(Sacramento, CA) – California parents, administrators, educators and community groups are calling on legislators to oppose a bill that creates a private school with public funds. The broad coalition opposes AB 1217 by Assembly Members Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) and Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) which would establish a new, independently-run science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school in Los Angeles County.
The authors suggest that 15 other states have a similar state STEM school, but the majority of these are voucher states and many charge money for students to attend.
“AB 1217 is another attempt to deliver our public schools into the hands of unaccountable private actors,” said Susan Henry, President of the California School Boards Association. “There are plenty of ways to establish new schools under existing law, but instead of using one of them, this bill sets a precedent that undermines local control of public schools. We encourage the Legislature to defeat AB 1217 and to focus on supporting and strengthening all public schools.”
The state STEM school would have a seven-member governing board, the composition of which is unclear and not well-defined. The timing of this bill is causing deep concerns and creating speculation.
“This is a disturbing billionaire power play at the end of session,” said Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation. “No one has offered even one coherent explanation as to why the state should disregard local control that protects students and parents. Yet those pushing this bill seem intent on moving forward without any hearings, public debate or scrutiny. These kinds of last-minute shenanigans set a terrible precedent and create an even more cynical view of the Legislature. This is a bad idea with questionable motivations. We call on the Legislature to do the right thing by stopping this effort to push terrible policy under the radar.”
Additionally, AB 1217 provides no authority to shut down the school – even if the school breaks the law by charging money or weeding out certain children or families – and goes against local control. Unlike other public schools, there is no authority to shut down this school even if the school is harmful or unsafe to students. This proposed school is guaranteed to exist for five years. While the school must do reports to the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), the SPI has no authority to shut down the school or to demand that operators comply with agreements.
"Parents and communities should have a say in how their local schools are run,” said Debra Pearson, Executive Director of the Small School Districts’ Association. “AB 1217 would set a dangerous precedent of the State authorizing schools to locate in communities over the objections of local voters and taxpayers. Current law already allows for backers of AB 1217 to create their desired STEM school – they should use that process."
The Department of Finance’s analysis is opposed to this bill, stating “it would be more appropriate for the school to first seek establishment through its local school district, and if denied, go through the remaining steps of the existing process.”
Finally, this publicly-funded private school proposal could exploit a loophole to skirt good government and other statutes.
The coalition is urging parents and community supporters to call their California Senator at 855-977-0202. The bill could come up for a floor vote at any time prior to the end of the legislative session.