In a system where money is considered speech, those who cannot afford to buy a microphone are at a disadvantage. As the teachers’ union and the charter school industry spend millions influencing LAUSD elections, the students the District is supposed to serve struggle to have their voice heard. Fortunately for them, their lone representative on the School Board, Tyler Okeke, spoke for them at last Tuesday’s Board meeting in a voice that could not be ignored.
While the Charter School Industry was admonishing the Board with slogans such as “kids, not politics” in an attempt to prevent the passage of a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, it was the charter operatives who were using students as pawns. With a misinformation campaign that left families fearing that all charter schools were suddenly in danger of closure, an emotional gathering of students bussed in by their charter schools descended upon LAUSD’s Beaudry headquarters. Okeke addressed them directly:
This resolution does not eliminate choice. Charters will still operate. Your child will still have a school to attend. I am disgusted by whoever galvanized some of you with lies and exaggerations to oppose this resolution. I am sorry you were lied to and I am sorry you were taken advantage of.
Our traditional public schools that rely solely on the District’s purse are as good as the leaders that make up this Board. It is ill-advised to make this into a battle between traditional schools and charters. It is a political ploy that seeks to obstruct healthy debate and only pits poor folks of color against each other.
The only effect of the resolution passed on Tuesday was a request that will be made of leaders in Sacramento to enact a temporary pause in the opening of new charter schools within the LAUSD. During this pause, these same state leaders are asked to look into the effects on students of the 25-year old law that authorized charters:
Students of color benefit in charter schools, I do agree. But there are even more that are suffering in traditional public schools. Schools whose already minimal financial support is fleeing to charters schools, often on the same campus.
We need to intersectionally analyze the effect of charters on the District at large, especially our struggling traditional public schools. Ethically, until we can be sure of the effects of charters we cannot and must not approve new charters.
Each charter school has a governing board that is responsible for the students of that school. Despite the millions of dollars that the California Charter School Association has spent to stack the LAUSD School Board with its supporters, this Board’s ultimate responsibility is to the students who attend the schools operated by the LAUSD. With this in mind Okeke planted a flag as he closed his speech:
On behalf of all students, I demand more for my service population. This governing board is held accountable to traditional public schools first before any other school.
As was mentioned, over 500,000 of our students go to these [traditional] schools. It is the vast majority. Corporations and organizations that peddle out charter schools have boards that oversee the business of those schools, but our traditional schools only have this Board.
The passage or failure of this resolution will speak volumes to where our alliances lie.
Like all of the adult members of the LAUSD School Board with the exception of Nick Melvoin, Okeke voted to pass the resolution. Unfortunately, his is only an advisory vote. Unlike our city’s Neighborhood Council system where youth representatives have an equal vote on anything other than funding issues, the student representative is not given a binding vote on the LAUSD Board. Since the vast majority of students are also ineligible to vote in District elections, they have no say in which adults represent them on the Board. Therefore, they have no say in the running of the District that is supposed to work on their behalf.