kraft Corporation ran a delightful commercial for their macaroni and cheese product. An ebullient little black boy who apparently had lost a baby tooth, looked at the camera and exalted, “It’s the cheesiest.” Every time that commercial came on, it made me smile.
But looking at the New Jerusalem School District of Tracy, California, I always think, “it’s the scammiest.” It doesn’t make me smile.
The district’s web site shares the history of the name:
“The Ebe Family came across the plains in covered wagons and settled near here about 1865. In 1874, Mr. Henry Ebe, newly settled, donated two acres of land to San Joaquin County for a school in this area. In exchange for this, he required that the school be given the name “New Jerusalem’.”
New Jerusalem does not look like a public-school district. It has a three-member elected board, a superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, a Budget Analyst, a person in charge of Accounts Payable, a Human Resources person, a Payroll department, a person in charge of the Nutrition Program and a person in charge of its Transportation Program. In 2016-2017 the district only had 29 kindergarten students in its one school. This large organization is supported by the 13 charter schools New Jerusalem authorizes.
Of their 13 charter schools, 8 are virtual. New Jerusalem authorized a charter school that is 250 miles away in Simi Valley, California and another one sixty miles away in Stockton, California.
The New Jerusalem web site provides instructions and forms for starting a charter school and getting it authorized by them.
A Final Perspective
The San Joaquin Valley is in the charter industry’s crosshairs. Their agenda is privatizing public schools and ending local control by democratic process. Most people are not surprised that libertarians, like David Koch, want to end public education but are often blindsided by Democrats supporting the same agenda.
Educate yourself and your neighbors. Don’t let people tell you that your local school is terrible and the Gates, Broad and Walton supported charter schools are superior. Both propositions are false.