An original post for K12NN by LiberalMama (@liberalmama on Twitter).
Earlier this year, the city council in my community voted to close a heavily-used library branch. While the city was indeed dealing with a budget shortfall, the branch seemed a bargain with operational costs of around $200,000 per year. The city had $34 million in reserves and had recently sold an asset for $230,000. In addition, a group of private citizens raised half a year’s budget and would donate it to the library on the condition the branch be kept open a minimum of four years. However, the Republican-dominated council wasn’t interested in any of these solutions and insisted they had no other choice but to close the library in order to balance the budget (sound familiar?). Turns out they’d already been showing the city-owned property to a potential renter – a local charter school looking to expand.
As a regular patron of the library branch and a skeptic of the barely-regulated charter school system, I was alarmed when I learned of this. And as the parent of a preschooler who would be entering the educational system in the next few years, I’d been reading up on the so-called school “reform” movement. The more I learned, the more obvious it was becoming that “reformers” are far more interested in pushing a right-wing political agenda than educating students. Privatization, union busting, even injecting religion around the edges of the curriculum seemed to go hand-in-hand with “reform.” Curious whether the right wing was behind the charter schools in my community, I decided to do a little digging on the school poised to take over the space of our beloved little library.
After a few Google searches, this is just some of what I found:
- Blatant electioneering by the GOP on school grounds. Click through to see photos of a political rally held for Republican candidates in May, 2010, pay special attendance to what the school’s white tiger mascot is wearing. Mitt Romney, Meg Whitman, Darrell Issa and Pete Wilson are all in attendance. While my understanding is that it’s legal to use the facility for a political rally, it’s questionable in the least, to dress the school’s mascot in anti-Democratic Party garb and surround it by cheerleaders in school uniforms. Adults in the photo appear to be leading the students in cheers for Republicans and against Democrats. I’ve been unable to find any evidence of attempts by the school to balance GOP influence with alternative political points of view.
- The San Diego Tea Party held a “Constitution Seminar” for grades five and up on school grounds. In the online Meetup forum the San Diego County Tea Party organizer, Maggie Acerra, writes ”I guess something like this would never be put on at a PUBLIC High School anymore, would it?” I wonder if she understands that most charter schools are public schools.
- The school has numerous ties to area Republican organizations. This is just one example. I found no links to any Democratic organization.
- Parents have alleged that students’ constitutional rights were violated by promoting prayer in school.
- The school’s celebration of their new “American Spirit” sculptures included several well-known area conservatives. Roger Hedgecock, an ultra-conservative radio host broadcasted from the school’s celebration and the radio program was co-hosted by the school’s executive director. In attendance were Republican city council members.
- The school’s motto is “Education is our Business.” Absolutely nothing really “wrong” or unethical about this, but it points to the fact that the school falls in line with the GOP line of thinking that everything should be run “like a business.” Children and their education are viewed as commodities, products.
- The Executive Director of Escondido Charter High School serves on the Republican Mayor’s economic advisory council. This alone should have disqualified the school from entering into a new lease in a city-owned building.
- The Mayor donated $500 to the charter school as a city council member, prior to being elected mayor. This donation was part of an increase in sales at a gas station he owns following a rally in support of a controversial ordinance prohibiting landlords from renting to persons unable to provide proof of legal immigration status. The ordinance was later pulled because the ACLU filed a lawsuit and the city determined it would be too costly to defend. It’s curious that one of the biggest champions of this ordinance (which was cheered by the Minutemen upon its initial passage) chose to donate profits gained because of his support to this particular charter school and not to one of the many public schools in the community he represents.
Escondido Charter High School is just one charter school in one community – and it didn’t even make the Charter School Scandal website.
While many of the above-named activities may be technically legal, it’s highly unethical to use our public schools as a training ground for a particular political party. Using scarce educational funds to further a partisan political agenda when the real public schools in our communities are hurting so badly is unconscionable.
Note: To the best of my knowledge, no one occupies the library suite at this time. My guess is that either the charter school’s plans to expand are on hold, or they will move into the building after the library closure controversy blows over. However, whether they move into the building or not, they should not have been in discussions to lease the property given the fact that the council hadn’t yet voted on closing the facility and the executive director of the school serves as an economic advisor to the city’s mayor.