Touting charter schools as the key to improving public education in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has launched a campaign to increase the number of such schools and appointed a charter school advocate to the state board of education.
The governor called for a major expansion of the state’s 510 charter schools during an April 21 visit to The Accelerated School, a charter school in south-central Los Angeles.
“Schools like yours are inspiring, and the best charters in our state show us how we can improve all public schools,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said during the visit, according to a written statement.
But the Republican governor’s push for more of the independent public schools has set off new clashes with political opponents, such as leaders of the main state teachers’ union, who insist state leaders are scrambling for political gain while ignoring ways to improve existing public schools.
Meanwhile, slightly more than half the respondents to a new California poll expressed disapproval of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s agenda for K-12 education. (“Calif. Survey Finds Doubts Over Schools,” this issue.)
California Secretary of Education Richard J. Riordan, a member of the governor’s Cabinet, said in an interview last week that expanding charter schools could make other public schools better.
Mr. Riordan, who announced his retirement later in the week, said the governor is backing a bill that would expand charter schools in the state by allowing four- and two-year colleges to start and operate charters.
But the bill, which also would bar school districts with poor records on overseeing charter schools from opening more charters, failed to pass the Senate education committee April 27. It faced another possible vote in the committee late last week.
The charter schools already operating in the state serve more than 180,000 students, according to the California Charter Schools Association. The state’s total public school enrollment is some 6.8 million.
Asked why the governor had decided to campaign strongly for charter schools, Mr. Riordan said: “Because they give kids a lot better education than they get from the regular schools.”
Others said last week that charters will not solve the state’s education problems. “I think the governor is floundering for some position on education that would be popular amongst the voters,” said Tom Conry, a board member for the California Teachers Association and a math teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.
Mr. Conry, who serves on a charter-advisory panel for the state school board, said the CTA supports “good, quality charter schools.”
Noting that not all charter schools serve students well, he pointed to the demise of the California Charter Academy, which had a large network of schools before closing its doors last year after a state investigation was launched into its operations. The review uncovered a host of spending irregularities. (“Calif. Charter Failure Affects 10,000 Students,” Sept. 1, 2004.)
Mr. Conry said the union, a National Education Association affiliate, opposed the Senate bill backed by the governor to authorize additional charter school operators. “The state board doesn’t have the resources to monitor the number of charter schools that would possibly be established,” he said.
Gary Larson, a vice president of the Los Angeles-based California Charter Schools Association, countered that families deserve a new law that allows more charter schools. “Over the next decade, you’ll probably see more than half a million new students enroll in charters,” he said.
Mr. Riordan added: “The system is working. Charter schools that do poorly are shut down.”
Gov. Schwarzenegger underscored his interest in charter schools with a recent ap-pointment to the state board of education. Yvonne Chan, a Democrat and the principal of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, a 1,700-student charter school in San Fernando, Calif., near Los Angeles, was nominated to the 11-member board on April 21. The nomination must be approved by the state Senate.
In 1993, Ms. Chan’s campus became the nation’s first regular public school to convert into a charter school, according to the state charter schools’ association. It has produced strong test scores and won a National Blue Ribbon School award since then.
Ken Noonan, the superintendent of the 22,000-student Oceanside Unified School District, was also nominated the same day by the governor to serve on the state board.