A new study released by EdSource last week points to a new threat to teacher salaries, graduation rates, and student outcomes: charter schools. With unchecked expansion, charter schools have spring up in every corner of San Diego, promising a “unique” learning experience while aggressively marketing to steal state funds from public schools.
Why is this important? At a time when California legislators are questioning the high costs of charter schools and scrambling to reform many, most, if not all, of them, some local journalists continue promoting an institution backed by some of the state’s richest and most powerful interests, which is throwing down the gauntlet against public schools and attacking teachers.
The Pioneer Poway Awards Dinner takes place each year in August at Biltmore Hotel in downtown San Diego. Every one of the six sponsors of the event ($12,000 plus) is a charter school, either run by for-profit, for-profit partnerships, which generate high-profit contracts and have bankrupted virtually every one of their allies, or owned by people like Tim Leiweke, who supports charter schools that keep salaries in line with those of rich nonunion CEOs. He’s even donated $25,000 to the event.
Even Senator Richard Roth of Riverside County, a charter supporter, expressed his views when he complained in The Press-Enterprise of Riverside in June that current countywide school rankings are “pathetic” and that the county district does not know how many people go to local schools.
The Pioneer Poway dinner, with its admission of a minimum of $2,500, is a major event for most charter schools. It draws such a combination of legislators and the rich and powerful that a number of private schools in the area utilize it for their own fundraisers and recruiters. The event has a huge star presence. Each of the six sponsors who support this event has strong connections with its special guests: former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and County Supervisor Ron Roberts.
In 2017, this was the budget they held the Pioneer Poway fundraiser off of, which was $750,000, and by 2018, they had added another $200,000. For how many years have they been holding the event off of countywide school funding?
Scholarships were generously given out for students pursuing academic degrees — but they accounted for less than 10% of funds raised. The other 90% of money raised went straight into the charter schools’ pockets.
What are the causes of the Pioneer Poway event? Here, a brief hint. Private charter schools and most public schools are more unequal than ever.
Fewer than 20 percent of the public schools in San Diego are charters, but the research evidence about what’s happened suggests that, even with public subsidies, charter school students perform worse and the damage exceeds any small educational difference. California and the rest of the United States are already abominations for the learning of poor and minority children, and when politicians and the media perpetuate charter school cooptation and expand the benefits of private ownership, they are just making the problem much worse.
In sum, charter schools are a proven liability to big city schools, and the penalties are usually paid by the children who attend them.
This writer is a native San Diegan, a graduate of the University of California at San Diego, a policy analyst for Voices in Black, and a grassroots organizer in San Diego.