Even if the public has hardly heard about it, for the last couple decades there has been a campaign in Oakland to take over our public schools. It won. Our schools are now being run by people who consider themselves part of the “reform” movement.
What does "reform" mean? It means we in Oakland have private charter schools paid for with public money, all with the support of the school board majority.
This "private schools with public money" system makes use of a bad California state law that gives school boards little right to refuse or supervise a charter. Our local elected officials have almost no right to take a charter back over and limited rights to refuse a renewal. Day-to-day, they have nearly zero right to supervise. If you have a problem with your public school, you can take it to the district. If you have a problem with a charter school, the district cannot help you.
In Oakland, we now have a school board that is glad to close schools and sell off public property. Neighborhoods schools are closed for reasons of "efficiency," and buildings that were once local schools are sold to private companies to become charter schools. At the same time these charters are asserting their right to take public real estate and money, they pour money into our school board elections to keep the game going.
Currently, 5 of the 7 school board members were elected with the direct endorsement of the misleadingly named Great Oakland Public School Advocates, or GO. While it may have "public schools" in the name, GO is really a charter/reform/privatization PAC.
Billionaires Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates, along with The Rogers Foundation, The California Charter School Association, Oakland Community Organization and a loose association of other groups and individuals, have dominated our school board elections and now play a key role in our schools.
Much of that interference came through GO, which uses this outside money to build itself up as an “AstroTurf” group masquerading as a true grassroots organization. There are other similar groups in Oakland and around California, but in Oakland, it's taken a step further. We also have a front group called REACH that is supposedly a parents group, but the parents are represented by a representative paid by the charter movement.
The charter movement’s undue influence is reason enough to vote the board out. But there's more.
High-stakes standardized testing is a bankrupt idea that does more harm than good. Our school board supports it. They also are going along with Bill Gates’s “Common Core,” which seems mostly designed to have our children taught by computer programs and assessed by other computer programs. This is not Covid-19 inspired "distance learning"; this is automated learning, and the results are not good.
And of course, there is always a question of money. Our school administration spends it in many ways outside of public scrutiny. There is no auditor or common audit process.
Charter spending and reduced tax revenue has put our schools in austerity mode. We are a rich nation with a poor nation’s school funding level.
There have been budget cuts in our schools every year for the past few years, sometimes more than once in a year. Yet, there is no independent audit. We have cuts without knowing how much money there is in the first place.
We need a school board that cares about students, public schools and school administration. We should only elect people who show leadership in stopping the charter leakage, keeping our schools open, supporting quality education and student well-being, and knowing where our money is spent.
That was once the bare minimum of the school board's job. It no longer is. It must be once again.